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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 April, 2004, 16:42 GMT 17:42 UK
Children's hearings under review
Teenagers
Thousands of children pass through the system each year
Ministers have launched the first major review of Scotland's children's hearings system since it was established more than 30 years ago.

Public meetings will be held across the country to gather views before firm proposals on the future shape of the system are developed.

These will then go out for consultation before the end of the year.

Peter Peacock, the minister for young people, said the system's workload had changed dramatically since the 1970s.

Last year it dealt with about 38,000 children who needed care and protection, were involved in offending, or both.

Peter Peacock
Scotland has a unique system which puts the child firmly at its centre and involves local people in deciding what is the right thing to do to help young people
Peter Peacock
Sixty per cent of referrals are now based on care and protection, compared to 16% in 1976.

Mr Peacock said: "We are committed to maintaining the core principles of the hearings system.

"However, that system is now more than 30 years old, its workload has changed greatly during that time, and its operations have never been systematically reviewed."

He said the aim was to create a modern hearings system which addresses the needs of all young people, whether they are in need of care and protection or involved in offending.

"Scotland has a unique system which puts the child firmly at its centre and involves local people in deciding what is the right thing to do to help young people," he added.

"Anyone who shares an interest in the wellbeing of our children, families and communities has a contribution to make to the review and I would encourage them to make their views heard."

The two-stage consultation process has been welcomed by children's welfare groups.

Youth crime

Douglas Hamilton, policy and research officer for the charity Barnardo's Scotland, said he hoped the result would be a stronger and better resourced system.

"At this time there is a lot of concern about youth crime across Scotland," he said.

"We know from our experience that the children's hearing system is the best way of dealing with these problems.

We are confident that the focus on the welfare of the child, which is supported across the children's hearings system, will be upheld
Douglas Bulloch
SCRA chairman
"We look forward to maintaining the central role of the children's hearing system within a changing youth justice context so that the system is fit for the years ahead."

Alan Miller, principal reporter with the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA), said: "One of the clear strengths of the current system lies with the independent nature of panel members drawn from the local community.

"It is SCRA's view that this vital aspect of the system must be retained and developed as it enhances the sense of community ownership and ensures the decisions taken have a local context and relevance."

SCRA chairman Douglas Bulloch said: "We know that there are significant and very real challenges facing the hearings system, which the review will consider.

"It is our expectation that the review will highlight areas of the current system which can be improved.

"However, we are confident that the focus on the welfare of the child, which is supported across the children's hearings system, will be upheld."


SEE ALSO:
Decrease in child offender cases
27 Jan 04  |  Scotland


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