Jackie Brock believes professionals and lay members of the public together can ensure children are at the heart of our Children's Panel system
Earlier this week, the Herald newspaper reported on comments made by Alistair Gaw, president of Social Work Scotland and head of children’s services at Edinburgh City Council. Mr Gaw suggested that children’s panels could benefit from the inclusion of professionals, including those from a social work background.
Children in Scotland supported the last overhaul of the system and believe that further improvements could be made in terms of consistency, continuity and communication. However, this does not necessarily mean undermining the valuable support that well trained lay members can provide.
Scotland has been rightly praised for its forward-looking and forward-thinking legislation and principles, putting children and families at the centre. And systems such as the Children’s Hearing System exemplify these ideals.
Of particular concern is the increasingly adversarial nature of complex child protection cases heard by the children’s panels and also the courtsJackie Brock
But have too many of our systems and processes lost sight of their founding principles which put children’s needs and interests at the forefront?
Of particular concern is the increasingly adversarial nature of complex child protection cases heard by the children’s panels and also the courts. Do the needs of adults trump too often the needs of the children? Are the decision-making processes closely aligned to the age and stage of a child and do they take into account the long-term impact on healthy child development of a lack of attachment and disrupted home life?
It may seem perfectly reasonable for the panels and the courts to ask for reports and evidence to be gathered. But when this can take months, even years, are the costs of delay on the child taken into account when calling for another report?
Ensuring that our children’s panels are made up of members who are well trained to handle and assess a range of issues which the panels have to make decisions on, while at all times considering the impact on the child, should mean that children really do remain at the heart of the decision making.
But Mr Gaw is right to call for more improvements to the structure of the panels.
A balance needs to be struck between professionals who have in-depth knowledge of the nuances and complexities of cases involving vulnerable, at-risk or challenging families and the valuable and unbiased views of well-trained and, crucially, well supported members of the public.
Jackie Brock delivered a speech at Social Work Scotland’s annual conference, held at Crieff Hydro on Wednesday 17 and Thursday 18 June.