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Our focus on quality

Carol Wassell

Carol Wassell, Director of Positive Outcomes

Over recent years, care in Scotland has undergone significant policy developments, and the unique Children's Hearings System is entering a period of change. At Children’s Hearings Scotland we are preparing for the Children (Care and Justice) (Scotland) Bill and working with the Scottish Government to implement the agreed recommendations of the Hearings for Children report.

The Scottish Government has accepted the recommendation that the hearings system must report on the quality, consistency and impact of the decisions it makes and how they affect outcomes for children.

Changes driven by lived experience

The Independent Care Review brought to the fore the voice of people with lived experience of care. They told the review that too often their experience of the care system was driven by processes that they had to fit into and that the system lacked empathy or a way of measuring the things that mattered most to them.

At CHS we want to be part of the change that builds on what we currently do well and improves on what needs to be better. We want to be able to show that what we do makes a positive difference for infants, children and young people for the time they are with us, and that the decisions we make today lay foundations for a better future.

As we implement changes and anticipate further transformation, nothing is more important than maintaining the high quality of our work, including the life-changing decisions made by the Panel at hearings. We want to make well-informed decisions that are in the best interests of each and every child.

The time that children spend at their hearings is relatively short, and the actions and decisions we take during these interventions can affect outcomes spanning the rest of their lives. Our drive for the highest possible quality of these interactions, with a consistency throughout the child’s time in the system and right across Scotland, requires us to continually improve our approach to quality.

There are many tribunal systems but no common quality management framework in place for Scotland’s decision-making bodies. But we can define and showcase best practice, in order to continue to develop our credibility. We must be able to prove that we are defining, monitoring and promoting high quality practices.

Our quality standards

Our quality standards reflect our vision, with children’s voices at the front and centre of how we deliver our services. They reflect how we communicate with children and families, how hearings are conducted, and how decisions are enforced. Hearing how children feel about their hearings, learning from what we do well and challenging ourselves when we don’t get it right is our core priority within our quality strategy. We have around 130 volunteer Panel Practice Advisors who support CHS and the tribunal to uphold and adhere to standards, and provide an important foundation on which to build a broad and wide ranging approach to quality within CHS.


Every year we continue to attract high quality candidates for our volunteer roles. Given the complexity of the role in sitting on a Children’s Panel, it is important that those appointed have the right skills and qualities and are supported to make informed decisions in the best interests of the children we serve.

Learning needs

We support our Panel Members to have their learning needs assessed and met, which requires a culture in which ongoing feedback and learning are the norm. Learning needs include both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of being a Panel Member – not just what they know and do, but their whole approach to their role. More frequent and better engagement on these issues is needed throughout our community in order to enhance this culture of learning.

Decision framework

In order for decisions to be the highest quality possible, in 2024 we will be focusing on developing a robust decision framework that can be applied consistently across the country so that children and their families can expect high quality decision making, and Panel Members are supported to navigate a complex legal and interpersonal landscape. Decisions will continue to be arrived at through an inquisitorial approach, listening and making informed assessments.

Panel Members make some of the most difficult decisions in public life in Scotland. A framework will enable easier reflection and feedback, supporting our aims for improved continuous learning. Elements in the framework will include the facts that have led to the need for a hearing, the options available to the Panel, local circumstances influencing the effectiveness of those options, laws and policies, and the people involved in the life of the child.

Feedback and key performance indicators

The success of all quality assurance systems depends on effective review and feedback, which in turn require clear aims and key performance indicators (KPIs) and a means of making reliable measurement against success criteria. The setting of KPIs is essential, but comes with risks for CHS: the very nature of hearings and the Panel Member role make the codification and measurement of outcomes challenging. We wish to rise to the challenges and demonstrate through quality management that we are delivering the things that matter to people. The most important element of feedback must of course be the voice of children, young people and their families who are affected by children’s hearings.

External review

Finally, for the essential learning that quality assurance seeks to secure, our quality regime must itself be subject to external review. We are open to new and innovative ways of assessing, accrediting and enforcing our quality assurance.

This drive to ensure that quality is our north star will – and must – help every member of our staff and every volunteer to do the right thing for children. Given the transformation of the care and justice system in Scotland, what better time to ensure our foundations are of the highest quality?

We are recruiting for a Quality Manager. See more information and how to apply.