Children involved in family court proceedings have been left with little faith in family justice, research has revealed, with half believing courts never make the right decisions for them.
A report by the Children’s Rights Director for England, Roger Morgan, collected the views of 58 children with experience of the system to be submitted to the Family Justice Review panel.
Most children regarded social workers as the most helpful professionals in having the right decisions made for them but did not necessarily want them to have the final say on whether a child went into care.
Instead, most thought the decision should be shared by a panel, perhaps including a social worker. Some said whoever made the final decision should always meet and talk with the child beforehand.
Children were asked whether the jobs of a children’s guardian, provided by Cafcass, and an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) should be merged and carried out by one person – a move the Family Justice Review is considering.
But children, few of whom could remember having a guardian, said they felt the roles were quite different and should be carried out by different people.
Despite their unhappiness with the current courts system, it was still voted as more preferable than any of the others proposed, including family group conferences – a form of mediation being considered by the review – or independent investigators.
Children were also asked what lawyers could do for them that other professionals could not. One group of children said they felt that solicitors and barristers were “only useful if you’ve done something wrong”. But others said lawyers did “stick up” for them in court. Community Care recently revealed that the role of lawyers in the family courts could be at risk under changes being considered by the Family Justice Review.
Family lawyers and children’s guardians have told Community Care that they are concerned the review panel appears to be considering alternatives to court processes, including tribunals and mediation, in order to make savings.
Some children felt their views were not given much consideration by the family courts, even when they had been put forward by solicitors and social workers. Some also felt it was difficult to have decisions changed, even leading them to resort to violence in attempts to do so.
Those surveyed were also opposed to opening up the family courts to the media. This echoes the findings of a previous report by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Maggie Atkinson.
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