Bunyan award for long service in ‘unique’ children’s panel
A long service award has been presented to Chris Bunyan, who lives
in Bressay, in recognition of his 20 years service with the Children’s Panel.
The presentation by Children’s Hearing Scotland took place in Edinburgh and was attended by the minister for children and young people Fiona McLeod.
Mr Bunyan, a former Shetland Times news editor who is the vice-chairman of the panel, said he was delighted to receive the certificate and to be recognised at the ceremony.
He said he had found, and was still finding, the role very satisfying, although it could be frustrating at times with uncertain outcomes.
The Children’s Panel is unique to Scotland and does not have a parallel anywhere in the world. It operates a Children’s Hearing system for under-16-year-olds, designed to offer care and protection for the child or young person, and make sure their needs, whatever they may be, are met.
The hearings were “proper legal tribunals”, Mr Bunyan said, which involved the child and the parents or carers facing the panel of three trained volunteers.
The system was independent from the local authority and he said: “It’s overarching principle is that [panel members] have to act in the best interests of the child.”
A referral may be made to the panel for a number of reasons, such as parental neglect, a child playing truant from school or experimenting with drink or drugs.
Mr Bunyan said: “We try to find out why things are going wrong.”
The panel gets involved when voluntary agreements between the child and the school, or the child and the parents are not successful.
A compulsory supervision order can then be imposed, always in the child’s best interests, which decides issues such as where the child should live or whether special educational measures are required.
If a teenager has been using legal highs, for example, additional measures can be added, but all cases are different. And if a crime has been committed, arrangements can be made for restorative justice sessions – these aim to bring both sides together. But there are many other avenues such as police cautions which can be explored before a child goes to a hearing.
Rarely, if something is “seriously wrong”, a child protection order
can be obtained from the sheriff, having been asked for this by the council.
Mr Bunyan said this would be unusual and stressed that removing children from home, although it did happen, was “not frequent”. He added that the best place for a child was at home with a family.
In general, he said, the hearing system was “astonishingly successful”, with decisions being made in front of the family, including the child, if old enough.
Although it is not always possible to know the results of individual cases, he said: “You do your best. The evidence is that it can be very valuable,
but sometimes it depends on children and their parents making decisions.”
In some cases, he said, you just had to “cross your fingers” that they made good decisions.
Shetland was no different from the mainland, he said – there were parents who simply “do not put the child’s needs first”. This could be because of addiction or spending money unwisely. He said: “If you can stop that neglect you’ve achieved something.”
His work, he said, could be “rewarding, but not everyone has
happy outcomes because it’s real life.” But often it offered “great satisfaction, knowing you’ve done something to protect a child or help
People from all walks of life – health workers, architects, teachers, people who work in industry and those who are retired – comprise the 18 volunteers on the panel, who take it in turns to take hearings.