Hearing the voices of children and young people in dispute resolution processes: promoting a child-inclusive approach (£)
JANET WALKER OBE, Emeritus Professor of Family Policy, Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University ANGELA LAKE-CARROLL, Independent Consultant, Mediator and Trainer
In July 2014, the Coalition
Government outlined its commitment to children having a greater voice in family
justice proceedings, heralding changes for all family law practitioners.
Earlier in 2014, we reviewed child-inclusive practice for the Mediation Task
Force, having consulted mediators and members of the Family Justice Young
People’s Board. The young people
expressed strong views about wanting the opportunity to communicate with those
making decisions about their future and, importantly, were unanimous that
mediators should talk to children. Innovations in other jurisdictions have
shown that child-inclusive practice has positive outcomes for children and
their parents and that children can participate safely and constructively. Yet
few children here are offered the opportunity to be heard either in dispute
resolution processes or the courts.
We discovered a number of confusions that inhibit
child-inclusive practice, primarily relating to its purpose, confidentiality
and privilege, and its place within the family justice system as a whole, and
noted that child-inclusive practice is based on out-of-date guidelines and
limited training. If the Government’s policy commitment is to be realised,
guidelines and protocols must be updated, training for
family law professionals increased and, most importantly, the culture which
tends to exclude children and young people from family justice proceedings must
be reversed. The full version of this article appears in the November 2014 issue of Family Law.