New Family Orders Mean Parents Can Now Leave Court With A Copy

In a bid to help simplify the often awkward and unnecessarily complex language used within the Family Courts, the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has announced a new set of Private Law Orders, which are designed to be user friendly.

The Orders relate to the Child Arrangements Programme (CAP), which focuses on disagreements between parents or families about arrangements concerning any children involved. It is hoped that the changes to the orders will make it easier for the growing number of self represented parents (Litigants in Person, LIPs) to understand the process and engage with it.

One of the most exciting aspects of these re-formatted orders is that they are set using templates which, we are told, should allow parents and other parties to leave the court with a copy of the order on the same day. A very welcome development, as orders can often take months to appear.

If you’d like to take a look at the drafts for these orders, you can do so by clicking the first link above (the documents are sitting at the bottom of the Jordans post, and can be downloaded).

What do you think? Are these new forms really user friendly, or do they still leave a lot of questions unanswered for families representing themselves in court?

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Why Children Will Matter In 2016

This month for our column over at Jordans, we identify 2016 as the turning point in child welfare. We also highlight the awkward relationship between government policy and children, and why this relationship is about to change.

To find out why this year will matter for the child welfare sector, and why children will alter the landscape of family law forever, check out our article here.

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The Buzz

These are the news items we feel should be right on the radar:

Buzz

Applying For Contact After An Adoption Order Is Made

Along with whether or not a parent can record a child protection meeting, the question mark over whether a biological parent can apply for contact after an adoption order has been made, is one we are asked often. This very helpful summary from Suspicious Minds gives a good breakdown of the provision for this, which came into force with the Children and Families Act 2014.

Essentially, the law now allows biological parents to make an application for contact after an adoption order has been made, although pre 2014 any contact arrangements would have been dealt with before the order was completed. Today, biological parents can apply for contact either before or after an adoption order. Noteworthy too is that this power to apply does not just extend to orders made after 2014, it includes all adoption orders prior to 2014, also.

The summary over at Suspicious Minds is worth a read, as he goes into the nuance of this particular contact provision, explains the mechanics behind leave to apply to make such an order, and describes some of the issues stemming from this provision. And whilst he is sensitive to biological parents, and the adoptive parent and their anxieties over the impact of this provision, and we understand why, over at Researching Reform our emphasis is on the importance of keeping biological ties alive wherever possible and if the child so wishes and is able to express that wish. Because whilst unconditional love, if you’re lucky enough to find it as a child, can come in many forms not always rooted in biology, we are acutely aware that children need a connection to their roots to develop a sense of self. This of course opens up another area of debate which we are passionate about, namely adoption reform, but that is another discussion for another day (at least in this post, commenters are more than welcome to talk about this in the comment box below).

Going back to the summary above on contact after a child is adopted, there are as you might imagine thresholds to cross before anyone will consider a biological parent’s right to contact. It is also worth noting that the right to apply for contact after adoption does not just include biological parents but a list of other ‘eligible’ people, like former guardians, other blood relatives and more. However, the provision is there.

Many thanks to Dana for sharing this item with us.

Adoption

 

Question It!

Welcome to another week.

The House of Commons library has managed to gather what data there is on Litigants in Person (LIPs) in the civil courts and has just put it all into one report for reading. The report comes at a time when a renewed call to create a code of conduct for McKenzie Friends has seen an interesting shift in thinking.

The rise of the McKenzie friend, lay advisors who offer legal and general guidance to parents and children going through the Family Court who cannot afford conventional representation (sometimes referred to as LIPs), has also highlighted an opportunistic streak within the legal profession.

A recent article in the Law Gazette quotes Chair of the Society of Professional McKenzie Friends, Ray Barry, as saying that only fee charging McKenzies should be able to stand up in court and talk on behalf of their clients.

Mr Barry’s Society of Professional McKenzie Friends – previously named The McKenzie Friends Trade Association – are not strictly speaking, lay advisors, or individuals without legal qualifications . We wrote about the Association in 2014, when we noticed that most McKenzies on their books were in fact, lawyers.

So, this week, we have two questions for you: firstly, do you think practicing lawyers should also be allowed to act as McKenzie Friends, and secondly, do you agree with Mr Barry that only fee charging lay advisors should get rights of audience?

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President Says Family Courts Are “Neither Compassionate Nor Humane.”

It’s taken ten years for us to get here, but finally it seems the most senior minds inside the Family Court are starting to actively push for change.

Suggesting people would be forgiven for thinking the system was, “neither compassionate, nor even humane”, President of the Family Justice System, Sir James Munby was passing judgment in a case which involved two parents unable to access legal aid to fight to stop their three year old child from being adopted. Munby also touches on the human rights principles this case raises – the right to a fair trial is a well known and basic human right, which is currently being eroded by the government’s ongoing cutbacks to the child welfare and legal sectors.

These cutbacks are preventing parents and children from accessing legal support and this, to our mind at least, is a direct breach of Article 6. 

Munby’s observation that the Family Court is a place devoid of compassion and humanity does not just apply to access to legal aid. It applies in every corner of the system where support services are being pared down, where training is not up to par and where working culture allows child protection processes to be ignored and even illegally circumvented.

Researching Reform supports Munby’s continued efforts to speak out about these issues, many of which he has touched upon in previous judgments – now we need Sir Munby to push a little harder. We have seen him talk about other controversial issues, such as male circumcision, but much like his comment on access to legal aid in the current case above, his wording is typically sheepish and cautious.

And whilst some might argue that judges should not be political nor allow their personal views to intertwine with their work (which for the most part we agree with), when it comes to government policy and legislation, the moment they begin to impact on basic human rights, every judge in the land has a duty to speak out.

The family justice system does not need more armchair philosophers or half hearted sentiment. 2016 is the year in which we must tell it like it is – and demand change.

Munby

 

Poppi Worthington- “This Sounds Like A Depressingly Familiar Catalogue Of Failure And Cover Up.”

Poppi Worthington hit the headlines in 2012, when she died of horrific injuries at only 13 months. At the time, police and other officials refused to go into detail about the death, but a report that has now been published confirms the worst.

In a report released on 19th January, 2016, Mr Justice Jackson confirms that astonishing failings by both the police and social services will now mean that justice will be denied to little Poppi. 

The judge goes on to conclude that, on the balance of probabilities, her father Paul Worthington had “perpetrated a penetrative… assault on Poppi” shortly before she died.

We are also told that no officer was ever sacked over the errors in Poppi’s case, and the policeman in charge of the investigation took retirement at the age of 48 on a pension of up to £46,000 a year.

Now, a new inquest into Poppi’s death will be held, amid clamours from the public and Members of Parliament calling for an Inquiry into the failings, which come at a time when the government has gone to great lengths to commission reports and research on best practice within child protection. No amount of materials it seems, is making its way onto the ground to inform and guide child protection professionals.

The failings are shocking – from ignoring expert reports, to allowing Poppi’s siblings to return home to live with their father, the catalogue of errors is astounding. We add the 12 basic police omissions below, but they are by no means the end of the story:

  • Items at the hospital Poppi was taken to were not preserved for forensic analysis
  • Items at the family home were not preserved for forensic analysis
  • The scene at the family home was not secured, with Poppi’s last nappy being lost despite the presence of police officers
  • DI S and DCI F not visiting the home. According to national protocol, a senior officer should immediately attend the home to take charge of the investigation and ensure that evidence is intelligently preserved
  • No reconstruction with the parents at home so that their accounts could be understood and investigations focused
  • No forensic medical examination at the time of death. Swabs were not taken until post-mortem despite delays meaning forensic analysis can be prejudiced
  • No engagement of a paediatrician with specialist knowledge of investigating sexual abuse for there to be a physical examination of the child, a viewing of the home and a report for the pathologist
  • Dr Armour’s initial views were not clearly passed on to the local authority for safeguarding purposes
  • The parents were not formally interviewed until August 2013
  • Neither parent’s mobile telephone or Facebook accounts were analysed
  • Samples were not sent for analysis until after receipt of Dr Armour’s full report
  • No statements taken from any witnesses (paramedics, nurses, doctors, family members) until September 2013

Despite the judge ruling that Poppi’s father was almost certainly responsible for her fatal injuries, he is unlikely to ever be charged due to the above blunders. Justice Jackson also points out that the failings were also in part due to a lack of resources at a time when the police force were devoting much of their time to allegations of what is often called historic child sexual abuse. Sadly, if those allegations had been dealt with properly at the time, the police would likely have had more resources today to deal with tragedies like this one.

In a debate yesterday in the House of Commons,  MPs called for an Inquiry into the handling of Poppi’s case. Tim Loughton MP began his statement with the thought that this case sounded like “a depressingly familiar catalogue of failure and cover up.” Other Members of Parliament reiterated the importance of social services and police working together quickly to secure evidence, as well as the Family Court’s modus operandi generally, and some called for an investigation of the police force responsible for handling the case.

It is a deeply troubling case. For the loss of life, the continued failures inside a system which has been privy to report after report on its own miserable inadequacies and a government which continues to undermine the importance of child protection work.

How many more children must die?

Poppi

 

 

 

 

 

 

Justitia Et Lux -Child Abuse Allegations & Cover Ups

We’ve recently started reading a Scribd account called Justitia Et Lux , which hosts and publishes information on high profile child abuse allegations and cover ups in the UK, and the materials are very interesting.

We haven’t had a chance to look at every file, but what we have seen looks to be a combination of resources collected from newspaper articles, to more sensitive documents like redacted witness statements and data sheets tracking politicians’ movements and affiliations during the height of the Paedophile Information Exchange‘s notoriety.

Someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to explore patterns and evidence for child sexual abuse within Westminster and beyond, and the results are thought provoking.

We do not know who runs this account, but they look to be campaigning for transparency within government and the pursuit of truth about the extent of child abuse within the UK.

Thank you to Maggie Tuttle for sharing this item with us.

JEL

 

Narey To Give Evidence To Children’s Residential Care Inquiry

On 16th December last year, The Education Committee launched an Inquiry into the Narey Review of Children’s Residential Care, which has been designed to help shape and develop the Review.

The next meeting will be with Sir Martin Narey himself, and will take place on 27th January, 2016 at 10.15am. This will be a one-off evidence session. 

Parliament’s website tells us that the Inquiry has been set up to work out the scope, focus and conduct of the Narey Review, and as such asked to hear from:

  • People who had worked in children’s homes or other residential care settings, and
  • Young people with experience of residential care placements.

The Review itself aims to explore the role of children’s homes when it comes to placement, what works, what could be improved within residential care and generally what might help to make things better for children in care.

Whilst the deadline for submitting information to the Inquiry appeared to have been extended (the last time we looked on the site there was a notice which said they were still taking submissions), the notice has since gone and it would seem that the deadline of 15th January, 2016 stands.

Narey

Martin Narey

 

Many thanks to Maggie Tuttle at Children Screaming To Be Heard for sharing this item with us.

 

 

Promoting Humane Social Work With Families: Conference

A progressive conference hosted by Kings College in London this February, will look to identify and examine social work practices which are humane, with a view to improving services generally.

The conference will take place on Friday 19th February, 2016 from 10am-4pm. The venue is King’s College London, Denmark Hill Campus, London, SE5.

That we need a conference like this at all highlights the terrible state of things – after all, social work is supposed to be about supportive, humane delivery of services for vulnerable families, but this event is a welcome addition to a growing body of work and cultural shifts within the sector which identify the importance of compassion and good communication in its work.

This conference has been put together by The British Association of Social Workers (BASW), Making Research Count (MRC) and the three Faculties (Children and Families, Mental Health and Adults) of the former College of Social Work. It will hear from practitioners, as well as service users.

The BASW website tells us that the aims of the conference are to:

  • Share ideas from research and practice on how we can work together to support services and practices that are experienced as humane by all involved;
  • Learn from successful examples of system reform such as that undertaken in New York, where parent advocacy became a recognised and valued aspect of provision;
  • Hear from families with histories of hurt and trauma about how services can make a difference.

Guy Shennan, Chair of BASW, and James Blewett from MRC, will be Chairing this conference, and speakers include:

  • David Tobis, PhD, author of ‘From Pariahs to Partners: How Parents and their Allies Changed New York City’s Child Welfare System’
  • Surviving Safeguarding (a parent who blogs about experiences of safeguarding and advocacy for parents)
  • Amanda Boorman, Founder of The Open Nest (a charity that offers support to adoptive and foster families)
  • Sue White, Professor of Social Work, University of Birmingham
  • Brid Featherstone, Professor of Social Work, University of Huddersfield
  • Ruth Allen, Chair of the Mental Health Faculty of the former College of Social Work
  • Maggie Mellon, Vice Chair of BASW
  • Marion Russell, Principal Child and Family Social Worker, Cornwall Council

We’re glad to see that Surviving Safeguading will be speaking, and very much hope that service users will be able to talk about the ways in which services could be improved for families.

It’s not clear who may attend this conference, however there’s no harm in asking should you wish to attend and are not currently a practicing social work professional.

The BASW page tells us that places are limited so you will need to book by 5th February 2016, by contacting the MRC Administrator at King’s College London, janet.noble@kcl.ac.uk

Humane SW

 

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