The voice of the child is often paid lip service to, as a concept in the family justice system, but its progress has been slow and wobbly, marred by tensions between those in the sector who are confident with kids and those who are less so. A recent example of this can be seen in a current case, where a judge took the liberty of speaking with a child in his chambers and found that his decision was met with clamours from various counsel and parties to the case.
But children find ways of reaching out, it is how they survive, often showing the kind of persistence adults tends to associate only with their full-grown colleagues, sometimes forgetting the power that little people have. And this young lady, who has posted her views on being in care, is no exception. Except, that she is exceptional.
With grace and maturity, she talks about her life in care, her disappointment with the stigma that exists in relation to adopted children, whom she says are viewed as ‘dirty’ and stereotyped as ‘unwanted’, her concern with social services for trying to frustrate her relationship with her sister and her sadness at having experienced 16 foster carers and 3 foster homes from the age of 7 to 16.
This young lady’s balanced and sensible monologue also features her sentiments on her quality of life in care – she is grateful for all the material advantages she has received, advantages she would not have received at home, with an absent father who felt he could no longer stay due to circumstances at home and a mum, who was abusing drugs at the time. She goes on to detail those material benefits; a laptop, phone and more, but, she says, none of that replaces family.
Her sentiments, although unwittingly, touch upon so many of the cultural problems inside the system – social workers who find it hard to offer flexible solutions to the sibling problem, the lack of interest in looking at extended family to look after kids, constant bouncing from one foster home and care home to the next and stigmas children in care have to live with every day, whether in the wider community or elsewhere.
We hear the government talking about how much havoc family breakdown causes children, but no-one speaks of the havoc poor family policy wreaks on children who find themselves living in different homes on a regular basis and often having very little loving interaction.