Questions and Answers

Smiling child being hugged by smiling man

The Children’s Hearings System is the legal system for children and young people in Scotland who are either at risk or who have been caught offending.

Families become involved in the Children’s Hearings System if the child or young person is getting into trouble with the police, there are concerns that they are being abused, they are taking drugs or alcohol, or they are not attending school.

If you have never been involved with the system before, you will have lots of questions. This section of our website should help you.  Simply scroll down the page to see the questions and answers.

The Children’s Reporter is the first contact a child or family will have with the Children’s Hearings System. They will investigate your child’s case by getting information about your child from a number of sources – they might speak to a social worker if your child has one, or their teacher. You can also provide the Children’s Reporter with information about your child.  After that the Reporter will decide if your child has to attend a Children’s Hearing.


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 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.


Can I get legal advice and assistance for Children's Hearings proceedings?

State funded legal advice and assistance may be available to children and/or relevant persons at children’s hearings and/or in court. There is more information about Legal Aid and when you can get it on the Scottish Legal Aid Board’s website.


Appointment of a Safeguarder

A Safeguarder is a person who is appointed to make sure that a child or young person’s interests are looked after. A Safeguarder can be appointed by either a Children’s Hearing or a Sheriff. Not all children and young people need to have a Safeguarder.

Sometimes if the people at a Hearing have very different views to each other, or the Panel Members feel they need more information to allow them time to make a decision, they will appoint a Safeguarder. A Safeguarder is separate from the social worker, Children’s Reporter and the Panel Members, and would speak to everyone involved especially the child or young person, to help them build up a better picture. Sometimes they will write a report for the Panel Members and attend the next Hearing.


Who will be at the Children’s Hearing?

  • Your child, unless the Hearing has agreed that they do not need to attend,
  • The people who look after your child,
  • 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.

If your child wants to they can bring someone along like a family friend or teacher.

If you are a relevant person you can bring someone along as a representative to assist you.


What is a Pre Hearing Panel?

This is sometimes arranged when the Reporter decides to arrange a Children’s Hearing for a child or young person. Children and young people, as well as their parents/carers can attend Pre Hearing Panels if they wish but do not have to. Even if they don’t attend they are entitled to have their views about the issue(s) being considered heard.

The Pre Hearing Panel takes place before the Hearing and is where three Panel Members meet to consider certain issues in advance of the Hearing. This means they might talk about:

  • whether to excuse a child, young person or relevant person from attending the Children’s Hearing.
  • whether to deem (make) someone a Relevant Person.
  •  whether it is likely the children’s hearing will consider making a Compulsory Supervision Order with secure accommodation authorisation.

After the Pre Hearing Panel, the Children’s Reporter will write to you to tell what has been decided.


Being a Relevant Person

Under the new law the following people are automatically considered to be a Relevant Person:

  • Any parent (whether or not they have parental rights or responsibilities)
  • Any other person who has parental rights and responsibilities (obtained through the courts).

This means that other people, for example foster carers and kinship carers, are not automatically considered to be Relevant Persons, even if they were Relevant Persons at previous Hearings under the old law.

However, they can be deemed to be a Relevant Person. This is a decision that must be made by a Pre Hearing Panel or a Children’s Hearing. The Reporter has no power to make someone a Relevant Person. The test for being deemed a Relevant Person is that the individual has, or recently has had, significant involvement in the upbringing of the child.

Some children and young people on Supervision may have been with relatives or foster carers for a number of years in a stable placement. This process should not been seen as a threat to that arrangement or to the placement. In the vast majority of these cases, the granting of Relevant Person status is likely to be a formality.

There is a right of appeal against the decision to deem someone a Relevant Person. The child, any Relevant Person and the individual concerned can appeal against the decision to make or not to make the individual a Relevant Person. In such an appeal, the Sheriff would consider if the person met the test or not. A person cannot appeal simply because they do not like the individual or wish them to be involved in the child/young person’s life.

There does not need to be a Pre Hearing Panel for every subsequent Hearing. Once the Panel Members have decided that an individual is a Relevant Person, they retain that status for future Hearings, though it can be reviewed if the person no longer has, or recently has had, significant involvement in the upbringing of the child.

Some family members or foster carers may only be looking after a child or young person for a short period or on a temporary basis. They may not want to be considered to be a Relevant Person or they may not meet the test of significant involvement. They may still be able to attend the Hearing as a representative of the child/young person or a Relevant Person. The Panel Members also have discretion to allow them to attend.

Being a Relevant Person 


What will happen at the Children’s Hearing?

Each Hearing comprises of three Panel Members – all trained volunteers from the local community. The child 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. Both the child and their carer(s) will be sent a copy of the decision and reasons for the decision in writing.


What decisions can be made at the Hearing?

A Compulsory Supervision Order can be made at a Children’s Hearing. It can contain conditions stating where the child 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 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.


What if I’m not happy with the decision of the Hearing - can I appeal?

You have the right to appeal to the Sheriff against the decision of your child’s Hearing.

A child, young person or their parent/carer may appeal against the decision. You cannot appeal a decision simply because you disagree with the decision. There has to be a reason in law for the basis of any appeal. If you disagree with the decision of a Hearing, you should consult a solicitor as soon as possible, because you may have the right to appeal.

A Safeguarder who may be appointed to you or your child’s case also has the right to appeal against the decision, and does so on behalf of the child. In appealing, you have to satisfy the Sheriff that the Children’s Hearing was not justified – for example, in making a Compulsory Supervision Order.

(Safeguarders are independent of the Children’s Reporter and the local authority social work department. Their task is to represent what is in the child or young person’s best interests.)

Any appeal should be in writing to the Sheriff at the Sheriff Court, and must be made within three weeks of the decision.

At the appeal, the Sheriff will hear what you have to say and he will also hear the Reporter, and possibly your child. The Sheriff may summon the people who prepared the reports about your child for the Hearing if he/she thinks that would be useful.

If the Sheriff allows your appeal, there are a number of options:

  • Discharge the case altogether.
  • Send it back to the Hearing for reconsideration.
  • Make a Compulsory Supervision Order which is different from the one which the Hearing had decided upon.

If your appeal fails, the decision made by the Hearing will remain unchanged.


Can the police retain my child's DNA?

Police are now able to retain the DNA of certain children and young people who have committed an offence.

Under the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, which was approved by the Scottish Parliament, children who are deemed to have committed a “relevant offence” will now have their DNA and fingerprints retained in most cases for three years (in some cases it can be retained beyond this period).

The change will apply to children referred to the Children’s Hearings System for specified serious sexual and violent offences and where these grounds are accepted or established.

The change came into affect on 15th April 2011.


Will my child's Hearing result in a criminal record?

Is my child’s appearance at a Children’s Hearing a ‘criminal conviction’?

Children’s Hearings are not part of the criminal court system, but if offence grounds are accepted or established then they are classed as a “conviction” for the purposes of the Rehabilitation of Offender Act 1974.

What is the purpose of the Act and what does it say?

It is intended to define and limit the time during which a person must reveal that they have a ‘criminal conviction’, especially when applying for a job.

For how long do ‘criminal convictions’ have to be revealed?

It depends on the offence that has been committed, the decision of the hearing and the length of time your child is on a CSO. It also depends on the situation – there are some jobs and situations where even old offences have to be disclosed.

The rules are very complicated and if you have any questions you should speak to a lawyer. You can get free legal advice from the Scottish Child Law Centre by calling their advice line – 0800 328 8970 (from a landline) and 0300 3301421 (from a mobile).

What does this mean for my child?

Your child should think very carefully before accepting offence grounds at a hearing. If they are at all unsure they should speak to a lawyer or tell the Reporter that they don’t understand.

Where can we get more advice and information?

You can call the Scottish Child Law Centre for free legal advice on 0800 328 8970 (from a landline) and 0300 3301421 (from a mobile).

You can also contact the Scottish Legal Aid Board on 0131 226 7061, who will be able to put you in touch with a lawyer in your area. Children and young people don’t usually have to pay for this.

The following leaflet provides more detailed information – Offence grounds – information for children and young people – and you may also wish to visit the Disclosure Scotland website.


Publishing information online

Parents and carers should be aware that there is legislation which governs the identification of children and young people involved in the Children’s Hearings System.  You are not allowed to publish information online. This includes any information you receive about your child’s Hearing such as a letter or report.

Under section 182 of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011, 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 case, such as a sibling or a child witness.

To publish includes social media such as Facebook, Twitter and You Tube.


Data Protection and SCRA

Protecting information
SCRA is committed to protecting the privacy of individuals and our duty of confidentiality to them. This means that we must comply with laws protecting individual’s rights and privacy.

SCRA is registered under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). The gathering, storage, use, release and disposal of personal information is regulated by the DPA. The following gives an overview of what information SCRA collects and how it processes it in line with our practices and legal responsibilities. ‘Process’ means collecting, using, disclosing, retaining or disposing of information. SCRA has policies and guidance on data protection and records management. These can be accessed here.

What information does SCRA hold on individuals?
SCRA processes and holds information about children and young people who are referred to the Children’s Reporter in line with our legal responsibilities. This information comprises of reports from agencies such as social work, schools, police, etc; records of Reporters’ decision making; and papers provided for Children’s Hearings.  This information will usually cover the child/young person referred, their parents, and other individuals associated with their case.

If a child or young person has been referred to the Reporter for committing an offence and there is a named victim of the offence, SCRA retains information on the victim in order to be able to provide them information about the case under our Victim Information Service.

You have a right to know what information we hold on you and SCRA will write to inform you if a referral is received about your child if you are a relevant person in respect of that child, and we will always inform a child or young person if they are referred to the Reporter.

You are entitled to request a copy of the information we hold on you – this must be done in writing and the section on Subject Access Requests will tell you more about how to do this.

What we do with children and young people’s information
SCRA uses information on children and young people referred to assist Reporters and Children’s Hearings in making decisions on what measures are needed to protect the child or young person, or address their behaviour. We may also share information with other agencies working with a child or young person.  SCRA also uses information to gather evidence to improve our services and for training of our staff.

Data Sharing Guidance
SCRA may disclose information it holds to other child protection and justice agencies as and when required, however this will be done only in line with our statutory responsibilities, if required by law and if there is a reasonable and justifiable purpose for sharing the information such as to protect and defend the rights of an individual.

The Data we hold is protected from public access and can only be viewed by authorised personnel. All employees and contractors are prohibited from using personal information for any purpose out with SCRA’s remit and legal responsibilities.


Additional information for parents and carers

Children’s Hearings Leaflet – Information for parents and carers 

Going to a Hearing‘ film

Film for parents/carers with learning difficulties – ‘What is a Children’s Hearing?

Going to Court‘ film