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Children's hearings in Scotland: compulsion and disadvantage

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This paper outlines some key findings from a study of 1,155 children referred in 1995 to the children's hearings system in Scotland. The majority of children formally processed in the system were found to come from less well off families, often facing multiple adversities. Children subject to compulsory measures of supervision were especially likely to have backgrounds characterized by factors associated with social disadvantage. The national picture suggests an overall increase in the number of children subject to compulsory measures of supervision over the last ten years. Independent evidence highlights a potential use of compulsion as a means to access scarce resources. When taken together, these three separate findings raise fundamental questions about the role of compulsory measures in the operation of the system. It is argued that using compulsion for resource acquisition would offend against the principle of minimum intervention, ultimately transgressing children's rights. Compulsion as a gatekeeping mechanism may allow, in effect, for the targeting of scare resources to those children perceived to be most in need; but this may be at the cost of increasing state intervention in the lives of some families and decreasing access to resources for others.

Keywords: children; children's hearings system; compulsory measures; disadvantage; minimum intervention; supervision; voluntary support

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Social Work, University of Edinburgh

Publication date: August 1, 2002

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