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Tomorrow – the 25th of May – marks one year since the publication of the ‘Hearings for Children’ report.

I’m proud of the work the Hearings System Working Group did to develop the report and its 97 recommendations.

A year on from its publication, I still believe these recommendations have the potential to bring transformational change to the Children’s Hearings System and deliver a step change in Scotland for how we work alongside children and families.

From left to right: Fiona Duncan, Chair of The Promise Scotland, Fraser McKinlay, CEO of The Promise Scotland, Natalie Don MSP, Minister for Children, Young People and Keeping The Promise, and Sheriff David Mackie, Chair of Hearings System Working Group.  Image Copyright Maverick Photo Agency.

True to the commitment given to me and the Hearings System Working Group, we received the Scottish Government’s formal response to the 97 recommendations set out in the report in December 2023. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with the Scottish Government accepting a significant majority of recommendations - giving the green light for real, transformational change to deliver a redesigned Children’s Hearings System which is grounded in children’s rights and recognised as a non-adversarial, inquisitorial process.

Where we are now

It is heartening to know that some of the most fundamental principles underpinning and guiding the work of the Hearing System’s Working Group align with the policies and aspirations of the Scottish Government. This includes the development of early and effective help and support for families and addressing the impact of poverty on families on the edge of care or entering care.

However, my disappointment cannot be hidden in respect to the recommendation for salaried Chairs. This recommendation represented what we considered was the best measure in addressing the need for continuity and consistency of decision makers, articulated by the children and families we heard from.

Although this specific recommendation has not been accepted, I value the statement from the Scottish Government that it is clear there is a need for capacity and continuity issues to be addressed to develop consistency and support structures around the tribunal.

To this end, Ministers have committed to exploring alternative options, including those with a remuneration dimension, with a view to consulting on the best approach for the future composition of the tribunal. I am happy with this, as I believe, within this framework, it will be possible to realise the new vision for the role of the Chair, alongside the many other strands of improvement and redesign that have been accepted.

The Scottish Government does not have the same luxury we did of solely focusing on the remit of the Children’s Hearings System, and instead it must be acutely aware of budgetary demands and competing priorities amidst a challenging financial climate.

It is important to focus on the ambition shown by the Scottish Government through its acceptance of many recommendations and commitment to consult on others. These recommendations cannot be viewed in isolation, but rather in a broader context of the vision of the Hearings for Children report.

It has become apparent to me that regardless of what response we would receive from the Scottish Government, our report had been a catalyst for reflection across the sector, changing the discourse, opening minds to better ways of working to support children and families and giving energy to those ideas for improvement that were already under consideration.

What’s Next

Across the next year or two, we will see a continuation of improvement work already in hand, and the development and exploration of new ideas guided by the work of the Hearings for Children report. This will be accompanied by other strands of policy development in preparation for the forthcoming Promise Bill, which is the anticipated legislative vehicle for the changes that call for legislation and will be introduced in this Parliamentary Session.

The ongoing work will be overseen by a Children’s Hearings Redesign Board jointly chaired by the Scottish Government and COSLA. We have been assured the Board will oversee delivery of changes to the Children’s Hearings System that are underpinned by clear and compelling evidence, with demonstrable benefits to children and their families.

I look forward with real excitement to the work of the next year or two as the plan for implementation is undertaken and Scotland takes a monumental step in realising the ambitions of the promise, and ensuring we work alongside children and families to uphold their rights and allow them to participate in decisions that affect them.

Learn more about the Hearings for Children redesign report and its recommendations for transformational change here.

About the author

Sheriff David Mackie - Hearings System Working Group Chair

Sheriff David Mackie

Hearings System Working Group Chair

After working as a solicitor, then as an Advocate, David became the resident Sheriff in Alloa: a position which he held for 15 years. He has also worked with charities supporting disadvantaged and marginalised young people in:

  • Scotland,
  • Malawi, and
  • Nepal.

Through this and his work as a Sheriff, he developed a strong belief in the power of redemption and a compassionate approach to sentencing. He has an interest in restorative justice as a means of addressing the needs of victims of crime.

Now retired, he continues to support many charities, does a little teaching, and still serves part-time as a Sheriff.

Access the Hearings For Children report

Hearings for Children: Redesign Recommendations

Summarised versions of all recommendations in the Hearings for Children Redesign Report.

Hearings For Children: The Redesign Report

The Hearings System Working Group's final report sets out how to redesign the Children's Hearings System so children are put at its centre.

Hearings for Children: Summary overview of recommendations

Summary overview of recommendations in terms of what matters to children and families.

Hearings for Children: Child-friendly summary overview of recommendations

Child-friendly summary overview of recommendations in terms of what matters to children and their families.

A Redesigned Children's Hearings System: Isla's story

Video following the journey of a child to show what a redesigned Children's Hearings System will look like.