Join the conversation – Give children a bigger voice more of the time: Children’s and young people’s experiences of the family law system

Join the conversation – Give children a bigger voice more of the time: Children’s and young people’s experiences of the family law system

27 September 2018

This webinar discussed recent research on young people’s experiences of the family law system and its implications for child-inclusive practice.

Please post your comments and questions below.

A full recording of the webinar and related resources, including slides, audio and a transcript, is now available

This webinar presented findings of the Children and young people in separated families study, which investigated the experiences and needs of young people whose parents had separated and had accessed the family law system. It also discussed implications for policy and practice, with a focus on developing child-inclusive practices in the area of family dispute resolution and the family law system more generally. 

Related resources

Further reading

Featured image: GettyImages_Sladic

Comments

Wonderful to see that there is such strong evidence that children and young people are capable of having a voice and that their understanding does align with their best interests. It is also great to see evidence that when they are heard, the outcomes for families are better. It seems it is time that parents and practitioners learned to have confidence in hearing and taking these voices into account. Thanks Norma and Rachel for your work in getting this message out.
Kathryn
Thank you for this talk and opportunity to contribute to this conversation.. I'm interested in the ongoing support provided to children once they have been involved in the FDR. Specifically whether you have a view on whether the FDRPs/Child consultants are contracting to provide this ongoing support role one they have established rapport and trust. Within the Logan FRC experience how is this ongoing support role being managed? What are some other options you think may be beneficial? Cheers, Jodie
Jodie Grant
Children are referred to Supporting Children After Separation Counselling Program following FDR. FDRP’s make a direct referral in consultation with parents and once this has occurred the agreement to progress counselling is determined by the counsellor and parent/s during intake follow up. When parents return to FDR after a 3 month period the children would have a consultation session pre-FDR as previously. Discussions have not yet been resolved in the team in regard to inviting children back for a feedback session following the joint parent session and the formation of a Parenting Plan. There are practical and ethical issues that need to be considered here. This will be a stage of the process of child inclusive FDR at the FRC for further development and action research.
Norma Williams
Wonderful to see the voice of the child being acknowledged and validated. I was interested to hear that children had expressed concern about having a trusted individual that THEY have nominated with them during any questioning and that 'grandparents' were mentioned. As part of an organisation that advocates for grandparents (Grandparents For Grandchildren SA Inc) we often find that they are excluded from much of the FDR or court process because of family conflict with the child's parents, even when the child requests their presence. FDR must be a time for parents to put aside family politics and focus on what is best for their child/ren.
Joanne Lauritsen
Were children from CALD background included in the research?
Thi
Unfortunately, the research team was unable to recruit sufficient numbers of respondents from a CALD/ATSI background to undertake a closer analysis of those responses (see Table 2.3 of the Report).
Rachel Carson
Any marked differences among children from CALD/Aboriginal and other cultural backgrounds?
Seini
Unfortunately, the research team was unable to recruit sufficient numbers of respondents from a CALD/ATSI background to undertake a closer analysis of those responses (see Table 2.3 of the Report).
Rachel Carson
Did you look at the differences in experiences and levels of satisfaction where their views are sought in confidential versus reportable contexts?
Donna
Although the study did not collect sufficient comparative data to enable an indepth analysis of this particular issue, some participants described postive experiences associated with family counselling counselling. While some participants described postive interactions with family consultants, some described their disappointment and concern at the short duration of their interactions which formed the basis for the recommendations in the family report. Some described their distress when reunited with an alleged perpetrator during the family report session, or that they faced repercussions from the parent upon the release of the report regarding what they had said to the consultant. Some participants also reported difficult or uncomfortable interactions, whether that be because of the setting or the lack of rapport with the family consultant.
Rachel Carson
Was there any information gleaned on the role of POPS (Parenting Orders Program) and Supporting Children After Parenting, both which seem to resourced to encourage and educate parents to hear children's voices and provide children with an opportunity to have a voice about their situation - is there any information about how Family Pathways Networks may be supporting the exchange of child inclusive info between post separation staff and family law professionals?
Mike
We did not receive sufficient responses on POPS and Supporting Children After Parenting programs to consider their effectiveness in a substantive way although some children and young people did comment on their experiences of peer support programs in our research.
Rachel Carson
It seems the findings support having an independent third party working more holistically with children to assist them in being heard and supported through the family law process. However, also that children would like their parents to communicate with them about the processes and potential implications for them.
Webinar participant
A key finding of our research was that more than three-quarters of participants wanted their parents to communicate with them and listen to their views when it came to decisions affecting them (such as working out living arrangements). A number of children and young people also raised the benefits of having a neutral, independent third party to help them adjust to their post-separation circumstances and to formulate their views about parenting arrangements. With the release of our Children and Young People in Separated Parents Study Report, AIFS looks forward to engaging with the family law system sector to support consideration of potential developments to address the concerns and needs raised by children and young people in a safe and effective manner that is consistent with the best interests of children and young people.
Rachel Carson
Many of our clients have been judged poorly for explaining family law processes and outcomes to their children- and treated suspiciously as disrupting or even unfairly ‘alienating’ the child/ren from the abusive parent. Is there a risk that, in keeping children informed as to the processes and outcomes and asking for their input, non-abusive parents will be labelled in this way? How can non-abusive parents be protected from this characterization which so often occurs?
Webinar participant
The findings of the Children and Young People in Separated Parents study provide valuable insight into the views and experiences of children and young people whose parents have separated and accessed family law system services. It will now be important for the family law sector to consider how the system can address the concerns and needs raised by children and young people in a safe and effective manner that is consistent with the best interests of children and young people while also safeguarding parents experiencing violence and abuse by their former partners. The AIFS looks forward to engaging with the family law system sector to support consideration of potential developments in this regard.
Rachel Carson
Given what we know about how and the relationship between children and the non-abusive parent (usually their mother) is often undermined by the abusive parent as a form of coercive control, how can safeguards be put in place to ensure FDR processes do not place women and children at additional risk of violence and abuse?
Webinar participant
The findings of the Children and Young People in Separated Parents study provide valuable insight into the views and experiences of children and young people whose parents have separated and have accessed family law system services. It will now be important for the family law sector to consider how the system can address the concerns and needs raised by children and young people in a safe and effective manner that is consistent with the best interests of children and young people while also safeguarding children and parents experiencing violence and abuse. The AIFS looks forward to engaging with the family law system sector to support consideration of potential developments in this regard.
Rachel Carson
A rigorous screening and assessment process/tool pre-FDR would identify the the presence of this. At FRC Logan the assessment would be followed by a follow up assessment including questions specifically designed to enable the FDRP to further assess the intentions of a client who has presented as using coercion, high acrimony and behaviours characterised as power and control. Should such a person show no-insight or acknowledgement of such harmful behaviour the FDR is unlikely to go ahead and appropriate warm referral handovers as indicted above would be discussed with each parent separately and an explanation provided why at this time FDR is not seen to be the most suitable means of addressing the issues that have brought the parents to seek assistance.
Norma Williams
Hi, in the first presentation, the children that participated, where they all in a shared care living arrangement?
Luisa
The children and young people reported a number of different parenting arrangements. Of the children and young people participating in the study, the proportion living in 'shared-care' arrangements (of between 35 to 65% of nights with each parent) was 26% (Table 2.16 of the report).
Rachel Carson
Brilliant research. Consistent with my experience hearing from young people while at the National Children's + Youth Law Centre. Do you have any observations about whether child inclusive practice could have a wider application than just in family law settings?
James
While the Children and Young People in Separated Parents study was designed to specifically focus on the views and experiences of children and young people whose parents have separated and have accessed family law system services, we welcome its consideration for wider application.
Rachel Carson
Should all family law matters involving children require certification that the children have been consulted (appropriately), as part of mediation referral process and before settlement?
James
The findings of the Children and Young People in Separated Parents study provide valuable insight into the views and experiences of children and young people whose parents have separated and have accessed family law system services. It will now be important for the family law sector to consider how the system can address the concerns and needs raised by children and young people in a safe and effective manner that is consistent with the best interests of children and young people. The AIFS looks forward to engaging with the family law system sector to support consideration of potential developments in this regard.
Rachel Carson
In my experience, expressing children's concerns about a parent can jeopardise safety as a parent reacts angrily to this information that exacerbates dispute between parents. Any comments?
Jean-Pierre
The findings of the Children and Young People in Separated Parents study provide valuable insight into the views and experiences of children and young people whose parents have separated and have accessed family law system services. It will now be important for the family law sector to consider how the system can address the concerns and needs raised by children and young people in a safe and effective manner consistent with the best interests of children and young people while also safeguarding children and parents experiencing violence and abuse. The AIFS looks forward to engaging with the family law system sector to support consideration of potential developments in this regard.
Rachel Carson
How do you balance the desire for children to be involved in the process including the making of decisions, and the age appropriate guidelines including their brain development?
Jessica
The findings of the Children and Young People in Separated Parents study provide valuable insight into the views and experiences of children and young people whose parents have separated and have accessed family law system services. It will now be important for the family law sector to consider how the system can address the concerns and needs raised by children and young people in a safe and effective manner that is consistent with established knowledge regarding child development and consistent with the best interests of children and young people. The AIFS looks forward to engaging with the family law system sector to support consideration of potential developments in this regard.
Rachel Carson
Court orders are often staged then rigid. Any suggestions about how they might be re-structured in the future to allow flexibility, particularly during teen years when young people might wish to pursue particular interests at particular times. i.e. Court Orders that actually recognise the young person's changing interests and needs?
Meri
A number of children and young people in the study raised the importance of flexible parenting arrangements which took into account changing circumstances or the difficulties in adjusting to certain parenting arrangements. The ability to seek change in parenting arrangements was particularly raised as crucial in the context where children and young people felt unsafe or anxious at one of their parent's households. The AIFS looks forward to engaging with the family law system sector to support consideration of potential options to safely and effectively accomodate children's changing interests and needs.
Rachel Carson
Did your study reveal the proportion of participating children that had experienced family violence still had to spend overnight time with the perpetrators?
Webinar participant
Although this data was not specifically available, nearly one-third of participants (n = 18) indicated that at different times they had not 'felt safe' at one of their parents' households (noting that a majority of these children did not have (or had limited) time with one parent). More generally, 50% of parents reported safety concerns for themselves and/or their children as a result of ongoing contact with the other parent.
Rachel Carson
Can the presenter give the full name of the acronyms FDR etc.
Janice
FDR = Family dispute resolution ICL = Independent children lawyer
Rachel Carson
It sounds like there is now a strong evidence base that children and young people are capable of having a say and serving their best interests - we just need to have the confidence in their capacity and express that view to parents? Is it mostly about professionals gaining that confidence and skills to express it?
Kathryn
There is a key role to play for professionals and services in supporting children/young people to participate in decisions that affect them. Professionals may consider ways to engage with children and young people noting that participants in the study called for more effective listening by professionals to their views. Such listening encompassed qualities such as being patient and empathetic, and giving due weight and respect to their views and experiences.
Rachel Carson
I think the barriers to this work such as the court processes such as drawn out, the right support at the right time etc. I am curious about how, in practice we privilege children's rights and needs particularly when we know they are often impacted and used between parents in family violence relationships. Saying they need a voice is ok but not enough.
Kathy
The findings of the Children and Young People in Separated Parents study provide valuable insight into the views and experiences of children and young people whose parents have separated and have accessed family law system services. It will now be important for the family law system sector to consider how the system can address the concerns and needs raised by children and young people in a safe and effective manner tha is consistent with the best interests of children and young people while also safeguarding children and parents experiencing violence and abuse. The AIFS looks forward to engaging with the family law system sector to support consideration of potential developments in this regard.
Rachel Carson
How many children were subject to cross orders with Family Law and child protection?
Margaret
This data is not available.
Rachel Carson
Do you have any concerns with the impact it will have on a child's life if they are forced to choose between parents, just to please a parent who is over emotional, have mental illness or a personality disorder?
Amanda
Most participants in our Children and Young People in Separated Parents Study described wanting to participate in the decision-making process. The findings of this research do not suggest that children should bear responsibility of choosing between their parents.
Rachel Carson
What professional roles exist in the Family Court system that can facilitate the voice of the child other than an ICL?
Kasey
The court may order the parties to attend meetings with a family consultant or single expert who will prepare a report (incuding for eg., a Family Report) or a memorandum to inform the proceedings. Where possible, family reports/memoranda provide evidence of the views of the child/young person in relation to relevant matters. There is also the potential for a judicial officer to meet and speak with a child or a young person directly although this is rare in practice.
Rachel Carson
Can you tell me how long it had been between the end of the family law involvement and the interviews? I heard some concerning reports about the mental health of young people currently involved in a family law event.
Glenn
As a condition of our ethical clearances, the research team were required to maintain a period of time from the end of the family law proceedings and interviews with children/young people. For children and young people aged 10-11 years, a minimum of 12 months was required to have passed after the final resolution of family law matters before we could interview the child/young person. For children and young people aged aged 12-17 years, this period was 3 months. Ensuring that a period of time had elapsed after the end of family law proceedings allowed us to reduce the burden on participants and the potential for distress due to involvement in proceedings.
Rachel Carson
I have been involved in cases where children have been drawn (consciously or unconsciously) into the opinion of one parent that the other parent is abusive, uncaring, rejecting etc, when the evidence does not support the allegation. Generally the accusing parent has mental illness or psychological problems that are impacting on their parenting and the child may be caught in a caregiving/protective or other unhelpful dynamic with this parent. These children frequently complain that there opinions and wishes are not being listened to and they should have more say, and this is generally with the stated wish to reduce or cease contact with the accused parent. However, it is evident that they are heavily influenced by the (usually custodial) parent, and not in a position to make an objective, independent judgement. In this instance reducing or ceasing contact is generally not in their best interests as it severs contact with a parent who is wanting to care, able to do so and may be a protective factor. How do you suggest such situations should be managed?
Michelle
The model of child inclusive practice at FRC Logan is positioned as follows: The primary purpose of the child session is to honour the right of the child to have a say in matters where decisions are being made about them and will effect them (Article 12, UNCRC). The process is one of narrative practice and the child/ren are invited to express their experience of being in their separated family. From this authentic view the child can naturally express what the effect of that has been on their thoughts and emotions and relationships. The narrative of the conversation supported by a scaffold as follows: • The child’s experience • Effects of their experience • Evaluation of the experience: what has been ok and not ok and why they take that view • An explanation of that view and why this is important to them • The expectations they have of their parents and the FDR process to consider their view and take that into account in parent discussions and a parenting plan in support of their best interests. The role of the FDRP is to advocate for the best interests of the child as defined in the Family Law Act and safety being the first priority. The child is not positioned in the child inclusive process to advocate for their rights as a child.
Norma Williams
The last traceable occasion when a child appeared in a Family Court was in 1991 (Pagliarella), ironically the same year that Australia signed UNCRoC. What does this say about the government's commitment to the rights of Children and Young People in Australia?
Charles

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