Children tell us about ‘Having a Say’ in family law decision making

Document Type

Conference publication

Publication details

Fitzgerald, RM & Graham, A 2008, 'Children tell us about ‘Having a Say’ in family law decision making', Families through life: 10th Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference proceedings, Melbourne, Vic., 9-11 July, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Melbourne, Vic.


This paper reports on a recent research project which explored children’s understandings and experiences of supervised contact and of their participation in the decision making processes that surround supervised contact. The paper begins with an overview of the study and a summary of the findings in relation to the key research questions: What are children’s experiences of having a say? What are children’s views and understandings of having a say? Did children want a say in the decision for them to have supervised contact? How did having (or not having) a say feel? The discussion then focuses on a key finding from the study that suggests children’s understandings of participation are often expressed in dialogical terms. In other words, the children in this study perceived participation as taking place in and through particular forms of dialogue or conversation that provides for them, and for what they have to say, to be acknowledged, recognised and respected. With these findings in mind, we suggest that when we talk about ‘children’s participation’ in the difficult and complex context of supervised contact, we need to focus more closely on the ways in which we invite, engage and interpret dialogue and conversations with children. The paper concludes by exploring some of the implications for both researchers and practitioners when we assign conversation to a central role in the conceptualisation and practice of participation.