Question It!

Welcome to another week. A World War free week. For now.

As calls for transparency within the Family Courts continue, a growing number of questions raised by MPs in the House of Commons ask about the data available on these courts.

More often than not, the Ministry of Justice and other relevant departments are unable to provide this information, either due to what’s claimed to be a disproportionate cost in having to collect these stats, or simply because the data is not stored in the first place.

Much of the data not stored or efficiently recorded could be considered essential information.

A recent example of a written request asked for details about stalking and harassment orders issued from 2014-2015. Whilst data on the number of orders was available, the Minister responding confirmed that details about specific restrictions included in a restraining order was not held centrally and could only be obtained at an unreasonable cost.

The minister went on to say that there were also no stats on how frequently perpetrators of stalking and harassment try to contact their victims through action in the civil or family courts.

Freedom of Information requests made by the public and campaigners asking for data on orders, policy implementation and the impact of legislation often come back with little or no information.

However, the government does publish reports and bulletins which include data about things like legal aid, litigants in person and the numbers of certain types of orders issued.

Our question, is this: what kind of Family Court focused data would you like the government to produce, or do we have enough stats for the time being?

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Child Welfare Debates In Parliament This Week

The 18th January was a busy day for child welfare matters in the House of Commons.

As Britain moves forward with plans to leave the EU, questions are now being asked about cross border agency information sharing, especially in relation to child protection.

Yesterday, ministers discussed how leaving the EU might affect Britain’s security, law enforcement and its criminal justice system.  Home Affairs Committee Chair, Yvette Cooper, asked whether the government planned to try to keep its Europol membership. Europol has worked closely with the Met in order to protect children from child abuse and exploitation.

The child abuse inquiry also continues to dominate Commons’ discussions.

In another debate, Ann Clwyd MP asked if the Home Department would take steps to encourage survivors of non recent child abuse to share their experience with the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. (And Ann, it is non recent rather than historic abuse, a term survivors and victims don’t care for much).

After research came to light exposing the practice of alleged abusers and convicted perpetrators of abuse personally cross examining their victims in court, the House has seen a flurry of activity on this issue.

Jess Phillips MP raised two questions this week. The first asked the Secretary Of State For Justice what plans the Department had to consult with Women’s Aid and survivors of domestic abuse on the ancillary measures needed to enforce a ban on perpetrators of domestic abuse from directly cross-examining their victims in the family court. Oliver Heald responded by saying the government was committed to addressing this issue as quickly as possible.

Jess also asked whether a timetable was in place to get this work underway – the government said it hoped to get this matter resolved soon.

Wishing everyone a good weekend,

Researching Reform.

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Thank You, Obama.

Ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States at 5pm tomorrow, avid supporters of outgoing POTUS Barack Obama have taken to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to show their appreciation for the former President.

The hashtag #ThanksObama, previously used to mock the President, has been turned on its head and social media users are adding it to photos and videos of the President and his family to express gratitude, and to show their support.

During his time in office, Obama was heavily criticised by many for his policy choices, strategy on foreign affairs and what some felt was a naive perception of politics.

We saw something different.

Whilst his time in office was not perfect, Obama lived his presidency like a man of principle rather than a cynic. He leaves us with a blueprint to protect the future.

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Report Finds Children Are Unnecessarily Removed From Parents

Whilst this is something we write about often on the blog and campaign passionately on, it is wonderful to see other organisations working to highlight poor policy especially in relation to children being removed from parents when better alternatives exist.

A new report by Legal Action For Women says that children are increasingly being removed from single parent families due to poverty and that mothers who actively come forward for help to improve their situations are finding their children are being taken from them instead. It also raises concerns over the ‘secrecy’ of family courts which prevent mothers from openly talking about their cases.

Dr Andy Bilson, who is emeritus professor of social work at the University of Lancashire, has been looking carefully at adoption data and concludes that the steep rise in care applications has less to do with an awareness of, or rise in incidents of neglect and more to do with policies which prioritise removal over support.

The article in the Guardian explains:

The report examined the cases of 56 women, all of whom came for help to fight for their children. Between them the women had 101 children; 71% of the women had suffered rape and/or domestic violence, 47% did not have a lawyer and 39% had mental health problems.

Anne Neale, one of the report’s authors, said: “Charges of neglect are used to punish, especially single-mother families, for their unbearably low incomes.

“The fundamental relationship between mother and child is dismissed as irrelevant to a child’s wellbeing and development, and the trauma of separation, and its lifelong consequences, are ignored.

“Mothers who are victims of domestic violence are refused help, blamed for ‘failing to protect’ their children, and punished with their removal.”

We could not agree with this report more. From financial incentives in adoption to a complete disregard for the importance of attachments and the impact of destroying them, the Family Court system is woefully behind when it comes to implementing effective and powerful child welfare policies.  We know that there are other, far better alternatives to placing children in care for the vast majority of cases, so the question has to be, why is the child welfare system not using them?

Read Legal Action For Women’s report “Suffer The Little Children”, here. 

Very many thanks to Charles Pragnell for alerting us to this development.

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Lord Janner’s Family To Apply For Core Participant Status At Child Abuse Inquiry

This just in.

Lord Janner’s family will be meeting with lawyers at the child abuse inquiry later on today, after previously deciding not to take part in the inquiry process. The family will argue that as Lord Janner is no longer alive, it would be unfair to include him in the Inquiry as he is not able to defend himself.

They will now be asking for Core Participant Status (CPS) in order to address the panel and counter any allegations made.

The Inquiry has very specific guidelines as to who can apply for CPS, with sole discretion to accept individuals resting with the Chair.

The rules tell us that:

“When determining any applications the Chair must, in particular, consider whether:

a. the person played, or may have played, a direct and significant role in relation to the matters to which the inquiry relates;

b. the person has a significant interest in an important aspect of the matters to which the inquiry relates; or

c. the person may be subject to explicit or significant criticism during the inquiry proceedings or in the report, or in any interim report.”

As Lord Janner is no longer alive, his family hope to represent him as Core Participants, however that alone will not be enough to guarantee a successful application as there is an obvious conflict of interest that could cause difficulties. Lord Janner’s relatives have always claimed his innocence, so it is not clear what kind of evidence they could offer the Inquiry, at least not under item a. above.

Even under item b. a ‘significant interest’ may not include an interest to prove a person’s innocence.

Item c. could offer the Janner family a stronger claim for Core Participant Status. It is likely that Lord Janner will be implicated in a series of child sexual abuse incidents, however item c. refers to the person in question, and not family members.

The final decision though, will rest with Professor Jay. As the rules go on to say:

“While the Chair is bound to consider the factors set out in Rule 5(2), it is open to her to take into account other relevant matters. The Chair is also not obliged to designate a person or organisation that meets the criteria set out in Rule 5 of the Inquiry Rules as a core participant. She has a wide discretion that she will exercise fairly, consistently and with an open mind.”

We will keep you posted.

Greville Janner, Comment

 

 

 

Children And Armed Conflict: Figures We Can’t Ignore.

One of our go-to newsletters for information on child welfare is the very excellent CRIN Wire, produced by the Child Rights International Network, whose website is also thought provoking and informative.

Usually we read the articles they share and tend to feel a little heavier for it, but this week’s mail took our breath away. As we were reading the summaries for each item, the sheer number of children who had been killed, recruited for war or exposed to its impact left us in disbelief.

Here are some of the statistics:

  • In South Sudan, 1,300 children were recruited by armed forces and armed groups in 2016. The total number of children used in conflict since 2013 is now more than 17,000.
  • In Yemen, the UN estimates that nearly 1,400 children have been killed and at least 2,140 injured with actual numbers likely to be “much higher”.
  • In Syria, it is believed that 300,000 children remain trapped, with more than two million children living in areas that are extremely difficult to reach due to the fighting taking place
  • In Iraq,  UNICEF believes that more than 50,000 children have been affected by the Mosul military operation and associated conflicts. These children need basic services, psychosocial support and access to education.
  • UNICEF claims that more than 90 per cent of children reaching Italy’s shores are separated or unaccompanied. It estimates that in 2016, around 25,800 unaccompanied or separated children arrived in Italy.

We don’t think we need to say anything else.

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Researching Reform For LexisNexis: Bill’s Innovation Clauses Are Irresponsible And Dangerous

Although the Innovation Clauses in the Children and Social Work Bill have been backed by government ministers and consultant, professor Eileen Munro, Researching Reform is deeply opposed to these clauses and we explain why in our latest article for Lexis Nexis Family Law.

Whilst progressive ideas should be fostered and supported within the child welfare sector and unnecessary rules and regulations on how to deliver services should be reviewed and changed where appropriate, stripping the system of fundamental obligations towards vulnerable children is not innovation.

Researching Reform argues that innovation can’t be achieved using pathways which at their heart prioritise cost cutting, but through other means which are far more effective (and may well save money in the long run).

For those who feel strongly about any part of the Children and Social Work Bill, whether for or against proposed clauses, today is the last day to have your say over at the Commons Public Bill Committee. Get your two cents in before 5pm today.

You can catch our piece here. 

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Question It!

Welcome to another week.

As part of its Truth Project, which records and publishes individual experiences related to abuse, it has been revealed that the nation’s child abuse inquiry will be going into jails to ask prisoners about their personal experiences of child abuse.

The Inquiry believes the prison population harbours a significant portion of victims of child abuse and that several inmates may have turned to crime after being damaged by their treatment as children.

Critics of the move have expressed concern that some prisoners may lie about having been abused to justify their offences or make fraudulent compensation claims. Others are questioning the way in which the experiences will be collected, suggesting that allowing experiences to be recorded by the Project before checking the facts could lead to innocent people being implicated.

Barrister, Barbara Hewson:

“I think it is trawling. It’s all very well to say they want to look into institutional abuse but the more they do this and encourage people, some people will start to think maybe they can go for compensation.

They may well be people who have a long history of dishonesty and who see this as an opportunity to portray themselves as being wronged.”

Former Tory MP, Harvey Proctor, who was investigated over child abuse claims:

“There is no veracity in the Truth Project because statements are made to it without any checks.

Anyone can say anything about anyone and it is not checked, but it goes down in history as truth. Many of the prisoners will have lied to the courts, but the inquiry has the default position that they believe what is said.”

Those in favour of the Truth Project and this latest initiative explain that there is strong evidence to suggest that victims and survivors of abuse are over represented in prisons, and whilst claims made won’t be checked by the Inquiry itself, cases will be passed on to the police to investigate.

The Truth Project was designed to allow men and women abused as children to share their stories. Being able to share experiences in this way is believed to be cathartic and offers those abused the chance to feel vindicated after long periods, often, of having to conceal abuse or face ridicule and disbelief when trying to alert others to their experiences.

Our question this week then, is this: do you agree with those against the initiative, or those for it?

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