Antonio - North Ayrshire

Antonio, aged 52 from Stevenson, is married with two young children and has been a Children’s Panel member for over three years.

He applied to be a panel member in 2009 and was accepted following an application and interview.  His induction training took place in May 2010 and he has been serving in North Ayrshire ever since.

He describes what prompted him to get involved in helping children and young people in his local community, “I’ve known about the Children’s Panel for a while as I work for an organisation that supports people with learning difficulties so I’ve had to support a few children through the panel.  The children that I work with are based in a different local authority so I felt that I could apply in my own area without this being a concern.  I have young children and I wanted to do the best for other children in my local community so I applied to be a panel member.

“Becoming a Children’s Panel member is rewarding and its great when you go to a hearing and things are going well for a child.  It’s nice when you can see the child and family are engaging with the panel and you can make a decision to terminate a supervision requirement or you can put a structure in place to help them.  It’s good to feel that you’re making a positive difference and can help a child to understand that you’re there to help them.

“But there are challenges too and the amount of paper work that you need to deal with can come as a surprise to new panel members.  I deal with social work reports for my job so I’m quite familiar with the process but you need to invest time reading the papers and be able to pick out what is important to each case. Panel members can make decisions that change lives so you have a big responsibility that can’t be taken lightly.  New panel members need to have the time and commitment to prepare for hearings.

“I’m lucky that my employer is very supportive and gives me paid leave to attend hearings. I’m a service manager for Hansel Alliance, which is a charity that supports children and adults who have learning difficulties and disabilities.  They believe that the skills I’m gaining are transferrable to the workplace so they’re happy to support me.

“In fact the most difficult element of managing my time is probably at home.  I have two young children aged just eight and four years old so it can be difficult to explain to them why I need to go to training in the evening after I’ve been at work all day.  They’re a bit young to understand just now but I’m sure they’ll appreciate what I’m doing in the future. 

“The training has been very good and has given me the basic skills and understanding to become a panel member but you never stop learning.  Every panel is different and the training can’t possibly cover every eventuality.  There’s lots of role play, which is a great way to learn, and local training evenings focus on different issues such as adoption and addiction services.  It’s important to keep on top of your knowledge and skills and I’ve done my Chairman training.  At the moment I do three hearings a month and of these I chair two sessions.  I find it really rewarding.

“I’ve also gained some new skills as a Children’s Panel member. It’s given me the confidence to speak to strangers and to put my views across.  I have lived in Scotland for over nine years but I’ve often worried that people struggle to understand my accent so I haven’t always been confident at communicating with people.  Being a panel member has really helped me to remove some of these barriers. I’ve taken this confidence back to work and I’m now able to challenge things more easily.  Since becoming a panel member I’ve also taken on a new role as a trainer at Hansel.

“Panel members need to have an open mind as sometimes what you hear is quite difficult to listen to but it’s all about what’s best for the child.  You also need good listening skills and the ability to recognise and respond to someone’s body language.”

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