Article published – Children’s Hearings during the pandemic

Posted on 07th Nov 2023

An article describing the delivery of Children’s Hearings during the Covid-19 pandemic has been published in a special edition of Adoption and Fostering that explores how digital technologies are used within the social care sector.

The article, led by SCRA’s Dr Catherine Nixon, reviews how the use of virtual Hearings during the Covid-19 pandemic affected the participation of children and families in Hearings, and impacted upon their Rights. It does this by combining information from both published and unpublished documents assessing the perceived impact of virtual Hearings on children and families, with information gathered from guided discussions and consultations undertaken with the executive management teams at SCRA and CHS, Hearings participants, SCRA staff and the Board Members of Our Hearings, Our Voice.

A copy of the paper can be made available on request by emailing Dr. Catherine Nixon.

The findings of the review indicate that the introduction and use of virtual Hearings was considered to be a pragmatic approach to upholding Articles 9 (decisions to separate children from families should have judicial review), 19 (protection of children from harm) and 25 (regular review of care and treatment plans) of the UNCRC during a major public health crisis. However, it also describes a range of factors that acted as potential barriers to Articles 12 (participation in decision’s about their lives), 13 (right to information through any medium) 16 (right to privacy and home life) and 17 (access to reliable and child-friendly information) of the UNCRC being upheld. These factors included: the impact of technological constraints and licensing issues on decisions made around how virtual Hearings should be operated; the impact that public health protections had upon operational capacity and the ability to provide in-person Hearing options; and the role that digital inequity and digital literacy had upon the participation, privacy and safety of children and families.

The article also describes the steps taken to minimise the risk of Rights violations, including: improving the quality of information about virtual Hearings; the introduction of line and device testing; the funding of data packages for Hearings participants; investment in audio-visual conferencing technology; the upgrading of servers used to host virtual Hearings; the development, piloting and implementation of the Remote Access Virtual Hearings Interface (RAVHI); and the use of in-person, digital hub and hybrid Hearings. These steps were shown to increase confidence in Children’s Hearings during the pandemic, namely because the stability of the technology being used increased and the resumption of in-person Hearings provided an alternate means of participation for those who found online participation to be difficult, challenging or unsafe.

The article highlights the significant body of work that was undertaken by SCRA personnel during the pandemic to maintain the delivery of Children’s Hearings. It also demonstrates that many of the challenges experienced in relation to the implementation of virtual Hearings were experienced within the wider global care and justice system, including those jurisdictions who had previously tested the use of remote Hearings prior to the pandemic. Although the article shows that there was an improvement in how virtual Hearings were perceived over time, this change was measured mainly from the perspective of adult voices, with just 12 children and young people contributing to the evidence base. This compared to around 1200 adults voices that were captured in the materials we reviewed.

A study exploring the impact of virtual Hearings on the participation of children and young people has recently concluded. Findings from this study are currently being prepared for publication, with a report due to be published at the end of 2023. The findings will also be published in an edited book exploring children’s experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2024.

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