It is always heartening to see government actively consider the Voice of the Child and make it a priority and that is exactly what the OCC has done today in their latest response to the Family Justice Review’s Interim Report. The Voice of the Child Sub Group, which is part of the Family Justice Council, requested that the OCC undertake the latest consultation and the results, although not surprising for those of us who have been through the system with children or who have spent far longer than even Researching Reform asking the government to give children a voice in the system, it is a welcome acknowledgement of some of the most important problems which currently plague the family justice system.
It is a small consultation; only 35 children were interviewed, but the fact that children were interviewed is truly wonderful and some, Judge Nicholas Crichton confirms, were very young. In fact, the 29 page consultation tells us that the children involved ranged in age from 3 to 17 years, and were involved in either private or public law cases.
The key considerations that were highlighted are as follows:
- Adults should understand all the pressures children face at every stage of the family justice process;
- Information should be in child-friendly language and formats; and
- Every child and young person should have their own plan detailing how they would like to be supported and have their voice heard.
Researching Reform particularly liked these provisions:
- Ensuring the fulfilment of a child’s right to a voice under Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- Ensuring that the Independent Reviewing Officer is not connected to the Local Authority and acts as a truly independent body, so that it can challenge decisions without fear of conflicting interests getting in the way of making the welfare of the child paramount
- The children consulted asked that their verbatim views be recorded in court documents
- More continuity of social workers, so that children are not bandied around and passed on to several social workers during their time in the system
- Creating a structure so that Guardians and social workers can get to know the children involved and in this way understand better their needs
- That the Voice of the Child be protected during the use of alternative processes, outside of the family courts (i.e. in mediation, where their views should also, of course, be included)
- Offering children ongoing support once the case has come to a close.
This really is a superb report; for its courage in facing children directly and trying to listening to them, for it’s simplicity, after all who better to ask about children than children themselves and for its honesty. The Voice of the Child Sub-Group is chaired by District Judge Nicholas Crichton and whilst Researching Reform has always felt that some of the Sub-Group’s initiatives have been a little remiss, this consultation is right on the money and truly admirable and certainly takes its place amongst only a few of the recent consultations and reports that have sought to think outside of the ballot box.