• April 20, 2024
 ‘Strikingly few children have their wishes and feelings heard’

‘Strikingly few children have their wishes and feelings heard’

When child arrangement decisions are made in the family court, strikingly few children have their wishes and feelings heard, says Nuffield Family Justice Observatory.

New research published yesterday (Wednesday 21st February 2024) has suggested that when separated parents use the family court to reach decisions about a child’s upbringing, almost 50% of the children involved are not formally asked how they feel about the arrangements being made, even though they are likely to have a significant and long-lasting impact on their lives.

The study has suggested that of the 67,000 children involved, around half (46.1 per cent in England and 52.5 per cent in Wales), including older children and teenagers, did not have an opportunity to formally voice their wishes and feelings or be involved in decisions that could potentially be life changing. For two-fifths of children aged 10 to 13 in England, and a greater proportion of older teenagers, there was no indication that they had formally participated in proceedings, with a similar pattern seen in Wales.

A child’s right to participate in decisions being made about them and the importance of considering their wishes and feelings when making decisions is acknowledged in legislation and guidance. However, according to Nuffield Family Justice Observatory there is currently no universal process in England or Wales to ensure that children’s voices are systematically heard in private family law cases, and the family court will often make decisions about a child’s life without hearing from them directly.

Commenting on the research findings, Olivia, a 21-year-old member of the Family Justice Young People’s Board, said:

“It is simply not good enough that only half of children and young people get to participate in decisions being made about their future. These decisions can easily affect the course of their life and the fact they do not get a say is appalling. The report raises important questions about how, in cases where the child has no participation, the court was able to consider the child’s wishes and feelings, as the law says it should.”

Nuffield Family Justice Observatory have highlighted in their report that:

“When involved in the decision-making process, children are more likely to accept the decisions made about their living, contact or other arrangements, and to have a more positive experience of contact and ongoing relationships with their parents. Giving children a voice in matters that concern their welfare has also been found to promote their wellbeing.

The research findings and the concerns they raise help strengthen the case for the expansion of the private law Pathfinder court model, which includes engagement with all children as standard. The research findings and the concerns they raise help strengthen the case for the expansion of the private law Pathfinder court model, which includes engagement with all children as standard.”

Read the full report here.

Rebecca Morgan, Editor

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