Power Up Power Down

Children and young people’s voices can improve court processes in the context of domestic abuse

Background

In Scotland, when courts make decisions about children’s contact with parents following separation or divorce, the law says courts must consider the need to protect the child from any abuse or risk of abuse, including domestic abuse. Despite this, some children continue to be made to have contact with the perpetrator of domestic abuse (usually the father) following parental separation. We know these contact decisions are unsafe for the non-abusing parent and the child because, contrary to the myth that living apart ends domestic abuse, child contact arrangements can be used by perpetrators to further their abuse of the mother and child (Mullender et al 2002, Kelly and Mullender 2000).

To address this, in 2015 the office of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland (CYPCS) and Scottish Women’s Aid (SWA) formed a partnership. The partnership worked to identify what needs to improve to ensure children experiencing domestic abuse enjoy all of their rights in relation to contact arrangements. Enabling the voices of children and young people with experience of domestic abuse to be heard was of central importance to the partnership

Changing the story: hearing children and young people’s voices

Twenty-seven children and young people between 6 and 17 years old took part in the Power Up Power Down project, supported by Glasgow Women’s Aid, Shakti Women’s Aid and East Dunbartonshire Women’s Aid. Throughout a series of sessions, the participants explored power, children’s rights, making their voices heard in court, and how to improve the experience and outcomes for children involved in family court actions relating to contact decisions.

Children and young people taking part were given a story about two children’s experiences of the family court system. This story was based on real-life examples collected from Scottish Women’s Aid. Through an exploration of the story in relation to children’s rights and concepts of power, the children and young people ‘rewrote’ the story to improve the outcomes for the children in it. The new story which resulted highlights key areas for improvement and recommends ways to make the system work better for children and young people.

The stories and children and young people’s recommendations have been compiled into a series of videos which can be viewed here.

Informing policy and practice

Children and young people’s recommendations from Power Up Power Down provide a valuable roadmap for improving systems around court-ordered contact in the context of domestic abuse and are being used to influence policy and practice. So far, children and young people’s views have fed into the consultation on the draft Delivery Plan for Equally Safe and the Scottish Civil Justice Council’s review of the F9 form, used by courts to gather children and young people’s views.

The videos are a useful resource for professionals working with children and young people going through family court actions. They help to ensure that children and young people affected by domestic abuse are kept safe, and also inform best practice around the meaningful participation of children and young people in court processes.

For more information about the project, contact SWA’s children and young people’s policy worker, Roseanna Macdonald, at Roseanna.macdonald@scottishwomensaid.org.uk .

References

Kelly L. and Mullender A. (2000) ‘Complexities and contradictions: Living with domestic violence and the UN Convention on Children’s Rights’, The International Journal of Children’s Rights, 8:229-41.

Mullender A., Hague G., Imam U., Kelly L., Malos E. and Regan L. (2002) Children’s Perspective on Domestic Violence, Sage: London.