Call For Submissions: How are children’s connections to birth families being managed during the COVID-19 lockdown?

Th urgent project hopes to develop guidance to support families and professionals in managing virtual contact when face-to-face contact is restricted, and to use the findings to innovate “long-term solutions”.

The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, which has commissioned the project, is inviting everyone to offer their experiences of birth family contact during the lockdown.

The research will be conducted by Professor Elsbeth Neil and Ruth Copson from the Centre for Research on Children and Families at the University of East Anglia.

The press release says:

“The research team is looking for families and practitioners to share their experiences of maintaining contact between children and their birth relatives during the crisis. This could be social workers, guardians, contact supervisors, foster carers, adoptive parents, birth relatives or others involved in managing contact.”

You can get in touch with the team using the contact details below:

Ruth Copson: r.copson@uea.ac.uk or by phone/text on 07858 134673.

Beth Neil: e.neil@uea.ac.uk

The Observatory also provides a fact sheet explaining the project further and why it is needed, as well as a very good explanation of your rights as a contributor.

You can access the full press release here. 

NFJO

“Any process that drives parents to the edge so feel they have nothing left to live for needs reevaluating.” – Voice of the Child Podcast

For our tenth episode, the Voice of the Child looks at how the UK Family Courts’ handling of the Coronavirus outbreak has affected child contact for families in child protection cases.

While guidance on what parents should do in relation to child arrangements orders (typically made in private family law cases) during the outbreak has been given by the President of the Family Division, very little has been done to address the massive council and contact centre closures which have impacted children’s access to their birth parents in public family law cases.

Sarah* a mother who has recently been through the family courts for child protection proceedings, explains how her court-ordered contact has been put on hold and the significant issues within her case which have led up to this moment.

Sarah also gives the Family Courts an important message at the end of the interview.

A very big thank you to Sarah for bravely taking part in the programme which was particularly emotional, and for being on the front line in the fight against COVID-19. Sarah is an NHS nurse currently working during the Coronavirus outbreak.

You can listen to the Voice of the Child here. 

*Sarah is not the mother’s real name.

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Group Calls on UK Government to Protect Vulnerable Families During COVID-19 Outbreak

A statement published by the Support Not Separation group asks the government to satisfy seven demands aimed at protecting vulnerable families during the outbreak.

The statement has been issued jointly with details of an online protest taking place later today.

The group, which campaigns to end discrimination against children and parents living in poverty, has called on the government to implement the following measures:

  1. A Care Income for single mothers and other primary carers;
  2. Appropriate emergency housing for women and children escaping domestic violence (we are adding France’s initiative to use hotels as a potential solution);
  3. A freeze on rent, mortgage and utility bill payments until further notice;
  4. Universal Credit should be paid immediately from day one;
  5. Schools must provide free breakfast and lunch every day (the government has launched a vouchers scheme – some suggestions have been offered on social media to extend this scheme);
  6. Resources must be provided for children in state “care” to have regular on line contact with their birth mothers, siblings and other family members and;
  7. Children’s contact with fathers who have been reported for violence should be stopped.

The online protest, or Twitter Storm which is scheduled for 12.30pm-1.30pm, replaces the group’s monthly protests outside the Family Court in Holborn, London.

The group’s press release says, “We’ll use the hashtag #SupportNotSeparation in our tweets to the Minister for Children & Families, Vicky Ford MP @vickyford.”

The coalition has offered a series of tweets it will be sharing on the social media platform with the Minister, including:

  • “Mothers must be able to afford to care for their children & keep them safe during #COVID19.  Poverty is not neglect. No child should be taken into “care” because parents can’t afford food, clothing or housing. #CareIncomeNow”
  • “Family courts: stop taking children from their mothers; stop forced adoptions.”
  • “Family courts: stop forcing children to have contact with violent fathers. CAFCASS: stop siding with violent fathers.”
  • “Mothers are the first protectors. Support mothers to support children. #CareIncomeNow”
  • “Children need their mums! Mothers need money and resources not child abduction!  #CareIncomeNow”

The coalition has invited people to add their own tweets as well.

Support Not Separation’s statement can accessed here, and we recommend reading it in full, as it contains a lot of important information.

You can also follow and interact with the coalition on Twitter @NotSeparation.

SNS

Myth Busting Children and the Novel Coronavirus – Voice of the Child Podcast

In our ninth Voice of the Child podcast, we address the myths about the novel Coronavirus and how it affects children, and discuss the latest paediatric research focusing on the disease.

South Korea, which has been hailed by the World Health Organisation as a global model to follow for stemming the spread of COVID-19, is several weeks ahead of the UK in battling the virus, and emerging research from the country paints a more complex picture of the disease and how it is impacting children.

Dr Un Sun Chung is the national lead for South Korea’s School Mental Health Resource Center and is regularly invited to discuss child welfare issues by national and international media. She works as a child psychiatrist at Kyungpook National University Children’s Hospital, in Daegu, South Korea, which pioneered the testing kits being used around the world today.

In this podcast, Dr Chung talks about how South Korea managed to contain the first wave of its outbreak, misinformation around the virus and how it affects children, ways we can help children who are being abused at home, and what parents and carers can do to support their children during the outbreak.

You can listen to the Voice of the Child here. 

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Useful Links

It Is Time for Doctors to Start Seeing the Signs and Hearing the Cries of Abused Children as Professional Guardians – Research Paper by Dr Chung

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Is an Important Issue for Korea in 2015 – Research Paper by Dr Chung

 

Protecting Children from Domestic Violence During the Coronavirus Outbreak – Voice of the Child Podcast

For our eighth Voice of the Child podcast, we look at how children are affected by domestic violence, and what we can all do as a society to protect them from harm during the UK’s lockdown phase as it battles with the novel Coronavirus.

Rachel Williams, a survivor and campaigner, Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (IDVA), and the founder of Stand UP To Domestic Abuse (SUTDA), speaks with the Voice of the child about her family’s own tragic experience of domestic violence, which led one of her sons to take his own life. She also offers important advice on how we can help children being abused during the outbreak.

TRIGGER WARNING: the podcast includes information about Rachel’s experiences, including a detailed account of the serious injuries she suffered, as well as discussions about suicide and abuse. 

You can listen to the Voice of the Child here.

Let us know what you think of the podcast in our comments section, Facebook page, or on Twitter using the hash tag #VOTC.

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Useful Links

Bright Sky App

Incident Tracker (Please contact the foundation for the app’s name)

Silent Solution System (Texting in distress)

COVID-19 Revolutionises Family Courts – Overnight

A deadly virus ravaging the world has managed to do in 24 hours what no judge in the history of the family courts has been able to do in over a decade: modernise the family courts.

New guidelines issued by Mr Justice MacDonald, a high court judge who specialises in child protection, call for the mandatory use of online video streaming platforms and electronic bundles in order to protect parties to hearings from the novel Coronavirus.

MacDonald has asked that the measures, which come as the UK government puts social distancing regulations in place to contain the virus, be implemented without delay after several successful remote hearings for child welfare cases were conducted.

Input from forward-thinking family judge Justice Mostyn and others have been combined to create the current rules inside the Remote Access Family Court guidance.

The guidance is a working document, meaning that it will be continually revised and updated when needed.

The document explains that the family courts continue to be fully operational during the outbreak, and offers the legislative background which enables the courts to conduct hearings using online platforms like Skype and Zoom.

The guidance also highlights the challenges the courts face in trying to ensure the hearings are carried out online, including getting judges to use online conference platforms, issuing applications and orders and recording hearings. Those who use technology will be aware that all of these issues are resolvable.

MacDonald also comments on the need to ensure transparency is key during the outbreak and that journalists should remain a feature of the family courts where appropriate:

“It is likely that FPR 27.11(3), which permits the press to be excluded if justice would be impeded or prejudiced is wide enough to permit the court to exclude the press from a remote hearing if the remote hearing could not, practically, take place if this step were not taken. It remains however, highly desirable, particularly at a time of national crisis, that the operation of the Family Courts is as transparent as possible in the circumstance.”

The guidance also offers extra support for Litigants in Person. MacDonald has asked that the courts intervene to ensure that they help LIPs with access to online platforms. Further guidelines have also been offered to court staff to help them provide access to LIPs through video and telephone conferencing sites. 

MacDonald sets down a comprehensive list of online platforms and how to use them, which should help family professionals who may be new to the technology.

It will be interesting to see how this modernisation affects daily practice in the family courts after the outbreak has come to an end. It is inevitable that there will be the usual tensions between legal professionals wanting to bill for their time and the cost-cutting impact of technology on the system.

However, our prediction is that this terrible tragedy will provide a much-needed technological jolt to the family courts, and we are likely to see a much more electronic court process in the future.

You can access the guidance here. 

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