What did become clear, and is also clear from the study done by Wade and Smart,68 is that children need to be involved in the process and told what is going on. They are not passive and demonstrate various coping strategies of their own. One child, for instance, was able to articulate how he coped, by focussing on school, making new friends and moving house. Another found talking to his solicitor and the support that she offered helpful. Wade and Smart believe that children use diversionary activity and talking to specially selected people as a means of coping and of cheering themselves up. Their findings were that adults tend to think that children are not aware of the situation and continue in their usual activities with little sign of disturbance. However Wade and Smart found69 that the adults in their study did not appear to realise that the children were using these activities as deliberate strategies to cope with and avoid distress.
Lessons for Professionals
One young person articulated this very clearly. In his view, moving countries was not the major stress. He stated the real problem to be thus: “It’s the way decisions are made”. He did not think that children were taken seriously or that their views carried much weight. He further commented that not enough care was given to contact between separated siblings. For him, problems around his relationship with his sibling continue to be a source of distress.
Apart from one child, those who received professional help found that they benefited less from that than from talking to specific family members and/or friends of their choosing. This is consistent with the finding of Wade and Smart70 that for most children a “counsellor” is of little value unless the child is actively involved in the decision to see such a professional. Such therapeutic work with children is considered as requiring a high level of specialist skill, not appropriate for volunteers. In the same study Wade and Smart found71 that the intervention of Court appointed practitioners on a short term basis was not helpful to the children other than in the context of enabling the Court process to run smoothly. They concluded that therapeutic rather than investigative interventions are more likely to be supportive. The two children in our study who identified a solicitor and a counsellor as helpful seemed to find them so, at least in part, because they felt that those professionals were on their side and really listening to them. One child said that she felt she could talk to her counsellor and that the counsellor “doesn’t make me feel stupid for the way that I feel”.
The account of the return to their mother of one set of siblings highlights the care and sensitivity that need to be exercised. In some circumstances the return can be as upsetting and stressful as the original abduction. Another child emphasised the seemingly obvious, but frequently overlooked, point that dealing with the abduction by returning a child to the country of origin in itself rarely achieves a resolution of the problems as defined and experienced by the children themselves. In particular they may not necessarily be returned to or have any contact with the other parent and family. This child believed that nobody could have done anything to have made it better because “it’s not something that can be made easier”.
68 69 70 71
Facing Family Change, Children’s Circumstances, Strategies and Resources, 2002, at 41. Facing Family Change, supra, at 18-23. Facing Family Change, supra, at 41. Facing Family Change, supra, at 38.