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Government re-think on Children's Hearing Bill welcomed by UNISON

28 Aug 2009: Following representations to the Scottish Government, UNISON Scotland has welcomed the Government's re-think on the Bill. UNISON Social Work and Reporter members had raised a number of concens about the Bill in a meeting with the minister and civil servants, especially in relation to the protection of children and the need to defend Scotland's unique Children's Hearing system (see below).

"We are glad that UNISON, along with others, has been listened to by the Government. This is the right decision and UNISON will engage fully in the process of re-thinking the Bill on the basis of defending the Children's Hearing system and promoting it's welfare and child-centred principles", said John Stevenson, member of UNISON Scotland's Social Work Isues Group.

Click here for the Scottish Government statement

UNISON makes voice heard on new Children’s Hearings Bill

22 Aug 2009: UNISON is to have detailed talks with Scottish Goverment officials to address concerns the union has raised about the Draft Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Bill.

The talks were set up at a meeting with Adam Ingram, Minister for Children and Early Years, and members of UNISON Scotland’s Social Work Isues Group (SWIG) and the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) Branch after they had submitted detailed comments on the draft Bill.

Already the Minister has signalled that some of UNISON’s main concerns - mainly about protection for children and maintaining the welfare ethos of the system - will be addressed. He also said he shared UNISON’s strong defence of Scotland’s Children’s Hearing System as child-centred and welfare-based.

Kate Ramsden, from UNISON’s SWIG said, “We were seriously concerned that the Bill actually removed current protections from children who could be at risk in an abusive household, and also that children would only be referred for voluntary advice and assistance if they have already been subject to compulsory supervision.

“We welcome the Minister’s promise to address these areas.” However, serious concerns remain, mainly about the proposed new dual structure. The establishment of a new quango is likely to lead to a dual administration, meaning increased potential for confusion and increased bureaucracy.

Yvonne Stewart, UNISON SCRA branch secretary said, “The creation of a Scottish Children’s Hearing Tribunal (SCHT) and the split in the administration of the children’s hearing system can only lead to increased bureaucracy and a greater possibility of confusion and error. “This will lead to a more complex system for children, families and other professionals to engage with, and increased cost while also increasing the risk to children.”

John Stevenson, from UNISON’s SWIG agreed. “The double bureaucracy is likely to add to, rather than reduce, the amount of paperwork social workers have to fill in. This is despite all the evidence that shows the level of form-filling is a major factor reducing the time social workers can spend with children.”

UNISON is also concerned about a shift of powers towards the courts. John said, “The ability of a court to completely rehear a case decided by a Children’s Hearing and other changes would have meant that cases were more likely to be decided in an adversarial atmosphere of a court of law, rather than the hearing setting of all parties discussing the best option for a child.

“We were glad to hear the Minister also say that this issue would be addressed.

“UNISON believes the welfare principle of Scotland’s world-leading Children's Hearing system is worth defending.”

The vast majority of cases Children’s Hearings deal with are about the care and protection of children - 40,000 out of 50,000 referrals last year - rather than offences.