Child Abuse Negl 2010 Sep 16;34(9):659-70. Epub 2010 Aug 16.
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA.
Objective: After maltreated children are taken into protective custody, dependency courts determine the children's placements. Many, if not most, maltreated children never attend their dependency court hearings. We had the rare opportunity to interview children in a jurisdiction where children regularly attend their detention hearings in dependency court. Our main goals were to assess maltreated children's knowledge and attitudes about their court experiences and identify predictors thereof. We also examined if the maltreated children desired greater participation in dependency court decisions.
Methods: Immediately after attending their dependency court hearings, 7- to 10-year-olds were interviewed about their knowledge of, attitudes concerning, and participation in dependency court. Information was also extracted from the children's dependency court files.
Results: Lack of understanding and negative attitudes were common. Age predicted court knowledge, and age, anxiety, court knowledge, abuse type, and criminal court referral predicted attitudes. Qualitative findings included that a substantial minority of children did not feel believed or listened to, and most children wanted to return home.
Conclusions: This research is relevant to current debates about the extent to which children should be involved in legal decisions. The results suggest that maltreated children may profit from greater understanding of dependency court. Moreover, the findings indicate that children often wish to have greater influence in dependency court decisions.
Policy Implications: Professionals should consider providing children involved in dependency court hearings with age-appropriate information about the legal proceedings. Children may also benefit in dependency hearings from the opportunity, directly or indirectly (through their attorneys), to give voice to their wishes and needs.