Children’s Views

Contributions from children who are in or have experience of the child protection system.

Getting information from foreign countries in care proceedings


The information set out here, is a summary from the three documents below.

The President’s Guidance from 2014 The International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU) (

The ICACU’s guidance on completing the request form icacu_request-for-co-operation-guide.docx (

Protecting Children and Families Across Boarders [CFAB] Kinship assessment guidance CFAB | International Kinship Care Guide. This guidance deals with

  • The steps which should be taken whilst identifying, assessing and preparing potential carers overseas for an international kinship care placement when the child is in local authority care.
  • The complexities in ensuring that orders are mirrored and/or recognised in the receiving country.
  • Recommendations for the ongoing relationship between the relevant authorities in each country to ensure that responsibilities are clear and are mutually agreed.
  • Barriers to permanency which would need to be considered before placement, or which would need additional support for the child and carer to ensure that the child has a successful and permanent placement.

Care proceedings with an international element – how do you get information about family members? How do you assess them?

  1. An increasing number of cases have an international element. This brings with it almost inevitably great potential for delay and costs, in making inquiries and getting documents translated. It’s imperative that we do not add to these problems so we need to be alert when a case is likely to require consideration of the practices and procedures of another country, so we do not cause additional delay and we make sure that assessments or placement plans will be recognised by a foreign country.
  • As the introduction to the CFAB Kinship Care assessment guide sets out:

Both the Children Act 1989 and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child place an emphasis on children remaining with family. The practicalities of supporting this across international borders are delicate and complex, requiring specialist guidance to ensure they are carried out properly and with the best interests of the child at the forefront. There is otherwise the risk of vulnerable children being placed with inappropriate carers, of children being returned to the originating local authority due to faulty legal procedures and of family breakdown because the right support measures were not proactively identified….Despite the risks, the scale of the problem for these vulnerable children is unknown. The charity Children and Families Across Borders (CFAB) estimates that there are 18,000 Looked After Children in England and Wales who may have family members abroad that could – and should – be explored as options for their long term care.

What is the 1996 Hague Convention?

  • The HCCH (Hague Conference on Private International Law  Conférence de La Haye de droit international privé) is an intergovernmental organisation which aims to secure the “the progressive unification of the rules of private international law”
  • The HCCH’s mission is …[to provide]  internationally agreed solutions, developed through the negotiation, adoption, and operation of international treaties, the HCCH Conventions, to which States may become Contracting Parties, and soft law instruments, which may guide States in developing their own legislative solutions.
  • Since the inception of the HCCH, it has created over 40 Conventions and instruments. One of its ‘core’ Conventions is The 1996 Hague Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Co-operation in Respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children [the 1996 Hague Convention].  HCCH | About HCCH
  • The Hague Conference website[1] has helpful information and documents about each Hague Convention and explains which countries are party to that Convention and whether the Convention is in force between the UK and another country.
  • As of October 2022 the 1996 Hague Convention has 54 contracting states. HCCH | #34 – Status table and a broad scope. It aims to avoid conflicts between legal systems in respect of jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition and enforcement of measures for the protection of children and emphasises the importance of international co-operation. It provides the basic framework for exchange of information and collaboration by setting up ‘Central Authorities’ in each contracting state.
  • Article 3 sets out the issues within its scope HCCH | #34 – Full text which includes guardianship and analogous institutions, the placement of a child in a foster family or institutional care, and the supervision by a public authority of the care of a child – therefore if you want to carry out an assessment of a family member in a Hague Convention State you will be within scope.
  • If you want information from a country outside the 1996 Hague Convention then I am afraid we seem to be limited to the Working with foreign authorities: Child Protection cases and care orders. Advice template ( This is not very informative and essentially tells you to contact the Embassy or CFAB.

What is the ICACU?

  1. The ICACU is the operational Central Authority for England for the 1996 Hague Convention. It’s a small administrative unit and its staff are not lawyers or social workers. It is set up to make requests for co-operation to another country, for the collection and exchange of information if the other country is a State Party to the 1996 Hague Convention; and the request for co-operation is within scope of the Convention.
  2. The ICACU is also the operational Central Authority for the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and the 1980 Hague European Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Decisions Concerning Custody of Children and Restoration of Custody of Children.
  3. The ICACU does not become directly involved in the court proceedings. Central authorities are not under any obligation to engage in proceedings and do not require a court order before discharging their duties and responsibilities under 1996 Hague Convention
  4. If you want to place a child in another country, this is a matter for the requested country – a placement which we may think is a private law placement, may be regarded as a public law placement by the requested country.
  5. A request for co-operation can be made to establish if, in principle, the consent of the other country would be required for placement even if the care plan for the child is not yet fully informed.
  6. For requests for co-operation under the 1996 Hague Convention to or from Wales, you should contact the Welsh Government. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own Central Authorities.

What is within the scope of the ICACU?

  1. You need information from the other country to help you formulate a care plan, for example:
    1.  identifying and/or assessing potential kinship carers
    1. Confirmation if you need the other country’s consent to place children there
    1. the other country’s procedure for progressing a request to transfer jurisdiction under Articles 8 and 9 of the 1996 Hague Convention, because its considered that another country is best placed to make decisions about the child’s future.

What is outside the scope of the ICACU?

17. Article 4 of the 1996 Hague Convention explains what is not in scope of the Convention.  This includes adoption, measures preparatory to adoption, or the annulment or revocation of adoption.

  1. If your request is not in scope of the 1996 Hague Convention, it may be in scope of another European Regulation or international Convention and another central authority or body may be able to assist.
  2. With regard to serving documents abroad, or taking evidence abroad, the Senior Master is the central authority under Article 3 of the 1965 Hague Convention on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters (‘the 1965 Hague Convention’) and Article 2 of the 1970 Hague Convention on the Taking of Evidence Abroad in Civil or Commercial Matters (‘the 1970 Hague Convention’). If dealing with these matters you need to contact the Foreign Process Section based in the Royal Courts of Justice. [[email protected]].
  3. A request for copies of foreign court papers is more likely to be in scope of the 1970 Hague Convention.
  4. If you wish to get information on someone’s criminal record outside the jurisdiction, contact the UK Central Authority for the Exchange of Criminal Records International Criminal Conviction Exchange Department ACRO Criminal Records [email protected]
  5. If you need to let a foreign jurisdiction know that one of its citizens is involved in care proceedings, following Re E (Brussels II Revised: Vienna Convention: Reporting Restrictions) [2014] EWHC 6 (Fam), [2014] 2 FLR 151, you must contact the relevant consular authorities. This applies also to inquiries about passports or other travel documents. A ‘Consular authority’ refers to an official appointed by a sovereign state to protect its commercial interests and help its citizens . It can refer to a High Commission, Embassy or Consulate.
  6. A request for an opinion on how a foreign country might recognise an order of the English court is not a question for central authorities. You will need to think about getting permission for expert advice on the law in the relevant jurisdiction.
  7. If you want someone to give oral evidence in the English court while they are physically present in a foreign state, for e.g. via video link or phone, you have to get permission from the foreign state. This is done via the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office [FCDO] “Taking of Evidence Unit” [“ToE”]. HMCTS will contact the ToE on behalf of any party who notifies the tribunal that they want to rely on oral evidence from a person abroad, so all that that party needs to do is notify the tribunal of: a. the name of that person and case number; b. the country the person would be giving evidence from; c. if it is not the appellant what the evidence would be about; d. the date of any listed hearing This must be done as soon as it is known that a person wishes to give evidence from abroad, to avoid the risk of delaying any hearing.

How do I contact the ICAU?

  • The ICACU’s general office telephone number is 0203 681 2608 and can be used by parties seeking “in principle” advice based on the ICACU’s experience of the other country but email contact is much preferred: [email protected].  
  • In public law children cases the ICACU prefers that the local authority contact the ICACU about a request for co-operation It is administratively more efficient and less likely to give rise to miscommunication if the ICACU is in contact with one party only.

Making a request for co-operation and timescales

  • The form is on line – see above. If as a social worker you are not sure if your request falls under the 1996 Hague Convention, you must get advice from your legal department as the ICACU does not give legal advice. The form requires you to identity the relevant Articles of the Hague Convention that inform your request.
  • But you can make a preliminary inquiry to the ICACU prior to a formal request if your legal team aren’t sure. Identify in the subject line of the email that this is a ‘general inquiry’ and set out your identity and country you are asking about. Make it clear if your request is urgent.
  • The ICACU does not open a case file in response to a general enquiry; it only does so when it receives a formal request for co-operation.
  • Article 37 of the 1996 Hague Convention says that the ICACU shall not request or transmit any information if to do so would be likely to place the child’s person or property in danger or constitute a serious threat to the liberty or life of a member of the child’s family. You will be asked to confirm that the request does not engage Article 37.
  • The ICACU cannot compel the requested central authority or foreign competent authorities to respond within a specific timetable and different countries have differing views as to what information or assistance can be provided. It is therefore difficult to predict how long it will take for you to get any useful information. Therefore, it is really important to do all you can at your end to keep things moving. You need to make a relevant and focused request as early as possible in the proceedings.
  • Do not simply send the court bundle – that is likely to slow things down. The following information is key:
    • The court timetable and when hearings are listed – and remember when fixing the timetable in the English court, to build in realistic timescales for a reply from the ICACU
    • The ICACU does not require a court order to act but if the court has ordered the local authority to make a request, include a copy of the sealed order – but remember that orders should not be made against foreign authorities.
    • A clear background case summary, agreed by all parties if possible. If it is not agreed, make this clear.
    • The full names and dates of birth of the children and relevant adults with explanation of family relationships – if complex, a genogram can help
    • Explain ‘technical language’. What do you mean by ‘section 20’? What do you mean by ‘kinship care’?
    • Avoid acronyms – the other country is unlikely to understand what is meant by ‘IRH’ for e.g.
    • If you are trying to identify potential kinship carers, provide as much information as possible to assist the other country to trace the individuals concerned; if current contact details are not known, provide as much information as possible about last known addresses etc.
    • Explain what you would find helpful for a kinship assessment to cover – but  you cannot require the foreign authorities to carry out an assessment in a particular way.
  • A rough timeline of an approach to the ICACU can look like this. You can see how each step of the process carries with it potential for delay.
    • The local authority decides to make a request for co-operation
    • The ICACU receives the request
    • The ICACU requests translation of necessary documents
    • The request is sent by the ICACU to the other country
    • The other country makes inquiries.
    • Arrangements are made to translate documents
    • The ICACU responds to the local authority or makes requests for further information
    • the ICACU sends the response to the local authority
  • Translation can be a big problem – the ICACU has a limited budget. It will translate the initial request but you will have to decide at your end who is preparing and paying for translation of any supporting documents. If you are able to arrange for translation of your initial request, that can help speed things up.

Central Authority contact details

Scotland and Northern Ireland have different legal systems from England and Wales and the law in Scotland and Northern Ireland also differs in some respects. England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland each have their own Central Authority for the Regulation.  Wales has its own Central Authority for the 1996 Hague Convention.  

  Central Authority for England (for the 1996 Hague Convention)   The International Child Abduction and Contact Unit The Official Solicitor & Public Trustee Office Post Point 0.53 102 Petty France London SW1H 9AJ   DX: Post Point 0.53 Official Solicitor & Public Trustee DX 152384 Westminster 8   tel: +44 (0)20 3681 2756   e-mail for new requests and general enquiries only: [email protected]  The International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU) is open Monday to Friday.  In an emergency outside these hours you should contact the Reunite International Child Abduction Centre on tel 0116 2556 234.   Please note that the office of the ICACU is not open to the public.   Emails received after 2.00pm will not be considered until the next working day except in cases of extreme urgency (please indicate in the subject heading whether flight risk / abduction in transit / imminent risk of harm)
  Central Authority for Northern Ireland   Central Business Unit
Northern Ireland Courts & Tribunals Service
3rd Floor Laganside House
23-27 Oxford Street
Northern Ireland
United Kingdom
tel: +44 (0)28 9072 8808
fax: +44 (0)28 9072 8945

                                                                                                                                             email: [email protected] is used for applications under 1980 & 1996 Hague conventions along with Brussels II requests
  Central Authority for Scotland   Scottish Government
Central Authority and International Law Branch GW15 St. Andrew’s House EDINBURGH EH1 3DG Scotland United Kingdom   tel: +44 (0)131 244 4827 fax: +44 (0)131 244 4848 e-mail: [email protected]
  Central Authority for Wales   Welsh Government
Social Services and Integration
Cathays Park
United Kingdom
tel.: +44 (29) 2082 1518
fax: +44 (29) 2082 3142
email: [email protected]    
      The Welsh Government is the Central Authority for Wales for the 1996 Hague Convention only. 

Other useful resources

  The Foreign Process Section Room E16 Royal Courts of Justice Strand London WC2A 2LL United Kingdom   tel.: +44 (0)20 7947 6691 +44 (0)20 7947 7786 +44 (0)20 7947 6488 +44 (0)20 7947 6327 +44 (0)20 7947 1741 fax: +44 870 324 0025 email: [email protected]    The Senior Master is the transmitting agency under Article 3 of the 1965 Hague Convention and the central authority under Article 2 of the 1970 Hague Convention.   The Foreign Process Section is the administrative unit which supports the Senior Master.     
  The Hague Conference on Private International Law Permanent Bureau
Hague Conference on Private International Law
Churchillplein 6b
The Netherlands
Fax: +31 (0)70 360 4867
  The Hague Conference does not provide legal advice but their website has copies of all the Conventions, Explanatory Reports, a status table for each Convention and other useful documents.


[1] At Homepage scroll down to Sitemap, at Sitemap use the dropdown menu for ‘Instruments’ and go to ‘Conventions, Protocols and Principles’ for an interactive list of all the Conventions.

Why are children being demonised by those who raised them?

This is a guest post by a 15 year old. It is sad to read because I suspect many would agree.


It takes a village to raise a child, yet the current generation seem to think the child will raise itself 

Legally a person is an adult at 18. A fact defined by law. So why are the current expectations forcing teens as young as 13 to ‘be mature’ when they are legally a child? The current expectation on our shoulders is crushing, overwhelming and debilitating. We are both expected to grow up and take an onslaught of pressure from every angle while simultaneously enjoy an enriching childhood. This a task I believe the majority of adults could not complete, so it seems to be passed to the teens of today. With so many adults washing their hands of responsibility towards the care of children, we have a generation growing up with no childhood. When was our right to just be a child stripped from us? Every adult seems to have a negative thing to say about how teens act but they are the ones who have created a system where these ‘disruptive’ teens are stripped of their childhood innocence and are shoved into the deep end of maturity before anyone has taught them how to swim. Children are drowning. A statement that once would have sparked action but now is ignored. 

Imagine a world where people would take responsibility for what they have created. Shame it is only a dream rather than reality. Teens are a product of this generation, anything this generation has to say about the actions of teens, surly speaks louder of them. The current parenting technique is coddle your child and squash any ideas of own independence, until the child makes a mistake then they are questioned on their lack of maturity. We don’t expect knowledge before its taught so why do we expect maturity when the opportunity to learn it is never given? When you have a child, you have made that decision to feed, house, care for and be part of raising the next generation. However current parents seem to be forgetting they signed on to that deal. They provide their child with necessities to life then abandon them when it comes to teaching them how to live a life. We are referred to as the snowflake generation and hated by our elders, but we are what they made us. Teens are just mirrors reflecting the mistakes of the current adult generation. Its time to point the finger of blame to the real culprits. 

Teens of today are having their wings clipped during childhood and then are expected to fly when it comes to their 18th birthday. Adults enforce rules on every aspect of life before soon there is only one option for children. A path of rules, exams, and no individuality. With no time to be a child, no time to develop the mind, no time to learn the skills needed for what the rest of life has to offer. There is a generation of scared and underprepared teens and all the adults have to say in response is grow up. Its like a twisted maze where the only exit is locked, and we don’t have the key. Its very clear to me why there is exponential growth in mental health issues in our generation of teenagers. Its black and white, clear as day; yet adults will close their eyes to it and claim we are just delusional. That every issue we face, they too faced and overcame meaning we are just snowflakes who cannot handle it. But these adults did not have their childhood ripped from them. They had no fear that they wouldn’t fit on the one pathway to success our society has created. They didn’t have numbers on a page that defined their worth in this world. The world is changing, and adults need to stop dragging their feet and support teens of today to face the 21st century before we lose hope of a brighter future. 

Role models, a universal way of showing those who are learning what the end goal is. A sports role model would inspire children and help grow the next generation of Olympic athletes. So, when our generation is looking for role models to show them how to be a good person, where do we look? With corrupt governments leading almost every major country, it’s not there. With the education system now based on exam results and Ofsted reports with overworked and underpaid teachers, it’s not there. With parents now so consumed with fighting for survival in an economy where only the top 10% survive, its not their either. Every option there is to consider have all been tainted by the current society’s obsession on money, there is no room for teens of today to simply learn how to be a good person. Climate change ignored. Racial inequality pushed aside. Gender bias dismissed. Our world is run by rich white men who will ignore or even aid in the failings of society to benefit their bank balance. When this is what the teenage generation have to follow no wonder we are considered ‘immature’ because the thought of growing up is met with the knowledge we will have to fight in a world where we won’t win. 

Teens of today have been set up to fail not just be those who raised them. Forced through an outdated and overlooked system to only inherit a dying world. Before adults talk about the failings of teenagers the question needs to be asked, why are they failing? It takes a village to raise a child and it’s time for that village to step up.

What do children think about opening up the family courts?

There is serious concern that opening up the family courts, for increased media access for example, is going to harm children and is not what they want.

The Children’s Commissioner investigated this issue in 2010 and said:

For our research, we spoke to more than 50 children and young people, and what they said raises a number of serious concerns. The overwhelming view was that reporters should not be allowed into family court proceedings because the hearings address matters that are intensely private. The events discussed are painful, embarrassing and humiliating and the children and young people said their deeply personal details were the business of neither newspapers, nor the general public.

They did not trust the press to get the facts right and felt strongly that articles would be sensationalised. They were worried about being identified and fear being bullied as a result.

It is of great concern that the children and young people said that if a reporter was in court to hear the evidence, they would not speak freely to professionals charged with undertaking assessments. This could seriously impact on a judge’s ability to make difficult and often life changing decisions in the child’s best interests.

You can download the report here.


There has been a further report by the ALC and NYAS in 2014 which you can read here.

The children interviewed were not happy with the idea of information about their cases being widely accessed and did not think that was a solution to dealing with criticisms of the family court system.

  • In the context of early discussions young people said they are not always informed about what is happening in their case – before or during proceedings. They said out dated paternalistic approaches by professionals are not in children’s interests: they need honesty and accurate information about processes and decisions about their care and at a time when they can make informed choices.

Further reading

The not-so-secret life of five-year-olds: legal and ethical issues relating to disclosure of information and the depiction of children on broadcast and social media

Marion Oswald, Helen James & Emma Nottingham


Widespread concerns around the privacy impact of online technologies have corresponded with the rise of fly-on-the-wall television documentaries and public-by-default social media forums allowing parallel commentary. Although information about children has traditionally been regarded by society, law and regulation as deserving of particular protection, popular documentaries such as Channel 4′s ‘The Secret Life of 4, 5 and 6 year olds’ raise questions as to whether such protections are being deliberately or inadvertently eroded in this technological ‘always-on’ online age. The article first describes the documentary series and the results of an analysis of related Twitter interaction. It considers responses to freedom of information requests sent to the public bodies involved in the series with the aim of establishing the ethical considerations given to the involvement of the children. The paper goes on to explore the privacy law context; the wider child law issues, the position of parents/carers and the impact of broadcast codes. It considers if lessons can be learned from how decisions in the medical context have dealt with issues of best interests in decision-making and in disclosure of information concerning the child. The paper concludes that additional legal and ethical safeguards are needed to ensure that the best interests of children are properly considered when images and information are exposed on broadcast and social media.


Directly involving children in the court process

In care proceedings children are represented by a solicitor and a guardian – this is called the ‘tandem model’ of representation. The solicitor may also instruct a barrister for certain court hearings. The child’s solicitor takes instructions from the guardian about what to do in the child’s best interests, unless the child can show that he/she has enough understanding to give their own instructions. This post considers various options open to the child who wants to directly express their wishes and feelings. 

I don’t agree with what my guardian is saying and I want my own solicitors

If the child has a good enough understanding of what the proceedings are all about, s/he can chose to be represented by their own solicitor. The guardian should be alert to the possibility that an older child may not agree with the guardian’s recommendations, and that the child may want to give instructions directly to the solicitor.

  • Representation of children in proceedings is dealt with by Part 16 of the Family Procedure Rules.
  • The key test about deciding if a child has ‘sufficient understanding’ remains Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority [1985] UKHL 7; [1986] AC 112, which is discussed in the case of CS v SBH, link below.
  • For a case where the Judge decided a 14 year old child was able to instruct his own solicitor, see Z (A Child – Care Proceedings – Separate Representation) [2018] EWFC B57 (29 June 2018)
  • A child can also write a letter to the judge or ask to speak to the judge directly – see discussion below.

There is a useful case from the Court of Appeal W (A Child) [2016] EWCA Civ 1051 which discusses the relevant test to see if a child is capable of instructing their own solicitors. The Court of Appeal decided that the Judge at first instance had been wrong not to allow a 16 year old girl to have the solicitor of her choice; there was a confusion over issues of ‘welfare’ and ‘understanding’.

The Court of Appeal agreed the relevant rule of the FPR to be applied was Rule 16.29 which sets out that when a solicitor is appointed for the child, the solicitor must represent the child in accordance with the instructions received from the guardian. If the solicitor thinks that the child wants to give instructions which will conflict with those received from the guardian and that the child is mature and understands enough to give his/her own instructions, the solicitor MUST conduct proceedings in accordance with the child’s instructions (rule 16.29 (2))

If the child wants to terminate the appointment of their solicitors, the child may apply to the court and the Judge will consider this application and the solicitor and the guardian will have a chance to have their say (rule 16.29 (7)).

See further the decision in CS v SBH & Ors (Appeal FPR 16.5: Sufficiency of Child’s Understanding) [2019] EWHC 634 (Fam) (18 March 2019) which considered how the FPR may differ depending on whether or not there was a new set of proceedings or that the child wished to instruct new solicitors within existing proceedings. The court set out at para 64 of the judgment the factors to consider about whether or not a child was able to instruct solicitors in an appeal:

  •  The level of intelligence of the child
  • The emotional maturity of the child.
  • Factors which might undermine their understanding such as issues arising from their emotional, psychological, psychiatric or emotional state.
  • Their reasons for wishing to instruct a solicitor directly or to act without a guardian and the strength of feeling accompanying the wish to play a direct role.
  • Their understanding of the issues in the case and their desired outcome any matter which sheds light on the extent to which those are authentically their own or are mere parroting of one parents position…. An unwise decision does not mean the child does not understand although it will no doubt depend on the extent to which the child’s view diverges from an objectively reasonable or wise decision.
  • Their understanding of the process of litigation including the function of their lawyer, the role of the judge, the role they might play and the law that is applied and some of the consequences of involvement in litigation. Care should be taken not to impose too high a level of understanding in this regard; many adults with capacity would not and we should not expect it from children. An ability to understand that their solicitor put their case but also has duties of honesty to the court, an ability to understand that the judge makes a decision based on an overall evaluation of the best interests of the child which balances many competing factors; the ability to understand that they might attend court, could give and evidence, could read documents; the ability to recognise the stress of exposure to the court process and the arguments between others. The presence of all of these would be powerful signs of a high level of understanding. Conversely the absence of them or evidence of a distorted understanding would be contra-indicators.
  • The court’s assessment of the risk of harm to the child of direct participation for the risk of harm arising from excluding the child from direct participation and the child’s appreciation of the risks of harm.

I want to talk directly to the Judge

There is a very helpful article here from Family Law Week which discusses how Judges have become more willing recently to meet children and talk to them. However, the Judge must not use this meeting to collect evidence from the child, or test the existing evidence, because that that has to be done in court with everyone present. But this meeting will allow a child to tell the Judge what he or she wants and will allow the Judge to explain what the court does.

Such a meeting between Judge and child is not intended to undermine or displace the work of the guardian, but it is hoped that such meetings could help the child understand what is going on and feel reassured that people are listening.

Obviously, for very young children this could simply be overwhelming and not very helpful but it will be a matter for the individual Judge in each case whether he or she thinks meeting the child is the right thing to do.

Familly Justice Council Guidelines

In April 2010 the Family Justice Council published guidelines for Judges who want to speak to children. The purpose of the guidelines is:

… to encourage judges to enable children to feel more involved and connected with proceedings in which important decisions are made in their lives and to give them an opportunity to satisfy themselves that the Judge has understood their wishes and feelings and to understand the nature of the Judge’s task.

What happens when meeting the Judge goes wrong?

For an example of the problems that can arise if a Judge doesn’t follow the guidelines, see the case of KP in 2014. Although this was a case involving the Hague Convention, (a dispute between separated parents who wanted the child to live in another country) the points raised apply to any situation when a Judge speaks directly to a child:

Despite having great respect for this judge, who is highly experienced in the conduct of proceedings where the voice of the child needs to be heard, our conclusion is that on this occasion the conduct of the judicial interview did indeed fall on the wrong side of the line. Having summarised the submissions of Mr Turner and Mr Gupta, with which we agree, we can set out the reasons supporting this conclusion in short terms as follows:

i) During that part of any meeting between a young person and a judge in which the judge is listening to the child’s point of view and hearing what they have to say, the judge’s role should be largely that of a passive recipient of whatever communication the young person wishes to transmit.

ii) The purpose of the meeting is not to obtain evidence and the judge should not, therefore, probe or seek to test whatever it is that the child wishes to say. The meeting is primarily for the benefit of the child, rather than for the benefit of the forensic process by providing additional evidence to the judge. As the Guidelines state, the task of gathering evidence is for the specialist CAFCASS officers who have, as Mr Gupta submits, developed an expertise in this field.

iii) A meeting, such as in the present case, taking place prior to the judge deciding upon the central issues should be for the dual purposes of allowing the judge to hear what the young person may wish to volunteer and for the young person to hear the judge explain the nature of the court process. Whilst not wishing to be prescriptive, and whilst acknowledging that the encounter will proceed at the pace of the child, which will vary from case to case, it is difficult to envisage circumstances in which such a meeting would last for more than 20 minutes or so.

iv) If the child volunteers evidence that would or might be relevant to the outcome of the proceedings, the judge should report back to the parties and determine whether, and if so how, that evidence should be adduced.

v) The process adopted by the judge in the present case, in which she sought to ‘probe’ K’s wishes and feelings, and did so over the course of more than an hour by asking some 87 questions went well beyond the passive role that we have described and, despite the judge’s careful self-direction, strayed significantly over the line and into the process of gathering evidence (upon which the judge then relied in coming to her decision).

vi) In the same manner, the judge was in error in regarding the meeting as being an opportunity for K to make representations or submissions to the judge. The purpose of any judicial meeting is not for the young person to argue their case; it is simply, but importantly, to provide an opportunity for the young person to state whatever it is that they wish to state directly to the judge who is going to decide an important issue in their lives.

I want to give evidence in court

The courts used to be reluctant to agree that children should give evidence in court, but there has been a shift in attitude more recently as we see with the decision of the Supreme Court in  re W [2010] UKSC.

When deciding whether or not a child should come to court and give evidence, the essential test is whether justice can be done without further questioning of the child. To answer this question,  the court looks at two issues:

  • The advantages that the child giving evidence will bring to the determination of the truth.
  • The damage giving evidence may do to the welfare of this or any other child.

The following factors will help the court to weigh up these two issues.

The fair and accurate determination of the truth

  • The issues it is necessary for the court to decide;
  • The quality of the evidence already available, including whether there is enough evidence to make the findings without the child being cross examined;
  • Whether there is anything useful to be gained by oral evidence in circumstances where the child has not made concrete allegations;
  • The quality of any ABE interview and the nature of the challenge; the court will not be helped by generalised accusations of lying or a fishing expedition. Focused questions putting forward an alternative explanation for certain events may help the court to do justice;
  • Age and maturity of the child and the length of time since the events.

Risk of harm to the child

  • Age and maturity of the child and the length of time since the events;
  • The child’s wishes and feelings about giving evidence. An unwilling child should rarely if ever be obliged to give evidence and, where there are parallel criminal proceedings, the child having to give evidence twice may increase the risk of harm;
  • The level of support the child has and the views of the Guardian and those with parental responsibility;
  • The fact that the family court has to give less weight to the evidence of a child who is not called may be damaging to the child;
  • The court is entitled to have regard to the general understanding of the harm that giving evidence may do to a child as well as features peculiar to the child and case under consideration. The risk, and therefore weight, will vary from case to case.

The Family Justice Council issued guidance on children giving evidence in 2012. 

For an interesting case where Judges in Court of Appeal disagreed with each other about how the Re W principles had been applied, see S (Children) [2016] EWCA Civ 83 (09 February 2016)

In the case of R (Children) [2015] EWCA Civ 167 a 14 year old was successful in her appeal against the court refusing to let her give evidence in support of her father, saying he had not abused her. Briggs LJ commented at para 36:

To my mind it is the absence of any real recognition of the basic importance of the cross-examination of GR to a fair trial of the serious issues in this case, in the judge’s judgment or even in the respondents’ submissions on this appeal, that makes it necessary that the appeal should be allowed. I would regard the welfare implications of the choice whether to permit her to give oral evidence and to be cross-examined as being evenly balanced. The risk of harm which the process may cause to this bright and articulate fourteen year old does not seem to me to be more substantial than the risk of long-term harm at being denied the opportunity to have her evidence properly weighed in the determination by a court of matters of the utmost importance to her.

I want to tell my story to the press

In 2003 Munby j (as he then was) heard the case of Angela Roddy. She was 16 years old and she wanted to tell her story to the press about becoming pregnant at 13 and then having her baby taken into care.  She was allowed to be interviewed but the identities of her baby (Y) and Y’s father (X) would remain confidential.

Munby J commented at para 56 of the judgment:

56.The courts must face reality. We must, as Lord Scarman said, be sensitive to human development and social change. Angela may not yet be quite 17 years old but she is a young woman with a mind of her own and, as her solicitor B has said, a mature and articulate young person. We no longer treat our 17-year-old daughters as our Victorian ancestors did, and if we try to do so it is at our — and their — peril. Angela, in my judgment, is of an age, and has sufficient understanding and maturity, to decide for herself whether that which is private, personal and intimate should remain private or whether it should be shared with the whole world. She is what Ward LJ described in In re Z (A Minor) (Identification: Restrictions on Publication) [1997] Fam 1 at p 30 as a “competent teenager taking [her] story to the press”. She is, to use the language of Woolf J (as he then was) in Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority [1984] QB 581 at p 596, “capable of making a reasonable assessment of the advantages and disadvantages” of what is proposed.

57.In my judgment (and I wish to emphasise this) it is the responsibility — it is the duty — of the court not merely to recognise but, as Nolan LJ said, to defend what, if I may respectfully say so, he correctly described as the right of the child who has sufficient understanding to make an informed decision, to make his or her own choice. This is not mere pragmatism, although as Nolan LJ pointed out, any other approach is likely to be both futile and counter-productive. It is also, as he said, a matter of principle. For, as Balcombe LJ recognised, the court must recognise the child’s integrity as a human being. And we do not recognise Angela’s dignity and integrity as a human being — we do not respect her rights under Articles 8 and 10 — unless we acknowledge that it is for her to make her own choice, and not for her parents or a judge or any other public authority to seek to make the choice on her behalf.

Reform Proposals

In July 2014 Simon Hughes announced at the Voice of the Child Conference the government’s proposals to permit all children over the age of 10 an opportunity to speak directly to the Judge. He said:

Children and young people must by law have their views heard before decisions are made about their future, and where decisions are made that will impact them. At the moment, it is still too often that their views are not heard. Or that the law is interpreted to mean that others can make a assumption about the view of the child or young person – often for the best of intentions and acting in their interest, but nevertheless with the outcome that the child or young person does not feel that their own distinct voice was heard.

I therefore want to announce that it is the intention of the Ministry of Justice, and therefore the government, that we move as soon as is practical to apply in all our family justice proceedings in England and Wales where children and young people are concerned the policy that it will be the normal practice, the norm, that, from the age of 10, children and young people involved in public or private law family justice proceedings before the courts will have access to the judge, in an appropriate way which reflects their feelings and wishes to make clear their views as to what is the best resolution of the family dispute in their interest.

Children and young people of 10 and over will therefore be given the chance to make clear their views in person or if preferred in another way. We will also work with the mediation sector to arrive at a position where children and young people of 10 years old and over have appropriate access to mediators too in cases which affect them.

The Minister also agreed with the following:

Children and young people should be given the opportunity to meet and communicate with the professionals involved with their case including workers from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service ( CAFCASS), social workers, the judges and legal representatives; every child of sufficient age and ability should have the opportunity of meeting with the judge overseeing their case; every child should have the opportunity through Cafcass of submitting their views directly to the judge in writing; all children should be able to communicate their wishes and feelings to the judge; children and young people should be kept informed about the court proceedings in an age appropriate manner, kept informed of the stage their case has reached, and contacted prior to the first hearing, and have the opportunity of giving feedback through email, text, telephone or written form.

EDIT However, as of the time of writing this edit (Nov 2015) nothing further has been heard of these reforms and it is likely they have been kicked into the long grass. 

FURTHER EDIT in 2018 it was confirmed that there had been no movement on these reform proposals and it is likely they will be shelved. 

Further reading

What happens if no one does anything to help?

A true story.

This is a post from one of our contributors who wishes to remain anonymous.

In 1951 an unmarried woman (H) aged 23 had a relationship with a married man. Her parents sent her to a home for unwed mothers. In 1952 she gave birth to a daughter (C). Despite the social mores of that time and that place H decided to keep C. C was 2 years old when H’s parents allowed her to return to their home with C.

When C was 9 years old H returned home from work one day and announced that she had got married that afternoon. She had married a man that neither her parents nor her daughter had ever heard of much less met. The next day H brought her new husband (O) to her parent’s house to meet the family. The first shock was that O was 36 years older than H. He was in fact 12 days older than H’s father. Then the family was told that O was renowned in his artistic field.

Within a week H and C had moved into O’s home. C became increasingly unhappy and uncomfortable. Within 6 months what would now be called grooming began in earnest with H’s encouragement. It was ‘artistic’ for C to be urged to wander around only partially clothed. The female body was something to be celebrated, not hidden. C was nearly 11 when the active sexual abuse started. H was in hospital for a few days and O insisted that C sleep in his bed. The abuse continued covertly after H returned home.

Shortly after C turned 12, O informed H that he was divorcing her so that he could marry C. There were jurisdictions nearby where such a marriage would be legal. O presented C with a diamond solitaire ring. He then divorced H. H and C returned to H’s parents’ home.

A few months later O and H remarried. H and C returned to live in his home. H insisted that the diamond solitaire was merely a birthstone ring, not an engagement ring. C was forced to wear it. The sexual abuse resumed immediately. It continued for a couple of more years until O again divorced H. Once again H and C returned to H’s parents’ home.

A short time later O and H re-married for the third time. However this time C was allowed to remain living with her grandparents.

It should go without saying that by this time C was a deeply disturbed and depressed teenager. Although she was safe with her grandparents, she fantasised about how she could escape her excuse for a life.

C went to university when she was 18. During that academic year she made a ‘cry for help’ suicide attempt. She was admitted to the psychiatric ward at the hospital. For the first time she told someone about the abuse. She confided in her doctors. Somehow H discovered what C had said. The hospital bill was being paid for by H’s insurance. She told the doctors that C was lying and immediately instructed the insurers to stop paying the bill. C was discharged the next morning. C finished that academic year but did not return to university the next year. She found a job and a place to live and never returned to live at home again.

O died that summer. H had 3 months to vacate his home. She moved back in with her mother and filled her mother’s house to overflowing with O’s possessions.

C married at 21. She was 23 when she gave birth to her son (J). She was still disturbed and depressed. She probably also developed severe post natal depression. When J was 10 months old, C made an extremely serious suicide attempt. She was only saved by a miracle. She was again admitted to the psychiatric unit but this time it was her insurance paying for it and she received the help she desperately needed.

A couple of months after she was discharged from hospital she and her husband separated. C and J went to live in subsidised housing. C’s mother H also more or less moved in with them. To be fair the initial help that H provided enabled C to continue working. But soon that help turned into H attempting to take over completely. H also began a relationship with a man that reminded C far too much of O. J’s father had no interest in helping or supporting his son.

C took J and moved to another city. She was unable to find a job and a few months later returned to her home town. She stayed with friends. It was at this point that she had to accept that she could not provide for her son or give him the life he deserved. She had to make the most difficult decision of her life. She therefore took J to live with his father’s brother and his wife. They formally adopted him about 18 months later.

The after effects of all of this have plagued C for 30+ years. The demons are still there. C is beginning to confront them. But they are strong.

This is what can happen when child abuse is not acknowledged. This is what can happen when there is no help available. This hurts. It stabs and slices. C wishes there had been a service whose main aim was to protect children at risk when she was a child.

Be thankful for Social Services.

The importance of independent advocacy for children

The National Children’s Bureau provided this analysis of the need for indpendent advocacy for children within the child protection system in 2013.

They concluded with recommendations for both Government and Local Authorities.


Recommendations for Government.

Use the opportunity of the Children and Families Bill 2013 to introduce a
statutory presumption that children are supported by an independent
advocate in initial and review child protection conferences, unless they
choose otherwise.

Update ‘Get it Sorted: Guidance on Providing Effective Advocacy
Services for Children and Young People making a Complaint under the
Children Act 1989’ to reflect the current policy and practice environment
and to specifically include the role of advocacy in the child protection

Commission a study of good practice models of independent advocacy in
child protection procedures to facilitate the sharing of practice across
the country.


Recommendations for Local Authorities

Local authorities should review their advocacy and child protection
conference services to:

Set in place a clear service level agreement for all stakeholders
following commissioning of independent advocacy regarding the role of
the advocate to ensure that children are supported before, during and
after child protection conferences on an ‘opt-out’ rather than ‘opt-in’

Ensure that advocacy and child protection conference processes are
child-centred and meet the needs of specific groups of children and
young people, such as disabled children and young people, those in
custody and those in out of area placements.

Ensure that they foster effective working relationships between social
workers and independent advocates.

Formalise a process regarding information sharing, setting out issues of
confidentiality and data protection.

Develop advocacy training programmes.

Conduct an annual report and evaluation of child protection advocacy
services, both quantitative and qualitative, from the perspective of all stakeholders including children and young people.

Provide opportunities for children and young people to participate in
decisions relating to the design and delivery of advocacy services.


A child’s perspective – Tammy’s story

Thanks to the TaKen UK website for letting us share this. Obviously, we don’t know all the details of what happened to Tammy’s family  – the fact that care proceedings lasted from 1989 – 1992 suggests that the case was about more than just one accident in the kitchen.

But whatever happened in this case, her perspective on her pain and hurt about what she believes happened  to her and her family emphasises the emotional cost of decisions in the family courts; something we should not lose sight of.

Tammy’s story – told in 2006

“In the best interest of the child” that’s what the professional’s state, but even the professionals and the family courts can be wrong as they were in my case.

Let me explain about my birth family, and myself. I am a young adopted adult; I was taken from my mum nearly 17 years ago on a false allegation, I was seven months old and sitting in my bouncing chair, my mum had gone into the kitchen to make me a night feed. I was happily playing with an activity toy, which I dropped on the floor; I leant forward to reach the toy but the chair followed me arid tipped forward falling on top of me. I sustained a bruise on my cheek. And that’s where my life was changed forever.

My case was heard within the family court in the years 1989 which lasted all the way to 1992. I was placed with a set of foster carers whom I stayed with for 13 months.

Then one-day social services accused the foster carers of suffering from depression and removed me from their care! I was then placed with three lots of emergency foster carers before being placed with my pre adopters, who then became my parents.

While this was happening to me my mum gave birth to my brother Cameron. One minute after his birth social services (a male) walked into the labour suite and tried to hand a place and safety order in writing to my mum who was laid on the bed with no clothes on and she had not even delivered the placenta. Medical staff asked the social worker to leave on three occasions eventually the social worker left the labour suite, leaving my mum very distressed and losing all her dignity.

My mum and Cameron went home to my grandparents where they resided until the 28th of December 1990. My mum then went to the family court as social services were trying for an interim care order to remove my brother from her care. My mum fought and won full parental rights of Cameron and no further action was taken.

All my mum wanted was to fight for me, she attended many family courts, which were held in secret and she was not allowed to talk about our case or me to anyone.

Time passed and Cameron reached the age of 21 months old, when the social services actually reached a date for my freeing order, which was in the year of 1992; there were no concerns to Cameron’s welfare. She was an excellent mother to him.

The judge who heard my case made his decision on the basis that social services had delayed my case for over two and a half years. On reading his decision to my mum (he stated) “Miss Coulter if I return your daughter home to you, you will be a stranger to her” and on that decision I was freed for adoption and my whole future was completely changed.

Finding out that you are adopted is one of the worst feelings in the world because you feel that all your identity you have known of yourself is a lie; for example your whole childhood and personality.

I found out through photos that my brother was still with my mum and is one and a half years younger than me. This was very upsetting and left me wondering why my mum wanted my brother and not me.

Left with these unanswered questions and feeling very confused; like I did not belong anywhere I wanted to find the truth, and the answers to my questions, the only person who could answer them was my mum.

My decision to find my birth family was not supported in the way in which I would have liked from my adoptive parents. I went about looking for my mum by first of all ringing support after adoption that told me I must wait until I am 18 years of age and would not offer me any help or advice. Which left me more confused and very upset?

In January this year on a Thursday night I received a phone call from my best friend. She told me to go over to her house, as it was very important. I had no idea of what I was to be told. Her laptop was placed on her bed and she told me to read the posting. I was ecstatic as I read the information, which confirmed that my mum was looking for me as much as I was looking for her.

My friend who knew as much as I did about my adoption found the posting when secretly putting my name on GENES REUNITED. I found myself emailing her my mobile number as I knew the same information which was written in her posting; which included information that nobody would have known about me.

I waited three and a half hours for the phone call which would change my whole life, and answer all the unanswered questions which had been tormenting me since the age of about 11 when I moved to Comprehensive School where I met many other adopted and fostered children.

Waiting for the phone call was the most exciting and precious time of my life, the hours seemed like weeks. In the next breath I was actually talking to my mum on the phone, we spoke for an hour about everything that we could. We put the phone down and later that evening I rang my mum back and told her I know it was short notice but could we please meet the following morning and she agreed to.

Our meeting was very emotional for the both of us, neither of us spoke we just put our arms around each other and cried together, we held each other very tight and I cant explain how happy I was feeling.

After many secret meetings I decided to tell my adoptive parents about my news, I did not tell them for about two months because I knew what their reaction would be. When I told my mum, as my dad was at work she cried and turned her back on me making me feel very isolated as if I had done something wrong. They never did understand why it was important that I find my birth family nor did they support me at the emotional time. I was keeping in contact via the Internet with my birth family as my mobile phone was confiscated; however they also stopped me from using the Internet to stop any contact, which I was having with my birth family. During this time I was studying for my AS levels which I failed due to all the stress and confusion.

The way my adoptive parents were towards my other life caused a huge conflict in the house making life unbearable at home and at school. I was eventually turned away from my home due to arguments other than my birth parents; this is when I phoned my birth mum, as I had nowhere else to turn. It was too late when I was asked to return to the house I did not want to be treated like a child nor did I want to my feelings to be ignored any longer, so I decided to move in with my birth family.

This brings me to why I am here today, I was a child who was wrongfully removed from the care of my mother and most of all I have had the rights taken away from me to have enjoyed the right to a family life with my natural family.

I would like to say I have had a good upbringing by my adoptive parents and I love them very much, however the complication of my adoption also ruined my relationship with my adoptive parents, as I only wanted to find the truth about my life.

I am publicly speaking today on behalf of children and parents who have also been through the secrecy of family courts and the injustices that have taken place and do still take place and the devastation of what one decision that determines the future of a child can cause to a whole family.

Since I have moved in with my birth family I see the relationship between my mother, brother and sister and cannot help feeling like I have missed out no matter how much I fit in now. We have all bonded very well, I now feel as if I fit in somewhere and feel I can be myself as I have found out who I really am and that my mum never did anything wrong. Over the years Yvonne has been fighting to prove her innocence and that an injustice has taken place. I am very angry and also upset that my mum was treated like a criminal and punished for life on something that she never did, and she had the right to a family life taken away.

Let me explain to you how I am feeling:

• Confused
• Hurt
• Stripped of my identity
• I missed out on a relationship with my brothers and sisters, mum and dad and other close relations
• Exhausted through lies

• I know I am not the only person to have gone through the hell of secrecy in family courts and hope to have expressed the way in which they will feel and are feeling at my age.

Changes that I would like to see happen.

1) For medical evidence used in the courts to not be based on probabilities when determining a child’s future, it must be fact.

2) To stop social services making medical diagnoses when not qualified to do so.

3) For social services when conducting assessments to be thorough and not based on self-opinions but facts.

4) For an independent body who is impartial to social services to be brought in when social services are assessing a family and to check they are following all guide lines of social work.

5) More support for families with whatever reason; a low IQ, a mother whom has depression, a parent that has suffered domestic violence and also a parent whom has a disability. More outside agencies should be involved to help put support packages in place to help families stay together and have the right to a family life.

6) Slow integration of a child back with its natural family should be paramount and decisions to take away the child should be the last resort. For example my mum was told she would be a stranger to me if I were returned home to her however my foster parents and my adoptive parents were also strangers.

7) The most important factor of us all being here today is about the secrecy surrounding the family courts and why they should be opened, you have all listened to my story and many of you would have read similar stories to mine in the media. I am of age where I can talk about the detrimental effects that the secrecy of the family courts has caused to me.

Many of the children who have been taken in the past and are still being taken do not have a voice.

The opening of the family courts would make it a fairer, non judgmental and a more impartial system which would help children that are left in the hands of abuser’s and would also work by stopping children from being wrongfully removed and injustices from taking place.

So please when considering the opening of the family courts take into account that we are all human and we have feelings and the way in which the courts have been working up to this day has been inhumane in many cases and human rights have been exploited.

The detrimental emotional effects and the separation, has on children torn apart from their birth families, lasts a life time.

Tougher rules to support missing children

There is welcome news from the Government about new reforms to ensure that every child who goes missing from home will have the chance to talk to an independent person about what made them want to run away.

The Minister for Children and Families, Edward Timpson said:

For too long support for children who have gone missing has been patchy. Our new rules mean that every child will now have the chance to talk to a sympathetic, independent person. Only then will we find out why they ran away and if they came to harm, and help to make sure they don’t run away again.

Councils must now rise to the challenge. Within the next 6 months I expect all to have made dramatic improvements to the support they provide missing children, and for all to offer return interviews to every child that has been missing from home or care.

This is part of a package of reforms to children’s residential care, monitored by Ofsted, to improve safety and stop children running away. Children’s homes will now work much more closely with police and councils – and all will follow tighter rules when children are at risk of going missing.


Memoir of a Child in Care

On 30th January 2014, Jenny Molloy published her memoir ‘ Hackney Child: a True Story of Surviving Poverty and the Care System’. She describes her childhood of abuse and neglect and the reality of her life in the care system in the 1980s. She is still in touch with some of the social workers she met as a child, considering them ‘family’.

You can also visit her website 

Jenny Molloy was interviewed on Women’s Hour on Feburary 10 2014.

You can also visit Jenny’s Facebook page which has a lot of useful information and discussion.

For another view of life in care and serious concerns expressed about foster care, please read this article