Children stressed in court, warns solicitor


METHODS to reduce stress for children participating in court proceedings require attention, an experienced family law practitioner has said.

Solicitor Denise Kirwan offered her personal views on the children’s referendum at a briefing in Cork yesterday, where Taoiseach Enda Kenny advocated a Yes vote. She said the child could become caught in “emotional crossfire” in cases of parental break-ups.

“It’s been my experience – and, I do believe, that of many of my family law colleagues – that often the disputes that accompany the breakdown of parents’ relationships, be they marital or otherwise, can see the children involved become caught in the emotional crossfire.

“We are learning more each day about the dreadful long-term effect that emotional abuse can have on the mental health and emotional wellbeing of children as they move into adulthood.”

She said child protection services were under increased pressure.

“The courts dealing with these family law disputes are requiring intervention from social services regarding the management of custody and access arrangements, and this places further pressure on the child protection services.”

While listening to the voice of the child was necessary in situations where custody or access issues arose, Ms Kirwan said ways to reduce stress and fear for children needed to be examined.

“The proposed amendment states that, where any child is capable of forming his or her own views, those views should be ascertained and given due weight, having regard to the age and maturity of the child concerned.

“There is a need to ensure that the courts and legal practitioners who work in this area are sufficiently skilled in both procuring and presenting the views of vulnerable children, especially within a traditional court setting,” she said.