NEW recommendations could ring the end of Scotland's unique care and justice system for children with calls for volunteers to be replaced by paid professionals.

Should the proposal be implemented, it would mean a seismic change to the Children's Hearings System, which was founded on the fundamental principle that children should be supported by lay people from their own communities.

Calls have been made previously to professionalise the system, which is unique to Scotland, but the move now is one of 97 recommendations to be considered by the Scottish Government.

They come from a new expert redesign report on Scotland’s Children’s Hearings System, drafted by the Hearings System Working Group (HSWG), which calls for "transformational change".

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Should Scotland's volunteer Panel Members be replaced by a professional Chair and paid Panel Members, it would meaning the tearing up of the only system of its kind in the world.

In the 1960s, juvenile courts were all courts of criminal law.

A review published in 1964, the Kilbrandon Report, outlined that the focus for children should be "needs not deeds" and formed the basis from which the Children's Hearings System was founded.

Now, the Hearings for Children redesign report has been published by The Promise Scotland following the input of a partnership group of experts and children with lived experience of the system.

Fi McFarlane, of The Promise Scotland, said: "This group and report has been dealing with difficult, challenging and complex issues.

"CHS and SCRA must be thanked for the open way they have gone about this redesign process and their dedication to listening the voices of children and families.

"There will be challenges in making this vision delivered by this report a reality, but these recommendations align clearly with Scotland’s progressive direction on justice issues and ensuring there is early support for children and families to stop costly crisis interventions.

"Many individuals must be recognised for the contributions they have made to the Children’s Hearing System, but as we look to the future our priority must be a system that listens to and works for Scotland’s children."

Children attend hearings made up of volunteer Panel Members because they are in need of care, protection and support, or have come into conflict with the law

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Hearings For Children recommends that a Hearing will consist of a salaried and highly-qualified professional Chair accompanied by two trained and skilled Panel Members, remunerated at a daily rate.

The changes, if implemented, will ensure that children have the same Chair every time they go to a Hearing.

The Independent Care Review report The Promise found that many children and families had difficult experiences at hearings, including having to retell their stories to different panel members.

The chair of the group, Sheriff David Mackie, said: "Since its inception, in 1968, many children, families, care experienced adults and those working alongside them have shared their views and experiences about what has been working and what hasn’t within the Children’s Hearings System.

"Many have highlighted a system that often feels complex and confusing and which does not always make sense to children and families.

"The recommendations of the HSWG represent transformational change to the Children’s Hearings System and a modern update on the historic and revolutionary work of the Kilbrandon Committee.

"If implemented and resourced in full they will herald a step change not only for the Children’s Hearings System but for how we work alongside children and families across Scotland."

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The HSWG was a partnership between Children’s Hearing Scotland (CHS), the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) and The Promise Scotland, an organisation set up to support the changes required by the Independent Care Review.

Young people aged eight to 18 were given the chance to feed their reviews into the report through Our Hearings Our Voice, an independent board for children and young people.

Ciara Waugh and Lisa Mason from Our Hearings Our Voice said, in a joint statement: "This is the last time a group like this should be needed.

"Now these recommendations need to be delivered so that we can have a system that speaks to children and not about them, and works with them and not around them."

The report was informed by more than 500 hours of discussion and deliberation, including 12 sessions with young people and 11 sessions with parents and carers.

The publication of the Hearings for Children report follows other, more minor, changes in how children’s hearings are run since the publication of the independent care review, such as brighter and more engaging hearing rooms.

The recommendations of the new report will now be sent to the Scottish Government.

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The Promise Scotland expects the Scottish Government will review the report and see that the necessary legislative change will be enacted in the forthcoming Promise Bill to be introduced in this Parliamentary Session.

Minister for Keeping the Promise Natalie Don said: "The Children’s Hearings System is unique to Scotland and for over 50 years, the dedication and commitment of those working within it has been outstanding.

"However, the Promise is clear that the system needs to change, as children’s experiences in the system haven’t always reflected that investment of care and skill.

"We’ll reflect on the legal, financial and workforce implications of these proposals before responding more fully later in the year.

"The changes that need new law or new structures will take time, but I want to assure children, families and those that work in the system that there will be opportunities to contribute, and to shape future reforms."