Acknowledging children’s voice and participation in family courts: Criteria that guide western Australian court consultants
School of Arts and Humanities
The Australian family courts introduced Child Inclusive Conferencing after the country adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The legislation governing these conferences is minimalistic but the Family Court Consultants in the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court have well-developed and documented guidelines. The Family Court of Western Australia is, however, a separate entity and in the absence of regulatory guidelines its Family Consultants developed their own process and criteria. This model is unique, in Australia at least, because it has been organically developed by the practitioners providing the Child Inclusive Conferences with very little, if any, statutory and regulatory guidance. This model therefore serves as an example of how practitioners think child inclusive services should be offered. The model is, however, not documented and the aim of this study was to understand and document Family Consultants’ decision making regarding if and when they will conduct a Child Inclusive Conference in the Family Court of Western Australia. Ten Family Consultants were interviewed using semi-structured interviews. A thematic analysis was conducted on the transcripts of the interviews identifying 12 themes. Overall the data suggested that Family Consultants take into account a range of criteria and although they were very cognisant of the importance for the child to be engaged in decision making they noted specific challenges regarding how they could use Child Inclusive Conferencing to do this. These findings provide a basis for the development of regulations that ensure that Child Inclusive Conferences are used optimally to improve the inclusion of children in the family court procedures in Western Australia and potentially elsewhere. Further research is, however, necessary before such regulations can be finalised.