Fiona Woolf Steps Down as Chair for Child Abuse Inquiry

This just in – Fiona Woolf has decided to step down as Chair for the nationwide inquiry into child abuse in the UK.

This was due to pressure from victims’ groups who felt she was not suitable.

The panel members all appear to be intact for the time being.

It is perhaps a cruel irony, and indicative of the deeply endemic nature of the problem, that this inquiry has not yet been able to find a chair that has not somehow been involved, or come into contact with child abuse perpetrators.

Bring on the next candidate. We still think Kids Co’s Camilla Batmanghelidjh would be perfect for the job.

Fiona Woolf

LIP Service – Tool Kit For Representing Yourself in The Family Courts

We made it – we finally recorded our first proper video for our LIP Service series. If you can forgive the waving hands and the random strand of hair which gradually makes its way towards the camera during the video, what you have left is a video offering some essential resources for families going through the courts.

You can access the video and your Data Pack below:

 

Data Pack

  • Parliament Website (brilliant for keeping up to date with the latest law and policy developments)
  • Write To Them(great for finding MPs in your area as they can be very helpful)
  • Jordans (excellent for news, comment and articles on every area of family law)
  • Family Law Week (good for family law news)
  • BAILII (awesome for case law)
  • Forms (You can find and print out forms here)
  • Legal Aid (the latest on legal aid)
  • Government website (helplines)

“Some Children and Young People Fear The Police” – APPG Report

The findings of a recent report published by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children is a deeply concerning one, which highlights huge variations in police competence throughout the country and a persisting feeling of fear amongst young people about how the police view, and treat them.

The Report by the APPG, “It’s all about Trust”: Building Good Relationships Between Children and the Police, focuses on strengthening trust between the police and children. The key findings include:

  • A lack of trust amongst children in relation to the police
  • A negative and often fearful perception of police by children in care, who represent a significant demographic involved with the police force, due to their previous experiences with the force
  • A failure to understand how to work with vulnerable children by the police which can lead to misunderstandings and situations made worse
  • Children involved with child trafficking and sexual offences find the police processes confusing and felt that the police treated them with a lack of respect
  • First contact with the police is a negative experience for most children 
  • Many children who found themselves being stopped and searched felt that they were stopped without sufficient reason, were treated with a lack of respect and did not have the procedure explained to them nor the reason for being stopped
  • The policy and legislative framework for the police force does not pay enough attention to the needs of children nor does it address specific considerations including:
    • The requirement to stop and search only where absolutely necessary
    • Ensuring 17 year olds have the same rights as younger children regarding police process
    • Separate custody facilities for children
    • Children who are refused bail should be found local authority accommodation, as the law requires it
    • Guidance and protocols need to be put in place to stop the criminalisation of children in care

An interesting report, well worth a read.

 

 

Question It!

Welcome to a sunny start to the week, and a news item which is decidedly less sunny.

The BBC Reports that not enough is being done to protect children who witness domestic violence.

The Early Intervention Foundation has expressed concerns over this revelation, despite the government’s investment of £54 million in child psychology therapies.

The article, which reproduces real-life 999 calls by children asking for help in their homes whilst they witness or hear extreme domestic violence, makes for harrowing reading. Concerning also is that it seems as if most support groups only cater to a specific age group, resulting in little or no help for very young children.

Our question to you then, is this: what could we do to make support for children who experience domestic violence in the home better, in terms of prevention, protection and support?

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Child Abuse Rampant, Says Archbishop of Canterbury

Archbishop Justin Welby it seems, is not only open, but frank about the terrible truths that blight our institutions and the Church, here in the UK when it comes to child abuse. The Sunday Times reports today that the Archbishop of Canterbury has criticised the Church for failing to address child abuse and says the Church’s inability in this area to “face the misdeeds of those in its service” has been “inexcusable”.

In a letter to Marilyn Hawes, whose sons were groomed and sexually abused by their headmaster, the Archbishop says:

‘I read your story with the same deep sense of sadness and dismay that I have felt on far too many other, similar accounts… The betrayal of Christ in such behaviour is complete; the church’s failure to face the misdeeds of those in its service is inexcusable…I can only apologise for what happened then, and for what has happened now, most sincerely and with deep sorrow…It is now clear that in a huge number of institutions and localities, the abuse of children and vulnerable adults has been rampant….’That is not in any way mitigation or excuse for the church, but is why I have been, with [Durham bishop] Paul Butler, pushing for the public inquiry that the government has promised….It is also clear that there is a very significant legacy of unacknowledged cases in the Church of England. We are taking all necessary steps to face these.’

With that in mind, Researching Reform is co-hosting an event in the House of Commons on 18th November to address these very issues. Our debate, “Religious Power: Risk & Regulation” is going to be looking at the many forms of child abuse prevalent in the UK today within a faith context and more broadly, and we are going to be asking the question: what is our government, and the Church, actually doing to bring this cruelty to an end?

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Children in The Vine Audio Series: Episode Eight

Children In The Vine

Based on actual events, this is a serial about the love, hate, anger, panic, occasional joy, dark humour, professional dedication and professional controversy at the heart of the family justice system. The stories feature an organisation of McKenzie Friends – lay advocates who help clients who are representing themselves in legal cases.

The dramas feature cases about public family law (where a public body like a local authority is involved in arranging the care of children), and private family law (disputes between parents, especially over children) .

The cases are controversial and life changing for the families.

McKenzie Friends are a relatively new phenomenon inside the legal system but over the last few years their presence has increased significantly. Today they sit uncomfortably in the court system with fee charging lawyers who sometimes view them as potential competition. But as the legal aid cuts impact on the family justice system and the economy worsens, the small office becomes inundated with requests for assistance. The team of four have to learn to cope with the increase in work and an unforgiving system which makes it almost impossible to resolve issues conventionally.

The team begin to resort to unconventional methods to get to the bottom of the cases they’re given.

Each McKenzie Friend has their own style of working through cases and their own personal motivations for getting involved, stemming from personal experience with the system. They work with limited resources which they share with each other. They learn on the job.

But the team find help and support in the most unusual places. Rogue journalists, renegade MPs and family lawyers come in and out of the agency’s life to help them solve their cases and help the families and children they work with.

This is a story about the next generation of lawyers, who work with the spirit of law as it was intended. Often discriminated against in the court system for not having legal qualifications they slowly infiltrate the system and expose corruption and malpractice as they try to help the families who come to them because they have nowhere left to go.

We hope you enjoy this series.

You can catch the eighth episode, here.

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Woolf Inquiry – Panel Members

The Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse led by Fiona Woolf now has its panel members.

In a press release yesterday, Theresa May announced that the following individuals would head up the panel. They are:

Sharon Evans, (Ex journo, and Chief Exec of Dot.Com a children’s charity which provides safeguarding mechanisms for vulnerable children. She is also a survivor of sexual abuse)

Ivor Frank, (Barrister who experienced the care system as a child)

Dame Moira Gibb, (social work expert)

Professor Jenny Pearce OBE, (lecturer and researcher who specialises in research relating to sexual exploitation)

Dru Sharpling CBE (trained as a barrister, now working for HMIC to help improve the criminal justice system response to vulnerable  people)

Professor Terence Stephenson, (specialist in paediatrics and Chair of the GMC)

Graham Wilmer MBE, (founder of the Lantern Project and survivor of child sexual abuse)

Barbara Hearn OBE, (Past Deputy CEO of National Children’s Bureau)

Ben Emmerson QC as counsel to the inquiry and

Professor Alexis Jay OBE as their expert adviser.

Lord Mayor Fiona Woolf

Female Genital Mutilation: Proposal to Introduce a Civil Protection Order

As we mentioned yesterday, the government is hoping to introduce new laws to protect victims of FGM, after issuing a consultation on the matter in July of this year.

They have now published the consultation outcome which responds to that proposal.

The response to the consultation was carried out by the Ministry of Justice, and runs to 17 pages. It highlights the background to the report, a summary of the responses, responses to questions raised in the report and the next steps post the consultation.

It’s an interesting document which explains the different viewpoints on the proposal for a civil protection order. Some respondents felt that the current criminal sanctions were not enough, others felt that the Children Act’s prohibited steps order was already effective at preventing parents from removing children from the jurisdiction to undergo FGM and others felt that a specific civil law measure would offer child welfare professionals a clear pathway to safeguarding children and supporting them within the family unit.

It’s a complex area, combining cultural norms and standards which are not always beneficial to empowering children or allowing them to speak out without fear of devastating repercussions. A must read report, which highlights many of the nuances in this field and offers a good overview.

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Westminster Debate: Religion, Human Rights and Child Abuse

With ever-growing concerns surrounding child sexual abuse within a faith context and the current investigation into nationwide child abuse by the Lord Mayor Fiona Woolf, our debate, “Religious Power; Risk & Regulation” has been created with a view to support and inform this inquiry and to open up discussion with faith groups and members of the public in the UK.

The debate will take place in the House of Commons on Tuesday 18th November, at 6pm.

Co-hosted by several respected religious organisations, who promote peace and understanding between faiths and a non practicing public, this debate hopes to create an ongoing dialogue between the most senior members of our clergy and government.

Our dedicated website offers you all the latest news on the debate, the issues it raises and a look at our panel members and partners:

This is an open event, so if you would like to attend, please email Natasha at Sobk13 at gmail dot com. Thank you.

Please note that places are going fast, so do book now to avoid disappointment.

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Judge of the Week: Hayden J

Being a judge in the family courts today requires a solid grasp of the law, but being a consummate diplomat helps too. And when that is combined with fairness and careful thought, you have a gem of a judge.

At the end of last month, Hayden J gave a judgment on a troubling case. A mother, who was considered to be vulnerable, was expecting her ninth child (the previous eight had been taken into care), and both she and her partner, also a vulnerable adult, desperately wanted to have a child of their own to love and take care of.

The Local Authority, panicked by the intention and the fact that during the previous birth the mother had hidden herself away and gone into labour at home where she delivered her twins, sought something called ‘anticipatory declaratory relief’. This type of application allows the local authority to make provisions for a child before they are born.

The argument by the local authority, despite reports by medical and psychiatric professionals assigned to the case which all emphatically showed to the contrary, was that mum did not have capacity to understand crucial elements in relation to her circumstances. Specifically:

(1) Does she have the capacity to make decisions as to the contact she has with professionals?

(2) Does she have the capacity to make decisions in relation to the safe management of the birth of her baby and particularly in deciding whether and when to undergo an induction?

(3) Does she have the capacity to make decisions as to the treatment that she should receive following the birth of the baby?

It is not clear from the judgment why the local authority then changed its position, but the application to seek ‘anticipatory declaratory relief’, was then withdrawn by the local authority and it was at this point that Hayden J was asked to review that decision. Hayden J then subsequently allowed the application for relief to be withdrawn, satisfied that it was not necessary and that mum had capacity to understand the questions above.

Even more wonderful was Hayden’s consideration of the issue post birth. Despite the likelihood that this latest child would also eventually be taken into care, he called for a humane approach to the afterbirth, with support from professionals, to allow the child and mother to be together during what he calls “the mutual need each, for the other.”

Despite the local authority’s over-zealous actions, and on this Hayden J says, “Those instincts are laudable, but there is a paternalistic complexion to them,” the view was that the initial application was sincere. Hayden J’s sentiment below perhaps sums this up best:

“I’ve no doubt that the professional instincts here were sincere. However, equally, I’ve no doubt that they were, ultimately, misconceived.”

It’s a sensitive judgment, both to the family involved and the professionals assisting, and it reiterates the need to respect personal autonomy, which we think is crucial in a democratic society. So, for delivering a fair and sensitive judgment with deft application of the law and for employing a level of diplomacy to help keep the temperature down in an already heated arena, our judge of the week is Hayden, J.

Good on you, sir.

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