In certain custody proceedings, the court may order an assessment called a Voice of the Child Report (VCR) to ensure that children have the opportunity to have a voice. The usual procedure is to have a counsellor meet with the child and listen to them and then report back to the court what was said (this is assuming the child gives permission for that to occur – the child may not wish to have the conversation shared). Such a report provides information about what the child thinks about his or her life and the issues in dispute between the parents to the court to assist in the decision-making process and ensures that both parents have a neutral party helping them to hear their children’s voices.
Is the Voice of the Child Report used to determine “best interest”?
No, the Voice of the Child Report is not designed to determine what is in the child’s best interest nor to offer the child a choice – the report simply describes what the child wishes to say to his or her parents and to the Court.
What gets shared?
Voice of the Child Reports are child-focused. Should a child who sees me for a VCR decide that he or she does NOT wish their voice to be heard, that’s their choice. Everything that is shared in my office by a child is confidential unless the child decides otherwise (this excludes my legal and ethical mandates for breaching confidentiality – see below)*.
How does it work?
I require at least 3 meetings/interactions with the child. In the first one (usually 1 to 2 hours), we meet in my office and talk about confidentiality and whatever it is they wish to share with me. During that first meeting, the child will be asked if I can take notes and if there is anything they do not want said to their parents or the decision-maker (typically the courts).
At the end of the first meeting, I will read my notes about what I think they have told me back to them. I reassure them that nothing will be done with my notes until we have met a few times and they have had the chance to say everything they wanted to say and that they are still fine with it being given to the decision-makers.
In each subsequent interaction, typically 1 hour each, the meeting may take place at another neutral location (such as a park or playground) or again, in my offices, and we go over what the child told me, they will have the opportunity to make additions, remove information, or makes changes as they feel the child wants and he/she confirms what they want to say.
Can I talk to you first about my child?
I will not engage in preliminary interviews with the parents nor with their respective representative as it is not my practice to share in advance the specific kinds of questions I might ask the child. This prevents any coaching and avoids situations where if one parent dislikes the report they assume the other parent coached the child on the questions and what to say.
What is the purpose?
The purpose will be to give decision-makers insight into the child’s life – what does the child think is working or not working? What would the child like to see changed? What would they like to remain the same? Are there specific activities they like or dislike? How do they feel about their time and interactions with each parent – would they like different arrangements and how do they see that happening?
How long does it take?
Typical Voice of the Child Reports require 4-6 hours of interaction per child and an additional 3-4 hours of preparation per report.
How much does it cost?
VCR rates are billed at $175 CAD/hour
*Times when confidentiality may be breached:
- If there is reason to believe the client is at risk of harming themselves or someone else
- If disclosures of abuse to a vulnerable population are made
- In the case of court-ordered release
** Please note ** If you are involved in divorce or custody litigation, and I am requested to appear at a deposition or in trial, you will be financially responsible for my court fee, which is $2000 per day (or any part thereof) due to my inability to be accessible or available for other clients on those days.
***NOTICE*** Beginning June 1, 2019 all Voice of the Child Assessment and Reports require a retainer of $500 prior to the first session