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Social workers provide extra help to children, young people and families who need this.

Social workers who work for local authorities have a particular role as the lead professional in supporting children, young people and their families in the Children’s Hearings System.

Referrals, reports and support

Anyone can refer a child or young person to a Children’s Reporter. Sometimes, where a social worker has been working with a child or young person and they are worried about them not getting the help they need, they will contact (known as making a referral) the Children’s Reporter to ask whether a Children’s Hearing should take place.

When a Children’s Reporter has been contacted by anyone about a child or young person, they will often ask a social worker for information to help them decide whether a Hearing needs to take place. A social worker has a legal duty to provide this information under the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011. The Children’s Reporter might just want some basic information to confirm whether the child or young person has been in contact with the social work service before and any details of that involvement. If they need more information, they will ask the social worker to complete a report about the child or young person.

The social worker will visit the child or young person and their family to speak to them to gather information for the report. They will share the information they have received from the Children’s Reporter about why a report has been requested and ask the child or young person and their parent or carer (meaning the person who has parental rights and responsibilities) to help by providing information to the social worker. The child or young person and their parent or carer do not need to provide any information. However, even where the child or young person and their parent or carer doesn’t agree with the reasons for a report, it is important that they have the opportunity to give their views, contribute any information they would like to and that any information which is in the report is discussed with them.

The kind of information needed for a report is based around the 8 wellbeing indicators (safe, healthy, active, nurtured, achieving, respected, responsible and included) and includes how the child or young person is growing and developing, how they are being cared for, who is looking after them and their family and community circumstances. It is really important that the social worker is able to tell the Children’s Reporter what life is like for the child or young person, including what is going well for them and whether there might be any extra help needed to support the child or young person’s development. Other professionals involved in the child or young person’s life including health visitors, teachers and family support workers in the community often contribute directly to the report but where they don’t, social workers still need to speak to them to gather their views about how well the child or young person is growing and developing and what (if any) extra help they might need.

As the lead professional, it is the social worker’s job to make sense of all the information and make a recommendation to the Children’s Reporter, based on the information, about what they think needs to happen to support the child or young person. In the report the social worker will consider the information gathered and the sources, alongside the current picture of how the young person is growing and developing.

They will make an assessment based on their experience and training about each piece of information, as to how important it is to the child or young person’s development (and why) and what it means for the likely outcomes for the child or young person. The social worker will also consider whether there is anything getting in the way of the child or young person’s development, any risks to their safety and anything which might be helping to protect the child or young person’s development and keep them safe. They will make sure that the child or young person’s and their parent or carer’s views are clearly stated within the report and ideally will have discussed the contents of the report with the child or young person and their parent or carer before sending it to the Children’s Reporter. This is to give the child or young person and their family another opportunity to correct any factual information and add in anything else.

A Hearing doesn’t have to take place before a child or young person gets any help they need. In working with the child or young person and their family to complete the report, the social worker might have already identified things which need to happen to support the child or young person for example getting help with housing issues or supporting the child or young person to attend a community club. The social worker will work with the child or young person and their parent or carer and other professionals to access supports as necessary. Sometimes, the support needed might be the social worker themselves for example spending time with the child or young person to talk about and explore their thoughts and feelings to help them better understand their situation.

Where help is needed, the social worker will work with the child or young person, their family and professionals involved with the child or young person to develop a plan of action (known as a child’s plan). This just helps make sure everyone understands what help is needed to support the child or young person, why and who is responsible for making sure it happens etc.

Before a Hearing

If the Children’s Reporter decides that a Hearing should be held, the social worker will help the child or young person and their parent or carer understand what will happen, explain the different roles in a Hearing such as the role of the Children’s Reporter and the Children’s Panel Members and answer any questions they may have. This should include making time to talk through any information which the Children’s Reporter has sent to the child or young person to make sure that they understand this and going over the report again. It’s important that the child or young person and their family know what the social worker intends to say at the Hearing and the reasons for this.

The child or young person and their parent or carer have very clear rights in relation to the Children’s Hearing process and it is important the social worker makes sure that they are aware of these, including the right to legal representation.

For some children and young people, this can be an anxious time. Sometimes, a child or young person might benefit from a social worker making arrangements with the Children’s Reporter for them to visit the building where the Hearing will take place so that they have had a chance to look around before the Hearing.

This is the child or young person’s Hearing and it’s important that the social worker speaks to the child or young person before it to help them think about what they want to say or what views they want to be put to the Children’s Panel Members in the Hearing about what they think about their situation and what they want to happen. Some children or young people may feel that they want to speak directly to the Panel Members. Others may be reluctant to attend and/ or prefer that their views are given by someone else such as a parent, social worker, an advocacy worker or sometimes by a legal representative.

The social worker will also discuss with the child or young person and their parent or carer arrangements for the day of the Hearing. Whilst some families may want to make their own arrangements for getting to the Hearing, others may benefit from the social worker escorting the family themselves or making arrangements to help the family to get to the Hearing (or even just arranging to meet them outside of the building).

During the Hearing

The social worker’s role is to support the child or young person and to speak about what they think should happen to help the child or young person. They will summarise the information from the report for the Children’s Panel Members, including the reasons for their recommendation. If there is any information which isn’t in the report but which could help the Children’s Panel Members to make a decision about what should happen, then the social worker will also tell the Panel Members this. Often, this is just to update the Panel Members on what has happened since the report was completed. Only currently important and relevant information will be shared.

The social worker will support the child or young person to speak as much, or as little, as they want. They will also help to make sure that both the child or young person and their parent or carer understands what is being said during the Hearing and has an opportunity to respond.

The child or young person may also have an advocacy worker or a legal representative and it is possible that there may be other social workers in attendance who are also working with the family(although as far as possible the number of professionals should be kept to the minimum necessary to support the Hearing to make the best decisions for the child or young person). Where this is the case, it is important that professionals have spoken to each other before the Hearing so that roles aren’t confusing and that the child or young person remains at the centre of their Hearing.

If the child or young person or their parent or carer doesn’t think that some or any of the reasons (known as the grounds for the hearing) for the Hearing taking place are true, or if the child is too young to understand the reasons for the Hearing, then the Panel Members will make the decision to ask the Court to get involved. The social worker will help prepare the child or young person and their parent or carer for the Court process and will also most likely be asked to give evidence to the Court.

After the Hearing

Immediately after a Hearing the social worker should be available to answer any questions that the child or young person or their parent or carer may have, including what the decision of the Hearing means. This is important for the child or young person as sometimes decisions can affect where the child or young person will stay and how often they can see people who are important to them. It is also important that the social worker sees the child or young person again within a week both to answer any further questions and plan for any other support or help that the child or young person might need.

Depending on what has happened at the Hearing, the child or young person and/or their parent or carer might disagree with the decision. When this happens, the social worker will help ensure that the child or young person and their parent or carer understand their rights, including the right to challenge the decision (known as an appeal) or request another Hearing (known as an early review).

Unless the decision has been made that there isn’t any need for the child or young person to have support from a social worker, after the Hearing the social worker will continue to work alongside the family and other professionals involved with the child or young person to take forward the actions identified in the plan to support the child or young person. This means that they will have regular contact with the child or young person to check out with them how they are getting on, what they need etc.

The social worker will always be the lead professional where a legal order has been made and will usually be the lead professional where contact with the child or young person and their family is voluntary. As the lead professional the social worker will ensure that, alongside the child or young person, their family and involved professionals, the plan is regularly reviewed.

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