AFTER 11 years as a children's panel member there are young people who stick in my mind more than others.

Some have moved me more than others, often for seemingly inconsequential things. There have been stories of absolute despair and incredible triumph. There is no feeling like stopping a child's compulsory supervision order - the legal order that means that the local authority is responsible for supporting the child - because life is going so well that the interventions are no longer needed.

There has only been one time in a hearing room that I've truly struggled not to cry. It was because the girl reminded me so much of myself that the feelings of empathy were almost overwhelming.

I can't share details of any specific examples because the work of the children's panel is private - what happens in the hearing room stays there. Journalists can report on children's hearings but they don't, predominantly because the anonymity afforded to the child or young person means there's very little of the case we can meaningfully tell.

In this way, children's hearings go largely unexamined by the public and are not well understood. It's unusual to mention to someone that I am a children's panel member and have them know what I'm talking about.

Yet the children's hearings system is the mainstay of care and justice for children and young people in Scotland. It is a system that intervenes in the lives of thousands of Scottish families every year and it should be subjected to far more scrutiny for that reason.

It is hailed as a world leading system yet no other country has chosen to replicate it. 

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This is why a new report, released last week, is so important. Any recommendations the Scottish Government chooses to implement from

Hearings for Children, the Hearings System Working Group's redesign report, will have a significant and widespread impact.

We - all adults - are responsible for the care and protection of young people in Scotland and so any redesign of the children's hearing system is of importance to all of us.

The report makes 97 recommendations for the redesign of the panel system. The main one is seismic - it recommends replacing the current system of tribunals run by volunteers with a panel formed of one paid, professional chair and two paid side panel members.

The suggestion to professionalise the children's hearing system comes up every so often but never in any serious way. This new report, however, has been written for Scottish Government scrutiny and has been undertaken with a view to making meaningful changes.

Some suggestions in the report were dismaying to read. Certain recommendations were framed as new ideas to be implemented in order to make hearings better for young people - but are standard practice that should be happening in hearings already.

As one example, the report says hearings must: "pivot towards understanding children and their needs in the context of their entire family and community".

When the hearings system was set up in the 1960s its ethos was to focus on the "needs not deeds" of children and young people. The idea was that lay people in a child's own community would support that child and their family.

Not everyone does, but I chose to sit in the area I live in because I believe the ethos of helping people in one's own community is right. My area of Glasgow has specific issues that I understand through being immersed in them, as do other areas and the people who live in them.

The idea that paid panel members will better understand specific communities is a fallacy – we panel members should already understand those communities because we should live in them.

The report states that panels "must pivot towards understanding children and their needs in the context of their entire family and community." This is exactly what panels should already do.

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Having knowledge and understanding of a child's wider family and community is one of the core purposes of a panel.

Some of the comments from young people who have experience of the hearing system make for unsettling reading as well. One care experienced teenager told the BBC, based on his recollections of attending hearings as a young child, that the child or young person should never have to sit behind the hearing chair. 

I can't conceive of a children's hearing where the child is placed behind the panel - generally the panel sits in a row and everyone else is in a semi-circle in front of them.

Young people have talked about the difficulty of having to repeat their story with new people at each hearing but this very rarely happens. We don't ask children to tell their stories in hearings and we go out of our way to pass on relevant information to future panels via hearing paperwork.

These situations seem like issues that could be resolved with training - they are both things that shouldn't happen.

The report also says: "A hearing must ask: what does this family need to keep the child safe, loved and well?" A hearing does ask that. But if that's all a hearing asks, then it is not asking another crucial question: will this family ever be able to keep the child safe, loved and well? Sometimes, in the real world, the answer is no.

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There is a huge emphasis on keeping a family together but it is not always possible to do so. If we want that to be the default it would take a massive increase in mental health support, investment in addiction services for parents, an increase in monitoring to ensure children are safe and an expansion of services to help support families with getting children to school.

As a panel member you are making complex and difficult decisions about when best to keep a child at home and when, actually, it is better for them to be received into foster care or a children's unit, say, rather than spend longer in a detrimental home environment.

Of course, of course, we must listen to the needs and wants of children and young people but can those be implemented within the current volunteer system? It may not be the case that an alternative system is any better.

The Promise was the independent review of the care system and one of the core recommendations of that report was that children should be loved.

There was, however, no recommendation on how to go about that.

If the core recommendation of Hearings for Children is that professional panel members will be superior to volunteers then it really needs to be made clear why.

One of the reasons given forms another recommendation: that children should have continuity in the chairing member of their case. But professionals are no guarantee of continuity. We see this in social workers - they move on, they have holidays, they go off sick. Continuity is a pledge that will be difficult to keep.

Volunteers are best placed to prioritise the best needs of the children. Social workers do an extraordinary job but we do hear restraints based on resources and funding. Weekend contact, for example, might be the best thing for the child but there's no resource to facilitate that so it's not recommended.

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Parents sometimes don't or can't put the needs of children first. Legal representatives are there to advocate for the rights of the parent, not the child.

In my time as a panel member the hearings system has worked to try to diversify, including the age and class profile. I was in my 20s when I joined and was always the youngest on a panel, often the only person from a working class background.

It's hard to juggle an involved volunteering role with work and so panel members can tend to be retired and middle class.

It's possible to get out of work to volunteer but far less easy to justify time out of a work to go and do a second paid job. Professionalising the system risks pushing the panel member profile back towards being middle class retirees. 

A panel colleague once pointed out to me this: for some children, every single adult in their life is paid to be there. Their foster carer, their social worker, their teacher. That fact alone makes a panel a distinct presence in a young person's life.

Will a legalistic professionalised system be any better than volunteers at putting the child at the very centre of every decision? Before any changes are accepted, it's going to be important to make an extremely robust case for it.