4 Children’s views of Hearings
As you’ve explored in earlier activities there are good reasons why children should not be treated as adults because their young age automatically implies a lack of maturity. Unfortunately, the same arguments often mean they are not listened to or, when they are, their experiences are dismissed as invalid because they lack the benefits of mature reasoning.
This process of dismissal is sometimes referred to as ‘infantilisation’. It implies that, because children and young people are closer in age to infants, they have no capacity to look after themselves, take meaningful decisions or act for themselves in their own best interests. People who work in children’s health and social care services must work hard to resist infantilisation. This can often involve listening respectfully and patiently. Sometimes this requires training and practice. In the next activity you will listen as children give voice to their experiences of the Hearings system.
Activity 5 The elephants in the room
Finding out how children and young people see the world and make sense of their situation can be difficult. Recognising how important this is to the fairness, or otherwise, of the Hearings process the Scottish Government commissioned some workshops with children aged 7–15 from both urban and rural setting, to find out more about their experiences in the hearings system. Listen to an extract of their views and make a note of one or two phrases used by the children.
Transcript: Video 1
CHILD 1: A children's hearing is people who want to make things better for you, who help you with contact, and make a decision at the end of the hearing if you are getting home or if you can have longer contacts and stuff. Lots of other meetings are about you don't really get to go. And that's why it's called a children's hearing because you get to go.
SPEAKER 1: It's to try and make you safe and others safe. They're just trying to do the best for you.
CHILD 2: It's meant to make a difference, and it doesn't make any difference. It just makes everybody worried.
CHILD 3: When the hearing had finished everybody went crying and we all got upset and started crying too, and then we just walked out. I felt sad because they didn't see what was going to happen. They didn't even see if they was going to the judge or not. They just all walked out.
SPEAKER 2: Having a panel, it's really- the child feels quite intimidated as well because they're sitting there basically on spotlight as well. Like it's all about them. So I think they're necessary, but I think we could change the way they do it.
SPEAKER 3: She's the youngest with three older brothers.
SPEAKER 3: Is that OK?
SPEAKER 4: Yeah.
SPEAKER 3: That makes her.
CHILD 4: I think my first children's hearing was when I was about seven, I think, or eight. It wasn't very nice. I didn't like it. It was just really scary first time. You get a weird feeling in your stomach, and you feel sick. I thought I was going to get taken away.
CHILD 5: I heard about children's hearing by a letter got posted to my house. I felt that it was all right because my social worker told me what would be happening. Who will be there.
CHILD 6: Well, I got a letter in the post and found it lying in my bedroom and opened it. And it said, you are going to a children's hearing.
CHILD 7: I never really got told anything apart from we're all going to see a big building in Glasgow. Felt a bit scared.
CHILD 8: Um, the chairperson, he was kind of in a grumpy mood I think. It was kind of scary when I saw him Kind of like the hulk when he's transforming.
CHILD 9: They didn't look happy to see no one. Um, they looked like they were just wanting the job over and done with. So yeah, you've got to like sit and listen to them more than they listen to you. And they basically tell you what you're doing. They don't ask, they just tell. They make you feel outnumbered in a way. Like they make you feel like you want to cry because they put so many things- just throw them in front of you.
CHILD 10 Well, they stare at you. And then when you say something, that either they think isn't true, or it is true, and they'll just like smile at you. But in a way that- not a nice smile. Like a smile as if we've got you. You feel really down. You feel like actually basically a mouse in a mouse trap because they're bigger than you. They're adults, basically, and you're just a child. And they're deciding your future.
‘They stare at you’ … ‘you feel like a mouse in a mouse trap’ … ‘they’re bigger than you’ … ‘they’re adults’.
Listening to children is not like listening to adults. Their voices are often quieter. When children are asked to speak to a roomful of adults, they may sense they are outnumbered and at a disadvantage. What is obvious to children (the elephant in the room) can be invisible to well-meaning adults. The Scottish Children’s Parliament researchers who helped to make this film recognised this and provided a variety of ways to help the children express themselves, such as by offering them crayons to draw with and other ways to put their views across. People who work with children, or those who conduct research with and about them, learn many different techniques to help them hear children, respect their views and value their experiences. In times of distress and strain around a crime or some other form of harm, this is even more important.
Children’s lives, especially those that come to the attention of the Hearings system, can be full of challenges. Most children are referred to the system on welfare grounds and, even for the minority referred because of offences, securing their welfare is the priority of the Hearings.
Sometimes things don’t work out well and it can be hard to make changes. Some children face particularly difficult circumstances. The next section explores some of these scenarios.