Reported by The Guardian – the news we share raises awareness of equality issues being reported in the media.
Jane Gibson looks across the oval table at Robert, a teenager who has a history of risky behaviour, substance misuse and running away from home. She offers him reassurance.
“It’s your hearing,” Gibson* tells him. “If there are any changes you want to make in your present circumstances, you can let us know. But you’re very smiley and very happy, which is an indication.”
They are sitting in a nondescript room in an office block in central Glasgow, its bland magnolia and lilac walls hung with prints of historic Glaswegian landmarks, for a children’s panel hearing to review Robert’s case. Now 16, and estranged from his mother, he has been in foster care for five years.
Around the beech-veneered table are three panel members, lay volunteers with significant legal powers, with his records spread out before them. He has run away from home, escaping domestic violence, and been involved in substance abuse and risky behaviour, both on the streets and on social media.
Robert sits opposite them, flanked by his foster mother and a social worker, his legs tucked under his chair. A children’s reporter, a trained investigator who leads on cases, takes notes from a desk nearby. “You tell us anything you’re feeling; anything at all,” Robert is told by Stephen Black, one of the panel members.
The children’s panel system was introduced across Scotland in 1971, following a seminal report by Lord Kilbrandon, a judge, recommending a wholly different approach to supporting children in crisis focused on welfare and protection.
There are no juvenile courts in Scotland, unless the case involves the most serious crimes such as homicide or rape, which go into the mainstream legal system. There are no prosecutors or police officers sitting in, even though 75% of cases are referred by the police and prosecutors allocate the most serious cases. Nor are the panel members magistrates or judges. They act instead as the child’s guarantors, often directing social work departments and schools to put in place tailored support and services.
Nearly 13,000 children were referred to the children’s hearing system last year, from infants to teenagers of 17, with nearly 3,560 of those going before a children’s panel – cases where measures such as compulsory supervision orders (CSOs) or, in emergency, high-risk cases, child protection orders are considered.