New sensory hearing facilities to support children and young people opens
New hearing facilities for the additional support needs jurisdiction within the Health and Education Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland in Glasgow were formally opened yesterday by May Dunsmuir, Chamber President of the Health and Education Chamber and the Minister for Children and Young People, Maree Todd.
The new sensory hearing 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 takes place, the number of adults in the room swamps the child and their voice is invariably lost.
“Given this opportunity to help design new facilities I wanted to make sure we gave children every opportunity to take part and be heard. I began with these questions: Do children want to come to hearings? If not, how we can improve their participation in the process? If yes, how can we improve their participation in the process? This was about overcoming barriers.”
Her research involved speaking 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.
“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 break out 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.”
Those voices were reflected in the final design, influencing the furnishings, fabrics, colours and flexible environments available in the sensory suites. Beyond the design and the new suites is the commitment to continuing to engage with children, identifying their needs before they attend hearings and making sure arrangements are tailored to their needs.
Ms Todd said: “In Scotland we want our children and young people to grow up loved, safe and respected to realise their full potential.
“I am delighted that the new sensory hearing facilities have been developed with the child’s voice at the centre, enabling those with additional support needs to fully participate in the hearings process.”
At the age of 15, Kerrie McLeod volunteered as a young chamber consultant for the Health and Education Chamber. She helped test the needs to learn website and the images that were developed as part of this facility’s design.
Speaking at the opening, Ms McLeod, who is now 18, said: “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.”