A TEENAGER who was placed in care for two years during an embittered family court case has told how she felt imprisoned because she wasn’t listened to during the ordeal.
Saima, who is now 15 and a member of the Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB), has welcomed a new move which will enable children to have a say during proceedings which directly affect them.
Under the initiative, young people from the age of 10 involved in any type of family case will have the chance to express their views about what should happen to them following divorce or relationship breakdowns.
Children will be able to communicate to judges presiding over their case through letters, pictures or by way of a third person. Saima, whose name has been changed, was 11 when her parents split up, and due to the nature of the relationship breakdown was placed in care along with her younger sister.
Her younger brother went to live with his father, and both Saima and her sister were desperate to move back with their mother which took a period of two years.
“Every child has the right to have a voice. My process was two years and it was very frustrating. I felt very angry because I didn’t get to express my feelings. You don’t get that childhood back with your mother; you’ve literally lost everything,” she told Eastern Eye.
“I cried because people wouldn’t listen to me and you feel trapped; I felt like I was in prison. I had two years in care, there were three different carers and three different social workers. I’ve lost faith in the whole system. How are you supposed to trust people with your story when there are three different people and you need to keep repeating it to them? Children lose faith when it keeps changing. I had no say in the whole process.”
Saima is one of 40 young people on the FJYPB who have experience of family law or a passion to see children’s rights upheld. In total, 90,000 children were involved in new cases in the family courts last year. Justice minister Simon Hughes, who set out the changes, also announced the government’s support for out-ofcourt dispute resolution services, such as family mediation, to be more child inclusive.
He told EE: “We are trying to make sure that young people who discover their families are going through separation, divorce or care proceedings know what’s going on and can be offered the opportunity and encouraged to have their say.
“We talked carefully to the young people on the Family Justice and Young People’s Board about what they wanted. The answer was we absolutely want to be asked our views and have conversations with the people making the decisions in the best possible way. We want to choose how we want to have that conversation but we don’t want to be the people to make the decisions.”
The conversation would take place without the parents present, so the judge would invite the youngster to talk to them about what they wanted”, Hughes added.
He insisted it would not extend the length of family court cases, which are currently required to take place within 26 weeks. A “court gaming app” is also being developed which will help explain the court process to youngsters. The move will also see the judge address part of their judgment to the children concerned with the proceedings.