Panels are hamstrung by lack of alternatives

5th May 2000 at 01:00
EFFORTS by children's panels to avoid residential supervision orders are being frustrated by financial pressures on local authorities, a hard-hitting report from independent experts has warned.

Pauline McNeill, Labour party group secretary in the Scottish Parliament, has also tabled a question raising her concern about "whether resource issues are taking precedence". Peter Peacock, Deputy Children and Education Minister, said in a written answer that the implementation of panel decisions was "a matter for the relevant local authority".

The report on the children's hearing system from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and NCH Action Children blames "a lack of options open to panels to offer effective services to meet the needs - and the deeds - of children and young people".

Panels were faced with making orders for home supervision, to be implemented by local authorities, "with no assurance that anything in particular will happen". The alternative was to order residential supervision simply because of "the failure of community resources to support the family".

The lack of community-based resources was particularly relevant to young offenders aged 14 and over, it commented. "We need to be very hard-nosed about what residential schools offer - and the relative costs of these," the report, Meeting Needs - Addressing Deeds, makes clear. This should be measured against the cost and efficacy of "reinforcing the capacity of all of our schools to ork with troubled young people".

Ms McNeill said: "If you set up a children's hearing system to take children out of the criminal justice system, then you expect action to be taken following its decisions. But it has become increasingly obvious there is a gap between these decisions and the action taken by both social and education services, action which should include support for children and young people within community-based education and training programmes."

The report calls on the Scottish Executive to help local authorities make more widespread use of community-based schemes which have achieved some success in reducing offending behaviour and keeping young people out of residential care.

Schools themselves should take more action to avoid exclusions, the report says. It wants anti-exclusion initiatives to be monitored "to make sure these funds are being used to bring those who are excluded back into mainstream education".

Alan Miller, principal reporter of the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration, told The TES Scotland that a strengthening of home supervision orders made by children's panels should include clearer links between education and social workers. "The same kind of problems which lead to educational difficulties lead to offending behaviour," Mr Miller said.

His point is reinforced in the report which calls for comprehensive local care plans covering social work, education, health and employment and training.

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