Arrangements for reopening Children’s Hearings centres – in common with courts and tribunals buildings – are included in phase 1 of the route map announced by the First Minister on 21 May 2020. No dates or timescales have been set for ‘face to face’ Hearings.
For more detail, see the Route Map on the Scottish Government website.
The First Minister has made it clear that the basis on which a move to each phase is dependent on meeting stringent criteria. The next review of lockdown by the Government is Thursday 28 May. We will know then whether the intention is to move to phase 1.
Questions and Answers:
Are we expecting Children’s Hearings to start again on 28 May?
No. What the First Minister’s announcement means is that the Children’s Hearings System is recognised as a critical public service – so focused preparatory work to support service recovery has begun.
Once that is complete, the responsible agencies have confirmed to the Government that the lead-in time – to prepare premises, train and equip staff, make system adaptations and ensure physical distancing – is considerable.
No physical Hearings will be possible for a number of weeks after the point that it is agreed it is safe to hold them. This long lead-in, and the intrinsic complexity of holding Hearings, were key factors behind Children’s Hearings’ inclusion in phase 1.
Meantime, virtual Children’s Hearings continue to operate in line with the guidance issued by the Principal Reporter of SCRA and the National Convener of CHS on 20 April. You can find out more here.
Why did Children’s Hearings appear in phase 1?
Children’s Hearings can make legally-binding, life-changing decisions – with potential major impacts on the rights of vulnerable children. All children have the rights to participate in, express their views and have those views taken into account in every decision made about them.
Hearings System partners have agreed a rights-centred set of principles to guide decision-making on how to respond to the virus impacts, how to recover from them and how to get ready to renew Hearings services in the coming period .
The current pandemic measures preventing physical Hearings should be in place only for as long as they are needed. We are anxious to provide a full service to children and families as soon as it is safe.
What if staff or panel members do not wish to participate in physical Hearings?
No child, family member, volunteer, staff or professional will be called for Hearings until we are satisfied that it is safe.
A risk-led, phased approach to the reintroduction of some physical Hearings has been prepared, and agencies are discussing it with staff, volunteer managers and trade unions.
That will only be implemented once clinical risk assessments of the issues inevitably engaged by physical Children’s Hearings has been completed – to all partners’ satisfaction.
We expect remote Hearings to continue to be the default for some weeks to come. A blend between virtual and physical Hearings will persist for the foreseeable future.