- Transgender father loses court battle over children’s birth certificates – rights of the child versus rights of the parent, but the law must be updated to be able to offer a better solution
- Sex offending may be in the genes but knowing that won’t prevent it – nature versus nurture, but still, bias must be left at the door for best practice in the relevant sectors
- Fostering before the age of two helps children in institutional care deal better with stress – part controversial, part common sense, except when you factor in the number of foster placements that break down in the UK….
Welcome to another week.
In an unusual decision by social services, a husband and child abuser who has been convicted of attacking a 13-year-old girl has been allowed to reside in the home of his partner and two daughters, both under the age of 13.
The local authority has allowed this measure on the condition that the children are locked in their bedroom at night, have a baby monitor on in their room so they can call their mother should they need to use the bathroom, and the partner himself must sleep on the far side of the mother’s bed so she can sense if he tries to get up in the middle of the night to go into the girls’ bedroom. The man in question is not the girls’ biological father. He is considered to be an ongoing risk to the children.
Our question to you then, is this: do you think this plan is in the best interests of the children, and do you think it would make a difference if the man in this case was their biological father?
Campaigners for a fair and just child abuse inquiry gathered in Parliament Square last weekend (11th April), to highlight those issues which remain at the core of past and present abuse.
Speaking on behalf of those who had suffered abuse, politicians, victims, survivors and whistleblowers all shared their thoughts on the current investigation into child sexual abuse. Those who could not attend the meeting, added their thoughts so that they could be shared on the day.
One campaigner has very kindly provided us with statements that were prepared for the demonstration, and so we add them below:
‘I have no doubt that grotesque things have happened at Elm Guesthouse and other places around the country at the hands of depraved and powerful people, and that those things were systematically covered up. The evidence is overwhelming, and it is a national disgrace that it has taken so long for Governments to act.
But I am pleased that thanks to extraordinary campaigning by some journalists and many, many survivors, the Home Secretary has heard those arguments, and that she set in place an all encompassing inquiry. The very fact that the Inquiry is happening has already stimulated far great action by police. I hope the process is sufficiently advanced that whatever happens at the election, we will get to the bottom of these monstrous events. But it is for all of us to remain vigilant and ensure the inquiry is never blown off course. Victims need to be heard, and criminals need to face the law.
I want to congratulate and thank all those – both inside and outside of Parliament – who helped pressure the Government to take action. For many, the wait has been a lifetime, but it is drawing to a close.’
“Child abuse is one of this country’s most shameful secrets and I’m pleased to see it’s now being dragged out of the shadows and people are slowly waking up to the fact that we’ve turned a blind eye to a massive scandal for far too long.
“I’m sorry I can’t be with you today. I’m currently campaigning to stay in Parliament where I hope to carry on fighting to secure justice and better support for survivors of child sexual abuse.
“I know we’re now in a General Election period and I share your frustration that Parliament is making slow progress in its inquiry into decades of child abuse that’s been covered up by the establishment. But your voices will not be silenced, your determination to get to the truth will not be stopped and I’m confident that the powers that be will not be able to put this genie back in the bottle. The truth must and will be told.”
“I support any and all efforts to expose how grievously survivors of child abuse continue to be failed in this country.
Only with effective campaigning and the organisation of survivors’ groups has it become possible that perpetrators at all levels of society can be brought to justice, and for survivors to receive justice.
That is a crucial point. The cover-ups of so-called VIP abusers are very important, but we must always remember that children have been abused in every part of the country and at every level of society.
Some of the people who have come to me in Nottinghamshire have told me of their horrific experiences of abuse and how they have been failed by the very agencies that should have been there to support them. There are hundreds of cases in Nottinghamshire alone that need prosecuting, and resources need to be put in place to go much further than that. A national institute for survivors of abuse would bring those agencies that are currently failing survivors together and provide the support that they really deserve. Concerted pressure on all MPs after the election can make this happen.
The campaign must be non-partisan and we will find that we have unlikely allies. A few decent Liberal Democrat and Conservative MPs voted for my measure to lift the threat of prosecution under the Official Secrets Act in cases of child abuse. If I am re-elected I will re-submit my proposal to change the law and allow special branch officers, the police and others to come forward with evidence without fear of being prosecuted under the official secrets act.
The outstanding efforts of campaigners have forced the issue of child abuse up the political agenda. If that continues, alongside the national inquiry, we can achieve for survivors the justice that many of them should have received years ago, and build systems that will create a better world for the survivors of the future.”
Phil Frampton, Barnardo’s Survivor, Whiteflowers Group
“It is important that child abuse survivors stand up and show that they are not prepared to be marginalised by the government’s child abuse inquiry, which is descending into a YES MINISTER Farce.
Justice Goddard has declared that abuse survivors lack objectivity and therefore cannot be on the Inquiry Panel. Instead, she declares that some of them can sit on a consultation panel. But this consultative panel is by definition tarred with the same brush as lacking objectivity.
The Ban on survivors being on the Panel is a direct slur on those of us that have disclosed and the attack on our objectivity is the same as that which stops over 10 million people disclosing in this country for fear of stigmatisation. The Home Office actions will not encourage people to disclose and therefore leave paedophiles at large and children at serious risk.
The Home Office are squirming. They refused to confirm that all members of the Panel were checked as to whether they were survivors of child sex abuse or not. The ban is just an excuse to bar survivors.
Meanwhile on the Panel is Druscilla Sharpling who is employed by the Home Office and Alexis Jay who was a senior social work manager – so how independent will they be? They have a clear conflict of interest and such people will not shine a torch into the dark corners for fear they will see themselves and their friends.
Only major protest by the survivors plus public outrage has stopped this Inquiry from being a complete farce. So we continue our fight. Meanwhile we must not forget that this Inquiry was supposed to deal with the establishment.
You start sweeping the stairs from the top.
I believe that we now need a separate urgent inquiry, which should report in 12 to 18 months time on the child abuse and cover ups which involved members of the Houses of Parliament and senior government officials. Venceremos”
” I have little doubt that a relatively small but significant number of MP’s and Lords have sexually abused vulnerable children over at least the last 50 years.
Present information implies that the number could be between 20 and 30 but the allegations need to be thoroughly investigated and final figures could be higher
I have no doubt in my mind that politicians from all 3 main political parties are amongst the most powerful names that have been passed to various Police forces In the last couple of years
I have also no doubt in my mind that the hierarchies of all 3 main political parties would have known of any allegation against someone in their own party and that there has been a history of collusion and cover up right across the board amongst individuals and agencies that should have exposed such criminal behaviour and put child protection before any other consideration ”
Kaz Tiggr, Survivor
” The one thing survivors were promised in 2012 was support. That support has not been forthcoming.
There are tales of key witnesses being left to make their own way to Sentencing. A key factor in the journey toward acceptance of events and a certain level of Closure.
People, two years after being promised counselling, are still waiting for it to start or are being told to fund it themselves.
The police are very unapproachable, for the most part. Unwilling to push the boundaries of their remit or explore the truth of what they are supposed to investigate.
When asked if she had read the Waterhouse Report, one DC sent out to survivors homes under
Operation Pallial said; “Of course not, have you Seen the Size of it?”
The survivor replied “Yes, I’ve read it several times.”.
One thing that nobody seems to be taking into account the effect this has on survivor’s families. Loved ones are left to pick up the pieces each time a dark anniversary comes around, or a chance remark triggers a memory, or the Police phone to say the CPS are going to write to say, “Sorry, not enough evidence to prosecute.” or worse “Sorry, time limitation…”.
There is no help for those that see the daily self-destruction and can do nothing to stop it.”
A very big thank you to Terri Thatcher for sharing these statements and photos with us.
The recent case of the Meitiv children aged ten and six, whose parents allowed them to walk to a park near their home without adult supervision and who have since found themselves charged with neglect over the practice, has divided parents and the general public both in America and here in Britain.
The Meitivs, both scientists, practice free range parenting, a form of parenting which gives children total independence from infancy. As part of this practice, the Meitiv’s children have been walking regularly to and from their local park, which is an eighth of a mile from their home. The children were alerted to the local authorities after a man out walking became concerned for their welfare. It is not known from what age the children have been allowed to walk around their neighbourhood without adult supervision.
Parents around the globe are up in arms over the state’s interference with this family’s way of life. The Meitivs themselves have now hired an attorney and are looking to sue for the intrusion – they have had to sign a parenting plan saying they will not let their children walk alone – though who they are going to sue is not yet clear. It’s a messy state of affairs, which calls into question the extent to which the state should be allowed to interfere with family life and the boundaries of child neglect.
For us, though, it’s a no brainer.
Whilst parents should have the ability, and freedom, to take care of their children and bring them up in a way which they consider appropriate and in their best interests, there are always going to be instances where a parent’s judgement falls foul of basic common sense and puts their children’s wellbeing at risk. For us, free range parenting is one of those exceptions.
It is pseudo-intellectual clap trap, spouted by the same parents who’ll tell you that their two year old speaks fluent Chinese and learned to handle a Brazilian wandering spider blindfold, whilst listening to Baby Mozart. And we’ve heard it all before. These are the parents that will insist children need to be toughened up, that they need to be pushed out of the nest – that they mustn’t be wrapped up in cotton wool, and God forbid we should watch them like a hawk in the playground as they swing upside down like crazed monkeys on LSD.
But are these parents really doing their kids a favour, or is it just pure vanity?
There is no denying that introducing the element of risk is necessary and important for children. It teaches them boundaries, situational assessment, trial and error and develops their sense of awareness. Most of us would agree that the level and type or risk employed depends on the age of our children and what they can handle as growing individuals. And yet, one thing no one can argue is that a ten year old and a six year old walking around alone have no ability to defend themselves from child abusers or murderers.
It’s at this point that the free range parent will stand up and tell you with confidence, “Ah, yes, but the likelihood of that happening is so small, that it’s not even relevant.”
And that, for us, is the most bizarre argument for free range parenting there is. Even if there was only a microscopic chance of our children meeting that fate out and about on their own, we simply wouldn’t take it. Why? Because we don’t need to.
Children can develop and gain their independence without being thrust into the outside world before they’re physically and mentally able to take it on. They can be taught to think for themselves and be accountable for their actions in safe spaces, where they can grow and flourish, without being placed in situations which harbour the potential to harm them.
When children are good and ready to go out and walk the perhaps not so mean streets of a city or town on their own, they will have ample opportunity to hone their independence then, without being placed in environments which could get the better of them, before they acquire the necessary survival skills. Most ten year olds can’t fend off a fully grown adult, and there is no reason why they should have to. If free range parents must let their children walk the streets alone, they could at least walk behind them undetected, and make sure they’re safe.
When the Meitiv’s children didn’t return home that day at 6pm (they were being held by the police who were trying to locate the parents), we wonder what must have gone through their minds. Were their children lost or dead? Was the free range parenting really worth it? Given that they’re now fighting to uphold their parenting technique, we can only assume that they’ve let the horrifying possibilities fade away, and instead have chosen to ignore them. And that in itself, is utterly daft.
Welcome to another week. Today is a special day for the nation’s Statutory Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse, as Justice Lowell Goddard officially takes her position as Chair for the Inquiry.
Our question for you this week, then is just this: if there was one piece of advice you could offer Justice Goddard, what would it be?
This just in.
Whilst New Zealand is at the cutting edge of child welfare policy, the use of data to effectively predict the likelihood of future harm is something we should all be concerned about.
A uniform system which starts and ends with stats, raises several problems. The first is that we have no definitive data which confirms that factors like poverty, lack of education and family histories of violence are always predictors for child abuse. It also reinforces unhelpful and unkind stereotypes which will filter into the welfare system and become entrenched in its day-to-day ethos, bolstering stigmas and allowing the view that these families are somehow inferior, to endure.
Those families that do not ‘fit the profile’, also risk going unspotted by child welfare professionals. If poverty and a lack of education increase the risk of abuse in a home, then an abundance of resources and access to high quality education could also increase that risk by further enabling abusers through access to such resources. That is because highly manipulative behaviours, present in abusers, exist at every level of society, with stress perhaps rather than background, being the underpinning commonality which joins demographics together. Any future research would need to focus on stress and its impact on individuals, rather than the more obvious demarcations of class and opportunity.
Research tells us that social workers already have a natural bias towards families who are known to them as a result of parenting difficulties they’ve faced in the past. Bias is part of the human condition, persistent in all of us, and even affects those who we think are immune to it by virtue of their education or intellect, like judges for example, but high quality training is required, even for judges, in order to ensure that it does not taint reasoning and lead to miscarriages of justice.
That this new initiative seeks to target areas of support rather than apportion blame and remove children from parents in the first instance, is at least a positive step. The initiative – that of using the collected data to try to preempt abuse – hopes to offer families at risk support, such as parenting programmes. The reality though, is that if stress is in fact the underlying cause of abuse in many homes, parenting classes are not likely to have any meaningful impact on preventing abuse.
The article also offers some interesting further reading on the topic:
- Predictive Modeling – Potential Application in Prevention Services and;
- Vulnerable Children – CAN ADMINISTRATIVE DATA BE USED TO IDENTIFY CHILDREN AT RISK OF ADVERSE OUTCOMES?
Whilst it must be right to use data and analyse it in order to build the best child welfare system possible, caution must be a necessary ally in ensuring that any findings are not set in stone and left to operate on their own, but are combined with professional expertise and the discretion of highly experienced and properly trained child welfare teams.
That is the suggestion that has been made by South Australian Coroner Mark Johns, who has this week been presiding over a tragic inquest involving the death of Chloe Valentine, a four-year old girl, at the hands of her parents.
The remark was made after Johns felt that not enough was being done to protect children from harm, and his growing concern that children’s rights may be being gazumped by the rights of dysfunctional parents. He has called for the Families Government Department in South Australia to be overhauled, which many feel is at breaking point, to ensure that children can be properly protected from unfit parents.
Johns’ most controversial recommendation, and the one which has divided professionals, refers to changing the state’s law to ensure that babies born to parents previously convicted of killing their children (by criminal neglect, murder or manslaughter) are automatically placed in government care.
It will then be up to the parents to prove they are fit to care for their children.
If enacted as law, this move could have the potential to set precedent in Australia, and perhaps even others parts of the world like the UK, which tends to follow Australia’s lead on child welfare matters. In light of horrific British cases like the Natalie Allman case, which saw a mother who was almost killed by her partner in front of their twins being forced to write to him about their children’s progress whilst serving his prison sentence, and effectively having to engage their children in this exercise, it’s easy to see how such a measure might be welcomed here. The case resonated around the world, and although different to the Chloe Valentine case (the father attacked Ms Allman, rather than the children, directly), many questioned whether this father’s right to contact with his children had usurped their right to be protected from harm. And, ultimately, whether he was fit to be a parent.
However some took the view that upon serving his jail time, the father in this case may be able to reform and could, with support, parent his children competently. And that is the argument child welfare professionals in Australia, like National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell is making. Mitchell takes the view that a blanket recommendation to remove children automatically in this way, does not take into account the details of each case and could also negatively impact the children involved, if they were to be deprived of a parent who had the capacity to reform.
Mitchell recommends instead, a system of increased early surveillance in instances where a parent has been deemed unfit.
Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston though, disagrees, and would like to see Johns’ recommendation taken one step further – her concern relates to paedophiles, and registered sex offenders. Hetty would like anyone who has demonstrated a capacity to harm children in any way to be put on a watch list.
One thing all the professionals who have so far commented on this recommendation agree upon, is that there needs to be a re-focusing of rights generally, so that children’s rights come before anyone else’s, including the rights of the parents involved.
So what do you think? Should parents who have been convicted of killing their children have any further children born to them automatically removed from their care?
In a new update on the Inquiry website, officials have responded to the recent concerns by survivors and child welfare professionals surrounding the decision not to include survivors and victims of abuse on the central panel but to create a separate panel for them.
The reasons given for the creation of a separate panel (to be called the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel, or VSCP) include concerns about legal challenges where survivors or victims may have a direct interest in an area or case relating to the Inquiry, which is forbidden under S.9 (1)(a) of the Inquiries Act 2005, and the view that one or two survivors on the central panel would not reflect the diversity of opinion and background of existing survivors and victims.
The Inquiry is also now calling for survivors and victims who wish to be part of the VSCP, to come forward. The process allows people to nominate survivors and victims, and put themselves forward, too.
So, what do you make of the latest update? Do you think the Inquiry’s reasons for a separate survivors’ panel are sound or do you feel they’re simply spinning the rules and lines of reasoning to create an apartheid?