June 23, 2017 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

By Rachel Ganzewinkel, Communications Intern

Dr. Rachel Birnbaum in collaboration with the Office of the Children’s Lawyer and Chief Justices of the Superior Court of Justice and Ontario Court of Justice with Professor Nicholas Bala from Queen’s University, presented the results of the research on Views of the Child Reports (VCR) at a symposium in Toronto on Wednesday, June 21st at Ryerson University. Dr. Rachel Birnbaum is a King’s professor within the School of Social Work and the Childhood and Social Institutions (CSI) departments.

VCR was a pilot project in eleven court jurisdictions from 2016-2017 to have children’s views and preferences heard during family breakdown as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child.  A VCR gives children the chance for their voice to be heard when there are no other resources available to them. These reports offer the chance for a child to talk to a neutral third party which is essential to knowing what the child wants, free from any parental influence.

Dr. Birnbaum focused on the importance of giving the child “a voice but not a choice” insofar that a child is consulted in family law court proceedings; the VCR is an attempt to get the child’s perspective. Through her research, Dr. Birnbaum found children didn’t want to be burdened with choosing between their mother and father. After the child was interviewed, Dr. Birnbaum reported judges were able to make a more informed decision based on the children's views and experiences that they had expressed through the VCR. Judges, lawyers and parents all agreed on how fast proceedings went with the assistance of the reports.

The pilot project has been well-received from parents, children and professionals alike. It was noted that parents sometimes found it difficult to hear what their child(ren) had to say, but ultimately found it helpful in moving forward. Children were thankful they were asked their opinion because it meant their thoughts and feelings mattered. A social worker stated they “really enjoyed doing [the VCR]…the child was very insightful and there is value to their voice.”

The Voice of the Child Reports are neutral reports that judges find very useful in their decision making process. The VCR is much less expensive compared to other currently available resources. Dr. Birnbaum summed up the value of the VCR at the end of the conference by noting they are “a useful addition to Ontario’s Family Justice toolbox – for the right cases.”

For further reading, you can find the link to Dr. Rachel Birnbaum and Prof. Nicholas Bala’s research findings here.

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