Give Children a Bigger Voice!
Recent research conducted by AIFS highlights the importance of incorporating child-inclusive practices in the family law system.
Basis of the research
The 'Children and Young People in Separated Families' project was commissioned and funded by the Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department. It involved in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 61 children and young people aged 10–17 years and was supplemented by interviews with 47 parents of these children.
The main services parents interviewed for the study reported accessing during and after separation included:
counselling, family dispute resolution (FDR) and/or mediation (94%)
court services (83%)
family consultants/report writers (60%)
independent children’s lawyers (ICL) (36%).
Children's experiences in the Family Law System
Most children and young people involved in the study (76%) wanted parents to listen more to their views about parenting arrangements and the separation. More than one-third (38%) of participating children and young people want ongoing communication with parents and others to be kept informed regarding various aspects of the legal process.
Implications for professional practice
When children and young people were asked about what effective professional practices looked like, they described professionals who:
allow them the space to speak and who listen more effectively to their views and experiences
take steps to build trust with the children and young people they interact with (including via the exercise of qualities such as patience, empathy and respect), as well as being more mindful of children and young people’s needs
engage in open communication by providing more information relevant to the decision-making process in their cases
act protectively to respond to their concerns and keep children and young people informed about issues that affect them.
The findings of the Children and Young People in Separated Families project suggest a child-inclusive approach be adopted incorporating these features of effective professional practice. Child-inclusive approaches should:
facilitate children's and young people's participation in decision-making processes
keep them independently informed about these processes
provide clear and accurate explanations of decisions made
provide access to ongoing therapeutic support and assistance as required
allow the flexibility to change parenting arrangements and have ongoing and meaningful communication.
The recent research conducted by AIFS highlights the importance of incorporating child-inclusive practices in the family law system. A commitment to the child-inclusive approach would be an important step towards meeting the 'bigger voice from children'.
Partnership Program with QUT Family Mediation Practice
Did you know that Winter Lawyer is in a Partnership Program with QUT?
Winter Lawyer supports the education and coaching of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) as it is an important pathway for trainees to gain practical experience to resolve the conflicts between the parties in real life. In doing so, it entered into a partnership program with QUT to assist the students, who are nationally accredited mediators, to gain their 20 hours of supervision in order to complete their journey to become the Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) Practitioners.
The QUT Family Mediation Practice provides a caring and collaborative environment in which parties are supported to make their own decisions. Co-mediation is being held by a nationally accredited mediator together with a FDR Practitioner in the Kelvin Grove Health Clinic. This service is open to public at an affordable price.
If the parties reach an agreement about their parenting arrangements, the mediators can assist them to write up a formal Parenting Plan. A section s60I certificate can also be issued, if needed. If parties reach agreement about their property and financial arrangements, an informal agreement will be written up which they can take to their own lawyers to have drafted into a Consent Order. Legal assistance is required for Consent Orders as they have more formal requirements and need to be filed in and approved by the court.
For further inquiries about the QUT Family Mediation Practice, Please contact call 07 3138 0999 or email to email@example.com
A Journey for Schools & OSHC
How educators can help in family disputes resolution
In August 2018, Winter Lawyer was busy in running a campaign at schools and out-of-school-hour care centres (OSHC) to increase the public awareness of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) as a way to avoid the court process.
In Australia, a substantial number of children are now living in separated families, with many moving between their parents’ homes. This has led to educators being confronted with an increasing number of family law issues.
This highlights the need for schools and OSHC to be aware of all family law orders that relate to children in their care, including family court, domestic violence and child protection orders. More structured guidance is also needed to explain how schools and OSHC can adopt "child focused" approach in accordance with the principal provision of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) that ‘the best interests of the child’ be the paramount consideration.
Children may come across in two different scenarios where schools and OSHC may need to be aware of:
(1) Parental responsibility where there is a family court order
In most cases parents have ‘equal shared parental responsibility’ and are entitled to all forms of information from schools and to access school reports, school newsletters, photograph order forms, excursion notes and invitations to functions and to parent-teacher interviews. For long-term decision-making, there are specific obligations on parents with orders for equal shared parental responsibility to consult each other and make a ‘genuine effort’ to reach agreement. Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) Practitioner can assist parents to draft parenting plan or consent orders at the end of the mediation session.
(2) Parental responsibility where there are no family court orders
In many separated families there are not any family court orders. This is usually because parents have been able to reach their own agreements about arrangements for their children e.g. through family dispute resolution / mediation. In such circumstances, under section 61C of the Family Law Act, both parents are considered to have ‘parental responsibility’ in relation to their children. This means that both parents are entitled to make decisions about their children, both day-to-day and long-term.
Under both scenarios, it is important for educators, including school teachers and OSHC educators, to understand their roles in the ADR process and adopt the 'child focused' approach consistently with other parties. Educators play a very important role as they spend significant time at school observing any changes in the children's development in terms of their academics, behaviours and social interactions.
At the end of the presentations, Winter Lawyer provided an overview of the key players including Family Independent Children's Lawyers (ICLs), child consultants, social workers, counsellors, psychologists who are vital in family dispute resolution. Very often, the roles of these professionals are not clearly defined and understood by the public.
Winter Lawyer has a mission to increase the public awareness of ADR, in particular family dispute resolution. To achieve this, we are working on the next topic of our campaign so please stay tuned.