Fiona - Moray

Fiona, aged 57 from Rothiemay, is married with two children and has been serving as a Children’s Panel member for over ten years. She saw an advert in the paper and decided to find out more about volunteering.

She explains, “I applied to be a panel member when my children were young as I wanted to know more of the world that they would grow up in and of the issues children and young people face.

“When a hearing takes place it’s the child that’s at the heart of the hearing. Although everyone has a chance to have their say including the families, the hearing is there to look at what is in the best interests of the child. Sometimes children and families may think that no-one is listening to them or considering their feelings, and relationships between families and professionals can be very tense.

In a hearing children and families have the chance to express themselves in an impartial setting. Although everyone has the chance to speak it is most important that everyone understands and accepts that the welfare of the child always comes first and that the views of the child should, whenever possible, be heard and considered when the hearing makes a decision about that child.

“It can be difficult too for families to understand why sometimes it may be necessary to remove a child from their care so you need to keep the hearing calm and the focus on the welfare of the child. At the same time you need to ensure that everyone present understands what decisions are being made and why they are being made.

“New panel members should be aware that they may have to spend several hours preparing for a hearing. They will receive papers about the child and will have to go through these in advance of the hearing in order to understand what the issues are in that child’s life.

“Training for panel members is first class and covers many topics including family dynamics, legislation, different types of abuse, and coping with conflict. This knowledge is kept up-to-date with additional ongoing training. Currently the initial training is spread over a couple of months and, once appointed to the Panel, additional training and information sessions take place on a regular basis. Training sessions can be about specific issues which the Panel members have asked for information on or can be about changes in legislation or practice.

Fiona adds, “Since becoming a panel member I’ve gained in confidence and I’m more comfortable dealing with situations that are out with my normal comfort zone. I believe that the training I have received has helped me to develop my people skills; enabled me to hear what people are actually saying – a lot of which is related to body language and tone of voice; and helped me to control difficult and tense situations. The skills that I have gained have been helpful in the workplace too and have enabled me to work closely with community groups on a wide range of projects.

“For people who are considering joining the panel it’s important that they speak to their employer. Their employer will gain an employee with valuable new skills but they need to be willing to give them time off to volunteer in return.

To become a Children’s Panel member you don’t require any qualifications but it is good to have an ability to listen and to have empathy for children who may need support to make positive changes in their lives. Panel members are not there to judge but to help find solutions to the sometimes difficult situations in a child’s life.

Fiona continues, “To be a good panel member you need to be able to listen and remain impartial, which can sometimes be difficult. You must also be altruistic and realise this isn’t about personal gain. It is important to be realistic and understand that not every hearing session will end in success, there are limits on what you can do. However, even if you can help just one child to improve their chances in life then you feel that you have helped to achieve something positive. It’s not all doom and gloom - there are lots of really nice families out there who want to help their children but just need a bit of support and guidance.

“I would urge anyone who is thinking about joining the Children’s Panel to take the next step. Don’t just think about it – go along to an open evening. It really is hugely rewarding.”

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