A Young Persons Appointment (YPA), also known as wishes and feelings appointments, is the new initiative launched in Surrey and Sussex to streamline the process for children and parents when an application for child arrangements is pursued. The Young Persons Appointment is more focused on the child’s views and wishes than on the pro-active pursuit of a parent’s application.

The initiative has been in the Surrey area, and more recently Sussex, for approximately one year and aims to resolve matters as quickly as possible within a matter of months, rather than the unfortunately lengthy process of traditional child arrangement proceedings.

To assure parents of the integrity of the process, and to alleviate any concerns of the child parroting one parents’ views, the Cafcass officers used are extremely experienced and well versed in being able to spot even the subtle signs of a child not expressing themselves independently.

The critical and importance difference for a YPA to work is the parent’s approach and open-mindedness to resolving the issues in dispute. Both parents must consent to utilising the new initiative, and the YPA hearing is utilised very differently than a normal contested hearing. The expectation is the parents come to listen and react to the child’s wishes and feelings, setting aside their own views and focusing on the child’s experiences of the conflict between them and how best to resolve it.

So how does it work? As mentioned above both parents have to agree to use the YPA if recommended by Cafcass at the first hearing in any application. If agreed, a YPA will be listed, and a Cafcass officer will schedule to meet with the child either the morning prior to the YPA, or the day beforehand. Neither parent will be with the child when speaking with Cafcass and the highly experienced officer will explore the major issues to ascertain the child’s views utilising a number of affirming techniques, after which the officer will attend Court on the day of the YPA and orally provide the child’s views to the parties and the Court.

With the assistance of the Judge, the parties will then be expected to be reactive to the wishes and feelings of the child and come to an agreement reflecting the information they have just heard. The focus will not be on the minor details but the overall desires and wishes of the child.

As counsel involved in these hearing, our role is very different. Whilst we are there to assist the party we are instructed by, we are also more an agent of the Court. My personal experience teaches me we are facilitator of discussions at these hearings taking on a role similar to a mediator, more than advocates of our client’s position. It can be very challenging for a parent to hear information contrary to their beliefs, and appropriate discussion and preparation with counsel can make this process smoother.

This blog was written by barrister Scott Sharp. Should you require further information on YPA’s or wish to seek advice, please contact our clerking team at Westgate Chambers who will be glad to assist as best as they can.

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