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The Children on Family Justice report, published yesterday by the Children’s Rights Director, Dr Roger Morgan, reveals concerns children in care have about the court system.
Only half of the children surveyed trust the courts to make the right decisions about their lives. The findings were similar when children took part in discussion groups.
The report surveyed 58 children and young people in a voting session and 67 in nine separate discussion groups. It gives first hand accounts of views and experiences of children and young people in care, or living away from home, on some of the main questions on which the Family Justice Review Panel will be making recommendations.
Of the children who were surveyed, 80 had experienced an important decision being made about them by a court. Many had negative experiences of being in court such as feeling nervous, scared and intimidated. One child described being, ‘scared and afraid of not knowing what was going on.’
The three main worries for children going to court included whether the court’s decisions about their future was right for them; people and strangers hearing about their private lives and problems, and not being able to give the right answers to important questions in front of a court.
Confidentiality was also a concern for children. In the voting session, a large number of children (46) thought that media and members of the public should not be allowed into the courts when children’s cases are heard.
Children’s Rights Director, Dr Roger Morgan said:
“Decisions made about children in court are life changing. This report is vitally important as it enables children in care to get their views across to the Family Justice Review Panel.
“Children have provided suggestions where the courts could improve. However, what stands out most through talking with children is their view that they should always have a say about decisions about their lives. It is worrying that the experience of many children was that they had not known, or felt they had a say in, what was happening to them.
“To meet the children’s concerns, more needs to be done to talk directly with children, make sure they understand what is going on, and take their views into account. This would help to lessen the anxiety children experience when major decisions are made about their lives.”
In the discussion groups, children gave suggestions of what they thought the courts could do better. One idea was making sure that children leaving their families have time to see family members and say their goodbyes before leaving. Another was making sure that it is never one person alone who makes a decision in court, but a number of people together, to make it less likely that they get it wrong. A third proposal was that the court should check up on what happened to them after the court has decided their future. This is to ensure that the right decision has been made and to check that it is still appropriate when the child is older.
Children also suggested being given more information such as child-friendly literature and having someone explain why decisions have been made and to answer any concerns.
In the voting session, of the 56 children who responded to this question, 46 felt that professionals working with children were the best people to take the important decisions about them. The three main people children saw as the most helpful in getting the right decisions made for them, where children could vote for more than one answer, were social workers (36), followed by their own parents (27) and then advocates (20).
As well as asking children’s views about the courts, children were presented with five different ways the law might work in future to get important decisions right for children. The most popular suggestion was, each side presenting their case to court, although around a quarter (22) still thought this was a ‘very bad’ way of getting the right decision. This was followed by all sides meeting to sort things out; getting advice to help sort things out; an independent person to decide and lastly doing an investigation to find out the facts.
1. Children’s views about the courts came from both children who had their own experience of a court and from those who did not have this experience but who still had views about courts possibly getting involved in their lives. 46 children involved in the voting session had said they had experience of an important decision being made about them in court, six children did not, and six did not respond. In the discussion groups, 34 of the 67 children had experience of the courts making a decision about them.
2. The Children’s Rights Director for England has independent statutory duties to ascertain and report the views of children living away from home or in care, to advise on children’s rights and welfare, and to raise matters he considers significant to the rights or welfare of the children in his remit.
3. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children's social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.
4. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office via Ofsted's enquiry line 0300 123 1231 between 8.30am - 6.30pm Monday - Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359.
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