Child inclusion in family court cases has often been confused with asking children what should happen next in their lives. It is much more than that. The slide below sets out some of the areas of child-inclusive practice we are developing in Cafcass. We have to start with our statutory function which is to understand the needs, wishes and feelings of individual children sufficiently to recommend to a family court what should happen next in their lives. While that includes giving proper consideration to a child’s wishes and feelings, we must also carry out a risk analysis of the child’s current situation and of any future proposed arrangements. Child inclusive practice stretches from a child-focussed analysis right the way through to a fully child inclusive piece of work, which is what we do in our public and private law casework.
Children usually find it harder than adults to tell their story, or to reflect on their story. Many children will not have told their story before, so they need help to articulate it. Others have been coached into telling a particular story, either to throw enquirers ‘off the scent’, or to secure a particular outcome for the adults who have carried out the coaching. We are expanding our toolkit to help our practitioners to distinguish between true stories and fictional accounts. Of course the same distinction applies to the adults we interview. Often – in our private law casework for example – we ask adults to re-frame their story, looking at the impact of what they are describing on their children, rather than what the event or situation meant to them. This helps us and those we work with to maintain a child focus. This also makes it easier to work in a child inclusive way rather than risking the damage that can come from working with children in this way without the support of the adults around them.
Over the next year, we will be developing our child inclusive practice, so that all aspects of our service become as child inclusive as possible, including our backroom services. We then want to make that policy and the associated procedures available to all of our contractors, along with online support, and to put the full model and materials on our website so that we are transparent about how we work and what we aim to achieve through child inclusivity. Cases are about children. It is only right that they are as involved as possible, subject to such involvement helping them to adapt to change or to recover from trauma.