At the FJYPB we have identified the lack of getting to know a child or young person, and understanding their diversity, as a key issue in family justice. For example, someone might assume that brothers and sisters have the same wishes or feelings. Or they might think that a child will have the same interests and personality years after they have met them.
The importance of not making such assumptions was highlighted at our annual conference. A game, called ‘Do you see me?’, presented pictures of a child or young person many years ago, and captioned it with the features that people see on the first couple of meetings - for example their skin colour, hair colour, and height. We then followed this up with a more recent picture of them, captioned with other features that a professional may not see, but which make the child or young person who they are - like their future career aspirations or their music taste.
Another game used at the conference, ‘Perceptions’, accentuated how uncomfortable it may feel for a child to open up and talk about themselves to an adult they have never met before, in a sometimes alien environment.
During the game, the professionals were asked personal questions that children and young people are often asked during proceedings, in front of the whole audience. For example, their sexuality or whether they considered themselves to have a disability.
These two games emphasised how children during separation might not be seen as people with diverse wants, needs, feelings and personalities, and how this can lead to the young person feeling invisible or misunderstood.
Here at the FJYPB we believe that children should be at the centre of all proceedings, that they should be understood, as shown in our national charter. Importantly, they must feel like they are understood. Points 3 and 4 of the charter outline how children should be treated as individuals and how practitioners should have sufficient time to build a relationship with the professionals involved in our case.
If professionals make a concerted effort to understand and get to know children and young people, it makes them feel like their voices have been heard during decisions. This will have a positive short term impact but it can also change their lives and future relationships forever.