Taking account of the ‘to and fro’ of children’s experiences in family law

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Publication details

Graham, A & Fitgerald, RM 2005, 'Taking account of the ‘to and fro’ of children’s experiences in family law', paper presented to Childhoods: children and youth in emerging and transforming societies: Childwatch International Citizenship Research Network, Oslo, Norway, 29 June - 3 July.


This paper will outline the possibilities and tensions that emerge in legal and social discourse when popular images and narratives of children as vulnerable or ‘at risk’, are juxtaposed with more revised constructions of the child as capable, autonomous, and ‘resilient’. The paper explores some of the legal, methodological and ethical implications of this shift in representation of children as having both the right and capacity to participate in legal decisions that significantly influence their lives. It then reports insights from a pilot study in Australia which found that children ‘to and fro’ between accounts of hurt and powerlessness associated with loss and their desire to participate in the processes and decisions taking place around them. In identifying the different voices that children move between when they speak of their experiences of divorce transitions, the paper concludes that discourses of participation taken up in research, practice and policy need to acknowledge this dialectic relationship between competence and vulnerability if we are to respond to children in ways that serve their interests well.