The Courts consider child welfare to be of paramount concern. Child welfare should be at the forefront of any decisions made by the court. There are many different scenarios which would result in the child’s situation being dealt with by the Court and they must consider whether the decision they make will directly or indirectly affect the life of the child. The Welfare Checklist is a set of criteria that the courts will use to evaluate the welfare of a child.
Section 1(3) of the Children’s Act 1989 outlines seven criteria that should be taken into consideration:
- The feelings and wishes of the child
- The educational, physical and emotional needs of the child
- How the court’s decision may affect the child if there was a change in their circumstances
- The child’s background and any other characteristics that would play a key role in the decision of the court
- Any harm that the child has suffered or may be suffering now or in the future
- The capacity of the child’s parents to meet the needs of the child
- What powers the Court has in the proceedings for each welfare case
The Feelings and Wishes of the Child
It is so important that children are included in decisions that concern them. Where it is practical to do so and given their age and level of understanding, children should be consulted as much as possible. However, when the Court makes a decision about the child, they will carefully consider whether or not the wishes and feelings of the child have been influenced by external factors. There also may be a conflict of opinion between parents and the child. In these circumstances it is important that the child’s opinion is taken into consideration. Depending on their age, some children may be old enough to decide for themselves and the courts do recognise this.
The Educational, Physical and Emotional Needs of the Child
As part of the process, the Court will evaluate who is the best person to deal with the physical, emotional and educational needs of the child. Where possible the child should be allowed to stay with their natural parents, particularly if the care needs of the child can be met.
Change in Circumstances
A change in the living arrangements for a child can be an unsettling and disruptive time. When reaching a decision, the court will take into consideration how a change in circumstances will affect the child. In some instances, changing the situation of the child may result in more harm, so the court has to be very careful what decision they make.
The court may consider the child’s background and other characteristics such as culture when making a decision about the child. They may also consider the lifestyle choices of parents if they believe this will have an impact on the life of the child, either at the present time or in the future.
When making a decision, the court will review the information presented to them and evaluate whether the child has experienced any harm or whether there is a risk of harm occurring in the future.
Capacity of Parents
The Court will take into consideration how capable the parents or guardians of the child are to care for the child. Any ongoing health conditions that the child suffers from will be explored in relation to the parent’s ability to manage these effectively and whether this will have a direct impact on the child’s health or ongoing development.
Under the various pieces of legislation, courts will have a number of powers at their disposal, particularly when it comes to the welfare of the child. They will need to carefully explore all relevant legislation before reaching a decision looking at aspects such as care, contact and residence to name a few.
The Court’s final decision will be based on what is best for the child and should be made in such a way that harm or the risk of harm for the child is eliminated or significantly reduced.
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