By Maria Cole.
In a recent Beehive press release the Justice Minister announced that the Family Court (Supporting Children in Court) Legislation Bill (the Bill) has passed its third reading and is set to come into law. Justice Minister Faafoi said “The Bill will enhance children’s participation in proceedings that affect them. It will help children feel supported and informed as they move through the family justice process.” In acknowledging the need for this change he stated “The current system can tend to make decisions about children without involving them. Providing children with an opportunity to express their views can help parents focus on the needs of their children. This may help children adjust to their parents’ separation and contribute to more durable care arrangements.”
In February 2021, the FDR Centre made submissions to the Justice Committee on aspects of the Bill relating to children being provided with opportunities to have input in relation to decisions concerning their care in FDR mediation. We focused in particular on what we, at the FDR Centre, call the Voice of the Child in FDR mediation: ensuring that children are heard and involved.
The Bill has inserted a new default position into the principles relating to children’s welfare and best interests in the Care of Children Act that “a child must be given reasonable opportunities to participate in any decision affection them”. This is then reflected in the Family Dispute Resolution Act with an amendment to the duties of FDR providers which says they must “ensure that the children who are the subject of the dispute are given any reasonable opportunities to participate in the decisions affecting them that the FDR provider considers appropriate”.
At the FDR Centre, our mediators already ensure the Voice of the Child is heard in appropriate situations when families come to us for help. It is heartening to see that this new Bill will provide for all children involved in FDR mediations across the board to have a voice.