Towards being heard : representations of the child's voice in custody evaluation reports by the Family Advocate's Office

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This study outlined the changing social and legal contexts insofar as it relates to children's participation in matters that affect their lives. It set out the debates in the literature on whether not children should participate in family law matters, specifically custody disputes, and if so, how this participation should take place. It also drew upon research studies which have explored directly children's views on the issue. The challenges involved in custody evaluations were scrutinised, specifically in relation to the Family Advocate's Office, and alternative and/or complementary methods of accessing the child's voice were considered. In South Africa, in all access and/or custody disputes, the Family Advocate’s Office is tasked with making recommendations to the court, which are in the child's best interest. The recently promulgated provisions of the Children's Act (2005) also require that the child's views and wishes be taken into consideration. Accordingly, this research study involved a thematic content analysis of 10 Family Counsellor reports, in order to determine how the child's voice is accessed by the Family Advocate's Office. A structural model illustrating how the child's voice was represented in the reports was developed. It showed that the child's voice was represented in three distinct ways, namely: the child's voice is accessed directly; the child's voice is disqualified; and the archetypal child's voice is accessed through a proxy. The findings showed a tendency to rely more on accessing the archetypal child's voice through a proxy, which typically included reporting that was less descriptive and more inferential, interpretive and opinion-laden. A need for more direct, non-disqualified means of accessing and/or reporting on the child's views and wishes was indicated.

Includes bibliographical references (leaves 71-81).