Anita Shepherd: VOICE OF THE CHILD

The Voice of the Child Dispute Resolution Advisory Group (the Group), has published its final report dated March 2015. It was set up to ensure that:

• Steps are taken to promote child inclusive practice in out of court dispute resolution processes.

• The child’s voice is heard in all private family law proceedings which affect them.

It makes recommendations to ensure that the voices of children and young people are integral to out of court dispute resolution, particularly mediation. They include suggestions about how children and young people can be directly involved in out of court dispute resolution processes which affect them. The Group recommends adopting a non-legal presumption that hearing the voice of all children aged ten and over directly in dispute resolution processes (including mediation) should be the starting point for practitioners.

The report also recommends that where an out of court dispute resolution process results in agreement between the parties, the memorandum of understanding, agreement or consent order should reflect the child’s participation in the process.

The government has responded positively to these recommendations and has indicated that it is committed to working with the relevant agencies to make improvements in this area. Funding is likely to remain a problem but this is under review also. If the government can back a funded programme which enables children to have a voice in out of court dispute resolution processes then this can only mean that children’s needs during separation can being fully supported.

Remember – our children are tomorrows society so it is vitally important that society supports and guides children as well as parents during family breakdown which is a significant life event.

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