Over the last year (April 2007- March 2008) the Children's Reporters in Angus received over 224 referrals from the police in connection with over 656 alleged offences. (From the referrals 63 were jointly reported to the Reporter and Procurator Fiscal and one was a child in custody referred to the reporter). In each of the overall cases, the Reporter assessed the police report submitted and considered whether there was sufficient corroborated evidence to support the charge 'beyond reasonable doubt' which is the criminal test applied to such allegations. Thereafter the Reporter can decide:
- To take no formal action (perhaps the child is already engaged with workers who can address the issues, or the family have already dealt with matters effectively or diversion to agencies like the Angus Restorative Justice Service will be the best option); or
- To ask for further reports - from the child's school, for instance, or the Social Work Department - in order to assess the situation more fully;
- Once those reports are received, to refer the child to the Local Authority for assistance to be given on a voluntary basis for as long as is necessary or to take no other formal action; or
- To refer the child to a Children's Hearings where decisions will be made by members of the Children's Panel about the need or not for compulsory measures of supervision for the child. In some cases, where the alleged offence is not accepted by the child and/or parents, the reporter may be instructed by the Hearing to apply for proof of the disputed charges in the Sheriff Court, which will lead to a process very like a criminal trial, but held in private rather than open to the public, where witnesses will be questioned and the sheriff will decide whether or not the charge is established. If it is established, a further Children's Hearing will then consider the child's case again, taking the charge into account.
One of the areas which SCRA (Scottish Children's Reporter Administration) has developed in Angus is the Victim Information Service, which gives victims of youth crime opportunities to find out what decisions reporters and hearings are making in relation to the incident. This service started in February 2006 and goes some way to giving the victims of youth crime the same kind of information that victims of adult crime can obtain.
Over the past year, over 70% of the decisions on referrals were made within 50 working days of the receipt of the referral and the child and family were informed of the decision within 5 working days in over 98% of the cases. In some cases, there are very complex issues, and although making decisions as quickly as possible is important, we must balance that against making the best possible decision for the young person involved - and that can take longer.
Children's Reporters liaise with partner agencies at all levels - from considering what's best for an individual child to participation in strategic planning and development of protocols and resources. It is only by working together that we can help children and young people reduce and stop their offending and create the safest possible environment for them, their families and the wider community.