VULNERABLE children and their families will suffer if a merger proposal is pushed through for Moray’s Children’s Panel, it has been claimed.
Dedicated volunteers who sit on the panel in Moray have revealed a "feeling of betrayal and being undervalued" by the controversial move.
The Children’s Panel in Moray could face amalgamation with neighbouring Highland through the creation of a joint Area Support Team (AST).
The change is being driven forward by Children’s Hearing Scotland as part of a new national structure for the children’s hearing system with the implementation of the Children’s Hearing (Scotland) Act 2011.
There are 40 Children’s Panel volunteers in Moray, and retired businessman Malcolm Wetherill, who has been a member for four years, said there was real disillusionment at the situation.
The volunteers, who undergo extensive training before making crucial and often difficult decisions regarding the future of vulnerable young people, fear the service will be adversely affected if their support network is administered from Highland.
They are concerned that future recruitment of local volunteers might be impacted by the change.
Moray Council has the ultimate power to veto a joint move and retain a local Area Support Team in Moray.
And in an open letter to all 26 Moray councillors, Mr Wetherill has urged them to stand up for local beliefs and vote against any amalgamation.
Susan Anderson is chair of the Moray Children’s Panel and has herself been a volunteer for 20 years. She understands and shares the concerns and anxieties of the volunteers.
"The children’s panel itself will continue to go about its business as it does just now," she said.
"What is causing panel members anxiety is the feeling that one of the options could be to take all the support and administration of our panel to Highland.
A report will go to councillors on November 14.
Bernadette Monaghan, national convener and chief executive of CHS, said: "A consultation on ‘Proposals for the Establishment of ASTs’ was carried out in 2011. Following this, I proposed that Moray and Highland combine to form one AST.
"The existing strong local links with the panel will not be lost and the fundamental role of panel members will not change. Panel members will continue to sit on hearings in their local area, making decisions in the best interests of local children and young people. Training will still be delivered on issues and resources that are specific to each local area."
More on this story in 'The Northern Scot'.