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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Justice delayed

A recent study in the United Kingdom talks about long delays by the courts in determining child protection cases. This is a problem that is not unique to England. Research has spoken about this problem before. For the child, this is not only justice delayed but life delayed.
The child is left in limbo not knowing what the probable future holds. This creates loyalty binds - should the child hold out hope for the return to family or should the child begin to attach to a foster family (yet other research shows that children in care may face as many as 7 changes in care placements). There are other very profound challenges for a child who faces long delays in court processes. These include:

  1. changes in schools - multiple and during times when it is socially awkward. It also interrupts learning and the child may well wonder why they should bother given that another school lies just over the horizon.
  2. Loss of friends as they move about - again - why bother working at making friends
  3. Poor academic achievement as things like learning disabilities or gaps will be missed as teachers don't have the child in the classroom long enough to really understand the child
  4. Ambivalence about life - what matters and doesn't matter
  5. Changes in social workers - as the case drags on, social workers move on
  6. Behavior problems that are getting worse as there is a lack of stability in school and households to really address them - this has led some writers to feel that this is one of the reasons that so many children in care are on psychiatric medication.
If our system is child centered, one might ask how this can be left to occur. But we are also trying to balance the rights of parents to have their case heard and possibly appealed. The latter might lead to a re-trial - all of which might be appropriate - but it is hard to explain this to a child who simply waits.

A dialogue should be happening (and in some places is) about ways to change this. It will be interesting to see what the Munro commission in England comes up with that might alter the system so that decisions affecting children can be made expeditiously and truly focused on what the child needs.

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