When a court is making a decision on any matters that will have an effect on the child, whether this effect will directly or indirectly have an impact on the child’s life, the courts will look at the welfare of the child as the paramount concern. The Welfare Checklist is a principle that the courts will give regard to but in certain circumstances, they may be obliged to follow.
The Welfare checklist consists of seven criteria for the courts to consider when making a decision concerning a child.
The seven criteria included in the checklist under s1(3) Children‘s Act 1989:
The wishes and feelings of the child concerned
The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
The likely effect on the child if circumstances changed as a result of the courts decision
The child’s age, sex, backgrounds and any other characteristics which will be relevant to the courts decision
Any harm the child has suffered or may be at risk of suffering
Capability of the child’s parents (or any other person the courts find relevant) at meeting the child’s needs
The powers available to the court in the given proceedings
When making a decision regarding a child the courts will consider the wishes and feelings of the child with consideration given to the age and level of understanding of the concerned child.
The Courts will take into consideration whether or not a child’s wishes and feelings are their own or whether there could have been outside factors that may have influenced their decisions. There may also be a conflict of opinion between the parents/Guardians views and that of the child, in these circumstances as long as the child is of an understanding age and mature enough to make their own decisions.
The courts will consider who is in the best position to cater for the child’s emotional, physical and educational needs. The courts try in most cases to uphold the natural parents presumption that a child should stay with their natural parents in circumstances where all parties evolved could provide equal care.
The courts will try in all circumstances to issue an order that has the least impact or effect on a child’s life where a decision of changed could cause more harm than good.
The court’s may consider issues such as religion and culture when making a decision. They may also take the parents/ guardians hobbies and lifestyle choices into account if they feel this will impact the child’s life now or in the future.
The courts will look at any previous harm possible suffered, if there is a risk of harm in the future and the whether the harm is severe or significant and likely to cause distress and impairment of health and development.
Under this criteria the courts will consider how able the parents/guardians are for caring for their child, this will include scenarios where the child may suffer an illness or where a guardians lifestyle choice may have an impact on the needs of the child.
The courts will have to consider all orders available for them to issue before making a decision, this will include orders such as residence, care, contact orders etc.
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