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Protection referrals outweigh those for breaking law

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Children 1st supports the proposals to streamline the children's hearings system to provide better training for professionals and panel members.

However, the system has been put under increasing strain in recent years by a huge increase in the number of referrals.

The number of children referred for care and protection now outweighs those referred for breaking the law. We want to see more resources allocated to meet the needs of children and families before compulsion is required. This will also allow the hearings system to get back to being used for the purpose for which it was originally intended.

It is essential that police and those working with children exercise judgment in identifying children who are clearly in need of the kind of help provided by the hearings system and differentiate between these and youngsters whose families are willing and able to take responsibility for them.

Children 1st has long advocated the mainstream use of family group conferencing, where the care and concern of family and friends can be harnessed in the child's best interests before statutory intervention is required. Such an approach can also be a useful resource for children's hearings when there may be a need for compulsory measures of care, and alternatives are being sought.

Anne Houston, chief executive, Children 1st, Whitehouse Loan, Edinburgh.

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