16 / ENGAGING WITH THE CHILDREN'S HEARINGS SYSTEM, COURTS AND OTHER DECISION-MAKING BODIES
"I suppose our primary responsibility is to make the best decisions for that child at that time, given the information we have. We have to consider the child's views and make his or her safety the paramount consideration. We want the best for them; a more stable life, a more normal life, for them to be safe and secure and to have an equal chance of education.
"What frustrates me is when there isn't the money to support families in the way they need. We see children coming in and out of care and we can't find the right placements for them, because there aren't enough. Not having the right resources is one of the biggest headaches. There aren't enough social workers. We are spending a fortune on residential placements for children which don't always solve their problems.
"The rewards are when you see a family who have managed to make changes and turn things around for themselves. It does happen. A family which has been pretty dysfunctional and which has managed to pull things together. In my view in 90% of cases the problems are caused because parents are unable to sort themselves out and deal with their issues.
"[The biggest challenge is] dealing with parents who haven't got the wherewithal to parent children in the way we think they should, for lots of different reasons. It may be because they weren't parented themselves, or it may be because of drug and alcohol problems. You have to have hope, trust and work towards helping them."
Gill McBride, Children's Panel Member and Chair of Stirling Children's Panel.
There can be tension between deciding whether to provide family support or to remove the child and place in foster care or residential setting at an early stage; such decisions are never easy. The long-term objective of fostering and residential care should be that each and every Looked After child or young person goes on to live a happy, successful and fulfilling life, regardless of their initial experiences.
"Fundamentally I felt better in care, but it wasn't a magical overnight thing. It took a couple of weeks to trust my foster carers." (Cheryl)
The majority of children and young people who become Looked After are involved with at least one external decision-making body. For many there is an element of compulsion involved in becoming Looked After, therefore there are associated legal processes through court or a children's hearing. This is a very complex area and this section offers only a simple introduction. More detailed information is available from the Scottish Courts Service or the Scottish Children's Reporters Administration.
The Community Justice Authority will need to take account of the needs of Looked After children and young people and care leavers, in terms of their potential to become offenders and as the children of adult offenders.
You will want to:
- Consider involving the local children's reporter, Children's Panel Chair, and children's panel members in strategic children's services planning, joint staff training and awareness-raising sessions around corporate parenting and the needs of Looked After children and young people and care leavers.
- Consider involving Community Justice Authorities, Judges, Sheriffs and Justices of the Peace in strategic children's services planning or participating in awareness-raising sessions around corporate parenting and the needs of Looked After children and care leavers.
- Work with your local children's panel to make sure that panel members have access to up-to-date training and information on local policies and procedures, and that they are fully aware of how their work interacts with the care system.
- Make sure that everyone involved with a Looked After child is able to fully participate in case conferences, children's hearings and preparing reports for Hearings or court proceedings so that the information presented to the external decision-makers is comprehensive and robust.
- Make sure that social workers and others who attend hearings and court are fully trained and have access to sound support to enable them to perform at their best.
- Make sure that children and young people who are required to attend Hearings or court are offered as much support as they require to ensure that the experience is as straightforward as possible.
- Make sure that your systems and case management are as good as they can be to prevent unnecessary appearances in hearings or court and particularly to reduce the need to reconvene, to limit the stress on children, young people, their families and staff.
- Make sure that planning for permanence is built in from as early a stage as possible, and that all necessary procedures are followed properly to minimise the disruption to children and young people and their families, to reduce drift and to prevent children from "yo-yo-ing" around the system.
- Know that panel members are confident in challenging social work and education constructively.
- Act on decisions made by Children's Panels.
HOW WILL I KNOW I'VE MADE A DIFFERENCE?
- When you achieve a good outcome for a child or young person from a children's hearing or court proceeding.
- When your staff are confident and competent in dealing with Children's Hearings or court appearances.
- When unnecessary delays, drift and bouncing around the system are prevented.
- When you can communicate openly and productively with panel members, children's reporter and sheriffs.