“I have been invited to attend at a Children’s Panel and I don’t know what to do” – a guide to the Children’s Panel process
For many families in Scotland, being invited to attend a Children’s Panel (“The Panel”) can be an anxious experience. The impact of the Panel’s decisions on a child, young person or their family can be significant, especially if the decision is for a child to remain outwith the family home.
A referral to the Children’s Reporter (“The Reporter”) can be made from various sources from members of the public or the Social Work department, to Police, Health Board or school. The Reporter has an initial gatekeeping exercise, in that they assess the referral and the information provided in support of it, and decide whether the matter has to be referred to a Panel. The Reporter is present when a Panel takes place to ensure that there is procedural fairness and that the child, young person or their families have the ability to effectively participate in the process. They do not take part in the discussion and do not influence the decision of the Panel members.
If it is thought that a child is at significant risk of harm if returned to their family home and emergency steps need to be taken to protect them, an application may be made to the Sheriff Court for a Child Protection Order (“CPO”). A CPO is an Order which compels a child to be produced to a specific person, authorises the removal of a child from a specific person to a place of safety or prevents a child’s removal from that place of safety. Conditions may also be attached relating to contact, in the same way as discussed below. If a CPO is granted, a referral will be made to the Children’s Reporter and a hearing will be convened not more than two working days after the CPO was granted. At that hearing, a Panel may continue the CPO not longer than eight working days after it was initially granted, may continue and vary the conditions of it or may terminate it if the conditions are no longer met.
If a Panel is to be convened, either on the eighth working day after the granting of a CPO, or via a referral to the Reporter, it must be on the basis of one of the 17 available “Section 67 Grounds” stated in the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 (“The 2011 Act”). These Grounds include concerns relating to:
- The quality of care a child or young person receives from their parent or guardian;
- A child living in the same household, or likely to live in the same household, as someone who has committed an act of domestic violence, committed an assault against a child or committed a sexual assault against an adult or child ;
- The child abusing alcohol or drugs;
- The child having committed an offence;
- The child’s failure to attend at school without reasonable justification;
- A child who has been, or is likely to be pressured to enter into a forced marriage or civil partnership.
The Panel are a body of three lay persons, whose role is to make decisions which safeguard and protect children and young persons. With limited exception, the requirement to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child or young person as their paramount consideration is at the heart of their decision making. Children and young persons are given an opportunity to express their own views, and if they do so, the Panel require to have regard to those views when reaching their decisions.
At the initial Children’s Panel following the referral, the Reporter will prepare a ‘Statement of Grounds’ which contains one or more of the Section 67 Grounds and various accompanying statements of fact in support of those grounds. If the Panel consider that statements of fact have not been fully understood, or those which have been denied by the child, their parent or guardian are sufficiently serious, they will refer the matter to the Sheriff Court. It is the job of a Sheriff to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to find the S67 Ground/s established.
If the Section 67 Ground is established, the Sheriff will send the matter back to the Panel to consider whether a Compulsory Supervision Order (“CSO”) needs to be made. A CSO is an Order which lasts up to one year, but can be reviewed every three months if the Panel or a relevant person request a review. For a CSO to remain in place, it requires to be necessary. In addition to ongoing family engagement, and reports from the Local Authority, a Panel may ask a Safeguarder to provide a report to assist with their decision making. The remit of the Report is set by the Panel. A CSO can have attached to it, a number of conditions. These can include:
- Where a child is to live;
- Who a child is to live with;
- Who a child has contact with, the frequency and duration of that contact and whether there is a need for any supervision;
- Whether there is a need to withhold details of where a child is living in order to safeguard and protect the child or young person for potential or further harm;
- Authorisation that the child is placed in secure accommodation in circumstances where they are, or are likely to be, a danger to themselves or others
The Panel must apply the law correctly and follow the correct procedures as they are set out in the 2011 Act and the accompanying procedural rules. If the panel fail to do so, their decisions may be subject to appeal.
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