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Drop in number of children referred for hearings

12 November 2008

The number of referrals of children to the children’s hearing system has dropped in the last year, according to the annual report of the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA).

Pre-referral screening processes the SCRA put in place with partner agencies led to the number of referrals dropping by 12.3% – from 102,787 in 2006-07 to 90,167 in 2007-08. The number of children referred decreased by 10.5% (from 56,199 in 2006/07 to 50,314). However the number of hearings that took place was up slightly at 42,302, reflecting a rise in the number of children subject to supervision orders. There has also been an increase in applications to the sheriff for proof (up from 3,946 to 4,004).

Douglas Bulloch, the SCRA’s chairman, said they had been saying for years that there were too many referrals to the children’s hearing system and that it was being used “for purposes for which it was not designed and for which it is not resourced”. The SCRA said the high level of referrals had led to an overemphasis on assessment at the expense of intervention.

Mr Bulloch added: “This year we have seen the tide turn. Measures in place with partner agencies, particularly pre-referral screening processes, have begun to have an impact and the number of referrals has dropped These are developments very much to be welcomed and SCRA is grateful to partners for their commitment to work towards the correct identification of those children requiring the statutory consideration of the hearings system.”

Care and protection

The trend, however, is not universal across Scotland, as there is no pre-referral system in Glasgow and almost one child in 10 ends up in front of a children’s panel, compared to the national average of 5.5%.

Most children – about 40,000 – are referred to system for their own care and protection, where the child is the victim of cruelty, abuse, sexual offences or neglect.

The increase in the number of supervision orders – from 12,644 to 13,219 – is a negative trend that is not good news, the SCRA says, and one that will require further research to explore the causes of problems.

Mr Bulloch said the SCRA would continue to work with its partners to ensure that the children who needed the framework of the hearings were identified and referred. "Our objective is to ensure, as far as possible, that the right children – those who do require compulsory measures – are referred and that those children whose intervention can take place on a voluntary basis get the help they require as soon as possible.”

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on the reform of the children’s hearing system.


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