Family Justice Young People’s Board
Tuesday, August 4, 2015
The highlight of this week was an invitation I received to attend the Family Justice Young People’s Board Annual Conference.
I was greeted by Rebecca and Bethany who got involved with the Cafcass Young Voices Project 8 or 9 years ago and were founder members of the Young People’s Board in 2006.
They explained that social workers in Cafcass encourage young people who have been involved in court proceedings to get involved and to influence and shape the way in which the court system works for both private proceedings, which involve divorce or public proceedings, which involve local authorities going to court to seek orders to care for or protect children.
They have been very actively involved in the last couple of years with the development of a Charter which they hope will be signed off by all of the parties by the end of the year.
As part of the conference Rebecca and Bethany presented the main elements of the Charter.
These set out that children and young people should be at the centre of all proceedings, they should be kept safe and feel safe and treated with respect as individuals. Specific elements of the Charter also set out the way in which young people should be involved by the professionals who are dealing with them including Cafcass workers, social workers, judges, magistrates and legal representatives. Young people are very clear that they should meet with the person overseeing their case, have time to build relationships with those involved and be consulted and involved in expressing their views clearly. Importantly the Charter also sets out expectations in how young people will be informed about what is happening and the decisions that are made with emphasis about how this should be made clear without the use of jargon and in a manner which is appropriate for the age and understanding of the child.
It is clear that the young people are not letting any grass grow under their feet! Rebecca and Bethany explained that the Young People’s Board have already been making visits to court buildings and talking with lots of people involved to see how they are getting on with implementing the things which need to be done in order to turn the Charter into a reality.
And it is making a difference. They were able to feedback to their colleagues and over 300 delegates from across the country and the system that as a result of their engagement things have begun changing.
And the panel discussion that I was part of was all part of holding us all to account as well as discussing some of the issues that need to be addressed. So as well as Anthony Douglas, chief executive of Cafcass, the panel had representatives from the Court Service, Mediation, Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary. We were all challenged by the young people about what we have done and what we still need to do.
ADCS has already signed up to this Charter and we look forward to its formal launch later in the year when it is finalised. But it is great to see that young people’s voice in this arena is already making a difference. For the young people who are involved in the panel they know they are making a difference to the experience that others who will follow through what is traumatic and life changing period in their lives will get. They should have better support in their journey as a result of the changes being made.
Alison O'Sullivan is president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services. This blog first appeared on the ADCS website.