The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a seismic shift in the way Scotland’s Children’s Hearings are delivered. It has also been the catalyst for agencies to introduce changes to practice at a faster pace than they would ever have contemplated a few months ago.
The changes introduced affect all hearing participants because all hearings are currently taking place remotely via the Vscene platform. The establishment of these Virtual Hearings- a herculean task accomplished swiftly by Children’s Hearings Scotland and the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration - ensures that the most vulnerable infants, children and young people are protected and that existing orders do not lapse. It also presents fresh challenges around the protection of rights, the delivery of information and the participation of children and their families in the hearing process.
Meeting the challenges
In the new Virtual Hearings world extra time is being devoted to working alongside families not only to ensure they have access to technology but also to provide them with the tailored practical and emotional support they may require before, during and after a hearing.
Although Virtual Hearings have only been in operation for a few weeks, agencies are already working collaboratively in order to gather qualitative and quantitative data alongside evidence of good practice to help inform future service planning and delivery.
Central to this information-gathering will be the views and lived experiences of the children and families who attend hearings. Collecting their input from the outset is vital. It will feed into discussions around the future configuration of services that offer meaningful support for families while also providing evidence- based assessments and robust action plans to assist good decision-making. Historically, obtaining feedback from this group has proved challenging, so it will require a collective response from everyone working with children and families to provide encouragement and support to ensure their views are recorded and taken into account*.
Opportunities for change
The current emergency situation has provided opportunities to pilot and evaluate a variety of tests for change around hearings; for example will the use of a shortened report format make it easier to understand the reasoning behind local authority recommendations and the need for compulsory measures? Conversations are also beginning around possible future changes: How should remote attendance at hearings be offered after social distancing has eased? To what extent will the introduction of a national advocacy service help children participate in their hearings? The gathering and analysis of feedback and data from a wide variety of sources will help us begin to answer these and many other questions. The pandemic has ramped up the pace of change. It is to be hoped going forward that this momentum will not be lost; that we will continue to see an increased appetite for testing change, strengthening feedback mechanisms, working collaboratively and driving improvement as we eventually edge towards ‘business as usual’ for Children’s Hearings.
*Both CELCIS and CYCJ want to support improvements to the hearings system through the gathering of information. To achieve this, we are working with partners throughout the hearings system to conduct a consultation for all groups involved in Children's Hearings. We need to hear the views of all involved - young people, families, panel members, reporters, and all others who have experience related to the new virtual hearings. When the consultation begins, we will be reaching out to as many people as possible through our partners and social media. If you would like to be notified of when the consultation goes live, please email email@example.com
The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author/s and may not represent the views or opinions of CELCIS or our funders.
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