A release from the Scottish Government on their latest Children's Panel recruitment scheme. Lets hope successful applicants are more of a mixture than the usual suspects already holding several highly paid quango positions …
"Can you help fix the cracks in a child's life?" is the question being asked of the public as a new campaign to recruit Children's Panel members kicks off today.
The campaign was launched by Minister for Children and Early Years Adam Ingram in Edinburgh and seeks new volunteers to come forward to make decisions for Scotland's most vulnerable children and young people.
Mr Ingram said: "Scotland's unique Children's Hearings System remains the best way of providing support and assistance to our children and young people in need or at risk.
"We're strengthening key aspects of the hearings system through the Children's Hearings (Scotland) Bill. But we're maintaining the vital role of panel members, who are best placed to make decisions for children and young people in our communities.”
"Members don't need specialist skills, simply commitment, and the capacity to care about, and communicate with, children and families. Interest in taking part remains high but we still need members of our communities to volunteer. Today's campaign launch seeks to galvanise new people into taking part.”
"The real-life skills and experience of Panel members such as Stuart Smith, who attended today's launch, demonstrates how volunteers in the children's hearings system can help fix the cracks in children and young people's lives and help them move on for the better.”
"We need dedicated, caring people with commitment and commonsense to get involved. We must ensure that vulnerable children and their families have access to the care, support and direction that they need."
This year's campaign runs from September 1 to October 1 and aims to generate over 400 successful applications from the right type of individual - a person who can make the commitment and has a strong desire to help improve the life of a child.
A mix of radio, print press (both local and national) and online advertising, complemented by PR activity, will drive this year's recruitment. With fewer Local Authorities recruiting this year, the campaign will focus on local/regional activity using local radio stations and press titles that cover only those areas recruiting.
The Children's Panel is unique to Scotland and was established in 1971 to address the needs and behaviour of children and young people who face serious problems in their lives. These problems can include, for example, a child being abused, a child failing to attend school, the child's parents having difficulty looking after them or a child committing an offence.
Children are referred to a children's hearing where compulsory measures of supervision are thought to be needed. A children's hearing is a lay tribunal of three panel members. The child, parents/carers and relevant professionals all normally attend the hearing and take part in the discussion. The children's hearing considers and makes decisions on the measures required to best meet the needs of the child or young person before them. The "needs" of the child include addressing any "deeds".
* There are around 2,500 panel volunteers in Scotland.
* In 2008/09 there were 42,866 children's hearings held.
* 47,178 children were referred to the Children's Reporter in 2008/09 - the majority (39,105) on care and protection grounds.
Stuart Smith case study
Children's Panel member Stuart Smith, aged 24 from Renfrew, knows exactly how easy it is for a young person to find themselves in trouble, having experienced the panel from the other side when he was a teenager.
He explains why his experience as a child led him to applying two years ago, "When I was in high school I got in with the wrong crowd and ended up in trouble - mostly for ditching school. So when I found myself in front of the Children's Panel it was a massive shock. I was mortified when I saw that a member of the panel was a man who knew my mum and gran. I had no idea that panel members were ordinary folk from the community. Obviously he couldn't say anything outside of the hearing but I felt really embarrassed. It was the kick I needed to sort myself out.
"I'm about to start studying Social Work at the University of West of Scotland and I was looking for a volunteering opportunity that would support this and allow me to help other people in the community. The Children's Panel was perfect.
"But I originally thought that the panel was made up of older adults - I didn't realise that anyone over the age of 18 could apply - so I didn't get involved until quite recently. I was lucky enough to be accepted in June 2009.
Becoming a Children's Panel member means making complex decisions that affect a child and their family so intensive training is given to all panel members.
Stuart said: "The training took place every second week for about 13 weeks. It covered all aspects of the panel, including legislation and the role of the reporter. I was in a class of 13 people and we were picked out to take part in a mock panel hearing. This included reading a set of mock case notes. It was really useful.”
"The first time you sit on a panel is very nerve wracking. You never forget the responsibility that you have and sometimes I do leave a hearing wondering if I've made the right decision. But you need to remember that there are always three people on a panel, all with an equal say. The decisions are made on what is best for the child and you get all the papers in advance.”
"The panel makes you more aware of what's happening in your community and that kids from all backgrounds can end up in the care system. The best part of being a panel member is when you can help to turn this around.”
"When I was growing up I was a tearaway before I calmed down so I can relate to many of the children that I meet through the panel. Situations such as gang fighting can be passed down the line from older brothers or sisters and it's easy to get involved with the wrong people.”
"However, the majority of the children that I see through the Children's Panel have been referred due to a breakdown in their home life. Most of the children I have come across are not on a supervision order due to any fault of their own. It's usually down to a lack of parenting skills. In fact, it's very few and far between that children are referred to us for offending behaviour.”
As well as meeting new people Stuart has also gained some valuable skills from becoming a Children's Panel member. He said, "I've always been very indecisive but I'm much better at decision making. I've learnt a lot. I've covered some of the social issues in college but you don't get to go into depth. The case notes you're given as a panel member cover everything in a child's life from what their family home is like to nourishment. It can sometimes be difficult to read. But it makes you thankful for what you've got.
"Perhaps the biggest change in me is that I understand people better. When I'm out on the town with mates I'm less judgemental about some of the people I meet and I can be quite defensive when my friends make comments about people they don't know.”
Stuart goes on to describe what makes a good panel member, "You've got to care about what's happening to people and want to help. We need people from all walks of life and with different backgrounds. Anyone who genuinely cares about children can be a panel member. There's full training and a buddy support network so you can pick up the phone for advice at anytime.”
"It's also really important that people are aware of the commitment required. Some of the papers that we read before a hearing can be extremely time consuming and you need to be available for the sessions. It's not something that you can just pop along to when you have some free time - we need people who're prepared to commit. But if you're willing and dedicated then you'll reap the personal rewards too.”
"I put up a lot of barriers before I finally committed to the panel but the training has made all the difference to the things I thought I couldn't do. The only person stopping you becoming a panel member is yourself."