Merry Christmas!!!

Another year, another whirlwind of reforms, resolutions and revamps and despite all of that the only thing we have to show for it is the continued hope of those of us who want to see a better child welfare system come to life.

So in the spirit of Christmas we would like to say thank you, for your support, your loyal readership and your invaluable contributions to our site, which comes to life because of you.

We are deeply grateful to our regular posters, who offer their thoughts and wisdom often daily and share with us, and the rest of the world, the materials and news items which interest them and which in turn they feel will interest us. It is such a privilege to be able to chat and think about what is put on our blog.

From these discussions stem some of our posts. Inspired by you and your findings, we have featured many items given to us by readers throughout the year who thought we might find the material news worthy, and we thank you for sharing these things with us and for alerting us to things we don’t always see or find ourselves. The kindness and consideration present in those gestures always touches us.

Of course our posts mean nothing and would not be able to sail out into the world without the support of our readers and friends on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook and so we thank you deeply for re-tweeting our posts and sharing your thoughts on them. We were also blown away this year by your responses to appeals we made on behalf of others who desperately needed help or advice. In some cases hundreds of you came to our rescue and provided us with the resources we needed to assist vulnerable men, women and children and this for us was the highlight of 2014 – the sheer kindness and compassion we witnessed on social media has made our year. It’s something we will never forget.

We have also had the honour of being interviewed by the national media, advising television channels on child welfare programmes and working with clients on government proposals, charitable projects and policy reforms, all of which we have enjoyed immensely and feel very lucky to be a part of.

All of this comes at a price of course (sleep deprivation being part of the toll :) ) but it is very much worth it and as a token of our appreciation for your interest, support and engagement, Researching Reform would like to thank you, from the bottom of our woolly socks, and we wish you a very merry Christmas, wherever you may be and whomever you may be with, and we would like to offer you some Christmas songs to get you in the festive mood…. only three more sleeps to go!

A special message for those parents and children who will be spending Christmas apart from one another: our heart goes out to you and we are thinking of you at this time. We hope your holiday is filled with warmth, support and hope, and we look forward to seeing you in 2015. 

With all our love,

Researching Reform xxxxxxxxxxxx

 

Question It!

Welcome to Christmas week, and in the spirit of goodwill to all men, and munchkins everywhere, our question this week is in fact not a question, but a petition….

It has come to our attention that the production of Warner Bros Harry Potter chocolates was recently given an ‘F’ in human rights.  Consumers grew concerned about this and asked the company to assure them that the production of these chocolates did not involve child labour. Warner Bros have systematically refused to respond, stating only that they are satisfied their chocolates are being produced through fair labour practices. And yet, WB still refuse to divulge the source of their cocoa.

Child labour and slavery in the chocolate trade is an enormous problem, and since the exposure of the practice, companies have become more secretive than ever, making it extremely difficult for reporters to access farms where these violations take place, and report them.

If child slavery bothers you as much as it does us, then please consider signing this petition, or if you’re feeling really active and spritely, go on over to the Warner Bros Facebook page and post the following message on their wall:

The gift I’m waiting for from Warner Bros. this Christmas? Real action to ensure their chocolates are free of child slavery.

Another year has passed and Warner Bros. still hasn’t committed to a public and independent audit of its cocoa supply chain.

As a family-oriented company, Warner Bros. needs to demonstrate concern for children everywhere and protect them from modern slavery.

Or this message, which is equally powerful:

I am shocked to learn that Warner Bros. has still not committed to a public and independent audit of its cocoa supply chain.

Abdul was trafficked to the Ivory Coast to harvest cocoa when he was just seven years old. Will Warner Bros. take meaningful action to help children like him and ensure their supply chain is free of child labour?

Around 200,000 children harvest cocoa in the Ivory Coast. Warner Bros. urgently needs to ensure its cocoa supply chain is free from child slavery, by committing to a public and independent audit.

If we don’t question the practices of big business, who will? Merry Christmas, to one and all….

A big thank you to Dana for alerting us to this campaign.

Home Secretary Takes Researching Reform’s Advice And Scraps Child Abuse Inquiry Panel

In a move which has left several if not all of the current Child Abuse Inquiry Panel members livid, it’s been reported that Home Secretary Theresa May has written to the panel to let them know she will be scrapping the panel and starting again. 

This move comes days after we published our piece on the Inquiry advising the very same course of action, over at our Column for Jordans Family Law. Of course we don’t know whether Theresa May read our article, but her plan of action reads very similarly to what we felt the government should do in order to mount the kind of inquiry survivors could place their trust in, and be a part of.

If the news items today are anything to go by, May is hoping to give the Inquiry some teeth by giving it statutory status, which would enable the panel chair to compel people to give evidence and would also allow the Inquiry to enforce criminal sanctions against those who deliberately conceal evidence or refuse to come forward. May is also considering turning the Inquiry into a Royal Commission.

As a result, current panel members would have to be scrapped, but could be re-appointed if considered appropriate. Amongst the arguments put forward by current panel members for not scrapping, well, them, is the view that to do so would be to pander to a small vocal minority that does not represent the majority of abuse survivors. This is utter bollocks of course. The panel members do not themselves know how the majority of survivors feel, and the minority who are speaking out represent a much larger group who do feel that a new panel would be best. And regardless of the size of the group raising concerns, those concerns should still be addressed and resolved, because without that resolution the Inquiry has no credibility whatsoever. (The other excuses given are even less convincing and completely irrelevant to the Inquiry’s future, but can be accessed in the news items linked to above should you feel like casting your eyes over wanton drivel).

Pouting panel members aside, it’s not clear yet when and if May will scrap the panel, despite reports to the contrary over at Exaro news. She has hinted at three possibilities, all of which she is still currently considering. The third option has not been openly reported upon but may simply involve keeping the current panel and raising the Inquiry to that of statutory status. But with some of the panel members facing criticism over their conduct towards survivors and two failed chairs with a third replacement nowhere in sight, now is the time to put this panel to bed and let a newer, fresher, professional panel rise from the ashes.

As we wrote in our article for Jordans, we would like to see a panel that represents the best of British Child Welfare – diverse professionals, from all walks of life, with a passion for children and a deep insight into the world of child abuse. That panel should include survivors, as well as members of religious communities and professionals from diverse ethnic backgrounds with cutting edge knowledge of child sexual abuse and its many different guises. We expect nothing less from the new panel.

And we want to see the list of candidates (all 100 plus of them) for the chair position, out in the public domain and be able to cast our own vote as to who should lead this most important Inquiry.

Good luck, Theresa.

Theresa May

 

 

Are You Supporting Victims Of Child Sexual Abuse?

If you are an organisation helping victims of child sexual abuse and finding that demand for your support has increased since the start of the government’s inquiry into child abuse, then you are entitled to get financial help from the government.

That’s what the Home Office’s and the Ministry of Justice’s latest news item tells us, as they launch a £2 million fund to help those organisations whose workload have been directly affected by the Inquiry.

A further £1.5 million will be made available to those organisations who may not have been directly affected by the Inquiry, but who provide support to victims of child sexual abuse all the same.

And another £1.5 million has been set aside for organisations supporting victims of sexual abuse.

As well as the above sums, £2.15m will be given to 84 existing Female Rape Support Centres on top of current Ministry of Justice funding. This has been done with a view to offering specialised support.

MOJ

Consultation On Marriages By Non-Religious Belief Organisations Finally Unravels The Knot

Or at least it’s trying to.

The consultation, which sought views on whether non religious belief organisations like humanists should be allowed to conduct marriage ceremonies, has now closed, and the report has been published today.

Not surprisingly, the majority of people who contributed to the consultation saw no reason why such organisations shouldn’t be able to conduct such ceremonies (and to do so in unrestricted locations, including outdoors), but the consultation also reveals a well known truth: that our marriage laws are messy and piecemeal changes create even more, unnecessary, complexity.

This may be good news for the legal eagles who will be tasked with picking through the many legislative threads now tangled together, from outdated laws still knotting things up, to newer, progressive laws allowing more people to marry in different ways and adding layers of law which do not tie up with the layers underneath it. The trouble is, all these options have been developed over time and so they create a patchwork quilt of confusing principles and policy which make for potentially awkward equality issues. We have always thought that marriage law should be scrapped and re-drafted. And we still think so.

One law for all.

MOJ

 

 

A Personal Appeal From Researching Reform This Christmas

Those of you who know our blog will know that we are mad about children here at Researching Reform, and nothing speaks to us like the plight of vulnerable children, wherever they might be.

So, when we received an email from our favourite children’s charity Kids Company asking for any help we could offer to support their Christmas initiative, we hoped we could enlist our army of superheroes, that’s you, to get involved. Their project this Christmas runs something like this:

Kids Company are having a Christmas party for 4,000 destitute children. These children often dread Christmas, and some attempt suicide at this time of year. They feel alone and unseen, and are in desperate need of a hot meal, and hugs. Lots and lots of them. (That’s hugs and kids)!

Many of these children have been sexually, physically or emotionally abused, and many do not have loving families to share Christmas with, or presents to open. Kids Company want to give these children a wonderful Christmas, filled with good food, gifts and we hope lots of love and affection.

Kids Company is also a sanctuary for neglected children at this time of the year and need help to raise funds not just for their Christmas party but for emergency child protection, mental health and food cover. As well as the 4,000 children they will be welcoming to their office, they will need to send food out to another 12,000. Yes, that’s an extra 12,000 little bodies that need to be fed and nourished.

Of course this is a tough time of year to give to every plea for help, but if you’ve found our site useful to you in some way throughout the year, or we’ve assisted you in some way, or perhaps you’ve just found our posts thought-provoking and feel they’re for the greater good, all we ask is that you might consider giving a little something to Kids Company, just as a nod to making the world a better place and to giving our poorest children something to look forward to this Christmas.

If you feel you can, just click on this link to make your way over to their Crowdfunder Page – just a fiver can make all the difference, and there are even nifty prizes to be won if you donate!

The money you raise will not only help children and young people but it will also go to supporting vulnerable adults too, making this endeavour a truly wonderful one.

Please give if you can. It would mean the world to us, and to the children your donation will support.

Thank You xxxxxxxxxxxxx

The Voice Of The Child Must Be Heard in Care, Not Just In Our Courts

Whatever The Timpsons and Loughtons of this world have to say about progress for children in care, the reality is that not much has changed since light was first shed onto the dire conditions most children experiencing social care face, almost a decade ago now.

Jackie Long is social affairs editor over at Channel 4, and her recent blog on outcomes for children in care is a stark reminder that whilst adults seem to be talking about change, virtually nothing is happening on the ground.  And no one is actually listening to our children.

Her post highlights several things ministers tend to forget whilst they’re busy patting themselves on the back for jobs seemingly well done. It costs more to see a child through the care system, than it does to send a child to Eton. Despite this, whilst children at Eton get the Rolls Royce of education and pastoral care, children in care most often face the prospect of illiteracy and physical, and emotional abuse. Here are some stats from Jackie’s piece:

  • Almost one third of children in care leave school with no GCSEs at all.
  • Only 6 per cent of care leavers go onto university – as opposed to 38 per cent of all young people.
  • Almost 40 per cent of prisoners under 21 had been in care while they were growing up.
  • children in care have a higher chance of developing mental health problems or ending up homeless.

All this we know, but we tend to forget amidst the clarion calls for reform and the loud trumpeting of more children taken into care, taken from ‘abhorrent monster parents’ to be placed in the arms of loving foster carers and residential staff.

But that’s bollocks, and we know it.

We can have as many voice of the child conferences and seminars as we like, but until we get staff on the ground to understand what it means to listen to children and to show them love and affection at the same time, these children will continue to go unseen and unheard.

Time and again we hear social workers saying they can’t show love and affection to children because it might cause emotional trauma once they’re moved on, but that is to suggest that children’s emotional development can be frozen in time once they land in care and reignited at a later date once they are ‘safely housed’ with foster carers or adoptive parents. The merits of that sentiment about safety too are questionable as children continue to be bounced around from carer to carer, let down by people who are either unable to cope with vulnerable children or are simply looking for a quick way to make cash (the debate raging around ‘salaries’ for foster carers is a big issue as well).

And all these things, over a period of time, contribute to a feeling of powerlessness and a fading voice, which with time, becomes so quiet, no one even notices it anymore.

You can catch Jackie on Twitter, for more on social affairs.

Many thanks to Maggie Tuttle for alerting us to Jackie’s blog post.

 

jackie-long-l_MED

Jackie Long, Channel 4

 

 

Rise – A Magazine By and For Parents Affected By The Child Welfare System

We came across Rise this evening, and we think it’s nothing short of brilliant, and so had to share it. In fact, we think the UK needs its own version of Rise, right now.

So, what is it? As the post title suggests, it’s a magazine written by parents who have experienced the family justice system in the US, and most often that means parents who have at some point, lost their children to the care system.

Why is it so brilliant? The magazine aims to tackle negative stereotypes of parents who lose their children to the care system, effectively giving them a voice and highlighting the fact that these parents are more often than not loving mothers and fathers who have struggled with their own personal demons, and lost the fight to free themselves from them.

It is also designed to help family practitioners better understand the issues involved in child welfare through advocacy and training as well as support groups. The initiative also trains parents to write about their own experiences in order to help other parents going through the welfare system.

What’s in the magazine? Mostly personal stories of parents who have been inside the child welfare system. The magazine also offers workbooks and support links. The workbooks are particularly good – from information for parents visiting their children in foster care, building relationships between parents and foster carers, to stories about reunification with children and beating substance addictions to enable reconnection with your children, this site is ground-breaking.

There is something else unusual about Rise. None of the parents mentioned appear to be using alter egos or made up names, and children also do not appear to be shielded by anonymity. This may be due to the fact that the cases discussed are now over, or it may be another factor at play entirely (this is a US site and their rules on reporting may differ from ours), but the stories we have read are thought-provoking and inspiring.

We absolutely need something like this in the UK – we hope someone out there is listening….

 

Question It!

Welcome to another week, and another question.

The Deputy Children’s Commissioner Sue Berelowitz caused outrage amongst lawyers, judges and social workers last week by claiming that opening up the family courts would lead to child suicides.

Sue’s assertion stems from the point of view that allowing media reporting of family cases where children are involved would inevitably lead to the identification of those children and that children themselves would feel terribly vulnerable knowing their cases had been made public, even if attempts had been made to conceal their identities. There is some support for this view. A recent report which asked a sample of children how they felt about media reporting of their cases indicated a strong desire to oppose such reporting amidst fears of sensationalism and breaches of privacy. 

But the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, is a strong advocate of more reporting on family cases, and his drive to open up the courts is well documented. Munby’s point of view stems from the belief that in a democratic society, family courts should be open to scrutiny and that there is therefore a public interest principle at play.

Our question this week, then, is this. Can we reconcile the imperative to protect our children in family cases with greater transparency inside our family courts?

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Deputy Children’s Commissioner Opposes Making Child Cases Fully Transparent – And We Agree

In a statement which has thrown the transparency debate off-kilter and caused more than a small uprising amongst those who are pushing for complete openness inside the family courts, Sue Berelowitz, the Deputy Children’s Commissioner, has warned that making the family courts open in the fullest sense could lead to child deaths.

And we agree.

Speaking at the The Family Justice Council’s annual debate, Miss Berelowitz explained that children may kill themselves if they fear that their names will become public knowledge in relation to their cases. Her remark stunned the audience and caused fury amongst judges, lawyers and social workers pushing for more open reporting within the family courts.

And although the Daily Mail article is filled with disparaging remarks about Sue’s track record in the child welfare sector, we think Sue has a point.

And she’s not alone. Recent research which sought the opinions of children about opening up the family courts confirms her view. Many children are mistrustful of the media and view their role as a sensationalist one, which doesn’t include seeking out fact and highlighting injustice. (You can access the NYAS report here). And many of these children are already in a state of deep anxiety as a result of very difficult personal circumstances, circumstances which many find painful and hugely embarrassing to revisit within the confines of the court room, let alone in the glare of the media spotlight.

Sue’s comment has also been taken out of context. In the past, she has been a strong advocate for openness within the family courts – as long as that openness doesn’t come at the expense of the welfare of those children involved. Speaking about the Ministry of Justice’s promise to look at media reporting in the courts previously, Sue has said:

“We [The Office of The Children’s Commissioner] have long advocated for assurances that a child’s privacy is upheld and the utmost sensitivity is demonstrated before any information from the family courts is made public. Any change to the current rules on reporting must put the best interests of the child first. We will continue to work with the Ministry of Justice to ensure these children’s lives are adequately protected.”

Of course, transparency also offers protections to those who have experienced injustice and poor quality service inside the system. Those worst hit by these difficulties are usually children, and many have been vocal about having their say in court and being put on the record. That desire to be seen and heard in court though, is not the same as having the details of their cases made public and the potential to be identified within those cases.

The key lies in getting the balance right. If we can put into place measures which both assure the anonymity of those children who wish to remain ‘unseen’ by the public at large and offer a process by which children can waive that anonymity if they want to, we will start to be able to offer something meaningful. Some may argue that this is a tall order, and that you can never have transparency without the risk of identification, but we must try.  The current guidelines on media reporting too, are measured and cautious, and a good stepping stone upon which to move forward.

As for Sue, we think she’s spot on. Let’s not open up the family courts because we want to make a point, or make public interest our priority, but because, first and foremost, we want to protect our children, both from media scrutiny and life-changing injustice.

If you’d like to read the transcript or listen to the podcast for the debate Sue spoke at, you can do so here.

Many thanks to the fabulous Tracey McMahon for alerting us to this news item, and to the gorgeous Paula Doherty for the link to the debate’s podast and transcript.

 

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