Interviewing Children and Reports
3 Formats for Interviewing Children
Interviewing children is the art and skill of helping children to feel comfortable enough to share very personal thoughts and feelings about areas of their lives that may be emotionally laden, where they may feel conflicted, and where the stakes with regard to their future may feel quite high. Questions must be carefully crafted to accommodate and reflect both the developmental capacity of each unique child, as well as the unique circumstances of each family.
The concept of interviewing children in family law cases was inspired by The International Institute for Child Rights and Development (IICRD) in response to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention states that “Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”
When Joan interviews your child, you can expect that she takes care and attention to ensure that she understands the issues and concerns before meeting with the child. Recognizing that parents feel there is a lot at stake, she crafts her questions with care to ensure that issues and concerns are explored from all perspectives. Joan believes it is important for the children’s views to be recorded and reported as accurately as possible. She often direct quotes the child’s full response to questions.
Joan has trained extensively with several internationally renowned specialists in the areas of children’s participation in family justice processes, including listening to children’s views, interviewing children, developing appropriate parenting plans, parental alienation, child alienation, and creating parallel parenting plans for high conflict families. Joan is a roster member of the BC Hear the Child Society and continues to educate herself as this field continues to develop.
Joan provides three forms of reports: Hear the Child reports; Views of the Child reports; and, full Section 211 reports.
Hear the Child Reports
A Hear the Child Interview is a process whereby the views of the child, with regard to issues that affect the child, are gathered and reported. A Hear the Child Report is a non-evaluative report which means that the writer does not give opinions with regard to the information shared by the child. The interviewer asks the child questions with regard to the child’s living situation, explores what is working and not working for the child, and explores possible changes that may be beneficial to the child.
It is important to know that the court will not make a decision based only on what the hear the child report says. The child is not making the decision and will not be responsible for making the decision. It is important for the child to know this as well.
I will generally meet with the child once with a possible second meeting if determined necessary. I generally know very little about the background of the case before meeting the child except for what the parents or their counsel have explained. In most circumstances the child will be brought to the interview by the parent with whom the child is residing on the day of the interview. Should the child(ren) be interviewed more than once, each parent may be asked to bring the child to an interview to guard against the perception of either parent influencing the child’s views. The process takes approximately 4-6 hours per child for a report to be prepared.
These sorts of reports are generally only appropriate when:
the parents understand that the hear the child are only one part of the whole picture;
the parents understand that the report is not an expert report;
a full section 211 report isn't necessary;
the child is more than seven or eight years old; and,
the judge wants to hear from the child but does not want to interview the child him or herself.
These reports will not be appropriate where the child is not capable of expressing his or her preferences.
Payment for the full report is required prior to the first interview.
$800.00 for one child
$500.00 for each extra child
Joan can usually complete a Hear the Child Report within one to three weeks of the time that she is formally retained to complete the report.
Views of the Child Report
A Views of the Child Interview is more involved than a Hear the Child Interview. In addition to gathering and reporting the child’s views with regard to issues that affect the child, Joan also assesses the child with regard to four specific areas: 1) whether a parent is being alienated from the child; 2) whether the child is being estranged/alienated from a parent; 3; whether the child has been influenced to present a particular view; and 4) whether the child understands the implications of the views/preferences being expressed.
The process involves two interviews with the child (a few days or weeks apart). The Views of the Child Report falls under Section 211 of the Family Law Act.
Joan can usually complete a Views of the Child Report within three to six weeks of the time she is formally retained to complete the report.
$200 per hour.
Making a Choice and Cost
While legal counsel will give advice with regard to which form of report is appropriate for the circumstances, the following guidelines may be helpful. If you wish to have a neutral professional explore with the child how (s)he is doing and what the child’s views or preferences are with regard to living arrangements, and provided there is no concern with regard to the child’s relationship with one parent being undermined or the child being influenced, then a Hear the Child Report is probably appropriate.
If either parent is concerned about issues of alienation, estrangement, influence, or if there is concern that the child may not understand the implications of the views or preferences (s)he might express, then a Views of the Child Report may be more appropriate.
While the cost of the Hear the Child Report is substantially less than the cost of the Views of the Child Report, cost should not be the primary factor in determining the type of report to request
Full Section 211 (s. 211) Reports
The Family Law Act places the safety and best interests of the child first when families are going through separation and divorce. The Family Law Act makes the best interests of the child the only consideration when decisions affecting the child are being made. The act requires the best interests of the child test to include: the history of care of the child; the impact of family violence on the child’s safety; security or well-being; the child’s views, unless it would be inappropriate to consider them; and, any criminal or civil proceedings relevant to the child’s safety and well-being.
It must be ensured that the procedure is fair, balanced and thorough. The assessor must provide an assessment report that is complete with regard to relevant and substantial facts.
When conducting the assessment, it is important that any procedure used with one parent or parenting figure also be used with the other parent or parenting figure. I must ensure when conducting these assessments that a parallel procedure is used that is fair, complete, and balanced. Best practices suggest an assessment procedure which uses different methods of assessment be used. This involves using a variety of techniques including: interviewing individuals (children and parents); observing the children and parents; gathering collateral information and speaking to collaterals involved with the family; reviewing all relevant documentation; and, considering any other information deemed to be relevant to the assessment process.
Each parent is interviewed individually to obtain histories and other information relevant to the assessment.
The child/children (if of an appropriate age and maturity) are interviewed on one or more occasions depending on how well they respond to the questions during the initial interview and how much information they provide. Indirect questioning and other appropriate methods of gathering information are used.
The children are observed with each parent to evaluate the relationship between the children and the parents. This can usually be accomplished in two sessions but sometimes more sessions may be required.
Collateral information is obtained from a variety of sources such as: parenting references; family physician(s); other professionals who have been involved; teachers or daycare providers; and, from other relevant sources as necessary.
All relevant legal information concerning the custody and access dispute is reviewed.
If sexual abuse or other abuse or neglect allegations are involved, additional information may be gathered from the RCMP, Ministry for Children and Family Development and other relevant sources. Sometimes, sexual abuse allegations may have to be assessed by a second professional.
S. 211 Assessment Procedures
Joan Cotie conducts s. 211 assessments using the following procedure. This is an outline of a basic assessment process. Dependent on the persons interviewed, special needs, lawyers’ involvement and other factors, the timelines and therefore, cost, may change.
Review legal and other documents 1-6 hrs.
Interview Parents – Mother/Father/Other parents 4-8 hrs.
Observation of Child(ren) with Mother/Father/Other parent 4-9 hrs.
Interview Collaterals (Teachers, Counselors, Physicians) 1-4 hrs.
Correspondence (email/phone/fax/letters/etc.) 2-3 hrs.
Review other information regarding Mother/Father/Other parent 1-2 hrs.
Review Parenting/Other Reference Forms for Mother/Father/Other 2-3 hrs.
Report Preparation 20-30 hrs.
Estimated Total Hours 35-65 hrs.
There may be variables that increase the time (and costs) of preparing the s. 211 assessment:
Reviewing more legal documents than originally anticipated;
Reviewing other documents and information not included above;
Interview of parent’s new partner(s);
Interviews with other family members or individuals who have important information to provide;
Travel outside of Lower Vancouver Island to do the assessment (time, mileage, meals, ferries, flights and accommodation).
Please note, it is not possible to give a firm estimate of the costs associated with the s. 211 Assessment and resulting report based on an hourly rate. A retainer (usually shared by each parent) is needed before beginning an assessment, unless alternative arrangements are made. Payment in full is required before the report is released.
$200.00 per hour with an initial retainer of $5000.00 to be paid at the start.
Full payment for report must be made prior to the report being released.
Court Attendance Fees: Attendance at court, court preparation, and travel to attend court will be charged at double my regular rate of pay for the service performed for which I am being called as a witness. There will be disbursement fees for all costs including meterage.