This section contains some of the most frequently asked questions about the Children’s Hearings System…

What is the Children's Hearings System?

The Children’s Hearings System in Scotland aims to provide a safety net for vulnerable children and young people, and to work with partner agencies who deliver tailored solutions which meet the needs of the individuals involved and help to build stronger families and safer communities.

In Scotland, children and young people who face serious problems in their lives can sometimes be asked to go to a meeting called a Children’s Hearing.

Some of these problems include; not attending school, getting into trouble with the police, or being abused and/or neglected at home by the people who look after them.

Children’s Hearings make decisions in the best interest of the child or young person to help and protect them.

What is a Children’s Reporter?

The Children’s Reporter is the person who will decide if a child or young person needs to be referred to a Children’s Hearing. They will get information about the child or young person to help them make a decision – they might speak to a social worker if the child or young person has one, or their teacher. You can also provide the Children’s Reporter with information about a child or young person.  Anyone who is concerned about a child or young person can tell the Children’s Reporter about their worries.

What is a referral?

A referral is information received by the Children’s Reporter from anybody about a child or young person who may be in need of compulsory measures of supervision (legal intervention) to help them address their needs and/or behaviour. Most of the information about children and young people is received from the police, social work departments or schools. However, parents, family members, carers or any concerned member of the public can contact the Children’s Reporter if they have concerns about a child or young person and their circumstances.

What is a Children’s Hearing?

A Children’s Hearing is a legal meeting arranged to consider and make decisions about children and young people who are having problems in their lives and who may need legal steps to be taken to help them. Children’s Hearings are held in private and only those people who have a legal right to be there, or are allowed to be there by the chairperson, will be present.

Who will be at the Children’s Hearing?

  • The child or young person, unless the Hearing has decided that they do not have to attend
  • The people who look after the child or young person
  • Three Panel Members who will make the decisions. These are trained volunteers who want to make the best decisions to help vulnerable children and young people
  • The Children’s Reporter who will record what has been decided
  • A social worker
  • There may be a person called a Safeguarder – they are there to help the panel make the right decisions for the child/young person
  • The child or young person can bring someone along like a friend or teacher to represent and support them
  • Journalists may be present at a Hearing*

The Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 sets out the procedure for media attendance at a Hearing. Attendance is subject to approval by all participants in the Hearing and the Panel Chair can ask the journalist to leave if they are causing upset or distress to the child or young person. The legislation also restricts the identification of children involved in the Children’s Hearing System. Section 182 of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011, states that it is a criminal offence to publish any information either intended or likely to identify any child concerned or connected with the case, the proceedings or any appeal. It is also a criminal offence to identify the child’s address or school. The legislation not only protects the referred child, but any other child who becomes involved in the proceedings, such as a sibling or a child witness.

What will happen at the Children’s Hearing?

Each Hearing comprises three Panel Members – all trained volunteers from the local community. The child or young person and their family or carers are central participants in the Hearing. The role of the Reporter is to attend the Hearing to support fair process. The Reporter takes no part in the Panel Members’ deliberations.

The Panel Members will listen to everyone and consider all the information. The Hearing will then make a decision, and the Panel Members must give reasons for their decision. Decisions are made openly in the Hearing.

What decisions can be made at a Hearing?

  • The Hearing can decide that formal, compulsory supervision measures are not required and discharge the case,
  • The Panel Members can decide that they need more information to help them make a decision about what is best and they can continue the Hearing until a later date,
  • The Hearing can make an Interim Compulsory Supervision Order. This lasts for three weeks, until the next Hearing but only if this is necessary,
  • The Hearing can decide that compulsory measures of supervision are needed to help the child or young person, and can make a Compulsory Supervision Order.

What is a Compulsory Supervision Order?

A Compulsory Supervision Order can be made at a Children’s Hearing. It can contain conditions stating where the child or young person is to live and other conditions with which they must comply.

The local authority is responsible for making sure that what is stated in the Compulsory Supervision Order is happening, and that the child or young person is getting the help that they need. A Compulsory Supervision Order has no set time limit, but should last only as long as is necessary. It must be reviewed by a Children’s Hearing at least once a year when it can be continued, varied or stopped.

How many children and young people are referred to the Reporter each year?

In 2022/2023, 10,981 children and young people in Scotland were referred to the Children’s Reporter. This represents 1.2% of all children and young people in Scotland.

The majority of children and young people (9,025) were referred due to concerns about them (care and protection grounds).

Lack of parental care is the most common ground (reason) assigned by Reporters when a child or young person is referred to the Reporter.

The most common ages for children and young people to be referred to the Reporter continues to be 14 and 15 years. For very young children (those who were aged under one year) the principal concern identified in the referral related to a lack of parental care or having close connection with a person who has carried out domestic abuse.

The number of children and young people with Child Protection Orders in 2022/2023 was 442. Proportionately, more Child Protection Orders are granted for very young children (especially new-born babies), than any other age, reflecting their high risk and vulnerability and requirement for immediate protection.

Of the 442 children with Child Protection Order referrals received in 2022/23, 110 (24.9%) were aged under 20 days at the date of receipt, 171 (38.7%) were aged under one year and 207 (46.8%) were aged under two years.

In 2022/23, 2,637 children aged between 12 and 17 years were referred to the Reporter on offence grounds. The most common types of alleged offences were assault, threatening or abusive behaviour and vandalism.

During the 12 month period, 22,341 Children’s Hearings were held. The most common reason for a Children’s Hearing is to review a Compulsory Supervision Order.

At 31 March 2023, 6,789 children and young people were subject to a Compulsory Supervision Order. Of the 6,789 children and young people subject to a Compulsory Supervision Order, the majority (86.5%) have only ever been referred on care and protection grounds.

What ages are the children and young people referred?

Children and young people can be referred from birth to 16 years.  For offence referrals, ages range from 12 to 16 years (12 years is the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland).

A small number of young people aged 16 and 17 years are referred each year.  These are young people with Compulsory Supervision Orders continued from when they were 15 years or who are referred from the Sheriff Court.

Who can refer children or young people?

Anyone can refer a child or young person to the Reporter, but most referrals (both care and protection and offence) are from the police or local authorities. Further information is available here.

How do I refer a child or young person?

To refer a child or young person to the Children’s Reporter, please refer to the ‘Worried About a Child or Young Person’ page of our website for further information.

Why are children/young people who have committed offences dealt with in the same way as children/young people in need of care and protection?

Because these are often the same children and young people. Children and young people referred to the Reporter for offending have often also been referred because of concerns about their safety and welfare.  For example, those children and young people regarded as persistent young offenders have complex histories – a significant number have previously been referred on non-offence grounds.  The Hearings System recognises that a child or young person who has committed an offence, may require care and protection as well as measures to address his or her behaviour.

Going to Court

Sometimes people have to go to court as part of Children’s Hearings proceedings. More information about going to court is available here.

If you are a young person going to court to give evidence, click here.
If you are a member of the public asked to give evidence, you can get more information here.
If you are a professional witness, please click here.

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