Let’s hear it for the child;

by expoƒunction

“No one would question the need to involve children in an age appropriate way in the decision making process which so obviously affects their daily lives. But the ever increasing emphasis on the sacred cow of listening uncritically to the unfiltered views and wishes of children, including young children, is in serious danger, I think, of undermining the family court’s authority and proper function which is to arrive at a decision which is overall, best for the child. Have we allowed this sacred cow to become too sacred and in so doing passed the buck to the child? ..”

“How often did we used to read in reports that children didn’t want to choose between their parents? We largely ignore that now, I suggest, in favour of forcing children in every case and at every turn to express “their wishes and feelings”. Is this a good and child centred development or an uncritical following of fashion and fad, driven more by the ideas of the chattering classes than sound research and, dare I say it, common sense and the real experience of specialists?

Is this another symptom of the family court retreating from acting with proper authority? As a matter of both fact and law, children lack capacity to make important decisions. That is why they are treated as “being under a disability” legally speaking.

If we forget this and too readily impose the decision on the child, surely we, all of us, are shirking our responsibility to a degree which is bordering on the abusive. In just the same way as the weak and indecisive parent allows the children to call the shots we are abnegating our function to a degree which is nothing short of cowardly and unfair.

Children expect and are entitled to expect us to make these important decisions without overly and unnecessarily involving them in the process.”

Mr Justice Coleridge, in his speech “Lets hear it for the child; Restoring the Authority of the Family Court, Blue skies and Sacred cows”, to the 2010 annual conference of the Association of Lawyers for Children.

The fundamentally important point is not any parent’s right to exercise or grant contact but every child’s inherent need for the parents to maintain for that child an ongoing & meaningful relationship with both parents.

In his speech Mr Justice Coleridge refers to Dr Hamish Cameron and Dr Kirk Weir, two of the most experienced child psychiatrists in this field. These professionals respect the international body of knowledge which ought to be informing practice in Scotland. Edinburgh based, now retired, child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr Nick Child continues to develop the latest international thinking in the field and has made available “selected international thinking and research set out to inform Scotland’s families, legal and professional systems to do better for the children in the middle of the more complicated and difficult separations“.

Mr Justice Coleridge mentions having twice heard Dr Kirk Weir’s lecture about the study of his own work in the UK over 10 years. Dr Weir subsequently published “Intractable contact disputes – the extreme unreliability of children’s ascertainable wishes and feelings” based on lectures given to the Judicial Studies Board 2010-11.

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