This is a guest post from Jacque Courtnage founder of the TaKen UK website. She has the perspective of not only being a parent who went through the system but she is also a lay advisor to other parents in family proceedings.
Here she describes some of the frustrations and difficulties she has encountered concerning the parent/lawyer relationship. We agree that it is important for professionals to always be aware of how confusing proceedings can seem to their lay clients and just how anxious and afraid their clients can be.
The importance of clear explanations
One of the problems we are finding is that some of the legal aid solicitors appear to only be going through the motions and tend to forget they are dealing with people who do not know their rights, the legal system or the practices and expectations of social care. I have taken on cases where some of the basics of the legal process is little, if not at all understood. From many of those whom I have assisted, they have often come back saying to me “why did my lawyer not tell me that” or “if only someone had explained that to me”. Whilst an explanation of lack of time, high case loads and resources can often be blamed, an excuse already used by social care, it is but yet just another nail in the coffin of the family facing forced permanent separation.
Some of the lawyers I have spoken to about this have admitted they tend to forget they are dealing with laymen not to mention most of these families are traumatised and can barely see the wood for the trees.
So how do you fix this? I do not know, but what I can say is the role I often fulfil in these cases, is acting as an intermediate between client and solicitor. Whilst this is unique and I do not know how many do what I do, it works and alleviates the solicitor having to deal with incessant queries. To make the relationship work, there has to be a good understanding and working relationship between myself and the solicitor. We each know each other’s boundaries and we keep each other in check whilst the client benefits knowing that all areas are covered and their best interests are always put first. Whether this can be allowed as an extension of the role of a Mackenzie Friend is something only the relevant law firm and courts can consider.
The benefits of working with a lay advisor
There are many benefits in pursuing this course of action. Just some pluses is that not only does the MF learn more about the system the correct way to help those who cannot afford representation, but the solicitor gets a different set of eyes as well as the benefit of having someone help weed out the irrelevant and highlight pertinent stuff that may otherwise be missed or dismissed by the carer.
Whilst many solicitors will cringe at the very thought of the aforementioned suggestion, it must be remembered that whilst solicitors have long fought for individuals in court, the majority will never have had the experience of being the subject to care proceedings and all that that entails, whilst many MF on the other hand have and can be considered experts in their own rights. Please do not mistake this for plugging MF’s but would it not be beneficial to gain access to ALL experts in the field to help your client case? I am by no means challenging the role of solicitors, what I am challenging is the very real perception of an invisible insurmountable wall between client and their family law solicitors.
Simple things like, open communication, access to information or at least be informed that there is information and support out there and where to find it.
The biggest of them all is building a trusting relationship with their client because let’s face it, whilst many consider this as just their job and yet another case, for the client it is their worst nightmare come true and they are terrified.
Access to counselling
All I can further add is that it would be very helpful to families who are the subjects of care proceedings to ensure they have access to counselling as PTSD is very seldom considered, if at all. All we are asking from solicitors is for just a few minutes to consider what they would want if they found themselves in unfamiliar surrounding fighting for their and their families lives and then use that list to help their clients.