Family courts to do more to promote the voice of children in care proceedings

Justice Minister Simon Hughes announced changes that will help children aged ten and above communicate their views in family courts

Photo: Harold Lake/Flickr

Care proceedings will be changed to make them more child friendly, the Ministry of Justice has announced.

Justice minister Simon Hughes set out at a meeting of the Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB) a series of changes that will make it easier for children and young people to communicate their views in family courts.

These changes will include facilities that allow children to communicate with a judge by letters or pictures. They will also be able to communicate with a judge through meetings or a third person, in addition to their social worker or Cafcass officer.

In addition, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) are working on a number of resources including a ‘Court Gaming App’, which will help explain the court system to a young person.

The changes will apply to all children aged ten and above.

Views not currently heard

Children and young people have struggled to have their voices heard in family court proceedings for too long, Hughes told the group of 24 young people who promote the voices of children and young people in the family justice system

“Although they are often at the centre of proceedings, the views of children and how they feel are often not heard, with other people making vital decisions for them.”

Bethany Shepherd – a FJYPB member who has been through the family justice system – said the work on the voice of the child is “really encouraging”.

“I had to wait 4 years before my voice was heard.  I was considered to be too young to know my own mind or listened to individually and simply just lumped together with my younger sister,” she said.

“It is vital to hear a child’s opinion about their case when the decision made could ultimately affect them for the rest of their lives,” Shepherd added.

Easier for social workers

The changes have been welcomed by Annie Hudson, chief executive of The College of Social Work, who hopes the changes will make the advocacy role played by social workers easier and lead to better outcomes for young people.

Children “should not have to fight to have their voice heard when they are already facing difficult challenges” she said.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said there was no confirmed date for when these changes would come into force. The changes would happen “in due course” he said.

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