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Information is power

Wednesday 26 September 2018



Author: Laura Conachan

Laura Conachan, Area Convener for the Children’s Panel in Aberdeen and Community Projects Lead for Children’s Hearings Scotland (CHS), explains how better hearings can be supported.

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Area Conveners receive a wealth of information about the Children’s Hearings taking place in each of our areas. This includes monthly reports with detailed information about our panel members: the average number of years’ experience, the gender mix (legally there has to be both men and women on the panel) and the percentage of panel members qualified to chair a Children’s Hearing. We also know the breakdown of the number of hearings, pre-hearing panels, and Child Protection Orders (CPOs) taking place in our area compared to national picture.

These figures allow us to identify trends locally and make key decisions. For example, while Children’s Hearings Scotland (CHS) is responsible for recruiting sufficient numbers of panel members, it’s the Area Conveners who will know that a higher number of CPOs in their area will mean more emergency hearings at short notice requiring additional panel members.

We also get quarterly reports from the Scottish Children’s Reporters Administration (SCRA), letting us know about the outcomes of hearing decisions. We can assess if panel members are making similar decisions across the country and if there are specific training needs. For example, an urban area with a higher instance of secure authorisation will likely need more targeted training on this type of care than a smaller, island area which sees very few hearings involving secure accommodation.

Supporting panel members is another key function of CHS. It takes several years to fully train a panel member and the more experience you have, the better you get, so we want to keep panel members as long as we can to give children and families the best hearings experience possible. Every two years CHS surveys all 2,800 panel members and the responses are broken down by area. From that, we can see what we need to develop locally to improve panel member support, which in turn hopefully leads to increased retention.

To assess and improve the quality of our panel members we also have reports from Panel Practice Advisors (PPAs). These colleagues are key to ensuring Area Conveners know what each panel member’s strengths are and where we might need to provide support to help them perform their crucial role better. PPAs are used throughout the country and we make sure every panel member is seen at least twice a year, often more, to ensure they are able to give children and families the hearing they deserve.

Just like panel members, PPAs are volunteers and are trained in observation skills and giving feedback. They sit in on hearings twice a month, observe the hearings, and report back on what panel members are doing well and how the hearings could have been improved for the child and family.   

This feedback goes to the three panel members directly, and it also goes to the Area Support Team, led by the Area Convener. Recording individual issues over a period of time also allows us to see if there is a pattern of poor practice which needs addressed with the panel as a whole, rather than with individual panel members.  

Timekeeping is an area where PPAs feedback is a great resource as it gives us clear, specific evidence as to why hearings may have overrun or started late. Starting hearings on time is incredibly important for the child or young person and their family to make sure they feel valued in the hearing. We cannot leave families to grow anxious in a waiting room because previous hearings have overrun.

In Aberdeen, PPAs currently note the time hearings start, end and any reasons why they did or did not run to time. Monitoring timekeeping over a significant timeframe helps to identify root causes and we can work with panel members and partners to ensure all hearings start and end on time.

Finally, we can use data to not only reduce delays on the day of a hearing, but delays in the child’s journey through the Children’s Hearings System. Our monthly reports detail the number of hearings which did not fully take place (deferred hearings) and the reasons for this. Getting this data monthly allows conversations to take place quickly with partners to try and minimise delays. A spike in deferrals due to no reports being provided can be discussed with the local authority and SCRA whereas deferrals due to panel members cancelling a hearings session at short notice are discussed with the rota manager.

All partners are keen to reduce any unnecessary delay which can cause distress and instability for children and their families. We’ve seen a considerable reduction in the number of Advice to Court hearings being deferred due to the non-attendance of relevant persons. This was achieved through the PACE (Permanence and Care Excellence) programme run by CELCIS whereby it was agreed that Children’s Reporters should send Advice to Court hearing notifications by recorded delivery so the panel members can be sure the family know the time, date and place of the hearing if they choose not to attend.

While this does not guarantee the panel will not defer, because it’s essential families’ views are heard at the hearing, but if they believe it’s in the child’s best interest to proceed with the hearing even though the relevant person is absent, the panel are more empowered to go ahead. This helps to address delays for children going through the permanence process.

CHS are committed to improving each and every children’s hearing to give every child and young person the best hearings experience possible. This is inconceivable without data; the better informed we are, the more improvements we make, and the better system we can deliver for all concerned.

Laura Conachan is Area Convener for the Children’s Panel in Aberdeen and Community

This blog post describes part of the work that is going on nationally to drive improvement for children and their families who need to be involved in the Children’s Hearings System. The Children’s Hearings Improvement Partnership (CHIP) is a multi-agency partnership group that is driving improvement within the Hearing’s system.

In the below related audio clip, Anne Lee, Glasgow Children's Panel Member, explains the range of evidence that panel members are required to weigh up  before reaching a decision. 

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