A bill designed to amplify children’s wishes and feelings in family cases, and offer more protections for child and adult victims from domestic abuse came into force in Scotland on 2 October, 2020.

The Scottish government’s website says the Children’s Act aims to do the following:

  • ensure the views of the child are heard in contact and residence cases;
  • further protect victims of domestic abuse and their children;
  • ensure the best interests of the child are at the centre of contact and residence cases and Children’s Hearings; and
  • further compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in family court cases.

Key measures in the Act enhance young children’s right to be heard in family cases and places more responsibility on child welfare professionals to incorporate the views of every adult who has parental responsibility for a child, including parents with children in care.

The new legislation ensures that verbal children of all ages are able to express their views in any way they feel most comfortable, and that decisions made by a judge which impact children are explained to them clearly, through the use of appropriate language.

Ash Denham, the Minister of Community Safety (SNP) said last week, “The presumption that a child aged 12 or over is mature enough to give their views has been replaced with a presumption that, subject to extremely limited exceptions, all children are capable of giving their views. In addition, under the bill, the courts will be required to provide children with an explanation of their decisions. The courts will also be required to seek the views of children if an order has not been complied with. Those are radical changes that will make the process more child friendly.”

Judges will be required to engage with children’s views about their cases, so that the courts can make more informed and honest decisions. The requirement to explain their decisions to the children that come before them has been added to ensure that children understand what has been decided on their behalf.

This Act is not groundbreaking, but it does acknowledge that decisions about children need their input in order to be able to truly understand their needs, and how best to protect and support them.