Kimberly is our Partner Contract Specialist but did you know that outside of activpayroll she dedicates time to sit as a Panel member for Children’s Hearings Scotland in her local area!
For those of you who are unaware of this vital volunteering role, Panel Members attend children's hearings and make legal decisions to help and protect the children and young people in Scotland. They are recruited to listen to, and make legal decisions with and for infants, children and young people. With their support and input they ensure that the young person is at the heart of every decision made – because every decision, no matter how big or small, has an impact on the child or young person and their families.
With such inspiration on our doorstep, we took the opportunity to have a chat with Kimberly and find out a little bit about her decision to take on such a vital and supportive role helping some of the most vulnerable children in our society.
Let’s start at the beginning with the key question, what led to your decision to apply to the Children’s Panel and have such a positive influence on the future of children in the area?
I had previously volunteered as a Rainbow Unit Leader for Girl Guiding but during COVID there was very little support and the enjoyment for me disappeared. I had always wanted to join the panel but was worried about having to sit during work hours. One of my friends was a panel member and encouraged me to give it a go, so I did! activpayroll have always been supportive of this journey and I’m so grateful for that because it truly has been one of the best things I’ve ever done.
How does a panel operate?
The process for the Panel starts 10 days before the hearing when you receive a copy of the hearing pack(s) for the sessions you are due to sit on. You must review these and take notes. On the day of the hearing, you are joined in the room with another two panel members, one of the three of you will be the chairing member. There will also be a reporter who is there to support the panel and provide guidance and legal advice but doesn’t take part in the actual hearing.
You have half an hour before the hearing set aside to discuss the pack and set an agenda with your fellow panel members. When the hearing begins you are joined by the reporter, the child and any relevant persons to the hearing. Once the hearing is over, the panel will spend some time writing out the decisions and the reasons for them. The decisions will ultimately be sent out to the child and relevant persons.
Is there a lot of reading and prep work before a sitting?
Yes, there are usually at least two hearings in one session, so you have to read through, take notes and prepare any questions on at least two hearing packs.
The hearing packs are made up of various reports on the child’s life, parents’ life, school, any care placements etc. The largest report I have had before a hearing was over 200 pages long!
If you are a chairing member, it takes even longer because you must prepare for running the meeting. It means that usually you have to do more research on the hearing type, the decisions that can be made and make an agenda beforehand. We are never going to be the legal experts though, that’s why the reporter is there!
How do you cope with some of the distressing details you hear about?
I have a rule that as soon as I leave the panel room, I forget the name of the child.
You don’t always forget the details because they can be distressing but removing any sort of personal association helps. Afterwards, you spend some time with your fellow Panel members writing your decisions and reasons and during this time you tend to talk through what you’ve heard which also helps.
After each panel I like to just take time to either go for a walk or a wonder round the shops before getting on with the day. You have to remember that you have done your best and made the decision that was right for that child on that day, you’ll very rarely find out what happened afterwards.
In addition to this, Children’s Hearing’s Scotland are great at making sure there is support available for members if you need it.
Is there a wide range of people on the Panels?
Yes, I sit on the Aberdeenshire panel, and we really need some more members to join us!
Do you meet in person or virtually?
Up until very recently, hearings could be either virtual, in person or a mix because of COVID. However, now that the emergency COVID legislation has expired most hearings are in person. It worked just the same as it did before, children still needed the protection and guidance, so the panel had to continue. Hearings work much better in person though; it allows you to see the families and children and have a much better discussion.
What key skills do you need to be on the Panel?
You must be prepared to listen, ask difficult questions, and make tough decisions. You need to be empathetic, a good listener, a team player and an analytical thinker. The most important of these skills are being a great listener and empathetic though, and remember, you are never on your own and will always have your fellow panel members for support in the hearing.
What is the best or most rewarding thing about your volunteer work on the Panel?
It feels really contradictory to have a “best thing” or to “enjoy” being a panel member, but I really do. I’ve always dreamt of working with children in some shape or form and volunteering was the best way for me to do this.
I have two “best” things; the people you meet from the volunteers through to the families; and also, being able to be that positive influence or voice for children that may not have had that otherwise.
Would you encourage others to follow your lead and get involved?
Yes, absolutely. People are often worried or think that they can’t do it but not every case is distressing, there are happy endings and lots of positives. I’ve learnt and grown so much in my time with the Panel. It really helps that activpayroll have been really supportive of my involvement. There is such an enormous amount of training and support available that you never feel like you don’t know enough or that there isn’t enough support.
In short, if you’ve thought about it, go for it!
If you’ve been inspired by Kimberly’s story and would like more information about volunteering on the Panel and are based in Scotland, you can visit Volunteering with us (chscotland.gov.uk)