The 5th Voice of the Child conference was held in London in late July. As the only child-led, professionally supported national conference about the voices of children in family court cases, it was a powerful event. Many of the 200 attendees were visibly moved by what they heard, especially the brave personal stories of children and young people about their experiences at home, in their community and in the care system.
Some of what they said goes to the heart of our work. One question, framed in an interactive game with the audience, was to challenge professionals not to ask questions intrusively. It encouraged them to find out what they need to know using sensitivity as well as honesty. This means establishing instant rapport with the child and learning how to do that.
Another exercise challenged superficial assumptions about children. “I am more than how you see me,” was the key phrase. With limited professional time, that means our practitioners have to bring a strong knowledge base and depth of casework experience to each meeting with a child. Experience which enables them to get to the nub of the issue for children quickly.
Conferences like this give those attending many takeaway points to apply in their own practice. One example for me was the emergence of new factors to take into account when considering whether contact arrangements for children should be direct or indirect. Traditionally, this has been a fairly easy classification to make. However, social media has changed that. Indirect contact via Skype, Facetime or WhatsApp for example, can be a new means to exert unwelcome pressure on the child at the other end. Likewise text messaging is not necessarily benign if in the wrong hands (or fingers). So a balancing exercise of pros and cons should be carried out both with direct and indirect contact. We probably need a new terminology which replaces direct and indirect with a more accurate description.
Planning for the 6th Voice of the Child conference in July 2018 will start soon and the first regional conference is being organised for the New Year. I can’t wait.