The Family Justice System Young People’s Board, established by Cafcass, said the most important issue the family justice system needed to address was cases that “dragged on” and were not focused on young people’s needs.
The group of 32 14- to 25-year-olds put the call at the top of five “wishes” for the family justice system in 2013.
“The main feeling of everybody on the board was that the most negative part of any case they had experienced was how long it dragged on for,” said Kitty Healy, a 14-year-old board member from Leicester.
“This caused more trauma and stress to the child involved. It’s important these things are dealt with as quickly as possible so that normal family life can resume as soon as possible.”
Providing more support to children and young people was the second most important request – both throughout the court process and after a verdict is reached.
“It’s really important children have someone they can talk to because often they can’t talk to their families because they’re worried about upsetting them, or causing more conflict – it’s important for them to have an external person that they can trust and share any worries with,” said Healy.
“A lot of young people have had outcomes that they didn’t want, and there wasn’t anybody to provide them with support afterwards to deal with that.”
The board suggested children and young people could be appointed an external person to provide face-to-face support, telephone help, or email advice for older children.
The wish list also asked for courts to provide better, ongoing information about cases, extra support for difficult periods and an avenue for feedback or complaints if the child is unhappy with proceedings.
Anthony Douglas, chief executive of Cafcass, backed the recommendations and said he hoped to address them over the coming year.
“Members of the board have been through the system. They have felt the pain when cases drag on without a good reason. We will continue to work to bring case duration times down. Already these have lowered to a national average of 47 weeks, down from 56 weeks, but there’s much more to be done,” he said.
Cafcass has promoted the list among members of the judiciary through the Family Justice Board, which it expects it to use as a focal point when planning future reforms to the system.