Putting children and young people first in the family courts

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When family life is in the foreground

Anthony DouglasHome life should tick over in the background for children, allowing them to grow up in the outside world without always being worried. For too many children we work with, family life is in the foreground, because it is so difficult and preoccupying. One child described it as “following me wherever I go. I can’t escape”. In seeking to understand and reduce the impact of negative or hostile parenting on children, we have developed children’s interactive tools which can be used on the laptops and tablets our practitioners are provided with. One young person who was unwilling to engage and talk about what was happening to him, watched his practitioner struggle to open the programme on his tablet and spontaneously started to help him. He then started to use the tool. 

In Cafcass, we are determined to bring out the voice of the child as much as possible in our work, and to devote an ever greater percentage of the available professional time we have to do this. Many of the emotions parents tell us they have are also felt by their children: alienation, loss of control, fear, being trapped, feeling alone. Rather than ‘ticking over’ the family life of these children is often unbearable. It is more important that family courts understand the emotional lives of children than the frequently disputed versions of events being put forward by their parents or carers. 

Later this month, the Family Justice System Young People’s Board (FJYPB) is hosting their annual conference. One theme of the conference is to assess progress being made by all agencies in the family justice system towards becoming more child-inclusive. It is positive that most agencies have signed up to the Charter principles, created by the FJYPB, and that they are now working out how best to implement them. For example, we will review the job descriptions of all senior managers so that they have a clearer understanding about the value they must add to children’s lives through their work in Cafcass. We also intend to be able to show how the Cafcass budget is being spent on programmes which add as much value to children’s lives as possible. 

The recent furore about Penelope Leach’s statements about what babies and young children need to feel secure have been unfairly condemned by some campaigners. She was only stating the obvious, namely that it’s important for there to be security and stability in arrangements for children. Many children, whatever age but particularly younger ones, find change very difficult. In reaching the right decision for an individual child, family courts have to be able to distinguish between children’s varying abilities to deal with changes to their living arrangements. Sometimes, what is perceived as being unfair to parents is better viewed as being fair to children.

Written by Chief Executive Anthony Douglas at 00:00

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