Thursday, August 6, 2009

New Children’s Hearing system will increase risk to vulnerable children – UNISON

Date: Thurs 6 August 2009

UNISON – the union that represents workers staffing Scotland’s Children’s Panel system, and social care staff protecting vulnerable children – has submitted responses to the Scottish Government strongly criticising their proposed reorganisation of Children’s Hearings (CH).

Both UNISON’s Scottish Children’s Reporters’ Administration (SCRA) Branch and the Scottish Council of the union have submitted responses which point out that the proposals remove protections for children that are currently in place, that they set up a whole new bureaucracy which could add confusion and increase paperwork, and that they move decision-making power away from Children’s Hearings and towards the courts.

The union, which represents social work staff working in local authorities is concerned that the reforms could undermine existing protections.

Kate Ramsden, from UNISON’s Scottish Social Work Issues Group said “We are seriously concerned that the Bill actually removes current protections from children who could be at risk in an abusive household, and also that children will only be referred for voluntary advice and assistance if they have already been subject to compulsory supervision. These are just some of many examples of the draft bill concentrating on the civil rights of adults at the expense of the rights of the children to be protected.”

The establishment of a new quango is likely to lead to a dual administration, meaning increased potential for confusion, and increased bureaucracy.

Yvonne Stewart, UNISON SCRA branch secretary said “The creation of a Scottish Children’s Hearing Tribunal (SCHT) and the split in the administration of the children’s hearing system can only lead to increased bureaucracy and a greater possibility of confusion and error. This will lead to a more complex system for children, families and other professionals to engage with, and increased cost while also increasing the risk to children.”

John Stevenson, from UNISON’s Scottish Social Work Issues Group agrees “The double bureaucracy proposed here is likely to add to, rather than reduce, the amount of paperwork social workers have to fill in. This is despite all the evidence that shows the level of form-filling is a major factor reducing the time social workers can spend with looked-after children.”
UNISON is also concerned about a shift of powers towards the courts.

John Stevenson said "The ability of a court to completely rehear a case decided by a Children’s Hearing and other changes means cases are more likely to be decided in an adversarial atmosphere of a court of law, rather than the hearing setting of all parties discussing the best option for a child.”

"We understand that some changes are needed to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights but those changes have already been made. UNISON believes the welfare principle of Scotland's world-leading Children's Hearing system is worth defending. We are worried that this draft bill is less child-centred than the existing ground-breaking legislation."

The vast majority of cases Children's Hearings deal with are about the care and protection of children - 40,000 out of 50,000 referrals last year - rather than offences.

UNISON will be seeking a meeting with ministers to urge them to redraft the bill to ensure that the welfare principle becomes the centre of any new legislation.


Notes for editors: UNISON’s responses can be found on the Scottish website at and

More information at