An MP has raised concerns over an alleged ‘exodus’ of children’s hearing panel members in the north during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Moray MP Douglas Ross has contacted the Scottish Government after being informed of children’s panel members resigning and a decline in the number of hearings being held across the north of Scotland.
The Moray MP has been told by current and former children’s hearing panel members that 11 volunteers covering Moray and the Highlands have recently resigned.
Mr Ross has written to Childcare and Early Years Minister Maree Todd to ask for clarity on the issues and for an action plan to rectify any problems.
He said: “It is very concerning that there appear to be serious shortfalls within the children’s hearing system in the north of Scotland.
“There has been an exodus of volunteers in the Moray and Highland area in recent months.
“At the moment, I am told there is no area convener as the previous two incumbents both resigned.
“Current and former panel members have said they fear that vulnerable children are being lost in the system.
“This is deeply worrying, particularly given the Children’s Hearing system is designed to protect young people who are most at risk.
“I have written to the Scottish Government to seek clarity on these reports and to ask what is being done to address these issues. This is an issue that demands an immediate response and I hope we get that from the Scottish Government.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The children’s hearings system has a vital role in protecting the rights and promoting the life chances of our most vulnerable children.
“That is why we brought in emergency legislation to ensure hearings continued during the Covid-19 lockdown, and provided more than £2 million in new funding to support system response, recovery and renewal.
“While centres had to close for public safety reasons, virtual hearings have been held across the country from 4 May and physical hearings were reintroduced from July – prioritising the most urgent and high-risk situations.
“In the four months from June to September, 82 hearings were held in Moray.
“Scotland’s national children’s panel has around 2,500 members, and around 20% move on each year. Retention rates are in line with normal expectations.”
The spokesman added that, between April and October, there were nine panel member resignations in Moray – saying retention rates are in line with normal expectations.
Children’s hearings are legal tribunals that decide what is best for a child or young person who is not being looked after properly or has been in trouble with the police or at school.
Panel members are all volunteers, who receive training and guidance to make legal decisions.