Children and Young Person’s Encounters With the Family Court: A Hermeneutic Phenomenological Study
Orr, Kathleen Blanche
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The research question that guides this study is ‘what are the lived experiences of children and young peoples who encounter professionals in the family court?’ Qualitative research studies in the literature have partially answered this question. The methodology of hermeneutic phenomenology has allowed the voice of the child to shine, to tell the story of children and young people’s lived experiences of meeting professionals from the court. Participants were six children and young people aged 8–16 years; augmented by four lawyers for the children, four psychologists who write specialist reports regarding such children/young people, and one parent. Children and young people were able to share many mixed experiences of engaging with professionals which were bolstered by the adult reflections. Extra-ordinary listening by the professional helped to create an authentic relationship between the child/young person and the professional from the court. The importance of the space ‘between’ the two was revealed as a place of conversation, of listening and hearing each other. When the ‘in-between’ space was open and trusting, it helped children/young people to have a voice and to feel hope for their future. If the relationship was positive, it was likely that the child/young person’s wellbeing was enhanced. Changes to operating practice are recommended around the child/young person being more actively supported to share their insights and wisdom-born-of-experience in family court meetings. The child/young person needs to be recognised as a key focus and participant in their family’s issues rather than an object around which decisions are made. Recommendations are also made regarding legislative terms that are not understood by the child/young person, and that a photo of the child/young person be a feature of any discussion about them. Children and young people can meaningfully participate in influencing the final decision of parental involvement in their lives.