Voice of the Child: An International Perspective
There is growing recognition internationally that there is an important role for children in post-separation decision-making; though there is continuing controversy about how, when, and even whether this should be done. While there are legitimate concerns about children being “caught in the crossfire” of their parents’ conflicts, the reality is that if parents are unable to reach an agreement on parenting arrangements post separation, their children are inevitably involved. The central argument that will be made is that if there is litigation between separated parents, children should be involved in the process, in a way that respects their needs, interests and wishes. If parents are making their own consensual plans for post-separation child-care, there is a need for appropriate explanations and consultation with children in making the initial plans. If parents are proceeding through the family justice system, there are a number of ways for children to have their “voices heard,” including having a mental health professional prepare a report about the results of interviews with the child, child legal representation, a parenting assessment, a letter or other communication from the child, and a judicial meeting with the child. The method or methods used in an individual case will depend on the stage of the process, the resources available, and the views of the child about how to be involved. The presenter will highlight the different ways children are being heard as well as the risks and benefits in promoting children’s participation in family decision-making across the globe.
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Rachel Birnbaum, Ph.D., RSW, LL.M, is a Professor at King’s University College at Western University in London, Ontario. Her primary areas of teaching focus on children and families post separation and divorce, ethics and the law, and research methods. Dr. Birnbaum has extensive clinical practice and research experience in working with children and families of separation and divorce. She has presented and published both nationally and internationally on parenting assessments, child legal representation, children’s participation in family disputes, and on the intersection between law and social work. Dr. Birnbaum is a Member of The Royal Society of Canada, College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists. She is the recipient of the Crowe Soberman Award of Excellence in Family Dispute Resolution, Hugh Mellon Distinguished Research Award, the Stanley Cohen Distinguished Research Award, and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts-Ontario Excellence in Family Justice. She was the President of the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW) from 2005-2009; the President of the Canadian Council of Social Work Regulators (CCSWR) from 2012-2014; the President of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts-Ontario (AFCC-O) from 2014-2015; and, a former board member of the Canadian Research Institute for Law & The Family, in Calgary, Alberta, from 2017-2018.