Better Tribunals: a co-production approach with child service users

November 18, 2022 by 1 Comment | Category Children & young people, Guest blog

The Additional Support Needs Tribunal (Health and Education Chamber) (the Tribunal from here on) is responsible for hearing a range of appeals.  These include appeals which children aged 12 to 15 years can raise themselves. Such appeals would either be related to education authority decisions about their capacity or wellbeing, or co-ordinated support plans (the only statutory education plan in Scotland).

The Tribunal recognises the importance of ensuring United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) Article 12 is embedded in its practice and is committed to supporting children and young people to express their views or give their evidence in all matters that affect them. This commitment to Article 12 was demonstrated when the Chamber developed the sensory process and physical environment in which tribunals take place.

Article 12

1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

2. For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.

By applying a co-production approach, the process and the physical hearing environment created was based on the views of children and young people who had previous experience of a range of hearings (not just the Additional Support Needs Tribunal), including courts. They reflected on what worked well and identified barriers to participation and ways to address these.

The mindset applied was that those who are affected by the service are best placed to design it!

Children’s voices

Children and young people expressed their views in different ways:

  • the Chamber President met with the Young Ambassadors for Inclusion (secondary school children and young people with additional support needs) in a workshop session to explore whether they wanted to come to hearings which make decisions about their school education, and if so, what should a hearing look and feel like
  • the Chamber President and an interior design architect met with a group of care experienced primary school children who brought blank floor plans to life, using fabric samples, furniture catalogues and lots of felt tip pens!
  • specialist image designers met with children and young people in a small group setting
  • one to one listening sessions with children and young people

Children and young people expressed views that showed how disempowered and marginalised they felt during  a ‘conventional’ hearing process. This was not only as a child, but also for some, this reinforced adverse experiences from their childhood (ACEs) or the challenges of living with a disability. The picture below, drawn by a child, aged 11 years, depicts what this often felt like.

Children's drawing of a very small child standing by the feet of two adults, with question marks and exclamation marks indicating the feelings of the child

Copyright Glasgow Tribunals Centre, used with permission

It is worth remembering that children and young people can communicate in different ways.  For example, one teenager used their iPhone and arm shapes to communicate during a workshop session; and another used doodles.

To add to understanding, the Chamber President also consulted parents, children’s agencies and teachers, including those in special schools.  These expert opinions helped shape developments.

Child-friendly processes and environments

What did children, young people and experts say would improve the process and environment? The children and young people stated that:

  • children and young people with neuro diverse conditions like autism do not like the use of bold primary colours in the tribunals space
  • they preferred uncluttered space with only the furniture required set out
  • they wanted a table in the room and it should be round in shape to reinforce ‘equality’ – one young person said it should be like ‘King Arthur’s Round Table – where all the knights were equal
  • it was important to reduce external noise and to create an atmosphere of quiet and ‘calm’
  • they can ‘talk’ in lots of different ways – for example, talking mats supports communication
  • personalising the space (using the sensory wall) and process (with a personalised social story) helps them to feel comfortable and confident
  • being able to bring their pet or having their pet in the same room during a remote hearing can help to reinforce confidence
  • having a say in the seating arrangements (who sits where and when) helps promote choice and equality
  • having snacks and water helps improve participation
  • access to a sensory room to have a break during the hearing helps reduce stress
  • a ‘1 to 1’ room where the child or young person could give their views or evidence to one person, without having to go in to the hearing room, helps reduce anxiety

At the Glasgow Tribunals Centre and the Inverness Justice Centre sensory hearing suites have been developed, which are child-led by design.  These  provide spaces and experiences that facilitate children and young people’s comfort and confidence to share their views or give their evidence and meet their personal needs and preferences.

By working together to make improvements, children, young people and adults involved in tribunals have created processes and environments that better meet the needs of those attending hearings now and in the future.

Read more on children’s rights

We’ve published a new blog here every day this week in the run up to World Children’s Day on 20 Nov:

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