Nagalro, the professional association for court guardians, has welcomed the government’s commitment to reducing delay in the family justice system, but has raised concerns that the proposals may harm children’s interests.
Pressures on the family justice system have been exacerbated by the recent large increase in care proceedings cases brought by Local Authorities. The increase indicates that many children suffer abuse and neglect in their own families and need to be protected through care proceedings. Court scrutiny is the best protection for these children and it is vital that this safeguarding system is not dismantled.
Nagalro agrees with the Norgrove enquiry’s view on shared parenting. Courts already take very seriously the need for children to have continuing relationships with both parents. Current legislation supports this principle. The paramount welfare of the child must remain the overriding consideration when making decisions. It would be a retrograde step to bring in legislative change that will increase conflicts about children.
According to Nagalro, children in private law lack direct ways for their voices to be heard. Too often adult concerns dictate the agenda; too often children in private law are passive casualties rather than active participants. Children have strong feelings about contact with their siblings in private law as well as public law and they need the means to be heard on these matters.
The proposals for a child arrangements order agreed between parents can exclude court scrutiny of the child’s position. To simply say that children should have a voice is not enough – they require access by right to independent representation so that they can be heard by the court before decisions are made.
Nagalro has called on the government to develop coordinated approaches that will provide a stronger voice for children in private law cases and provide practical help that is easily accessible by children themselves.