And then in 2013, Cafcass’ Young
, which was established in 2006 but remained largely under
the radar until now, put together the first Voice of The Child Conference of
its kind. The Young People’s Board was designed to help Cafcass stay child
focused, and is run by 40 young people who have experienced the family justice
system. While the first conference did not make headline news, the second conference in 2014
, was more readily noticed, not least of all because Justice Minister Simon Hughes attended, and spoke
, at the conference.
There now seems to be something of a renaissance happening for The Voice of
The Child. Cafcass is the organisation leading this second wind with their
Family Justice Young People’s Board this time round, with the government making
a concerted effort to address the needs of children throughout the court
process. Unwittingly, that renaissance, small and child-focused as it may be,
holds the key to improving the entire system, if we allow it to.
For in order to hear the Voice of the Child properly, and to understand it,
all sectors of the system must be able to engage with children in a meaningful
way, a way which will allow for a much greater understanding of every child’s
circumstances, and by implication acquiring a deeper knowledge of the family
dynamics at work. And that can only be a good thing when trying to solve family
dilemmas and ensure that children are protected.
So how can the Voice of The Child be heard, and understood? Professional
training within fields like social work and mediation, need to be ramped up.
Chief Social Worker Isabelle Trowler has already set about creating a gold
standard for social work, which aims to ensure that best practice is an
accessible concept, as outlined in her Knowledge and Skills Statement
. Judges need to be child-friendly and trained to
engage with children. Very little training at present is offered although Chair
of the Voice of the Child Sub-Group Nick Crichton did hint, back in 2010, of
the production of such training videos for our family judges, in an interview.
Transparency needs to be carefully balanced with every child’s right to
privacy. In a recent report published 28 July
, 11 children interviewed said unanimously
that they did not want the media reporting family cases and showed a strong
mistrust of the media. Interestingly, they felt that the media would stifle
their voice, rather than amplify it. A specially designed task force of reporters
who work within the system and remain child focused could be the answer.
The Voice of the Child movement though, is not without its contradictions.
The July 2014 report, which was produced by NYAS and the ALC, also claims that
the President of the Family Division is not listening to children and that
government is still not placing their rights, views and interests on
Parliament’s agenda. It also suggests that government should be doing more to
scrutinise media reporting inside the courts, as well as ensuring that young
people are engaged with when deciding policy decisions that will affect them.
Although very little is clear about how the Voice of the Child will survive
the next few months of debate and policy proposals, what we do know is this:
the voice of each child is a delicate thing, which needs protecting and
amplifying. And that can only be done with vocational professionals who
understand and engage with children successfully.
The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.