Reflecting on the Voice of the Child 2020 webinars

Written by a member of the Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB)

As a professional, have you ever taken the advice you gave to a young person – have you tried it yourself? During the Voice of the Child webinars in October, me and other members of the FJYPB talked with professionals about the impact of Covid-19 and domestic abuse on children and young people. Here are my thoughts on what was discussed.

During Covid-19 professionals no doubt directed young people online to find resources when they were worried. However, during one webinar a social worker said “it is surprisingly difficult to find something”- exactly, there is virtually nothing. The few resources available seemed:

  • Not child friendly
  • Female orientated
  • Only available on referral from a professional

With Covid-19 restrictions, common escape routes fall away. Less interaction with adults means signs are missed. Online resources are the only solution – but we think they need a great deal of improvement.

We all felt “trapped” during the first lockdown, so imagine how children still living with their abuser must feel. This was also something we discussed quite a lot during the first webinar.

How professionals can reduce the negative impact of Covid-19 on children and young people

“Covid-19 is a temporary pandemic, but abuse can cause trauma which lasts a lifetime – prioritise the child.”

This conversation really stood out for me during the second webinar. Reduced services have had a significant impact on the most vulnerable children and young people. The advice that me and other members of the FJYPB gave for future lockdowns was this:

  • Check-in regularly with the young person using a platform they are most comfortable with.
  • Be more mindful when speaking to the child remotely; it is difficult to know if a child is safe to talk when everyone is at home.
  • Devise a clear safety plan and give them your contact details and out of hours numbers.

The role of the Family Courts and the decisions made

During the third webinar, 78% of FJYPB members felt their views were overlooked by professionals in their proceedings. Shouldn’t such a big decision influencing a child’s life be guided by the child themselves?

We also discussed how the Family Courts tend to be parent-led and can have a ‘pro-contact’ culture, leaving the child feeling ignored. One board member said “they gave him even more control over me.”

To ensure decisions are made in the best interest of the child, I think it is important to:

  • Ask ‘what does the child want?’ – let the child express themself through letters, pictures or speaking to them directly without their parents.
  • Remember that case files are not the child speaking; get a first-hand account of the child – they were there, the social worker wasn’t.

What happens when the case closes?

Another really important discussion we had focussed on what happens when a case is closed but the abuse is ongoing, and the child is not happy. One of our members had a three-month supervised contact order put in place to protect her from the abusive behaviour of her father. Afterwards her dad remained abusive, and she asked: “how does protecting children from abuse have a cut-off point? Supervised contact should only stop with changed behaviour, but his behaviour didn’t change.”

What has this story taught us?

  • In cases of abuse, courts should review the effectiveness of the court order in place.
  • Professionals should create a support network and a post-closure plan, so the young person can turn to someone when they feel things aren’t working out.

Working with children who have experienced Domestic Abuse

One quote that really stood out for me was that “it doesn’t matter how many children you have worked with; every case is individual and unique. Treat them all like it’s your first one.”

I think it’s important to remember that empathy, patience, and belief are key, and that domestic abuse takes many different forms – not only physical. This means that one size does not fit all. There is no ‘typical abuser’ and no certain way that abuse will look. Therefore, professionals must avoid:

Gender-based, racial, cultural, and religious stereotypes
Assumptions based on previous cases.

It is also important to remember that every child reacts to trauma in different ways, and professionals must be aware of common signs. FJYPB members were very brave in sharing powerful stories of their experiences of domestic abuse, but I was saddened to hear that only half of our members had received any kind of specialist support.

The FJYPB would therefore want to push for therapy and counselling to be integrated into Family Law proceedings concerning domestic abuse.

The Voice of the Child webinars 2020 came about as an alternative to our usual conference, but nobody was put off by the online approach and it was very interactive. I’m sure it will be no time at all before it’s time to start planning for next year’s Voice of the Child Conference and hopefully we’ll all be in the same room (with a buffet!) for that one. In the meantime, please read the webinar summaries we have uploaded to our page on the Cafcass website.

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