The Child Responsive Program is a means by which the family courts can assess the needs and wishes of children whose parents divorce or separate.
When married couples divorce or when couples in a de factor relationship separate, living arrangements for the children must be made. When parents can agree on the children’s living arrangements, the children’s lives after the separation or divorce can still be stable.
When parents cannot agree, however, the children are at risk of negative outcomes not only because of the divorce or separation of their parents but because their living arrangements do not provide stability.
The children’s lives are disrupted all the more when their parents resort to the courts in adversarial and often acrimonious proceedings. The family courts then order that the parents or carers of the children and the children themselves to meet with a family consultant. A family consultant is a social worker designated by the family court to interview the parents to find information about the children. The family consultant will also meet with the children individually and as a group to determine from them what their needs and wishes are about their living arrangements.
When after meeting with the parents and the children, the family consultant has succeeded in making the parents understand their children’s perceptions about the divorce or separation and their needs because of such divorce or separation, the parents might agree on the living arrangements for their children.
When the parents still cannot agree on the living arrangements for their children, the family consultant will then prepare an assessment report and this assessment report shall form part of the evidence in the case before the family court.
The family consultant will testify as to the assessment he or she has made, particularly, what he/she perceives the children need. The family court will then proceed to hear and decide the matter using a Less Adversarial Trial (LAT). After this, the family court will issue parenting orders which will direct the living arrangements for the children.
If in the opinion of the family court or the family consultant that the parties need to understand the parenting orders issued by the family court, the family consultant will then meet once more with the parents/carers and the children to explain to them the parenting orders issued by the family court and their need to comply with the parenting orders.