Social work chief calls for an end to volunteer-led Children’s Panel


President of Social Work Scotland wants childrens hearing system to be revisited.

A SOCIAL work chief has called for the children’s panel to be made professional due to increasing legalisation.

Alistair Gaw, president of social work Scotland (SWS) and head of children’s services at Edinburgh City Council, said the Children’s hearing system should be revisited.

Currently the panel is staffed by volunteers who come from all walks of life. The panel have the ability to make decisions about whether children should be taken into care, where they should go to school and what contact they should have with family.

Gaw believes that due to increasing legalisation of hearings it has become more difficult for the panel to make decisions in the best interests of the children.

Speaking to the Herald Gaw said: “I have huge respect for panel members and the hearing system itself, but we have so much adversarial argument now that there is a question about whether the interests of the child are getting lost.”

He also compared children’s hearings to other tribunals, such as employment and land tribunals, which always have at the very least a trained chairperson.

Tim Parkinson, professional officer at Scottish Association of Social workers says they would like to keep the principles of the panel and professionalising them in this way would jeopardise that. They also realise that Gaw’s comments highlight a growing problem and people are entitled to legal representation at these hearings.

Parkinson suggested an alternative saying: “There could be bigger role for the reporter. Until recent changes came in they had more of a role. They would be trained lawyers or solicitors and this could help solve the problem as the panel would still be lay people but there would be a trained person there for support.”

A Scottish government spokesperson agreed that to pay people to sit on the panel would go against the ethos of the hearing and stressed that panel members have undergone training and have support in their role.

A spokesperson from Children’s hearings Scotland said: “Applicants to the national Children’s Panel undergo a robust recruitment and selection process. In addition, they must also complete an extensive ‘pre-service’ training programme, delivered to a nationally consistent high quality standard and only then do they become fully qualified and are appointed as Children’s Panel members”

In some cases children can have unwanted visitation forced on them, in others children have been left in a state of limbo after legal disputes have meant a delay in adoptions being finalised.