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

The Australian Institute of Family Studies is not in a position to make comment on specific Government policy.
Rachel Carson
The major barriers to children giving their views and opinions to Family Courts are the Independent Children’s Layers and Family Court Reporters. These persons should be removed and children and young people should be permitted to be a party to proceedings if they wish, and allowed to choose, appoint, and instruct their own legal or lay representative to help them to present their views. Please comment.
Charles
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. AIFS looks forward to engaging with the family law system sector to support consideration of potential developments in this regard.
Rachel Carson
I have some concerns with your sampling which screened out high conflict (ongoing court cases) and how do you see these impacting recommendations. I see high levels of influence of children in Parental Alienation cases. What concerns and controls do you propose with the children expressing their views and shielding from ongoing conflict as was highlighted?
Terry
As a condition of our ethical clearance, the research team required us to ensure that matters involving ongoing proceedings or negotiations were excluded from the research. This was to ensure that a sufficient period of time had elapsed after the resolution of family law proceedings/negotiations to mitigate the risk that engagement with the research would impact on the families' engagement with services or burden the participants. We note however, that families cases involving family violence or "high-conflict" were not screened out and in fact, 50% of participating parents reported that they had safety concerns for themselves and/or their children in relation to ongoing contact with the other parent, with emotional abuse, anger and mental health issues being the most common reasons cited behind the concerns. The responses from participants suggested that steps taken to shield children and young people from their parents’ negotiations or litigation may be benevolent in their intention, but may be associated with the experience of harm on the part of children and young people where they have agency and capacity to participate in decisions affecting them, and this is not accommodated. 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
You indicated that with respect to family reports / single expert reports “Overall quality of reports was rated positively” however that is not what I heard in the recent parliamentary inquiry. I also have one case where a counsellor used want she called “repressed memory recovery” which was shown in court to be “memory implanting” that her father raped her and so still fearful and not seeing father! I saw nothing in your report on how you will protect the children from rogue counsellors. What do you recommend as a prerequisite for child inclusive family reports such as this should only be conducted by Psychologists that have their interviews recorded so they can be regularly reviewed?
Terry
Our report did not collect or analyse data on the quality of family reports or the reports of single experts. At page 56 of our Children and Young People in Separated Families Study - Final Report, we noted that: "Limited Australian research is available in relation to the practices of family consultants/family report writers and in relation to the conduct and quality of family reports/single expert reports in particular. Some insight is available from O’Neill and colleagues (2018) who examined views of the quality of these reports from the perspectives of 65 family law system service professionals in New South Wales. The participants included family lawyers, ICLs, judicial officers and psychologists. While the overall quality of the reports was rated positively, the reports were identified as falling short of some professional’s expectations." We reiterate that this finding is from the O'Neill and colleagues (2018) report and not from the AIFS Children and Young People in Separated Families Study. 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
What has been the response from attorney general about this research?
Melissa
The Australian Institute of Family Studies is not in a position to make comment on specific Government policy.
Rachel Carson
What did Norma mean when she referred to using solo practitioners for child inclusive practice?
Jessy
The reference to a solo-practitioner in child inclusive FDR is to advanced Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners who have the relevant professional background/experience and training to work inclusively with both children and adults in the FDR process. In this model the Child Inclusive FDRP conducts all the sessions and case manages the FDR process. Following action research I led at FRC Logan in 2014 (published in 2016 by FRSA Peer Review process) where the use of sole-practitioners, FDR Practitioners who had received specifically designed professional development and training in narrative practice; I have evidenced that in the context of an FRC the sole-practitioner in Child Inclusive FDR is a most effective means. This can also be coupled with such practitioners co-case managing the CIFDR process with a less experienced FDRP or and FDRP that has not undertaken this professional development which I co-designed with an external PD provider.
Norma Williams
Is the mediation held by just one mediator who also sees the children in your model?
Rosemary
See response provided to above question from Jessy.
CFCA moderator
In child inclusive practice mediation - do you have a view as to whether an FDRP can act both as the mediator and child consultant in a single matter?
Gloria
See response provided to above question from Jessy.
CFCA moderator
Could Norma expand on her comment as to why she felt that solo practitioners were preferred for CIP if possible?
Kerrily
See response provided to above question from Jessy.
CFCA moderator
How do you see this child-inclusive practice operating in the context of domestic and family violence and child abuse?
Webinar participant
At FRC Logan the child inclusive model occurs in the context of a case management process. Statistical data collated tells us that in approximately 80% of cases psychological/emotional abuse has had or continues to have presence after separation. If we were to exclude such parents and children from the FDR process, the likelihood of the initiating parent proceeding to court with a Section 60I(b) Certificate, has shown to be extremely low. This leaves such parents and children in ‘no-man’s land’ in relation to accessing action to address the harm and what needs to change to protect those in the separated relationship and to ensure safety and security for children after separation. With this view, where assessment shows low, medium to moderate presence of behaviour that characterises psychological/emotional abuse the FDR process enables those ‘hard to have’ conversations to be had with the FDRP positioning as advocate for the child and the safety of child and parents. A psycho-educational process is integrated into the stages of the FDR process and referral to behavioural change programs where appropriate. Where there is evidence of high risk to the safety of clients and/or physical abuse this would involve connecting parents with legal information and support, through our legal clinic, connection with a local DV support service and referrals for counselling for both children and adults. Through the warm handover to the DV support service and the legal support those professionals discuss the options to FDR available and advise the client appropriately.
Norma Williams
Love the idea of a paradigm for advancing CIP. Funding for the work has long been a disadvantage. What are your thoughts on this?
Jo
It is the desire of practitioners and services in the family law system to re-position themselves in client engagement and how they view children that will bring the paradigm shift. I have evidenced this in N. Williams 2016: From Research to Practice: Harnessing Evidence for Evaluating Effectiveness in Child Informed and Inclusive Family Dispute Resolution. A more contemporary approach to family dispute resolution requires a shift away from characterising the process of FDR as mediation and referring to FDRP’s as Mediators. I can see there is also benefit to children and families in having access to non-adversarial means during court engagement. In that Family Consultants could meet with parents and children/young people and with this broad perspective make recommendations for consent orders in the best interests of the child, having also considered their experience/views.
Norma Williams
Hi Norma, how can a child participate meaningfully in dispute resolution where they have a parent who is emotionally abusive and they have to be careful what they say so as not to invoke the wrath of that parent? (ramifications later on, in private)
Meri
The purpose of including children in the FDR process is well explained to parents and its intentions made very transparent. For the purpose of ensuring safety and security the CI Practitioner participates in the joint conversation with parents in FDR by skillfully bringing into the conversation the essence of the child’s expressed experience and inviting parents to reflect on the authenticity of the child’s lived experience. The process is one of collaboration in the best interests of the child and enabling a emotionally and physically safe relationship that brings secure attachment. Feedback from parents collected after 3 months of FDR has strong indicated that they have gained a better understanding of what impacts on the emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing of their children and has improved the quality of relationship.
Norma Williams
What are some specific process adaptations to the mediation process (beyond CIP) that you use to make it more responsive?
Sala
Refer to: Norma Williams 2018: From Research to Practice: Harnessing Evidence for Evaluating Effectiveness in Child Informed and Inclusive Family Dispute Resolution
Norma Williams
Children’s views are often nullified by allegations of a parent that they have been `alienated’ by the other parent. Although this theory of `Alienation, has been widely discredited by the relevant professional community, it is still used by some Psychologists. Psychiatrist acting as Family Court Consultants and is accepted by many Family Courts. This is despite two psychologists having been subjected to disciplinary proceedings against them for using such theories.
Webinar participant
There is undoubtedly a need for kids to have resources and access to professionals. The dissatisfaction of the children with the court and process when I read the list seems to also be that of the parents that I meet.
Terry

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