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Children to be given greater say in family courts

Children are to have a greater say in family court cases, including disputes about child arrangements after divorce or care proceedings, Justice Minister Simon Hughes has announced.

Speaking on 19 February to the 24 young people making up the Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB) – which promotes the voices of children and young people in the family justice system – Mr Hughes set out changes designed to make it easier for children and young people to communicate their views in court.

Options include communicating through meetings, letters or pictures or via a third person, in addition to a Children and Families Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) officer or social worker.

Mr Hughes said: “For too long, children and young people have struggled to have their voices heard during the family court process. Although they are often at the centre of proceedings, the views of children and how they feel are often not heard, with other people making vital decisions for them.

“I’ve been really impressed with the Family Justice Young People’s Board and the arguments which its members put forward. This is why I have taken steps to make sure that children and young people from the age of ten will be able to express their views in cases which affect them.

“Young people are some of the most vulnerable in society, and it is vitally important that we make sure they are at the heart of the family justice system.”

Last year there were 90,000 children involved in new cases in the family courts. The government’s plans are designed to give all young people from the age of ten a greater opportunity to have their voice heard.

FJYPB member Bethany Shepherd, aged 19, who has been through the family justice system, said: “It is vital to hear a child’s opinion about their case when a decision is made that could ultimately affect them for the rest of their lives.

“I had to wait four years before my voice was heard and I was considered to be too young to know my own mind or listened to individually and simply just lumped together with my younger sister. I spent much of my childhood fighting just to have my voice heard.”