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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 June, 2005, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Children's hearings facing reform
Minister for young people Peter Peacock
Peter Peacock will unveil the improvements to the system
Scotland's children's hearings system is to undergo radical reform.

The Scottish Executive has launched a consultation, which runs until September, to look at ways of improving and streamlining the current system.

The measures put forward include plans to increase co-operation between police and social workers.

However, a senior law lecturer described plans to fine or imprison any staff who failed to protect youngsters as "absolute nonsense".

Problems within the system were exposed earlier this month when Colyn Evans, 18, was jailed for life for murdering Fife teenager Karen Dewar.

Scotland's children deserve the best we can offer and we are hopeful that these proposals, with the right approach and investment, can maximise their potential
Hugh Mackintosh
Barnardo's Scotland

It emerged that the police and social work department knew of 14 previous incidents involving Evans. However, he was not placed on the sex offenders register by a court.

Minister for Education and Young People Peter Peacock emphasised how the plans would help to break the "vicious circle" which created young offenders.

He said: "Most young people are not involved with crime. But when they are, we need to know there is a strong and responsive system to deal with them and tackle their behaviour quickly and effectively.

"We will tackle persistence with persistence. Repeated offences will mean repeated responses and, if necessary, appearances before the hearing to explain their behaviour.

'Comprehensive' plans

"We must prevent young people from getting caught up in the vicious circle of crime, to make our communities safer."

His measures also set out comprehensive proposals to strengthen children's services across the country.

The proposals in brief:

  • Persistent and serious young offenders to appear before hearings more frequently to review their progress with some forced to face their victims to explain their behaviour

  • Hearings to be held outwith school hours, so children do not miss classes

  • Giving vulnerable children who need help from lots of agencies one lead professional to coordinate action

  • Introducing one action plan and one set of paperwork for each child, together with integrated assessments, to sweep away unnecessary bureaucracy and duplication

  • Placing agencies under a legal duty to make sure young people get the support and care they need - with those which fail to do so called before a sheriff to explain themselves

  • Listening to young people's views about their needs and building these in to their action plan

  • Providing children with more information about who is dealing with their case, each agency's role and how the family is expected to contribute.

    The director of Barnardo's Scotland, Hugh Mackintosh, welcomed the announcement but said the proposals would require considerable joint commitment to make them work.

    Mr Mackintosh said: "We look forward to developing better integrated working within the children's hearing system and the promotion of the new assessment framework.

    My worry is that the executive appears to be shifting towards only those children and young people who have perhaps been abused or neglected
    Alison Cleland
    Law lecturer

    "Scotland's children deserve the best we can offer and we are hopeful that these proposals, with the right approach and investment, can maximise their potential."

    However, Alison Cleland, senior law lecturer at the University of Strathclyde, said she was wary of executive "sound bites".

    She told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "This idea of fining or the threat of imprisonment for police and social workers is just absolute nonsense.

    "The executive has a whole series of reports from 2002 onwards and none of those told us police and social workers didn't know how to do their jobs.

    "They told us they need co-operation, resources and support."

    Ms Cleland said she hoped the executive's changes would show whether or not the system was for all children and young people or just for the most vulnerable.

    'Difficult decisions'

    "My worry is that the executive appears to be shifting towards only those children and young people who have perhaps been abused or neglected," she added.

    "We've got to be prepared to take the difficult decisions that mean they all stay within the hearing's system."

    Scottish National Party education spokeswoman Fiona Hyslop welcomed the proposals, but expressed serious reservations over their delivery.

    She said: "Children need to have dedicated social workers and there needs to be information sharing and a shared database to ensure swift and accurate access to vital information on vulnerable children.

    "However, the executive has failed to deliver on both of these counts.

    "There are too few child protection social workers and the timetable for implementing a shared information system for health, education and police services is worryingly behind schedule."

    Repeated calls

    The Conservatives' deputy justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said "yet another consultation" was not the answer to the problems facing the system.

    She said: "We have repeatedly called for the children's panels to have greater powers - for example the ability to order drug testing and treatment orders.

    "We also feel that 14 and 15-year-old offenders should be dealt with in the youth courts.

    "And the hearing system must have the resources it needs to deal with the sanctions it imposes, rather than have to fit decisions to available resources."

    The changes are the result of the first major review of the system, which was established in 1971, to deal with the issues facing children and young people with serious problems in their lives

    Between 2003 and 2004 more than 45,000 children were referred to the Children's Reporter with more than two-thirds of referrals based on care and welfare grounds.




  • SEE ALSO:
    Inspectors to look at death case
    16 Jun 05 |  Scotland
    Student's killer jailed for life
    10 Jun 05 |  Scotland
    Father's anger at care officials
    10 Jun 05 |  Scotland
    Youth strategy criticised by MSPs
    06 Jun 05 |  Scotland
    Children's hearings under review
    22 Apr 04 |  Scotland
    Decrease in child offender cases
    27 Jan 04 |  Scotland


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