Scotland’s on the cusp of something very special (Part 2: why the Bill is needed)

In the second of our series examining the Children (Care and Justice) (Scotland) Bill, CYCJ’s Debbie Nolan draws from her years in social care and social work to outline why the Bill is needed.

From my professional experience in social care and social work, alongside my time seconded to the Scottish Government, I believe the Bill has real potential to change many things that we are not getting right for our children and young people in Scotland.

I alongside countless others, not least our children and young people, have encountered many inconsistencies and frustrations, such as:

  • The two recently turned 16-year-olds co-accused, one of whom who was already subject to children’s hearings measures, had their case jointly reported and was subsequently referred to the Children’s Reporter. The other child was not and therefore had their case retained by the Procurator Fiscal. This child could have been more appropriately supported to better outcomes had they gone through the children’s hearings system, which would have been possible had they been just a few days younger.


  • The 16-year-old who has experienced abuse and neglect, being at serious risk of harm and requiring compulsory measures of supervision, being unable to be referred to the Children’s Reporter, whereas their younger siblings with similar needs and experiences could. This child was unable to access the age and stage appropriate, welfare-based children’s hearings system, not as a result of their needs which could have been more appropriately met via compulsory measures, but owing to not meeting the legislative definition of a “child”.


  • The 16-year-old held in police custody over the weekend pending a court appearance, without a visit from any other adult outwith police staff or the requirement for an alternative place of safety to be considered, being able to waive access to a solicitor during their police interview. This child would have benefited from these additional safeguards for their welfare should they have been defined as a “younger” child (i.e. under 16 or subject to children’ hearings measures).


  • At court, the child who did not understand the process, language, or sentence given, never mind being able to participate or access ’justice’ or comply with the verdict given, resulting in various breaches and further escalation through the criminal justice system. This child’s experience at court and subsequent outcomes could have been significantly improved through modifications to the court process, to support their participation and more appropriately meet their needs.


  • The child who has spent years in secure accommodation where they have thrived but now must move to a Young Offenders Institution (YOI) when they turn 18 to complete the remaining few days of their sentence as they cannot remain in secure care post-18. They are petrified of the move, not least because they have been publicly named for their offence across national media and online. This child has to make this significant transition, not based on what is in their best interests, but purely as a result of their chronological age and secure accommodation being a facility for children.

When conducting our research “Just a wee boy not cut out for prison”, it was apparent that all of the boys who we interviewed would be more appropriately supported and cared for in secure accommodation, telling us they would have jumped at the chance to do so, but most of them did not have a legal route to be placed there. They highlighted the positive environment, relationships with staff, better contact and links with family, education provision and preparation for release provided in secure accommodation.

It has often felt inconceivable during those years that such fundamental change could be achieved, despite all the evidence and what we know about children can be best supported to recover, rehabilitate and reintegrate, and brain development continuing well past our time as children.

Yet, by now recognising all under-18s as children and ensuring that, where required, they can access the children’s hearings system, receive enhanced safeguards for their welfare and safety during criminal proceedings, and can be sent to secure accommodation should they require to be deprived of their liberty and not to YOIs, we will be in a far stronger position to get it right for our children.


You can read more about what changes the Bill will bring and watch our reaction to it.

Leave a Reply

Contact Us

Children's and Young People's Centre for Justice
University of Strathclyde
Lord Hope Building, Level 6
141 St. James Road Glasgow G4 0LT

(0141) 444 8622

Stay informed

Subscribe to our e-newsletter and get all the latest advice and news.

Latest Discussion

Follow us on Twitter >>

Connect with us