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Hearing the voices of children and young people in dispute resolution processes: promoting a child-inclusive approach (£)

Date:28 OCT 2014
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Family Law

JANET WALKER OBE, Emeritus Professor of Family Policy, Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University 
ANGELA LAKE-CARROLL, Independent Consultant, Mediator and Trainer

In July 2014, the Coalition Government outlined its commitment to children having a greater voice in family justice proceedings, heralding changes for all family law practitioners. Earlier in 2014, we reviewed child-inclusive practice for the Mediation Task Force, having consulted mediators and members of the Family Justice Young People’s Board. The young people expressed strong views about wanting the opportunity to communicate with those making decisions about their future and, importantly, were unanimous that mediators should talk to children. Innovations in other jurisdictions have shown that child-inclusive practice has positive outcomes for children and their parents and that children can participate safely and constructively. Yet few children here are offered the opportunity to be heard either in dispute resolution processes or the courts.

We discovered a number of confusions that inhibit child-inclusive practice, primarily relating to its purpose, confidentiality and privilege, and its place within the family justice system as a whole, and noted that child-inclusive practice is based on out-of-date guidelines and limited training. If the Government’s policy commitment is to be realised, guidelines and protocols must be updated, training for family law professionals increased and, most importantly, the culture which tends to exclude children and young people from family justice proceedings must be reversed.

The full version of this article appears in the November 2014 issue of Family Law.

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