Vulnerable Girls to be Protected From FGM

The government has today unveiled plans to create new laws to help protect girls from Female Genital Mutilation.

The Gov.UK website tells us:

“Proposals being put forward in the Serious Crime Bill include a new civil protection order which would protect victims or potential victims of FGM. This could include, for example, a requirement for a passport to be surrendered to prevent a girl being taken abroad for FGM.”

The site also tells us that victims, potential victims or third parties like teachers, friends, carers and social workers will be able to apply to the court for an order if they believe there is a real risk of FGM taking place.

The government is also going to create a new law which will turn failing to protect a girl from FGM into an offence. The press release tells us:

“Anyone who has parental responsibility for a girl who has been mutilated when she was under 16, and is in frequent contact with her, or who has assumed responsibility for such a girl, will be potentially liable if they knew, or ought to have known, that there was a significant risk of FGM being carried out, but did not take reasonable steps to prevent it from happening.”

The government is also going to grant FGM victims lifelong anonymity from the time the allegation is made to encourage victims to come forward.

Justice Minister Mike Penning said:

FGM is child abuse and the government is committed to tackling and preventing this harmful and unacceptable practice.

We are introducing an unprecedented package of measures to strengthen protection for victims, encourage them to report the crime to the police and get support. We also want to prosecute those who knowingly let this terrible abuse happen to children they are responsible for.

We know that legislation alone cannot eradicate this unacceptable practice. But it is important that we change the law where necessary.

Committee Seeks Debate on Accommodation for Young People in care

This year, the government announced a legal duty on local authorities to financially support every care leaver who wishes to stay with foster parents until their 21st birthday. However, the duty does not extend to those children living in residential children’s homes or other types of accommodation.

A report which was recently released by The Education Committee on the subject of accommodation for over 16s in this context has received its response from the government, and now, the Committee would like to have a debate around those responses.

We’re heartened to see that the government is considering including those children who are currently living in other types of accommodation, and we hope the debate, should they have one, will be fruitful.

 

 

One Boy’s Story Inside the Care System

My name is Matthew* and I’m 13. I live with foster carers now, and they’re nice. I ended up in care when I was little because my parents abused me, but I still have to see them. I try not to make a fuss about that because the social workers say it’s important for me to have a relationship with my mum and dad, but I feel very uncomfortable during contact and more than anything, I wish someone would make it stop.

But nobody listens.

Nobody except my grandma.

My grandma is a very good person. Sometimes she says things that surprise me, but I know she loves me and I love her, too. She stands up for me. I can’t tell you how much that means to me.

My life is really restrictive. I can’t cycle around my neighbourhood because my family complained about cuts and bruises they’ve seen on me in the past. I tried to tell them I got them from doing regular activities like the kind boys do, but they wouldn’t listen. So now, I can’t cycle with my friends and because of another incident, I can’t socialise freely either. I’m so angry. I just want to be able to live my life.

But nobody listens.

Nobody except my grandma.

I want to see more of my grandma. But the social workers won’t let me. they’ve accused her of being addicted to drugs and alcohol, but she isn’t and all the tests they made her do came back negative. They say she’s harming me with the things she tells me, that she complains about the care system to me and tells me bad things about the people who work in it, but she isn’t. And sometimes, when she says things that are a bit awkward, I just brush it off. I don’t mind the things she says at all, it doesn’t affect me. She lets me speak my mind and stops when I ask her to. The real reason the social workers won’t let me have more contact is that they’re frightened of my grandma. They keep threatening to reduce contact if she carries on with her charity work which involves helping children in care have a voice. I don’t see how that comes into my contact with her. The social workers say she’s being vocal about my case and putting me at risk, but she isn’t – she’s just trying to get people to hear me.

But nobody listens.

Nobody except my grandma.

I’d like to spend time with my grandma without it being supervised. When we’re together, there’s a whole list of things we’re not allowed to do, which are supposed to be for my own good. The social worker told my grandma that boys my age don’t want affection, that we’re too old for it, but we’re not. We all need affection, at 1, 11 and 101.

I miss my grandma and the love she gives me so much. I got to live with her for a while. But the social workers took me away. On the day I went into care, I put stones under her car tyres so she wouldn’t leave me on my own.

The social workers are always criticising my grandma. It’s like they’ve got it in for her because she’s complained on my behalf about the way I’m being treated. It seems so childish – like a tit for tat. I feel like the adult, and the social workers just behave like squabbling children. It’s really depressing. The list of things my grandma can’t do or bring during contact is depressing too. These include:

  • No chocolates or crisps at contact unless permissions is given (what do they think I’m going to do, contract diabetes in an hour?)
  • No comments about wanting unsupervised contact or contact which occurs outside of the god forsaken contact centre (hardly quality contact)
  • No whispering during the contact session
  • No spontaneous kissing or hugging by my grandma

I’ve written a statement for my next court date. I would like to stop having to tell a million different people what my wishes and feelings are all the time. It would be fine, except

Nobody listens.

Nobody except my grandma.

I would like to be able to live my life, and although I’ve agreed to contact with my parents, I really don’t want to see them. I find it deeply upsetting – I feel like social services are abusing me. After years of being abused by my parents, now it’s the social worker’s turn. What’s wrong with everyone?

In my statement, I ask people to listen to me.

Will somebody listen?

* Name changed to protect this boy’s privacy

Stones

 

“No Need To Consider Human Rights in Private Family Cases Is Human Rights Compliant.”

Yes, that’s what the Court of Appeal have said, in a ruling on a private family law case which involved relocation issues and a Section 8 (Children Act 1989) application (which looks at contact and residence).

The case involved a husband and wife, who had two children together. They subsequently divorced, and the father remarried and went on to have a child with his second wife. The second wife was from America and began to miss her home town in the States, feeling increasingly unhappy in the UK. The father then sought permission to remove his two children with his first wife, and their half sibling to the US. The application was successfully opposed by his first wife, and the father appealed, citing Article 8 of the ECHR as one of the grounds for appeal. He argued, amongst other things, that refusal to move would violate his youngest daughter’s right to a family life, and would cause the unit to break apart due to the wife’s growing unhappiness at living in England.

The judge took the view that human rights considerations of this nature, in family cases only applied where a public authority was involved and directly responsible for any actions which might lead to interference of a family member’s human rights. The judge went on to say that Parliament had provided a legislative mechanism for parties with parental responsibility in this area, which is human rights compliant.

Ryder LJ said in the judgment:

“[…] can only be an attempt to impose the concept of ‘horizontality’ into private law children cases where the agency of the state is not the principal actor seeking to interfere in the family or the private life of those concerned.  If that is right, the submission is misguided.  In private law applications it is a person with parental responsibility who seeks to interfere with the Article 8 rights of the other relevant persons, be they other adults with parental responsibility or the children themselves. Parliament has provided a legislative mechanism for such a decision that is human rights compliant.  It is neither necessary nor appropriate for the Family Court in ordinary private law applications where there are no public law consequences to undertake a separate human rights proportionality evaluation balancing the effects of the interference on each person’s Article 8 rights so as to evaluate whether its decision is proportionate.  [Counsel for the father] could point to no jurisprudence to suggest otherwise.  That position is quite distinct from public law applications where such an evaluation is required by reason of the fact that a local authority applicant is a public authority seeking itself to interfere in the rights that are engaged.”

It’s an interesting judgment. Come on over and tell us what you make of it….

Many thanks to the superb Jerry Lonsdale for alerting us to this case.

Consultation: Non Molestation & Occupation Orders

In the wake of Sir James Munby, The President’s Practice Guidance (issued on 13th October), which effectively prevents ex parte non molestation injunctions from being issued for an unlimited period, Sir Nicholas Mostyn has released a consultation.

The consultation aims to look at the proposed language to be used for drafting these orders and the suggested format of the draft orders (and permitted deviations from the forms).

The Courts and Tribubals website tells us that comments should be sent to Joanna Wilkinson (Joanna.wilkinson@judiciary.gsi.gov.uk) by 10 November 2014.

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Baby P – The Untold Story

Award winning director Harry Singer has made a documentary for the BBC on the Baby P case. He felt that whilst a lot of attention was focused on the social workers involved in the tragedy, very little focus was placed upon other organisations involved who were also exposed to the signs and symptoms of Peter’s awful abuse, and who were also in a position to protect him from it.

The film offers a timeline of events and interviews with people including Sharon Shoesmith, Ed Balls, the social workers involved and the medical staff who saw Peter, too.

Singer told the BBC: “When I realised that Peter Connelly’s tragic death wasn’t uncommon – a child dies once every ten days at the hand of a parent in this country – I realised that the extraordinary reaction to his death might tell us something really fundamental about our society, the media, politics and about us. When I discovered that there were other professionals besides the social workers and the doctor who may also have been in a position to save him, I found myself wondering – did we really get the full story about this little boy’s death and if not, why not?”

This 90 minute film will be aired on 27th October, at 8.30pm on BBC1.

Sharon Shoesmith and Camila Batmanghelidjh Amongst Speakers At Children & Families Conference

A debate taking place on the 20th November will see Sharon Shoesmith, former director of Haringey’s children services (and the lady in charge during the Baby P tragedy) and Camila Batmanghelidjh of the excellent Kids Company, talking about best practice.

But you won’t be able to attend unless you’re a social worker or other permitted title holder (entry is free for these folks) or you’re prepared to pay around £200 for the privilege. We imagine this might dissuade any disgruntled members of the public from asking Shoesmith what she actually knows about best practice, however it should be an interesting event.

Professor Ray Jones CBE, will also be speaking at the event.

Ray Jones PictureSharon Shoesmith PictureCamila Batmanghelidjh

 

Best Of The Rest

Here are some news items that we think are of interest:

Many thanks to the lovely Debby for sharing the first news item with us.

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NEW: LIP Service – A Practical Guide for Parents & Children Going Through the Family Courts

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What’s the deal?

We’ve been thinking about providing a service which allows parents and children to get all the help they need, for a long time. We started with our divorce manual, which was a basic look at the system and then moved on to our Encyclopaedia on Family Law which whilst still active, we realised, was not enough.

So, what did you do?

We came up with LIP (Litigants In Person) Service: a Youtube channel filled with short videos on how to find information, build your case and navigate the court process. It won’t matter if you’re very new to the world of the family courts, because everything is explained in simple English and without the legal mumbo jumbo (and if we have to add it, we’ll break it down into every day speak for you).

Who are the video “How To’s” for?

LIP Service is for everyone. It’s for parents going through divorce, for families experiencing local authority intervention and it is especially for children. We know the legal aid cuts and the cost of representation are making it almost impossible to get the help you need and so we thought we would offer you a way of empowering your family, by giving you the best tools to make your way through the system, so you’re as prepared as you can be. And many of the tools we’ll share with you, are free.

Won’t this upset the legal profession?

Not the intelligent folks. Smart lawyers know that sharing knowledge and acquiring a skill are two very different things. Learning to become a lawyer takes years, and is not something most parents are interested in doing. Knowledge, though, is for everyone. We don’t tolerate neurotic information retention, and neither should you.

What’s a Data Pack?

Data Packs are added to every post we write for each video. They will include links to helpful websites and support groups, as well as organisations who we think are excellent and provide a good service, whether it’s signposting, support or something else super groovy.

Can we see the videos?

Our very first one is at the bottom of this post. It introduces the LIP service project and gives you a taste of what we’re going to be covering. We’re always very happy to receive feedback and suggestions for videos, so don’t be shy, we’re listening.

We really hope LIP service is helpful in some way; good luck…..

 

Children In The Vine Audio Series: Episode Seven

Children In The Vine

Based on actual events, 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 seventh episode, here.

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