Family Justice and young people : The need for support
The Family Justice Systems Young People’s Board, a group of 32 young people with experience of family proceedings, has stated its wishes for family justice in 2013.
At the top of the list is the desire to tackle delay. That is, young people apparently want ‘normal’ family life to resume as soon as possible. It’s arguable that, post separation/divorce, a whole new ‘normal’ has to begin but the point is still a good one. The sooner the new normal is clarified and begins, the sooner the process of adapting to the new normal can start.
For me, the more important point arising from this group is that of the need for support. The group call for greater support both during proceedings and afterwards. They suggest that an external person is appointed to give face –to- face, telephone and email support. It would be really good to see something like this happen. Having set up legal advice services for teenagers, I was contacted often by young people at the centre of proceedings asking for help. Interestingly, more often than not, they were not pushing for representation or active involvement in their parents’ cases. Instead, they sought information on procedures, processes and clarification on their role in the proceedings.
There is a big need in my view to feed more information to young people about the family justice system. Lets face it, in one way or another, many young people will have some experience of it. There will be those who will see it from the periphery as parents, even with an ‘amicable’ divorce, are still likely to have some contact with the courts and the legal system. Then, there will be the children whose parents negotiate or mediate an outcome for their children. Again, although not directly involved in decision-making (which to me always raises questions about the ability for the child’s voice to be heard) the family justice system will still impact on the child. Finally, there will be the children who are the subject of protracted, acrimonious disputes who experience the system at the sharp end. Like those young people navigating the legal meanderings of the care and child protection system, these young people need all the help they can get to understand the systems they find themselves in.
Whilst I am wholeheartedly behind the call by young people for more support in the family justice system, I wonder if alongside this, more could be done generally to generate awareness of the law and legal systems amongst young people. The PSHE/citizenship curriculum in schools would have been a good place to do this but as this is only an ‘opt-in,’ it is difficult to see how it could ever be consistent.
Schools must already feel weighed down by the many demands by which they operate. However, the education system would be a great place to help young people develop an awareness of the family justice system and how it operates. This being so, it may then go some way towards helping those experiencing the system, like the young people from the Family Justice System Board, to feel better informed and far more supported.