The children’s panel system exists to make sure that children get the help they need in a variety of circumstances usually involving lack of parental care/neglect or abuse but also in cases where the child is alleged to have committed an offence.
A children’s panel comprises three individuals. The children’s hearing itself is convened by the children’s reporter.
Legal representation is now more widely available for parents attending a children’s panel, but many lawyers provide free representation anyway. The children’s panel may appoint a safeguarder – an independent person with no connection to the social work department or the children’s hearing – to carry out their own enquiries and provide information to the children’s panel to help them make the best decision in a child’s case.
It is up to the children’s panel to decide what should happen in the case of any given child whose case has been referred to them. Where however there is a dispute at the outset about the validity or accuracy of these concerns, then the case must go to the local sheriff court. Legal aid is usually available to parents for the case, depending on their income and capital, and also for children in certain circumstances.
At court, the sheriff hears evidence and then decides whether the concerns have been made out. If the sheriff decides that they have been, the case goes back to the children’s panel and they then decide what should happen next. If the sheriff decides that the concerns are not made out, then that brings matters to an end. The children’s hearing itself also has the power to decide to take no further action.
The website of the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration contains a useful list of frequently asked questions about the children’s panel: www.scra.gov.uk
If a case is sent back to the children’s panel by the sheriff, then they have to decide whether to place a child under social work supervision, so that the child and her family get the help they need. There is a right of appeal to the sheriff court against most decisions of the children’s hearing. Legal aid again is available in most cases The Scottish Government also provides very helpful information about the children’s panel system which can be found here.
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