Family Drug And Alcohol Courts To Be Rolled Out Natiownwide

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Researching Reform have been fans of the Family Drug And Alcohol Court (FDAC) since Nick Crichton showed us the blue prints long before their implementation in the UK and we are delighted to see that the court is now being extended to other parts of the country.

With a proven track record for helping families with drug and alcohol addiction, most crucially beyond the process so that many families remain sober and drug free, its therapeutic approach to substance abuse and its child friendly ethos make it a positive and pioneering addition to the family justice system.

New locations for the court include East Sussex, Kent and Medway, Plymouth, Torbay and Exeter, and West Yorkshire.

Originally a US export, FDAC was so successful overseas that when Nick Crichton, who at the time was the only full time family law judge in England saw the blue prints for the project he knew he was looking at something special. Implementing the court here though, has been an uphill struggle. With the government offering only meagre funding to start with and bullishly ignoring the startling results of the court, Nick found himself having to push for a number of years to get the court’s benefits, and the need for its nationwide implementation recognised.

That day has arrived and we are thrilled for Nick and FDAC, and the many more families who will be able to access this most humane and effective resource, which promises to keep more families together in the future.

The Buzz

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

DNA tests to cut courtroom battles – DNA tests in family courts will be provided across England from later this year says Justice Minister Simon Hughes. The new measure will for the first time, allow family judges to order DNA tests to establish a child’s parentage.

Child abuse goes back hundreds of years, says John Allen care home victim – will the priority be uncovering the extent of the abuse in England throughout history or offering surviving victims of child sexual abuse justice?

Child abuse protections not filtering through to frontline – yet again, practice does not make perfect, despite all the guidelines…..

Buzz

Petition for Mother Whose Throat Was Slashed By Her Partner and Then Ordered To Send Him Letters in Prison

The terrible story of a mother who was brutally attacked by her partner in front of their two year old twin boys and who now must write to him whilst he serves prison time for trying to kill her has, quite rightly, created outrage amongst the public both here in England and internationally.

Now, a petition has been created to try to get the callous order revoked, which forces the mother to update the father of the boys on the children’s progress and also to establish contact with the boys through correspondence he is sending to them.

Whilst the judge may feel he applied the law correctly in this case, and with a recent ruling which suggests that human rights breaches may not be taken into consideration for private family law cases seemingly bolstering his position, it’s going to be an uphill battle trying to get the Order revoked, but it can be done.

This Order is not in the best interests of the children and does not take into account the mother’s trauma either, and whether the family courts like it or not, human rights cannot be brushed aside in family law cases when it suits them, or use the excuse, as they have done in the past, that private law cases are exempt because a public authority is not involved. It is a manifestly unfair judgment, to say the least.

We say go for it, we’re right behind you. And if you agree, please sign the petition, which has already garnered nearly 8,000 signatures. They only need 2,000 more. Let’s complete this petition by tomorrow morning….

Thank you to the lovely Thelemic Waves for alerting us to this petition.

Conference: Genital Autonomy – It’s a Personal Choice

It’s no secret that at Researching Reform we would like to see the end of male and female genital mutilation for non therapeutic purposes, so it’s with pleasure that we share a conference taking place in May which seeks to highlight the myths and double standards surrounding circumcision. 

The conference is being hosted by advocacy organisation Genital Autonomy, which works to end the use of non-therapeutic genital surgery on children whether male, female or intersex. Their work is rooted in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and supports the Helsinki Declaration 2012,  which seeks to establish the Right of Genital Autonomy as a fundamental right. That right defines every human being’s entitlement to personal control of their own genital and reproductive organs.

Set to take place from 6th-9th may this year, the conference, which will be held in Frankfurt, will look at the culture, myths and rights surrounding genital cutting and will include speakers from legal and medical backgrounds as well as ethics and human rights councils.

We would like to thank the Chief Officer of Genital Autonomy David Smith for alerting us to this conference.

Question It!

Welcome to a slightly Springier Monday and the promise of the future. Our question today is about technology and its proposed use in family law cases.

We are told this week that a Civil Justice Council report recommends handling certain cases online, in order to speed up case handling and make justice more accessible.  This would include certain types of family law cases, though the nature of the cases and the way in which this might work for family matters is not yet clear. What we do know is that it may work along similar lines to dispute resolution processes.

Our question to you then, is just this: do you think ‘online justice’ in family cases could make justice accessible to all, or do you think it might erode access to justice further?

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Judge Forces Mother Whose Throat Was Slit By Partner To Write To Him Whilst In Prison

It’s a case which is bound to cause a furore amongst the general public, but a judge has just ruled that a mother whose throat was slit by her partner must now write to him whilst he is in prison, to update him on their children.

The mother, who had been contemplating leaving the father due to his excessive drinking, had been having an affair. It was the discovery of this affair that spurred the father on to attack the mother. The attack lasted for seven hours and resulted in the father breaking several bones in the mother’s face, as well as a full slit to her throat. The mother is lucky to be alive – she had to call 999 herself after the father refused to call for help. She was subsequently found in bed with her two, two-year old twin boys, who were covered in her blood. The children saw their father beat their mother with dumbbells, slash her throat with a knife and attempt to suffocate her with a pillow.

Despite the severity of the attack, the father was sentenced to only nine years in prison, for malicious wounding and intent to cause grievous bodily harm. How he escaped an attempted murder charge is startling.

Yet even more startling is the latest judgment in this case, which now requires the mother to write to the father, who has since applied for a contact and residence order in relation to their now five year old boys. The mother, it should be noted, was self represented, whilst the father had legal aid and the best counsel tax payers’ money could buy once again raising troubling issues about the uneven playing field in family cases in Britain today.

The legal principles in this case are what many will be championing, or questioning, depending upon which side of the fence you sit on. Under the law, both in our home grown legislation and within European Human Rights laws, parents are entitled to have a relationship with their children and children too are entitled to have a relationship with their parents in the first instance, and subject to that relationship benefitting the welfare of any children involved. That right to family life serves to protect children, but it can also, when misapplied, cause them harm.

The judge may well have felt that despite the father’s actions towards the mother, his right to a relationship with his children, and theirs with him, must come before the mother’s own relationship with the father, however strained it may be. This is the current thinking in law, and as such the judge has not deviated from what some might consider the norm, or even, the correct application of the law. Except that it isn’t, and here’s why.

The Children Act 1989, which is where applications for contact and residence orders are solidified, has a preamble. It asks that any judge applying principles in family matters place child welfare above everything else. That a child’s wellbeing is the paramount consideration in every case. This presumption is sometimes called the Paramountcy Principle.

The family courts still apply this principle incorrectly in cases like these. The view that a parent who hurts another parent is automatically entitled to contact with their children because they are not considered a danger to their children is fundamentally flawed. Any child witnessing domestic violence in the home is, as research tells us and any parent knows, going to be negatively affected by that experience, often very deeply affected – even if it is a one-off incident or the first incident they witness. That first incident can be, and often is, the most shocking to the nervous system of all.

The children in this case are now five. There is no evidence from the reporting of the case that the children were consulted on the letter writing aspects of the case, or indeed the thought of contact with their father when he leaves prison. Laws currently in place, as well as policy make it clear that the voice of the child should be heard in such cases. There is also no information on whether the children were assessed after the attack and given support. We would not be surprised if this kind of procedure didn’t even take place, given the poor state of the system.

Another overlooked aspect of cases like these is how a physical attack on one parent translates into parenting competence in general. The father had been drinking excessively for an extended period of time. That behaviour was concern enough for the mother to choose to leave the father, which she was about to do prior to the attack, and which may have shown to her credit, a desire to protect her children from a controlling and perhaps troubled human being. We are told that the father was also a part time soldier in the Territorial Army. The implication here is that the father, as a soldier, would have been trained to control his, we can assume, superior combat skills. In short, he had a duty to show physical restraint. The very obvious lack of restraint, from binge drinking to a very violent outburst needs to be examined. And we have no evidence from the reporting of this case that it has been, or that the father is now fit and mentally well. All of this is cause for concern when considering the welfare of children in family cases.

But perhaps the most worrying failure of all is the court’s failure to understand that any parent capable of attempting to deprive their children of the other through physical violence is not a competent parent themselves. It is a fundamentally selfish act which seeks to remove a parental element, in this case the primary carer, from a child’s life. It is this principle which the courts pay little mind to in the ruminating of facts and family policy in the day to day process of family hearings, but a principle, ironically, which is applied in relation to other forms of non violent parental alienation.

There just isn’t enough information on this case to be able to understand how the judge came to his conclusion, but one thing is certain: forcing the mother to write to the father is an outright disgrace, both for the lack of sensitivity to the mother and the trauma it may cause the children too.

Child Abuse Inquiry: Update

Although the new Chair for the nation’s Statutory Inquiry into Child Abuse, Justice Lowell Goddard confirmed earlier this week in a meeting with the Home Affairs Committee that she would need to travel to and from her native New Zealand in the next few weeks to get her affairs in order, she also promised to get the ball rolling.

And that she has. In the last few days, we have been told that Scotland is likely to remain outside of the Inquiry’s scope, choosing to deal with such matters themselves, and that Northern Ireland may well be included, subject to Justice Goddard reviewing the request and satisfying herself that there would be no major overlap with their own current inquiry into child abuse.

The latest development now relates to the number of years the inquiry is likely to go back for its investigation. Sources are saying that Justice Goddard is looking to find a suitable starting point for looking at child abuse in the UK, with 1945 being suggested by some as a good place to begin. However, Justice Goddard is acutely aware that cut-off points are not always a rational way to frame an inquiry as people who have been abused prior to the starting point inevitably go unheard, and unaided. Goddard is said to be looking into the issue and hopes to find a starting point that’s suitable.We are told Home Secretary Theresa May is also supporting an extension of the time frame.

As always though, these inquiries are riddled with moral dilemmas emanating from every quarter. This news item looks at the potential pitfalls and problems with the child abuse inquiry in relation to information sharing in child abuse allegations involving MI5 and other secret service details.  Justice Goddard and Theresa May have a task on their hands ensuring that child abuse atrocities are not swept under the carpet in favour of protecting state secrets.

And Labour has jumped onto the child abuse bandwagon with their latest proposals to make failures to report child abuse a crime and to teach children about sex from the age of five.  Given that most labour politicians couldn’t stay five minutes to hear Theresa May’s historic announcement on the child abuse inquiry recently, we hope no one will take their shoddy attempt at trying to win votes seriously. They may though take the view that it ain’t over til the fat lady on the pink bus sings……

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Open Letter on Shaken Baby Syndrome and Courts: A False and Flawed Premise

One of the difficulties with family work is that it is a fast changing and complex discipline which requires organised and proactive reactions to new advances in the many fields it incorporates. It also requires meticulous application of knowledge combined with a sensitive and skilled approach to child welfare matters, much of which is often missing inside the family courts, either in part or in whole. This latest open letter written by established legal and medical professionals calling on the justice system and the professionals who work in it to proceed cautiously when diagnosing Shaken Baby Syndrome, is a good reminder of the need to be extremely careful when handling cases inside the family courts.

Shaken Baby Syndrome is a growing area in terms of our knowledge about it and there is still a lot of room for error. The lack of resources inside the system combined with a need for speedy resolution of cases in a system which is backlogged and under new time restrictions, all causing a sense of urgency and added pressure, mean that the margin for error increases. Do read this letter if you have time, as it is considered and thoughtful.

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Happy Valentine’s Day, To Our Children, Big and Small

Whilst Valentine’s Day is widely known for being an opportunity to make a profit out of loved up and lonely hearts, its roots stem from purer beginnings. Roman holidays to celebrate and protect true love as well as Chaucer’s own efforts to establish the tradition of romantic love in all its chivalry (and we love Chaucer for this, and many other things), make February 14th as good a day as any to remind us why we love, love so much.

At Researching Reform we make this celebration our own (as everyone should) and for us it means remembering the importance of giving love, even if not yet fully scientifically proven (and yes, we’re getting there), to our children.

Today, we will be thinking about children all over the world. Those children who are being hurt in the pursuit of power, those who have been abused by adults whose savage cruelty have left an indelible mark and those children who continue to suffer. These children all need many things, including unconditional love.

So we would like to take this opportunity to remind our peers and ministers dealing with child welfare matters that they cannot lose sight of this often elusive element in child welfare policy, and that it is just as important as food, and shelter for our children.

We would also like to remind established members of the Statutory Inquiry into Child Abuse that they are working to provide a safe and loving space for the children of the future, and that the survivors they will be working with were also once children denied of a loving home. And when they demand your attention and seek you out for questioning, that you listen, to each and every one, as many times as they need you to.

To one and all, we wish you a happy day, filled with the kind of love that makes your heart leap, whether it’s the touch of your soulmate’s hand or the taste of heart-shaped chocolate. And for all our parents who are not with their children today, we dedicate this post to you, and believe with all our hearts that true love is never, truly forgotten.

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Child Rapists No Longer Automatically Given Early Release Under New Law

A range of new laws given Royal Assent today, means that child rapists serving prison sentences will no longer be automatically released after serving half of their sentence.

Offenders will have to show that they are no longer a danger to the public, in order to secure release, under the new measures in place.

The measures not only affect child rapists, but those individuals who have committed other serious offences in law, including terrorist acts.

The changes are expected to affect around 500 offenders a year.

The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill sets out the new measures which include life imprisonment for killing a police or prison officer, and fines and possible prison sentences for the newly defined phenomenon, revenge porn.

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