Researching Reform For Jordans: Austerity Is Harming Our Children

In our latest article for Jordans, we chose to talk about the growing body of evidence which suggests strongly that the government’s budget cuts, largely directed at the most vulnerable in society, are visibly placing our children at risk.

From the current research available produced by well respected think tanks, academics and charities, to the increasing strain on support services where children and young people can no longer get the help they need, economic policy, far from improving outcomes, is creating a perfect storm for the next government to battle.

But the Family Justice System has a part to play in protecting vulnerable children, and it must do more. The President of the Family Division is, much to his credit, trying to do just that, but one lone voice is not enough. In this piece, we argue that everyone inside the sector must stand up for the rights of the child, and find ways to protect them from the terrible injustices they are now facing.

You can catch our article here. 


Domestic Violence And Contact Orders In The Australian Family Courts – Too Close To Home?

A recent article published in The Monthly, an excellent Australian politics, society and culture magazine describes the complexities of domestic violence cases involving children, which bear many of the same hallmarks as the UK’s child protection system.

The article explains how one mother, who had left her violent husband and later on fled with her children after her lawyers pressured her into agreeing to a contact arrangement with the children’s father, was later arrested by police. The children had seen their father attack their mother and were subjected to physical assault and abuse by their father as well. Despite trying to tell the courts that they were terrified of their father and did not want contact, they were routinely ignored.

There are several worrying similarities in our own family courts. Lawyers now routinely tell mothers that if they allege domestic violence they are likely to lose all contact with their children and sole custody rights given to the father. That stark choice leaves the mother no option but to agree and to try to protect her children within the limited window she has during contact.

Mothers who allege violence are often considered to be lying. Father-focused policies, though implemented with good intention continue to ignore the realities of divorce and the need to focus on the best interests of the child or children in question. They also inadvertently create bias when looking at allegations of abuse.

And most importantly, the voice of the child continues to be shunned. This is due to a family law judiciary which is in the main outdated and child un-friendly, as well as a lack of proper training and understanding when it comes to child development and incorporating children’s genuine needs within the process.

So what can we do? The article goes on to explain that social work in this field is incredibly complex and requires a highly sophisticated level of training. It is an incredibly difficult job to work out who is telling the truth, which allegations are real and what children really need during this time.

That job becomes even more difficult when violence or child sexual abuse is involved, and all too often signs of unwilling by a child to be with the abusive parent are seen as responses to pressure from the parent alleging the abuse. How can we expect professionals to get to the heart of these issues without rigorous training?

Whilst the article in The Monthly focuses on mothers and violent fathers, largely due to the fact that in Australia these cases are far more common than those involving violent mothers, we would say the same rules apply to each gender. Whoever is causing harm, whether physical or emotional will often be affecting any children involved as well, and so the answer must surely be excellence in social work training, along with strong guidance and support from teams in-house.

There’s a lot to do, but it can be achieved, even with austerity measures in place, and we can start by re-assessing the training curriculum and methods used for social care professionals, developing a body of work on the voice of the child and teaching skills that allow for the efficient detection of evidence in cases of abuse.

Thank you to the National Child Protection Alliance for sharing this news item with us.


Can We Include The Voice Of The Child In Divorce? We Can, And We Must.

Child Inclusive Mediation, a new online course designed by pioneering child welfare expert Professor McIntosh, allows social care and mediation professionals to learn how to incorporate children’s wishes and feelings into the divorce process.

The course offers the opportunity to learn core skills to allow for safe and meaningful inclusion of the voice of the child, using an evidence based approach which places the child’s welfare at the centre of proceedings, whilst building positive engagement between parents.

There are four different ways to complete the course, ranging from a short overview to a fully comprehensive series of modules to work through.

We think this course sounds like a wonderful addition to the growing body of work looking to understand children’s needs during life changing events like divorce and would be particularly useful to UK social workers, and family judges.

A very big thank you for sharing this item to Cecilia Lenagh, one of our social work heroines and the recipient of a government award over in Australia for her contribution to social work and the community.


Save Freedom Of Information – Sign The Petition

The good people over at My Society have just sent over a very thorough and informative leaflet, with information on the current consultation looking at possible changes to be made to the way we make Freedom Of Information Requests (FOI).

The Freedom of Information Act gives people the right to access information held by public sector organisations. Anyone can make a request, and there are no restrictions on age, nationality or where you live. This almost unfettered right has been monumental in highlighting unethical and illegal conduct by public sector bodies and as a result, improving government. The proposed changes would make it very difficult for wrongdoing to be brought out into the open because they severely limit the public’s right to information.

The leaflet explains that when similar changes were made to FOI requests in Ireland, its use fell by 50% and media requests dropped by 83%. A helpful summary of the major changes proposed are also added. They are:

  • A charge for making Freedom of Information requests
  • A block on information about internal discussions in public authorities
  • A veto for ministers when responding to requests for government information
  • A lower threshold on requests turned down for reasons of cost

My Society outlines the four main ways in which you can stop this from happening if you disagree with the proposals:

If you’d like more information on FOI, we wrote an article about it recently, voicing our concerns about the proposals, and why we feel the request process should not be changed.

The consultation deadline is November 20th. 

For fellow tweeters, the hash tag is #SaveFOI 


Question It!

Welcome to another week.

The debate over whether all family law judgments should be made publicly available has once again come under the spotlight after a report jointly written and published by the Association of Lawyers for Children and the National Youth Advocacy Service urges yet more caution in making these cases available to the public.

The report highlights concerns expressed by young people over the difficulty in hiding children’s identities in these cases, even with anonymised judgments and details the reaction of those children who took part in the initial investigation, researching the current ways in which cases could be accessed, and published. The report cites widespread shock and embarrassment by these children, who prior to taking part in the research, were not aware for example, that cases could be made readily available on public databases like BAILII.

However, the report also goes on to acknowledge the drive towards transparency inside the justice system, and as such, tries to offer suggestions as to how to best publish judgments without distressing any children involved.

Some of these ideas include:

  • Producing anonymised summaries of certain parts of judgments, rather than the judgment as a whole, on sites like BAILII
  • Reviewing anonymity rules and finding ways to improve them
  • Examining the resources available to improve these rules

Our question this week, is just this: do you think these suggestions are good, or can you think of better ones?

For anyone who is interested, the ALC have also written a response the government’s consultation on children and vulnerable witnesses in proceedings.


Survivor Calls Out Church’s Denial of Abuse Cover Up

This just in.

Phil Johnson, a dedicated campaigner for those who have been sexually abused by Church ministers and officials, has kindly shared the following with us, and we add his latest update about the Diocese of Chichester below:

“After receiving an apology two years ago from the Bishop of Chichester, citing ‘deception and cover-up’ within the church, abuse victim and survivor Gary Johnson challenges last week’s assertion by the current Bishop for Safeguarding in Sussex, Mark Sowerby, that there is no evidence to support a cover-up.
Gary makes the powerful point that Mark Sowerby wants to see evidence before he will believe in cover-up of collusion despite the fact that he is a senior figure in an organisation which based entirely on faith.

One might ask what evidence he has for the existence of God?”

Deaf Children Sexually Abused At School

Last night, the BBC aired a Newsnight documentary about children at a deaf school who were routinely sexually abused by its founders, Eric and Beatrice Ingall.

Sexual abuse is incredibly traumatic for children without hearing difficulties, but for those who are partially or fully deaf experiencing abuse, there is an increased difficulty in communicating that abuse, which plunges them into a world that is even less accessible.

As adults, the victims of this abuse courageously worked together to expose what happened to them and others at the school, only to find their case was dismissed on the second day. The judge told them their abuser was too old, and they had left it too late.

You can watch the documentary here, and find out a little more about the documentary by reading this piece by Erika Jones, the researcher who helped uncover the abuse.


The Buzz

The latest news items touching on family and child welfare:


How Austerity Is Harming Our Children

As we scour the net researching for our latest article over at Jordans, this latest find, a host of reports carried out by charities and other organisations on how austerity is affecting children and families is a must read.

There is a lot of data here, and you’ll need a few cups of coffee and ten dozen jammy dodgers, but it is by far the most comprehensive body of work we have come across looking at how the cuts are impacting the nation.

Kudos to Warwick University’s Centre For Human Rights in Practice, for producing this list.



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