The Voice of the Child: Dispute Resolution Advisory Group final report
was submitted to the Ministry of Justice on 16 March. The government has today (26 March 2015) published its response
In August 2014, in response to the Family Mediation Task Force in August 2014, the Minister of State for Justice and Civil Liberties agreed to:
Convene a ‘Voice of the Child’ external advisory group to improve practice and make sure mediation is focused on the best outcomes for any children involved.
The remit of this advisory group was to consider child inclusive models of out of court dispute resolution, including family mediation as it relates to private law matters. The overriding objective was to make sure the necessary steps are taken to promote child inclusive practice and make sure that children’s and young people’s voices are heard.
The report states:
'In November 2014 the Minister of State for Justice and Civil Liberties, the Rt. Hon Simon Hughes
MP, established the Voice of the Child Dispute Resolution Advisory Group to ensure that the
necessary steps are taken to promote child inclusive practice in out of court dispute resolution
processes and that the voices of children and young people are heard in all private family law
proceedings which impact on them. In July 2014, the Minister outlined the Government’s
commitment to children having a greater voice before decisions are made about their future,
putting them firmly at the heart of the Family Justice System. He announced that the Ministry of
Justice would work with the mediation sector to arrive at a position where children and young
people of ten years and over have appropriate access to the practitioners involved in assisting
parents in matters which affect them. Children younger than ten should also have this opportunity if
The Advisory Group considered how children and young people could be involved in a number of dispute resolution processes but focused primarily on family mediation in order to develop an effective, coherent blueprint for the future which could be adapted for use by other dispute resolution practitioners. An interim report was presented to the Minister on 11 February 2015 and he referred to the progress made by the Advisory Group in a letter to the Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB) on 18 February 2015.
The Advisory Group has completed its work and the recommendations are noted in this executive summary. The issues considered by the Advisory Group have been complex and challenging and the recommendations, taken together, should be understood as offering a holistic approach to ensuring that the voices of children and young people are integral to out of court dispute resolution processes in future. The evidence for and the thinking that has informed the recommendations are discussed in detail in the Final Report of the Advisory Group, which should be read in conjunction with this executive summary. The recommendations fall into five main groups, relating to:
- defining and delivering child inclusive practices (recommendations 1-9)
- private ordering and ethical issues (recommendations 10- 21)
- monitoring of and accountability for child inclusive practice (recommendations 22-24)
- the provision of appropriate information and support for children and young people (recommendations 25-32)
- changes in the dispute resolution culture (recommendations 33-34)'
In the government's response to the report, the Rt Hon Simon Hughes MP endorsed a number of the recommendations set out out by the Advisory Group. He noted that a number of the recommendations are primarily for the consideration of dispute resolution professionals and their relevant organisations.
Simon Hughes MP said:
'The creation of this report was a substantial undertaking and I am grateful to everyone involved. I acknowledge that some of the recommendations will require a change of culture within the dispute resolution sector. Indeed, many of the Group's recommendations can only be achieved through the hard work, desire and good will of dispute resolution professionals. My belief remains clear, however; children and young people should have the opportunity to have their voices heard in matters that affect their future. This report will play a significant role in helping children and young people have that voice in out of court dispute resolution.'
Family justice organisation Resolution welcomed the recommendation that children be included in family mediation sessions. Resolution spokesperson Karin Walker says:
'We’re encouraged by the Government’s firm support for the principle of child inclusive practice and the presumption that children and young people should have the opportunity to have their voices heard during their parents’ separation, including mediation. Whilst children should not be actively involved in the issues surrounding the separation of their parents, it is important that they have the opportunity to express their feelings about the impact of decisions on their lives.
Resolution has actively supported children’s right to have their voices heard, with Resolution-trained mediators often being specially trained to see children in direct consultation. In this context, the issue of parental consent and confidentiality is vitally important. This has been carefully considered by the Advisory Group and reflected in the government report.
This is a huge step towards child inclusive dispute resolution, enabling and empowering parents to focus their minds on outcomes which take account the best interests of their children. We urge Government to consider the report’s request for funding for child inclusive mediation as an ongoing process during a divorce, rather than a one off event for the child or young person. Resolution considers inclusion of children’s rights and wishes throughout the separation process to play a crucial role in helping separating families move on with their lives.'
'Hearing the voices of children and young people in dispute resolution processes: promoting a child-inclusive approach' by Emeritus Professor Janet Walker OBE and Angela Lake-Carroll, Co-Chairs of the Voice of the Child Dispute Resolution Group was published in November  Fam Law 1577.
The final Voice of the Child: Dispute Resolution Advisory Group report can be downloaded here.
The government’s response to the report and recommendations of the external Voice of the Child: Dispute Resolution Advisory Group can be downloaded here.