What children and young people think should happen when families separate

This week I launched a report which demonstrates that children and young people have sound and practical recommendations to place children ‘front and centre’ in the Family Law System.

From my consultation with children and young People

I released a report this week on my recent consultations with South Australian children and young people on what they think should happen when families separate. This is the third report in recent weeks on children’s voices in the family law system.

In the same week that I released my report, the Young People’s Family Law Advisory Group report on children and young people’s experiences of the family law system was published. In June, The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) report: ‘Children and young people in separated families: Family Law system experiences and needs’ was published. All three reports were written following consultations with children and young people and included the voices of children and young people extensively throughout. These reports promote the participation of children and young people and giving them a bigger voice in the family law system.

Children and families have changed and the world has changed since laws were made to ‘protect’ children in the family law system. The ‘system’ has been slow to change to reflect the importance of including the voices of children and young people in any decisions that are made about them. In 1990 Australia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ‘CRC’ which gives rights to children that include having a right to participate in processes that affect their own life. Unfortunately this right to participate is not actively promoted secondary in systems including Family Law system.

Children and young people are overwhelmingly saying they have views and insights that need to be incorporated. When we don’t do that we aren’t valuing or representing children and young people who are most affected by separation in a family.

This part of the family law system needs to change. It’s important that we listen to what children and young people have said. The focus needs to be on the children and young people in the family law system. We need children and young people’s insights to create laws, policies and practices that will positively influence their lives.

The Young Peoples Family Law Advisory Group’s report: ‘ The tip of the iceberg’ was a pilot project which engaged young people and listened to their feedback about their experiences of the family law system through the process of their parents’ separation. One of their key findings was that children and young people said their voice was overlooked or taken out of context even when they formally provided their opinion. This report recommends legislative or procedural reforms to ensure children and young people are heard in the decision-making process.

One of the key findings of the AIFS report was that children and young people wanted a meaningful say in parenting arrangements and to ‘give children a bigger voice more of the time’. The report recommends a child-inclusive approach that allows children and young people to be heard and allows for flexibility to change parenting arrangements.

In addition to this, the Law Council of Australia’s Justice Report was released last week. It has a chapter on children and young people and highlights the lack of child friendly accessible legal assistance services in children and young people in Australia. The Report further indicates that the experience of legal problems can have a cumulative effect on other life issues and add to entrenched disadvantage and social exclusion.

The purpose of my report is to contribute to the body of knowledge, stakeholders in the broader Family Law System draw on in thinking about how they are including and involving children and young people in the process. I hope that children and young people’s recommendations included in the report will find their way into practice.

To read my report in full, head to my website: ccyp.com.au.

Helen Connolly, Commissioner for Children and Young People SA.
Friday 31st August 2018