MORAY Children’s Panel members have rallied in support of the service, quashing fears it is in ‘chaos’.
It follows changes at a national level brought in by new legislation, as well as the amalgamation of the area’s support team (AST) with Highland.
Councillors were given an update report a year on, and raised their concerns that the merger had been chaotic, with little support from the new public body Children’s Hearing Scotland (CHS).
However, representatives of the panel and the new joint AST contacted ‘The Scot’ to make it clear that Moray’s children have not been impacted.
Jeff Hamilton, depute area convenor for the Highland and Moray AST, said: “I was somewhat surprised and shocked by the tone of the report regarding the Children’s Panel published in your paper, last week. It gave the impression (wrongly) that the Children’s Panel in Moray is in turmoil.
“As a result of a decision by Moray councillors, Moray joined with Highland last year to form the Highland and Moray AST under the new Children’s Hearing Scotland setup.
“Although prior to this decision being made there had been some resistance to the amalgamation, all involved with the new AST have worked hard to ensure a smooth transition and to ensure that our most vulnerable young people continue to get the first class service which they deserve,” he said.
Neither of Moray’s area representatives – Councillors Patsy Gowans or Sean Morton – had attended any of the last six meetings, he added, although the report to councillors said: “It should be noted that early confusion around diary appointments was a factor.”
Mr Hamilton acknowledged that CHS – responsible for the recruitment, training and support of Scotland’s 2,700 volunteer panel members – had experienced problems since it became fully operational last June.
But he said the Moray AST goes from “strength to strength” and has a strong team providing support to panel members.
In response to national concerns, CHS carried out a country-wide survey and review and has since put in place an action plan.
Boyd McAdam, the CHS’s interim chief executive said: “This has been the biggest change that the Children’s Hearings System has seen in its 43 year history. Any change can be unsettling and, as reflected in the council report, it is fair to say that the journey to establishing the Highland and Moray AST was challenging for all parties. The CHS team and the AST leadership team fully acknowledge this.
“Over the past year, CHS has been working alongside all ASTs and providing material, support and training for panel members as the new system beds in. We welcome the positive progress in recent months.
“CHS has an action plan in place to address the concerns expressed six months into its national operation. Throughout, hearings have continued to be held and decisions taken about the most vulnerable children and young people in the community.”
Mr McAdam added that there was never a concern that children and families would be adversely impacted.
“The Highland and Moray AST has ensured effective arrangements are in place to support the rota and support panel members through this transition.”
Moray’s lead panel representative Eleanor Mackintosh said members were highly trained, well-supported, and fully committed to the area’s young people. Their ability to work to protect Moray’s children throughout the transition was a credit to them and the area, she added.
“I’m not denying it has been a turbulent time and the CHS survey does reflect the views of the panel. But it is not necessarily having that impact within the Moray panel.
“People are dealing with it, they are putting it to one side, and they are making the right decisions for the children of Moray. I think that bit was put in doubt.
“I don’t want to feel that the 40-odd volunteers in Moray who give up so much time, and put so much effort into it, feel knocked again,” she said.
Whilst there was initial unrest over the AST’s amalgamation, she added: “We are where we are, we can’t turn the clock back. We’ve got to make it work and I think there is little point in continually knocking it. You’ve got to try and make the best of it and that is certainly what we’ve done in the last 12 months.”
As the panel moves toward its 2014 recruitment campaign, Mr Hamilton assured readers that the Children’s Panel in the Highland and Moray area runs smoothly and continues to support the area’s young people. “It can only work because of the dedicated volunteers in the system,” he said.