2 Discussion of Key Results
2.1.1 Both consultation exercises were successful in engaging a wide range of stakeholders in discussion of all the topics included. Many responses came from individuals, including children and young people, and adults with direct experience of family disputes as well as professionals speaking in their own right. Organisations that responded included members from the legal profession and courts responsible for managing family disputes, as well as public sector organisations who act as corporate parents and provide social work services to families in dispute. Third sector organisations responsible for supporting individuals and families impacted by family disputes also took part.
2.1.2 Detailed comments were provided throughout the consultation, however, it appears that later questions may have suffered from an element of respondent fatigue, with fewer responses provided overall (indeed, in five out of the final six questions dealing with topical issues, 40% or more failed to provide a response). Qualitative comments were often much reduced in length compared to those provided at earlier questions. The length of the consultation most likely contributed to this.
2.2 Main Findings
2.2.1 A number of questions from the main consultation document attracted overall support. Each question in the table below elicited supportive ratings from at least half of all respondents.
|Percentage of Respondents Who Said 'Yes'|
|Q6. Should Child Contact Centres be regulated?||66%|
|Q9. Should the 1995 Act be clarified to make it clear that siblings, including those aged under 16, can apply for contact without being granted PRRs?||67%|
|Q22. Should fathers who jointly register the birth of a child in a country where joint registration leads to PRRs have their PRRs recognised in Scotland?||55%|
|Q23. Should there be a presumption in law that a child benefits from both parents being involved in their life?||50%|
|Q28. Should the Scottish Government take action to try and stop children being put under pressure by one parent to reject the other parent?||56%|
|Q33. Should section 11 of the 1995 Act be amended to provide that the court can, if it sees fit, give directions to protect domestic abuse victims and other vulnerable parties at any hearings heard as a result of an application under section 11?||51%|
|Q36. Should action be taken to ensure the civil courts have information on domestic abuse when considering a case under section 11 of the 1995 Act?||50%|
|Q38. Should the Scottish Government explore ways to improve interaction between criminal and civil courts where there has been an allegation of domestic abuse?||50%|
|Q39. Should the Scottish Government introduce a provision in primary legislation which specifies that any delay in a court case relating to the upbringing of a child is likely to affect the welfare of the child?||54%|
|Q44. Should the Scottish Government produce guidance for litigants and children in relation to contact and residence?||60%|
|Q46. Should a person who is applying to record a change of name for a young person under the age of 16 be required to seek their views?||59%|
|Q47. Should S.I. 1965/1838 be amended so that a father who has a declarator of parentage and has PRRs can re-register the birth showing him on the birth certificate?||51%|
|Q49. Should changes be made which will allow further modernisation of the Children's Hearings System through enhanced use of available technology?||57%|
|Q50. Should safeguarder reports and other independent reports be provided to local authorities in advance of Children's Hearings in line with other participants?||50%|
2.2.2 Only two questions resulted in at least half of the respondents providing a negative response:
- Q17. Should the term "parental rights" be removed from the 1995 Act? - 50% said no; and
- Q24. Should legislation be made laying down that courts should not presume that a child benefits from both parents being involved in their life? - 52% said no.
2.2.3 The young persons' survey elicited supportive ratings from over half of the respondents at three questions, as follows:
- YP4. Should a child have contact with both parents? - 54% said only when it was good for the child;
- YP5. Should a child have contact with their grandparents? - 51% said only when it was good for the child; and
- YP11. Should we give information to children on what it is like to go to court about who they live with or have contact with? - 54% said yes.
2.2.4 Young people were also supportive of being allowed to keep in contact with their brothers and sisters, however, responses were more split between always being allowed (31%) and only when it was good for the child (44%).
2.2.5 One key recurring message was a need for the child's best interests, their welfare and their voice to be of paramount importance in any changes to the legislation. There were concerns that some of the questions focused too much on the concerns or interests of the parents and risked losing focus on the child. While it was felt important to allow children to keep in contact with a range family members (including both parents, siblings and grandparents), and issues around domestic abuse and the difficulties faced by non-resident parents being excluded from their child's life were often discussed, it was stressed by many that all legislation and processes should remain focused on the child and their welfare/best interests.
2.2.6 It was often considered difficult to legislate for the wide range of possible circumstances of a child's life. Similarly, if a family case had reached court there was clearly some level of dispute involved, again making it difficult for broad assumptions to be made. Rather, respondents expressed that it would be more appropriate for each case to be assessed and investigated on its own merits.
2.2.7 Responses suggest there are perceptions of inherent bias prevalent within some cases, however, there was no consistency as to whether this bias was perceived to be towards either the resident parent or the party seeking contact. Similarly, respondents felt that taking children's views into account may not be happening consistently or as often as it should. In several instances throughout the consultation it was felt that greater training and/or guidance may be required to ensure current legislation is being implemented effectively and consistently across the country. Additional/amended legislation or the introduction of assumptions as a starting point for cases may not be the solution.
2.2.8 Greater training for all those involved in the family court system was also considered to be needed, and was discussed at several points throughout the consultation. In particular, it was felt that in-depth training on eliciting and interpreting the views of children and young people was required in order to ensure this happens more consistently and more often. It was also suggested that training and a more nuanced understanding of domestic abuse, coercion, and alienation was needed for professionals.
2.2.9 Child support workers also appear to be a largely welcomed role for some. It was felt they would be more impartial than a court appointed child welfare reporter, could support a child throughout the process, explain the outcome of the case to the child, and would have greater training and experience of working with children to support them to provide their views. However, others felt that the role of the child welfare reporter could be expanded more easily and cost effectively, although it was again stressed that more extensive training would be required.
2.2.10 Several areas were considered (by some at least) to be not relevant to the 1995 Act and it was felt that they required much wider consultation to ensure that the views of all key stakeholders were considered. This included any changes to legislation or processes that would impact on looked after children, or on education or health providers in relation to information sharing.