Children’s Participation in Care and Protection Decision-Making Matters

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Laws and policies in different jurisdictions provide a range of mechanisms that allow children involved in child protection processes and care proceedings to express their views when decisions that affect them are being made. Whether these mechanisms facilitate children’s involvement and whether they result in children’s views being heard and “given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child”, as required by article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, is the focus of this article. The law, policy and practice in New South Wales, Australia, are used to provide a contextual illustration of the wider theoretical and practical issues, drawing on international comparisons and research. It is clear there is still some way to go to satisfy the requirements of article 12 in Australia and other jurisdictions. These mechanisms often do not provide the information children need to understand the process, nor do they consistently encourage meaningful participation through trusted advocates who can accurately convey children’s views to those making the decisions. It is generally unclear how children’s views are heard, interpreted, and weighted in decision-making processes. The research findings from a number of countries, however, are clear and consistent that children often feel ‘unheard’ and that they have had few opportunities to say what is important to them. A number of conclusions and practice suggestions are outlined for how the law could better accommodate children’s views.

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