Welcome to the Westminster Debate “Supporting families after the riots and the role of family law”. The family justice system, despite the enormous pressures it faces in the wake of legal aid cuts and ever-increasing court delays is listening, now more than ever, to the voice of the child. Children as young as three are being given the opportunity to express their views, whether to help make the system better or take part in it, as the system responds creatively to the urgent need to support young people.
But more needs to be done. The summer riots which took place from the 6th – 9th August this year, saw a total of 1,984 people attend court for a first hearing, of which 26% were children aged ten to seventeen. A further 27% were eighteen to twenty year olds. The startling nature of these figures lies not only in the number of children involved but in their eclectic backgrounds, too. For the first time, children from prosperous homes came out on to the streets to riot.
Social exclusion has moved from being an exclusively public family law issue to one that has seeped into the private family law sector. As parents work longer hours and struggle to meet the needs of both their employers and their children, the hands-on job of parenting becomes fraught with anxiety and children become isolated and left to navigate the world on their own. Lack of support during divorce or separation for a child can be especially traumatic for a child as the framework of their family unit is challenged from all sides.
Sadly, the family justice system as it stands, cannot always offer these children the varied and flexible kind of support they need, but the system is slowly changing. As a new family law landscape emerges with the publication of the Final Report of the Family Justice Review in November, the potential for our family justice system to offer holistic and diverse support is closer to becoming a reality.
As the statistics on the riots continue to be collected, no complete picture has been offered yet as to why the riots took place. This debate will examine the implications of the riots on children and parents across the country and the ramifications of a system that fails to respond to these social ruptures. Understanding the family justice system is vital in order to understand how to implement change and to that end, our panel of parenting, legal and child welfare experts have been brought together to open a dialogue which we hope will lead to a better understanding of the issues and possible solutions.
Family Law in Partnership’s dedication to child welfare sees this leading family law firm pilot the discussion with BBC parenting expert Sue Atkins, District Judge Nicholas Crichton and Elaine Halligan of The Parent Practice joined by David Allison, a partner at Family Law in Partnership LLP and John Cryer, MP.
As we look back on the riots four months on, now is a fitting time to look at the family justice system; to take stock of the burgeoning resources being offered in other areas and seek solutions that will support every child, from all walks of life.