Sensory hearing suites to help children involved with the additional support needs jurisdiction have been formally opened.
The new suites, in the Health & Education Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland in Glasgow, were launched by Mrs May Dunsmuir, Chamber President of the Health & Education Chamber, and Maree Todd, Minister for Children and Young People.
The suites were designed after listening to children’s own views about how they could participate and be heard when it comes to decisions being made about their rights and educational needs.
Mrs Dunsmuir had observed that in nearly three decades of work in child law and child welfare there was one glaring consistency – when a hearing of any nature took place, the number of adults in the room swamped the child and their voice was invariably lost.
Seeking ways to "overcome barriers" to children participating in the process, she spoke with children and young people across Scotland with a range of additional support needs, including children who are care experienced.
"What they clearly stated to me was they wanted to be able to come to hearings where decisions would be made about them", she explained.
"The hearing environment was crucial to their participation. They identified the need for a round table in the hearing room as this would be the right shape to help them feel equal and more involved. One child said it should be like King Arthur’s round table where all knights are equal. Seats at the table are all the same height and there is a separate breakout area, where they can rest but still be present. Others asked for support to be there – the support that they would need; one child with a physical disability asked if there could be drinking straws. Sometimes removing barriers is as simple as providing a drinking straw."
The children's views have been reflected in the final design, influencing the furnishings, fabrics, colours and flexible environments available in the suites. They are backed by a commitment to continue to engage with children, identifying their needs before they attend hearings and making sure arrangements are tailored to their needs.
Part of the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service Evidence & Hearings Suite, the facility is also used by courts to allow children’s evidence to be pre-recorded or for children to give evidence remotely, away from a courtroom setting.
Kerrie McLeod volunteered when aged 15 as a young consultant for the chamber, and helped test the needs to learn website and the images developed as part of the facility’s design.
Now 18, speaking at the opening she commented: "At 15 it is common to think that your opinion doesn’t matter. Being asked for my view on the layout, images and colour scheme for the needs to learn website, which was something that at the time felt so small, made me feel that my opinion not only mattered but was valued. It is so nice to see the outcome of this work featuring in the hearings suite to help children and young people who will attend this hearing facility.
"This experience helped me to be accepted to university and I have this experience to thank for my confidence and ability to voice my opinion and involve myself in matters important to not only myself but others."