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Assessment tool for measuring and evaluating the capacity and competency of children aged four to nine - Extern promotieonderzoek

Gepubliceerd: 01 maart 2019 Laatst bijgewerkt: 17 juli 2020

E. Henderson-Dekort, Prof. dr. H.J.A. van Bakel, Mr. dr. V.M. Smits

The importance of children’s voice and participation has become a frequently discussed topic in recent years. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, 1989) provides provisions around ‘best interests of the child’ however oftentimes these interests are audibly heard, but rarely actualized. The probability of actualized decisions is even more limited when expressed by children of younger age (usually under the age of twelve). Moreover, the assumed lack of competency that is often associated with younger age and developmental stage makes influential decisions rare in legal settings (Holt, 2016; Tisdall, 2016; Reynaert, Bouverne- De Bie, & Vandevelde, 2009). The research will note the capacity of a child should not be linked solely to age or developmental expectations, but rather is constantly changing and dependent on a child’s lived experiences, personal attributes and many other complex dynamics (Hammersley, 2015; van Rooyen, Water, Rasmussen, & Diesfeld, 2015). Additionally, literature indicates that there are no verified assessment tools existing in terms of recognition of competency in legal proceedings (Melton, 2007; van Rooyen, Water, Rasmussen & Diesfeld, 2015).

The proposed research will give way to the initial steps towards developing an assessment tool that aims to measure and evaluate the capacity and competency of children aged under the age of twelve. This research will examine articles within the UNCRC and carefully examine elements like language and provisions within. Further the literature will analyze pre-established child-focused evaluations to display gaps in the actualization of children's rights and participation and the potential for the proposed tool’s development. Overall the tool will attempt to measure and assess their ability to make decisions as they pertain to custody dispute proceedings. The tool will place emphasis on qualitative methods of assessing children placing importance on child-focused elements such as: play, art, and narrative creation. The research will involve interviewing professionals who work with children, in legal settings, or an intersection of both disciplines, in order to gather qualitative recommendations for questions or elements that the assessment tool must include. Such research holds potential for changing the lives of young people involved in conflicted custody disputes and further assists actualize children’s rights in a comprehensive and practical way. Using a tool to measure the capacity of young people is critical in order for children to become social agents of their own lives with influential voice in legal settings.

The purpose of this PhD research dissertation is to develop a qualitative-focused capacity assessment tool for children under the age of twelve involved in divorce or separation proceedings. Extensive literature, the knowledge of professionals involved in the social science or legal field, and research with children through photo-voice will be critical to forming this capacity assessment tool. The focus being, assessing capacity of children under the age of twelve to meaningfully participate in custody and access proceedings.