Research: Forced Adoption

The Australian Institute of Family Studies has begun to focus on the issues surrounding forced adoption, and as such have a very interesting dedicated page to the phenomenon.

The site tells us that the Institute has looked at a number of areas within forced adoption and separation matters including:

  • The history of adoption in Australia
  • Effects of closed and forced adoption policies and practices on affected individuals
  • Links between adoption and other family separation practices, and their effects
  • Current service and support needs of those affected
  • Broader service delivery implications.

The site is well worth a visit and offers links to other relevant publications, as well.

Child Abuse Inquiry To Release Progress Reports And Interim Recommendations

Officials working on behalf of the Statutory Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse have confirmed that the Panel will be releasing progress reports as they begin their investigations into child abuse.

This news comes as an estimate of the duration of the Inquiry, suggested by a Home Office official to be in the region of 8 years depending on the number of victims and survivors who come forward, caused concern last week.

There is also talk that the Inquiry may also release interim recommendations, presumably to stem the suggestion that they are purposefully stalling the investigation and also, to ensure that a long-ranging Inquiry like this one offers calls for action which can be implemented sooner rather than later.

Despite talk that the Inquiry is intentionally trying to stall proceedings, Researching Reform does not agree. The Panel is clearly trying to ensure that there is a good working structure in place and that, contrary to Baroness Butler-Sloss’s recent criticisms of the Inquiry, every survivor who wishes to come forward, can do so.

The progress reports and recommendations are a step forward for the Inquiry into child abuse. Much of the problems they have faced to date have been due to the Panel’s inability to gauge the public’s desire to be kept informed and the pressing need to show what is happening behind the scenes. The Inquiry’s tone and frequency of engagement with the public, is now key.

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Former Head Of Child Abuse Inquiry Says Investigation Is Deceiving Survivors

Baroness Butler-Sloss, who was very briefly Chair of what is now the Statutory Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse, has made a series of critical comments about the Inquiry, at a recent Chatpolitics event.

Speaking at the event, Butler-Sloss, whose statements were recorded, said:

“The real problem about this inquiry is the victims have now been given a false view that they’re all going to be heard.

“There are an enormous number of victims out there, and of course they won’t all be heard. I am absolutely sure that they will not be pleased with the result.”

At first glance, the comment appears to be a rather poor show of sour grapes. Butler-Sloss was forced to stand down as Chair for the Inquiry after it emerged that her brother Sir Michael Havers was Attorney General at a time when some of the worst alleged abuses in the 1980s took place. Her less than sensitive communications with survivors and her passionate defense of the Church, were conflicts which also caused concern.

The pointed attack on the Inquiry though, is clear. Butler-Sloss accuses the Inquiry panel and the Home Secretary of giving victims false hope that their voices will be heard and their cases looked at. Quite how she comes to this conclusion is not clear, but if our Inquiry is set to be anything like Australia’s own investigation into child sexual abuse, there should be plenty of forums for victims and survivors to speak out.

The sentiment that victims and survivors won’t be pleased with the result is yet another muddled thought that makes it virtually impossible to tell whether she’s referring to all victims, the ones she thinks won’t be heard, the Inquiry itself or the possibility that all those with cases won’t all be able to speak out.

The report also suggests that Butler-Sloss considers the Inquiry will be doomed to fail. Quite whether this was something she actually said, or has been inferred from the above statements is not clear, but there is some truth in that.

The Inquiry is going to need to offer something new, radical and brave in the face of an ever-growing list of Inquiries and repetitive recommendations, which no one wants to see appear in print again.

The only way this investigation can make a difference, is if it gets to the very heart of child sexual abuse and our seeming inability to shield our children from it.

Child Abuse Inquiry Overwhelmed By Applications To Sit On Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel

In a statement posted on the Inquiry’s website today, we are told that the selection process for the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel will not likely be completed before July, due to an unprecedented amount of applications.

Those candidates who make it through to the shortlist will be contacted by the Inquiry in June. You can catch the full statement below, or view it on their website here:

Message from the Inquiry on the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel

“Due to a large number of applicants to the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel (VSCP), and in order to ensure that all of these applications are given due attention and assessment by the Panel and the Chair of the Inquiry, we will now be announcing the successful candidates during June.

We would like to thank all those who have put themselves forward for the VSCP. Shortlisted candidates will be invited to an interview with the Panel and Chair of the Inquiry prior to appointment. We will be in touch with shortlisted candidates in June.”

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CAFCASS Chair, Baroness Tyler Answers Our Questions On Forced Adoption And The Future Of Child Welfare

The Chair of Cafcass, Baroness Claire Tyler, has very kindly answered the questions we put to her about child welfare, social work and the social care sector.

Cafcass’s history has been a long and troubled one, which nearly saw its dismantling in 2010. Since then, having taken on board the need to look at their service delivery, Cafcass have made an effort to do so and have implemented several interesting directives to this effect. These include a stakeholder system which invites parents to offer their input and a Young People’s Board made up of children who have been through the family justice system, designed to collect feedback about their services and amplify the voice of the child.

We felt now would be a good time to check in with the organisation and see how they’re getting on. To that end we invited Baroness Tyler to chat with us about her work as Chair for Cafcass, and the other organisations she works with. We also asked some no-nonsense questions about forced adoption and what she feels is the best way forward for the child welfare sector.

Despite the often emotive reaction the Cafcass acronym invites, we would ask you please to read Baroness Tyler’s answers and comment civilly. For an organisation that has in the past shunned direct communication with an often critical public, this interview represents a wonderful step forward, and the obvious care Baroness Tyler has taken to answer our queries is evident from the length of her answers and her attention to detail. It is a generous and open response.

We would like to thank the Baroness for taking the time and trouble to respond and a big thank you to Colette for being so patient with us.

You can read our interview with Baroness Tyler below:

  1. Baroness Tyler, thank you for allowing us to interview you. As a Lady who wears many hats, including Chair of Cafcass and President of The National Children’s Bureau, your days must be very busy, and no doubt diverse. What is a typical day like for you?

My days are certainly very varied and no two are the same. CAFCASS Board meetings usually take place towards the end of the week and these are also the days that I make out of London visits to avoid clashing with the main voting business in the Lords. Earlier in the year I visited the new Family Court in Liverpool where CAFCASS are located within the court building and the arrangement seems to be working very well. I also meet with CAFCASS practitioners from across the county about 6 times a year in London so I can hear from our front line staff about what’s going well and what their concerns are. I generally spend my mornings in the Lords and doing things such as attending a parliamentary meeting on social work training, meeting with Ministers and senior officials involved in the family justice system, meeting with charities and other groups who are working on issues I have a particular interest in or speaking at and attending external events about family justice and related areas of policy. I’ve finished serving on a Lords Select Committee on Affordable Childcare and I speak in debates in the Lords on issues including children and families, mental health, social care and social mobility/disadvantage.

In the last Parliament I was chair/vice chair of four different All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) – one on social mobility, one on wellbeing and two on aspects of family relationships and parenting. I chaired a Parliamentary Inquiry on Social Mobility and Parenting which was jointly sponsored by the APPGs on Social Mobility and on Parenting and Families. Outside of Parliament, I chair a charity working with adults with multiple and complex needs called “Making Every Adult Matter”; I’m on the development board of “Think Ahead” which is designing and developing a new programme to recruit and train graduates to become mental health social workers; I am President of the National Children’s Bureau and Vice President of Relate. The latter two are both Honorary roles but I like to do practical things for them such as hosting or chairing events if I can. Because of the wide range of roles I have I often get asked to speak at events which can range from a few words at a reception to giving a full speech or lectures. So all in all I’m pretty busy and it’s interesting how these strands so often intersect and I can make helpful linkages between different policy areas.

  1. What do you foresee for children’s health and welfare in the next decade?

When it comes to looking after the interests of children’s health and welfare, we know that timely safeguarding and protecting children from the immediate risk of abuse and neglect at home are of the essence. However, there is also growing recognition of the need to look after their long-term mental health. We know from research that the experiences of children in care mean that they are more likely than their peers to experience mental health problems. Likewise, those children involved in private law proceedings can also be exposed to high levels of parental conflict, particularly where proceedings are protracted, and this causes confusion and disruption to their lives. I think we will see an increased focus on the emotional support services currently available to young people and children and how these can be improved.  A CAMHS taskforce (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) set out by the Department of Health looked into how children and young people can be better supported, by exploring the way children’s mental health services are organised, commissioned and provided so that young people can more easily access the essential help and support they need.

Just before the Election, the taskforce made a number of recommendations, including simplifying structures within CAMHS and improving access to children, delivering a clear joined up approach with other services so that care pathways are easier for children and young people to navigate. It is crucial that children are aware of these services and are able to access them.

  1. Poverty is an increasing concern for children in the UK: what impact do you see it having in 2015 on our children?

Much of the work we carried out in the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility and Parenting looked at the wider issues affecting disadvantaged children, who are often living in poverty, and how this affects their life chances. Although it can be a contested area, a lot of the research suggests that there is a distinct relationship between income inequality and social mobility. Children from poorer families are less likely to go to university and have access to higher skilled and higher status jobs.

We are seeing that families in poverty, generally, have more difficulties supporting their children with their development in their early years; and yet, these years are essential for the emotional, social and cognitive development of children which underpins success at school. Children who do not have books at home progress more slowly at school, and those who have a parent read to them each evening have a much better chance of achieving academic success. Child poverty, social mobility and parental income are interrelated, and you cannot improve one without working on the others. I recently chaired a Parliamentary Inquiry into Social Mobility and Parenting and our recommendations included developing and implementing a national parenting support campaign, based on locally-designed trails and based on national-local partnerships.

  1. Cafcass’ groundbreaking Voice of the Child project has attracted the support of (former) Justice Minister Simon Hughes and was our “Project to Watch” for 2015. How do you envisage it developing in the next 12 months and what hopes do you have for the project as a whole?

Practitioners I have spoken to have drawn my attention to the different ways in which children can feel involved in court proceedings. Some will want to communicate their views and wishes to the judge overseeing their case, whether that means meeting with the judge, or if more appropriate, writing a letter or making a drawing to express their views. Younger children may feel more comfortable just seeing the court setting, or speaking to a solicitor. Cafcass has been monitoring the ways children communicate with the court at present, which I understand has been of great assistance to those in MoJ charged with developing the VOTC commitment to date. I’ve heard great things about a court app – watch this space!

I’m also looking forward to hearing more on the progress of the Family Justice Young People’s Board’s (FJYPB) National Charter at what will be their third Voice of the Child Conference on 20th July. I cannot speak highly enough of the insight – and, quite often, the healthy challenge – that the FJYPB makes to the Cafcass Board; a member attends each Board meeting which means we have a live reminder of what Cafcass is here for and keeps us focussed.

  1. A 2014 report suggests that children may not want to have their cases reported in the national media, fearing journalists may wish to sensationalise their experiences rather than seek out the truth, and many feel it would be embarrassing for them, even if reporting was anonymised as there might be a risk of recognition. At the same time, the judiciary is pushing for more transparency within the family courts by way of reporting cases publicly. Do you think there is a workable middle ground and do you have any concerns about the transparency process?

I spoke about transparency at the Family Justice Council Debate. I believe that the transparency of decisions made about children in the family court is important for evidence-informed reasons so that the process can be used to ensure better practice and outcomes for children. However, it is clearly unacceptable if the impact of increased exposure is detrimental to a child. There will be some difference in what transparency means to a two year old and what it means to a 16 year old, and this must be taken into consideration. Transparency is also of real importance for later life. It is vital that the identity of children is safeguarded both at the time of the proceedings and in later years and that the files each organisation holds on a child have a well written, well analysed and well organised record that is maintained for a period of time so that when adults want to look back, they can find out the reasons for the decisions courts made about them which have such a major impact on their lives.

  1. Sometimes cases result in children being placed in care or adopted when families are deemed no longer able to care for them. The adoption process is heart-breaking for the families involved, and must affect practitioners working in the sector too. Do you feel that adoption without the birth family’s consent is a regrettable but necessary practice or do you think there might be other ways of working with separating families and children?

The number one focus has to be on protecting the welfare of every child, and making sure that they have a stable upbringing. For those children who cannot return home, adoption is one option for providing a permanent, safe environment to grow up in. It is about determining what is right for each child. The role of the Guardian is to ensure that the local authority’s plan for the child is not only the best available, but also that it is likely to be viable and to provide the child with a stable home. This is especially important in cases where returning home is appropriate, and the child is returning to an environment which was previously abusive or neglectful.

  1. A recent survey suggests that social workers have become too stressed to work effectively – are Cafcass officers also feeling the strain of now limited resources and if so what can be done about this?

Cafcass’ practitioners are all completely focused on making vulnerable children’s lives better and I know that their value base keeps them going despite the challenges they face. I also know Cafcass has worked hard to have a strong operational culture of risk sharing between practitioners and managers, meaning that practitioners are supported. Importantly, when I meet with front-line staff they tell me that they feel their input and expertise are recognised, which in turn helps them in what is a difficult professional role.  The efforts and innovation of Cafcass’ Human Resources team in assisting practitioners were awarded last year with a number of awards, including ‘Best HR team in the Public Sector’ at the Personnel Today Awards 2014. There are some practical measures which have made a big impact, including introducing a health and wellbeing plan that includes a telephone counselling service which is available to practitioners 24 hours, seven days a week. A good talent management strategy is in play, and most important for many staff these days, practitioners have flexible working, which means they are able to do their work in the office, when they’re at court or at home. It’s an area that needs continual focus, but I was pleased to hear that a recent survey measuring staff resilience levels found that Cafcass’ staff had strong resilience levels. I hope that others in the sector can learn from what Cafcass has put in place.

  1. Child welfare is obviously one of your passions – do you have a defining mantra or sentiment when it comes to children?

It’s short and simple: I believe that every child, irrespective of their background, deserves the very best start in life.

  1. And finally- who or what do you think will be your “ones to watch” this year in terms of child welfare policy or people?

With the introduction of the Child Arrangements Programme (CAP) in April last year, we are now seeing more focus on directing separating parents away from the family courts, where this is possible and safe. Signposting parents towards mediation, which is generally less stressful, should help to make the process of separation shorter and less distressing for parents and children. Currently, we are seeing organisations within the family justice sector working towards supporting this policy change. We are likely to see the development of more out of court programmes to support separating parents, and wider collaboration between agencies and organisations within the family justice sector. For example, Cafcass has extended the Supporting Separating Parents in Dispute (SSPID) programme in five areas of the country: York and North Yorkshire, Kent, Bristol, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, and Norfolk. It offers services to help parents who are in dispute with their ex-partner about arrangements for their children following divorce or separation, helping them to access information, guidance and support about the most appropriate dispute resolution pathways available to them. The Cafcass Parenting Plan is a very helpful resource – it is a tool that works to focus parents on what will work for them to give their child the very best after separation.

We’re going to see a continued focus on mediation. After fairly recent changes, like parents attending a compulsory Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before court proceedings, introduced as part of CAP, many more families will be involved in the mediation process. It will be interesting to see how the service develops, particularly in terms of the voice of the child – I know that the FJYPB is hoping to see more child-inclusive mediation.

Baroness Claire Tyler

Baroness Claire Tyler

Are Children “Born Naughty?”

This evening, Channel 4 will be airing a programme about children’s behaviour which will explore whether children are born naughty or whether their mischief is down to less than adequate parenting skills.

The series will be hosted by Dr Dawn Harper, and will follow several children whose behaviour has been deemed extreme, and will attempt to uncover the underlying reasons for their conduct and offer solutions.

For what it’s worth, we don’t happen to think that children are born naughty, rather each child has his or her own temperament, which needs to be acknowledged and worked with. We also happen to think a little spirited mischief is no bad thing (we have to confess to having been a Devil Child ourselves – our parents’ words, not ours).

What do you think? Are children born naughty, or is it all just a question of understanding?

The programme starts at 8pm, and will follow children Theo and Honey.

Give ’em hell, kids. Oh my, who wrote that?

Many thanks to Dana for alerting us to the programme.

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‘Fracture Prints’ May Help Solve Child Abuse Cases

Non accidental injuries, the term used inside the child welfare sector, and by medical experts to describe injuries which are believed to have been caused by adults deliberately inflicting physical harm to children, are notoriously hard to identify.

The result is that sometimes, innocent parents who have not harmed their children at all are found guilty of child abuse, resulting in families being torn apart by a misdiagnosis. We have assisted on cases liked these in the past and it is clear from current practice that only a select few medical practitioners around the country have any real business diagnosing these kinds of injuries. Most doctors and attending nurses have very little training in this area. Combine this thought with the reality that even science is not yet up to speed on this kind of injury and what you have is a recipe for injustice and children finding themselves in care, when they should be at home with their parents.

Of course, the reverse can sometimes be true – these fractures may sometimes appear accidental.

But new research is about to turn this area of practice on its head, literally. Ground breaking research now suggests that skull fractures may leave telltale signs that can help better determine what caused an injury.

The findings could help to uncover what really happened in child abuse cases, and determine with greater certainty whether the injury was accidental, or not. This has been made possible via the use of a mathematical algorithm to help classify the fractures.

The article outlining this research says:

“Until now, researchers believed that multiple skull fractures meant several points of impact to the head that were often classified as child abuse. The new research proves that theory false: a single blow to the head not only causes one fracture, but may also cause several, unconnected fractures in the skull. Additionally, not all fractures start at the point of impact—some actually may begin in a remote location and travel back toward the impact site.”

This is an exciting development in the determination of childhood injuries, we hope it leads to bigger things.

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Adverse Childhood Experiences Study Links Maltreatment To Ill-Health In Later Life

This fascinating piece of research, called the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE) though not new, was put together to explore associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being.

It is one of the largest studies of its kind and is a collaboration between the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego.

According to the research, certain experiences are major risk factors for leading causes of illness and death as well as poor quality of life in the United States.

Major findings of the study can be viewed here. 

The very thorough stats can be accessed here and they are divided and subdivided for various categories and demographics.

Particularly helpful is the Related Links page which holds a great deal of information on child welfare and family related research and support information.

The CDC website itself is a huge resource and well worth exploring if you have time to do so.

A very big thank you to Quenby Wilcox for sharing this item.

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Today Is International Family Day, So We Offer You 5 interesting Facts About Families In The UK

International Family Day is not as warm and fuzzy as it sounds – it is a day used to mark the economic contribution families make to a country, and whilst we find the idea that this has actually been made into a ‘thing’ quite grotesque, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released some interesting data for today, so we’re sharing it.

In a bid to make their data engaging and “on-trend”, the ONS have titled their information, “Men in Charge? Gender Equality and Children’s Rights in Contemporary Families”. (Is it just us, or is there an implicit Tory-flavoured dig at men here in an attempt to goad them? Who uses the phrase “in charge” any more?)

The 5 facts on offer are as follows:

  1. Cohabiting couple families were the fastest growing family type since 1996
  2. Number of working families peaked in 2014 at 87.7%, the highest since 1996
  3. Largest increase in the percentage of working families since 1996 has been in lone parent families
  4. Fathers are over 6 times more likely to be working than mothers, in families with one working parent
  5. Children with relatively high life satisfaction are 2.5 times more likely to talk to parents

We’re not quite sure where the emphasis on children’s rights hits this data (point 5 is a gloss on the matter), though we think we’ve made our point about this release being more of a marketing exercise than a valuable public service style announcement…

You can catch the stats and graphs in all their glory, here.

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Thank you to Dana for sharing this with us.

Researching Reform For Jordans: Will The New Government Be The Final Nail In The Coffin For Child Welfare?

This month for our column over at Jordans we chose to write about the implications of a fully Conservative government on the child welfare system. Despite the fact that politicians cannot be held solely responsible for the system’s ills, the continued cuts to resources and failure to prioritise child welfare has come at great cost to families, often at the cost of small lives.

This article looks at whether this government will finally break the family justice system and why now more than ever, every sector inside the system must set aside their mutual mistrust and work together, to fight for the protection of our most vulnerable and to create a system worth protecting.

You can catch our article here. 

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