Petition: Reunite Ashya With His Parents

A petition started by Ethan Dallas, a friend of the Kings to reunite Ashya with his mother and father has so far garnered over 69,000 signatures (including our own), such is the palpable feeling of an entire nation (and beyond) on the issue.

It is an elegant and eloquent petition. Ethan does not blame the police or the hospital for their actions. He does not address the technicalities behind the arrest warrant (these things after all, cannot just be waved aside – there is a complex and fiddly procedure to them). He is simply petitioning to ensure that Ashya is reunited with his parents during what must be a frightening and lonely experience for a five-year old boy – being in a foreign land, in hospital, without his mummy and daddy.

That has of course been our central concern here at Researching Reform, but unlike the poised and graceful wording of the petition which asks our Prime Minister to help this family, we have our own, much more pointed message for Mr Cameron:

What if this was one of your children?

We very much hope the PM will do the right thing.

Please do sign this petition if you can. They only need a little over 5,000 signatures. Come on guys, let’s help this little boy.

Ashya with his brother.

Children In The Vine Audio Series: Episode One

Children In The Vine

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 first episode, here.


Question It!

Welcome to a more Autumnal week, as the slow grind of the vast machine that is the work mill winds back into action.

Following the wake of the Rotherham scandal, where thousands of children were abused and ignored by police and social work professionals for decades despite clear signs of child abuse, Hilary Willmer, a campaigner and chair of trustees at the charity Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation (Pace) says that this kind of abuse is far more widespread than is being acknowledged by government. 

Having worked in Rotherham in the 90’s, Willmer explains that referrals were coming in from all over the country, but that the girls were laughed at, reports of the extent of the problem suppressed, with authorities even going so far as to say that these girls had “chosen this lifestyle to feed their drug habit”.

Our question this week then, is this: do you think Willmer is right and do we need to change the culture in the UK when it comes to understanding children?


Of Savages and Kings

Britain used to pride itself on many things: education, law enforcement and a sense of calm in a crisis. Over the years, those values have eroded, eaten away by profit margins, lethargy and an unreasonable belief that technology will evolve entire nations with the click of a mouse.

What we are left with are the ruins of dreams. What we are left with, is Ashya King.

Ashya is the five-year old boy who has a brain tumour and whose parents removed him from hospital to flee to Malaga. The hospital in question refused to treat Ashya with a procedure the parents felt was less invasive – a procedure which targets the tumour specifically, avoiding, as the parents explained, Ashya’s entire body being bombarded with radiation. The hospital refused to entertain this therapy, and so the family fled to Malaga to find alternative treatment.

The police then issued an arrest warrant. In the days that followed, the family were located and the parents arrested.

The hospital and the police involved are unrepentant – Ashya, they say, needed immediate medical attention and should never have left the care of medical professionals. The parents, aware that their decision might cause concern, posted a video on Facebook to explain their actions.

So how did we get to a point where this evening, a little boy suffering with a brain tumour is no longer in the care of his loving parents because they have been arrested? Arrested for trying to find him the safest treatment possible for his condition.

The truth is, this story started long ago, when the justice system began to deteriorate, slowly at first, and then faster as resources become scarcer and people cared less and less about the art of their work and more about surviving environments where human beings have become nothing more than numbers, tools and scapegoats. But the end result is Ashya King.

Overbearing, heavy-handed and without common sense to steer its wielding power, government agencies are failing to carry out the most basic tasks. The hospital in question should have done more to help the family find a treatment for their son they felt comfortable with. They should have understood their concerns and tried to support them. They should have communicated better – whether to explain that the treatment was not effective or just to try to find a better way. But nobody bothered. And so the family fled. To a place, as it turns out, where they were happy with the treatment on offer.

The police should never have issued an arrest warrant. The EAW is already under extreme scrutiny for its blatant misuse over the last few years. It’s deeply embarrassing to think that our police force believe such an action in this context was even warranted. It’s hard to imagine that they ever tried to engage with the parents first, or to understand what was going on. And knowing that they had sought out treatment elsewhere and were clearly not neglecting their son, the police should have dealt with the warrant and had it set aside. But they didn’t.

And tonight, a little boy with a brain tumour lies in a hospital bed on his own, without the parents he so loves, and who love him.



Rotherham – It’s Time To Clarify Cinderella Law

In the wake of what is almost daily news surrounding the abhorrent malpractice of senior managers, social workers and police forces in the Rotherham scandal, we feel it’s time to take a closer look at Action for Children’s proposed Cinderella Law, and ask once more: will any new criminal sanctions for child neglect include State neglect of children in its care?

John Cameron, head of the NSPCC’s helpline has this week called for those who are found to be responsible for poor practice to be removed from their posts and prevented from working in child protection. This, just as The Telegraph reports that council senior managers responsible for failing to act in the Rotherham scandal have not only avoided punishment, but have gone on to man new senior posts elsewhere. Cameron goes on to suggest that professionals with authority to act, who fail to do so, should also face serious criminal sanctions.

This takes us back to the now infamous Cinderella Law. Less of a law, and more of a proposed addendum to current legislation, Cinderella sought to evolve child abuse legislation to include emotional abuse, all punishable by fines or prison sentences.  At the time, considered voices inside the justice system were concerned about the effectiveness of the proposal and the impact it would have on children and families, but little was offered by Action for Children, the creators of Cinderella, in terms of clarification on just how this new clause would work.

One thing is certain, though – the proposed measure was designed with parents and carers in mind. But not a word on how this would work should professionals neglect children in their care. And yet, the draft clause and the relevant sections of the Children and Young Persons Act (the relevant law which would house this new clause) make it very clear:

Cinderella proposes that -

(1)    It is an offence for a person with responsibility for a child intentionally or recklessly to subject that child or allow that child to be subjected to maltreatment, whether by act or omission, such that the child suffers, or is likely to suffer, significant harm.

and then:

For the purposes of this section:
(a)    ‘recklessly’ shall mean that a person with responsibility for a child foresaw a risk that an act or omission regarding that child would be  likely to result in significant harm, but nonetheless unreasonably decided to run that risk;
(b)    ‘responsibility’ shall be as defined in section 17;

S.17 reads:

For the purposes of this Part of this Act, the following shall be presumed to have responsibility for a child or young person—

(a)any person who—

(i)has parental responsibility for him (within the meaning of the Children Act 1989); or

(ii)is otherwise legally liable to maintain him; and

(b)any person who has care of him.

This already places the likes of council managers well within the confines of ‘carer’ and thus, the definition of responsibility.

The NSPCC clearly want criminal sanctions for professionals who fail to protect children at risk. We wonder how Action for Children feel about this latest development, and whether they might be prepared to comment. They have so far remained rather quiet on Rotherham, which is surprising given the remit of the charity, and the fact that their latest news item on their site focuses on the terrible discovery that most councils have no idea of the extent of child neglect in their area.

If ever there was a time for Action for Children to clarify where they stand on criminalizing child neglect, it is now. Cinderella must answer the siren call.

The Buzz

Here are some news stories flying just under the radar, but which we think are noteworthy:

Health Issues After Domestic Violence; Sexual Violence; Harassment/Stalking; and Human Trafficking

This survey may be under the radar, but it’s making waves. Having garnered an unprecedented response when it was first published, “Health Issues After Domestic Violence” is being accessed internationally and completed by people all over the world.

Designed to assess the full extent of the effects of domestic violence, for both men and women and to understand better what could be done to support these victims, this survey is a hugely important component in tackling this issue.

If you have a moment, and it’s relevant to you, please think about doing the survey – it’s very short. For those of us lucky enough not to have to have experienced such things, please do share this survey with your networks if you can.

Many thanks to the super clever and courageous @ABeautifulMind1 for sharing this survey with us.

Question It!

Welcome to another Monday morning, as the Summer starts to fade and the changeable weather ushers in the first flurry of Autumn.

In an article published last week by the excellent Community Care, Adrian Zakrzewski, a social worker and trainer argues that residential care is kinder to vulnerable children than foster care. 

Our question this week then, is just this: do you agree?


Question It!

With a windswept few days ahead of us, there’s no better time to confront a rather blustery issue for our question of the week…..

As the winds of change seem to be making their way through the system, from a new Single Family Court, to a greater emphasis on settling matters outside of court, our question this week, is a simple one:

How have the changes affected you, as practitioner, McKenzie Friend, or parent?



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