THE day after a horrifying report on child protection failings in Rotherham was published, I went on the radio to discuss the children's panel.
It was BBC Radio Scotland's Morning Call programme, (although sticking strictly to the Beeb's endorsement policy obliges me to point out that other phone-ins are available).
Scotland's Children's Hearing System is looking for new panel members to sit on the volunteer tribunals that help make crucial decisions about the lives of troubled or at-risk young people. I was invited on because I've been sitting as a panel member for four years now and was able to talk about why I started and what I get out of it.
Time didn't permit me to make the other comment I had planned about Rotherham.
As Alexis Jay, Scotland's former chief social work inspector and advisor to the Scottish Government, reported with her team, more than 1,400 children in Rotherham were abused and exploited over a 16-year period. Many of the children were known to the authorities, including the police, who "regarded many child victims with contempt".
I would have argued such a scandal was unlikely to happen here.
To be clear, I am not saying abuse doesn't happen in Scotland. But I believe the Children's Hearing System provides a safeguard against the kind of institutional buck-passing, reputation guarding and refusal to believe children that enabled the abuse in Rotherham to be so bad, for so long.
Why? Because in Scotland a panel of ordinary members of the public takes a real interest in the lives of individual young people in a unique system that never - in my experience - treats young people with contempt.
I don't mean to encourage complacency. Children's panels have their failings, of course. And anyone who pronounces "this could never happen here" is offering a hostage to fortune.
But to my satisfaction, a man who had been in front of a children's panel himself many years ago called the radio programme just after I had been cut off. He credited the system with saving his life. He also, very articulately, made my point for me about Rotherham. He also saw children's panels as a strong defence against such massive failings.
That defence relies on the freely given time of members of the public from all walks of life, and new recruits are needed every year. Anyone interested can find out more by visiting www.childrenspanelscotland.org. Applications are currently being sought by September 15.
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