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More voice for children needed in Family Court

More voice for children needed in Family Court proceedings

The Office of the Children¹s Commission is calling for children to have a more active voice in Family Court proceedings.

Children¹s Commissioner Dr Cindy Kiro told a gathering of the Family Courts (Auckland) Association in Auckland tonight that children are frequently absent and silent in Family Court decisions about their future. ³

Children have no right of appeal if they are unhappy with the court¹s decision.²

Legal advocate for the Office of the Children¹s Commissioner Mereana Ruri says some judges and Counsel for the Child are doing a good job of ensuring children are active participants in Family Court proceedings but systems need to be put in place to ensure a consistent standard of excellence throughout the country.

In some cases Counsel for the Child, who are appointed by the court, do not talk to the children involved in custody disputes, Ms Ruri says. She points out some very young children are well able to put forward their views and that Family Court professionals need to learn to communicate with children of all ages to assess their capacity for involvement with the court process. ³

While Counsel for the Child cannot be expected to be child development experts, more training is needed to ensure Family Court professionals have knowledge about the emotional, social and cultural needs of their clients.²

The office is also calling for caution over the Law Commission¹s recommendations to allow media more access to Family Court proceedings. She says the interests of the child must remain paramount.

³We also need to take into account the reality that New Zealand is a small village. Families, particularly in small communities, could be easy to identify even if the judge rules that identifiable details about a family cannot be released.²

Dr Kiro points out most parents and caregivers make good arrangements for children during separations and only a small number of cases end up in the Family Court. However she says there is evidence that children do not understand the process or know what is going on when cases enter the adversarial Family Court system.

³I believe children need to be fully informed and that children¹s voices should be heard at every stage of the process.²

Dr Kiro says the Law Commission has also recommended that decisions about Maori children should only be made after consideration of the role of the whanau.

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