“The best reports always leave you feeling confident that you have a true sense for that child”
A judge had to make a difficult decision recently when he could see that a boy didn’t want to ‘let down’ his dad by telling him that he really didn’t want to move to Sweden. The judge chose to write his judgment in the form of a letter to the boy explaining how and why he had decided the boy should stay in England with his mum.
The letter was a great example of how something that is still really important can be written and delivered in a simple and clear way. And anyone reading this judgment gets a really clear idea of what this boy was going through and how much he loved both his parents. The judge brought the boy’s experience to life.
It made us think, here at the Family Justice Young People's Board (FJYPB), about the many ways the unique voice of every child and young person can be reflected in Cafcass court reports. We have looked at many examples of reports as part of our FJYPB role in Area Quality Reviews (AQRs) and the best ones always leave you feeling confident that you have a true sense for that child or young person. I know that if I was a judge or magistrate I would want the child to ‘jump off the page’ at me to help make that all important decision.
So, here are a few ideas of how you can bring the voice of the child or young person alive in your reports:
- Remember, the report you write is about a child or young person, who may want to read this now or even later in life. Make sure it is written in a way that is clear and understandable.
- Do not use jargon – make language clear, understandable and age appropriate (see our glossary).
- There is no one size fits all approach. Give children and young people the best chance of expressing their wishes and feeling by using tools and resources that best meet their needs. Then show how you used them in your reports (electronic tools, where available) make this even easier as you can directly upload them to reports).
- Babies or very young children who are unable to express their needs, wishes and feelings through writing, drawing or speaking will need to have their ‘voice’ reflected in other ways, like describing the relationship between them and the important adults in their lives.
- Ask children and young people to describe themselves. Stop and listen and think about what the child is really trying to share. At the end of the meeting with a child or young person, check to ensure you have noted down all of their needs, wishes and feelings in the way they intended to share them.
- Ensure that children’s wishes and feelings – their unique voice – are reflected in reports to court, together with advice about the weight that should be attached to them. This recognises that what a child has said might not always be in their best interests.
- Include direct quotes from children and young people where possible to avoid misinterpretation.
- Think about and write down a child’s needs and wishes in relationship to their brothers and sisters – but be careful not to lose the voice of each individual child.
- Consider each child or young person’s diversity - write interesting things about them such as our hobbies and favourite music, etc. Don’t forget to include details of the child’s culture and what’s important to them.
- Do not forget to include the voice of a child with a disability. Adapt your working styles so you can put forward their views. Check out Aleesha’s top tips here.
- Every child or young person should have the opportunity of submitting their views directly to the judge or magistrate in writing or a drawing. Make sure you offer this opportunity and support to all children and young people you work with, and make sure you attach it to your final report.