Considering the voice of children in determining their best interests in family courts during parental separation and care proceedings is crucial. But how can we actually enforce and realize it? This was the focus of the international conference taking place in Dublin on 3 October 2022 under the Irish Presidency of the Council of Europe (CoE), where Hintalovon presented the results of child consultations on the topic. The conference was followed by further discussions of a CoE expert group, who is drafting a guidance to its Member States.
About the conference
The conference “Hear our voices – the rights and best interests of the child in parental separation and care proceedings” brought together policy-makers and national authorities, high-level representatives from international organisations, child participation experts, professionals working for and with children, members of academia and civil society organisations. Most importantly, it also involved young people who have experienced such proceedings in their childhood.
The goal was to promote the rights and best interests of the child in parental separation and care proceedings, raise the voice of those children who have been, are or will be in this situation, and to share good practices and learn from positive initiatives undertaken in Ireland and other Council of Europe member states.
Our colleague, Ms Barbara Németh presented the results of child consultations on this topic, which took place in Italy, Portugal and Hungary between May and July 2022. Hintalovon supported this process as a consultant of Council of Europe and facilitated the consultations in Hungary. In total, 59 children aged from 7 to 19 years old participated in sessions, where children who have experienced separation in their families or environment shared their views and needs in these proceedings.
The conference was being organised by the Irish Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in collaboration with the Irish Department of Justice and the Council of Europe.
Key messages expressed by the children consulted (not exhaustive):
- adults should think about the child’s well-being and family in the first place, and care about the present, too
- children need preparation for their involvement in a legal proceeding, both mentally and practically, to have their situation very well explained to them by adults in a language that they can understand, and time to express their own concerns and questions;
- adults should hear the opinion of the child attentively, respectfully and with patience, and to take them seriously;
- no argument or proposal could be generalised. Individual assessment was considered very important;
- age and maturity are not the same.
Children’s views are considered during drafting the guidance to CoE Member States
The conference discussions, including the results of the child consultations, were feeding into the work of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on the best interests of the child in parental separation and in care proceedings (CJ/ENF-ISE), who is drafting a guidance to Member States. The Committee took note of the presentation of the report of the targeted child consultations carried out in Hungary, Italy and Portugal and exchanged views about the child consultations with Ms. Németh on 4 October, at the 6th meeting of CJ/ENF-ISE. They expressed their appreciation of the children’s input and asked Ms Németh to warmly thank the children for having shared their views, to inform them about the way these views have been heard, and to let them know that these views are being discussed by the Committee as a very important element for the finalisation of the draft Recommendation and for the elaboration of its explanatory memorandum and implementation tools.
How do children’s views be acted upon?
The Council of Europe examines carefully the recommendations made by children and comes forward with proposals on which parts of the recommendation could be strengthened to take account of the recommendations made by children. The Committee also plans to prepare child-friendly materials in 2023.