The findings of a new rapid consultation published today (3 August) have identified key areas of focus for further strengthening the experience of virtual Children’s Hearings in Scotland.
Those involved and affected by the Children’s Hearings System had the opportunity to share their views and experiences in the consultation undertaken by researchers at CELCIS and the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice (CYCJ), at the University of Strathclyde. The research seeks to better understand the experience of virtual Hearings, held online using video links, brought about under the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020, which came into force in April 2020. By capturing the views of people involved and affected by this new way of convening Hearings, it aims to strengthen future experiences, service planning and delivery, and to determine to what extent virtual hearings can facilitate participation by those who cannot, or prefer not to, attend Hearings in person.
Young people, parents, carers, panel members, Children’s Reporters, social workers, safeguarders, advocacy workers, solicitors and others have been using video-conferencing in place of a physical Hearing since April. After the first few months of operation, the consultation produced a range of responses. Many of those involved felt that moving to virtual Hearings was a positive step forward and offered advantages and beneficial opportunities to participants. These included a more familiar environment for young people parents and carers, reducing the time and cost of travel whilst ensuring the Hearings could still go ahead, and that innovative practice had been established in trying to ensure everyone was listened to and able to take part.
However, the findings also identified some aspects of virtual Hearings that participants found more challenging and which impacted on their participation. These included accessing paperwork, confidential space for advocates and participants, and technological barriers. Fairness, how inclusive a virtual Hearing can be, and the rights of children, were key concerns also raised for further development.
In terms of support, the majority of parents and carers all said that they received support from professionals before, during and after the virtual Hearings, or did not need support. Young people also said they received support prior to the Hearing and were able to be part of discussions, but reported having less support during. However, most people were positive that Hearings were able to continue at all during the circumstances of the pandemic, and that important decisions were able to be made for some of the most vulnerable children and young people.
As a result of the findings, the researchers have identified key areas of focus for continuous improvement where the experience of virtual Hearings can be strengthened. They have put forward seven recommendations to be considered by Children’s Hearings Scotland, the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA) and the Children’s Hearings Improvement Partnership.