BEING at the age where friends are starting to have children, it’s fascinating watching the people you know develop their parenting styles. And doesn’t everyone have an opinion on how children should be raised?

The proliferation of views is due to the fact the difficulty is not in forming opinions about what is best for children, it’s in justifying them. Adults allow all sorts of outside influences to shade their maxims about how things should be done, but very rarely stop to unpick why they believe that which they believe.

Justifying your views about a child’s life is one of the trickiest parts of being a children’s panel member. One might believe they know what is best for a child or young person – but faced with a room full of dissent, it can be hard to reach a conclusion and explain why.

A core difficulty is the competing dictums of a child’s rights and a child’s welfare. It is this tension that sits at the heart of Ian McEwan’s novel, The Children Act, which has been turned into a film starring Emma Thompson and is currently in cinemas. It refers to the 1989 law passed by Westminster, which attempts to ensure children are safeguarded by the adults and agencies in their lives. It admirably states that a “child’s welfare should be the court’s paramount consideration”. But the definition of “welfare” is left up to the individuals deciding what is right for that child.

In Scotland, of course, we support children and young people through the children’s hearings system, where a tribunal of lay people make legally binding decisions about safety and welfare.

It is often the case that children and young people, who are encouraged to speak for themselves at hearings if they can, want what is not necessarily best for them. An example of this is contact with parents who may have abused or neglected them. Other times, parents will assert their right to see their child, even when that is not beneficial to the child’s welfare.

In recent years the children’s hearing system has become more frequently populated with solicitors as legal aid became easier to access. The solicitor is the only person in the room whose priority is not the child, but their client, when the child and the parent’s interests clash.

Social work and the family may be at complete loggerheads. The truth is a slippery thing and never straightforward but a panel must weigh up testimony, all the while remembering there is no dilemma as long as one keeps the child at the forefront of decision making.

It is necessary to ensure everyone involved is viscerally dedicated to ensuring child welfare. This means recruiting the right people and is where the recent children’s hearing recruitment campaign went so badly wrong. Panel members were portrayed in the adverts with halos.

Some panel members may see themselves as white knights but these are not the right people to be involved with the system. A panel member should not be there for the sake of an ego boost or the smug satisfaction a halo would imply.

If one group wears a halo, it implies others are lesser and that is completely against the spirit of the thing. It’s also a nonsense: none of us are angels, all of us have flaws. None of us are immune from mistakes.

The children’s panel system faces scrutiny. Perhaps one day it will be professionalised and the thought of volunteers making these life-altering decisions will be an anachronism.

For now, it is not angels watching over our young people. It must be humans who are sharp-thinking, thoughtful and, as in The Children’s Act, alert to centring the child at all times.