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Entries in children's rights (3)


Children's Rights Bill: children should not have to choose between parents.

Many responses to the recent consultation about next year's Scotttish Children's Rights Bill suggest that the Bill should include more than the original proposals if it is to make a real difference to children's rights.

Families Need Fathers Scotland raised a particular point in our response, relating to the way in which children are consulted.  While consulting with children and involving them in decisions is fundamental to Children's Rights, we suggested that they should not be put in the position of being asked to chose between their parents.

Our response mentioned situations where children are being asked for their views on contact or residence with one of their parents after separation.

While we fully support the need for these views to be obtained in a sympathetic and supportive manner, there are situations in which these views should only contribute to a final decision, not be a deciding factor.

In other words, it is not in the interests of children to put them in the position of having to choose between their parents.

We will pursue this point as the legislation proceeds.


Consultations, consultations ...

As Christmas approaches, so do the deadlines for Government consultations.  Families Need Fathers Scotland has responded to three consultations in as many weeks, with several more to go before the seasonal shutdown.

First up was a general consultation on the Rights of Children and Young People Bill, which will establish in law the responsibilities of the Scottish Ministers to have due regard to the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) when exercising any of their functions.

The FNF Scotland response supported the idea that the UNCRC should be given more consideration than just "due regard", suggesting that it could be incorporated into Scottish law.  We also raised a particular concern relating to situations where children are being asked for their views on contact or residence with one of their parents after separation. 

While we fully support the need for these views to be obtained in a sympathetic and supportive manner, there are situations in which these views should only contribute to a final decision, not be a deciding factor.  In other words, it is not in the interests of children to ask them to choose between their parents.

Next was a consultation on appointment and training of Safeguarders.  Safeguarders are appointed by children’s hearings or sheriffs when they think there is a requirement to safeguard the interests of the child in the proceedings.  Safeguarders are self employed and independent from all other agencies involved in the Children’s Hearings system and that independence is a crucial aspect of the role.

Our comments emphasised the need for practical training in interviewing of children and the other necessary skills, and suggested that the appraisal of Safeguarders should include feedback from other parties involved in their cases.  We will be pressing for similar standards for Bar Reporters, who perform a comparable role with far less supervision than Safeguarders.

Government consultations rarely hit the headlines, but the Equal Marriage consultation has attracted many headlines.   Families Need Fathers Scotland submitted a response that emphasised the need to provide further support for all families at the time of separation, whatever the parents were married, in civil partnerships or co-habiting.  As we have no easy means of assessing the views of our members on gay marriage we gave neutral answers to most of the other questions.


How Best to Find out What a Child Really Needs and Wants

In preparing for our submission to the forthcoming Children's Rights Bill, FNF Scotland is taking a look at what happens elsewhere in the world.

Peter Boshier, the principal family court judge in New Zealand, laid out his views recently on how children should be involved in family court cases concerning contact. 

His article, first published in the newsletter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, emphasises that child custody cases are very different from other court cases and require a unique approach.

He sets out to consider how decisions can be made having regard to what children need and not simply what their parents want.

The first and most important point he makes is very relevant to the experience of Families Need Fathers Scotland:

"... resolution of issues for children does not benefit from delay. Cases take on a life of their own and status quo situations are often difficult to dislodge, even if this is grossly unfair to the children or one of the parties."

He goes on to mention the difficulties caused when parents present opposing views as to what arrangements should be made for the children, pointing out that:

"unless early intervention occurs, the perceived needs of a child become the issues as framed by the parents and, as bitterness settles in, the children’s needs and welfare interests become submerged in the parents’ perceptions... unless there is judicial intervention at an early stage, it becomes increasingly difficult to shift parental attitudes."

He concludes that the needs and welfare of children should be considered and reported on by a suitably qualified expert, who sees the children away from the influence of either parent and is able to put fairly and firmly to the court what that child wants.  In cases where children have been alienated or coached the courts must be alive to the possibility that what the child is saying is not really the child's properly held view.

Comments from anyone with direct experience of how the New Zealand system works would be very welcome - contact scotland@fnf.org.uk.