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Children to be given more of a voice in family court

21st Feb 2015

Plans have been announced that will give children more opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings in family courts, through the use of pictures and letters.

Each year, 90,000 children are involved in family court cases, and now there is a movement to ensure that their opinions do not go unheard in the process. Speaking to the Family Justice Young People’s Board, Justice Minister Simon Hughes announced that there will be options available to children and young people in order for them to be able to communicate their views to the judge hearing the case. Such options include meetings, letters or pictures, or through a third person in addition to their Children and Families Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) officer or social worker.

The government is also lending its support to calls for out of court dispute resolution services, such as family mediation, to be more child inclusive. It is expected that these initiatives will complement reforms to guidance on judges seeing children currently being considered by a judge-led working group set up by Sir James Munby, president of the Family Division.

As well as Hughes’ proposals, Cafcass are in the process of working on other resources such as a ‘Court Gaming App’, intended to help explain the court system more clearly to young people, in order to give them a better idea of what is happening.

The changes Hughes has announced will apply to all children aged ten and over, and in speaking to the Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB), he stated that children and young people have been struggling to have their voices heard for ‘too long’. Other people make ‘vital decisions’ for them, but given their vulnerable place in society, it is ‘vitally important’ to ensure they are ‘at the heart of the family justice system’.

Bethany Shepherd, FJYPB member who has experience of going through the family justice system, stated that this work was ‘really encouraging’, because decisions made can ultimately affect children ‘for the rest of their lives’.