Published: 07/06/2014 17:00 - Updated: 06/06/2014 16:39

Council told of Children's Panel 'chaos'

Moray Council headquarters.
Moray Council headquarters.

MEMBERS of Moray’s Children’s Panel have endured a year of ‘chaos' following reorganisation.

Major changes to the Children’s Hearing system across Scotland last June saw support services in Moray merged with Highland under a new Joint Area Support Team (AST).

In its first 11 months, the AST has endured staffing upheaval, diary confusion, disagreements, budgetary ­uncertainty, and vacancy management issues.

The ‘thorny’ issue of where meetings take place was also highlighted in a report to a full meeting of Moray Council, with the AST having met six times since its introduction, and ­always in Inverness. An over-riding problem was a lack of support offered from the new national body Children’s Hearings Scotland (CHS), the report said.

In response to major concerns, not just in the North but across the country, CHS carried out an independent survey and review, and has now published an action plan. The body’s interim chair, John Anderson, conceded that the findings made for “hard reading”.

Councillor Fiona Murdoch (Spey­side/Glenlivet) said: “This seems to be a catalogue of disaster. Do I ­understand correctly that these ­people are actually volunteers who serve on this panel?

“I think it is pretty shameful that they are treated so poorly. And I am assuming that throughout all this there is no risk to any of the children.”

Councillor Patsy Gowans is one of Moray’s local authority representatives on the AST, and told the ­meeting that reorganisation is not for the faint-hearted.

The Elgin City North member said: “From the onset, transition was going to be difficult, because many Moray panel members and many elected members were against it. CHS had a huge job winning the hearts and minds, and they have largely ­accepted their failure to meet that challenge. Reorganisation is never easy.

“The first year has been fraught, but focus should be on learning from the past year, so we can move positively forward.

“Happier people in a ­happier ­organisation will make better judge­ments, resulting hopefully with better outcomes for the children.”

Introducing the CHS action plan, interim chair Mr John Anderson said: “One of the most encouraging ­results – although it should come as no surprise – is that an overwhelming proportion of panel members and others involved in the system feel proud to be associated with it.

“However, many of the findings relating to CHS as an organisation were less encouraging. For example, no organisation could be happy with a 16% positive rating as awarded for morale.”

Leadership and management would be among areas improved, the action plan stated, as well as communication.

Councillor Sean Morton, Moray’s second elected representative on the AST, said the first year had been chaotic and more time was needed to see if the situation could improve.

“I made my views well known to this chamber a year ago, that I was not in favour of merging and having a joint AST. I still, at this point, believe it was the wrong decision,” he said.

“The support from CHS has been abysmal and their organisation, indeed, has been chaotic as well, with the leader there leaving very early on. That has been disastrous and it has rippled across Scotland, so it is not just in this area that there has been problems.”

The committee called for a further report in a year’s time, to enable CHS to bring its action plan into play.

Panel members – all volunteers – voiced their deep concern and described “a feeling of betrayal and being undervalued” when Moray councillors backed the amalgamation by 17 votes to six in November, 2012

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