Should domestic abusers be allowed contact with their children? – Voice of the Child Podcast

What happens when a domestically abusive parent asks for contact with their child following a separation or divorce in the family courts?

And is the family court in its current form the best place to process child contact requests in cases where there are allegations of domestic abuse, or where one parent has already been convicted of at least one violent offence?

This week, the Voice of the Child speaks with campaigners Sammy Woodhouse and Victoria Hudson about a new campaign they’ve launched, which proposes some radical changes to the family justice system in England and Wales, and why forcing children to have contact with parents who have been domestically abusive to the other parent is often harmful to them.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Additional links:

Glossary of terms used in the podcast:

Catch Victoria and Sammy on Twitter @victoria_hudson and @sammywoodhouse1. Social media users can talk about the campaign using the Forgotten Victims Of Family Court hashtag #forgottenvictimsOfFC

If you are a victim of domestic abuse, or worried about someone who you think might be, Women’s Aid offers a number of ways you can get help and support.

Judge at the centre of controversial forced abortion case promoted by Family Court President

The President of the Family Division, Andrew McFarlane, has appointed a judge whose ruling on a controversial case was overturned by the Court of Appeal, to become Family Division Liaison judge for the Midlands Family Court.

Mrs Nathalie Lieven, who was promoted to the role on 13 April, made an order in the Court of Protection in 2019 to force a pregnant Nigerian woman with learning difficulties to have an abortion against her wishes, on the grounds that it was in her best interests.

Lieven’s order caused a national outcry after she delivered a judgment in which she said the woman – whose learning difficulties were considered to be mild – was unlikely to understand what having a baby meant, and that “she would like to have a baby in the same way she would like to have a nice doll.”

The order was overturned by Lady Justice King, Lord Justice McCombe, and Lord Justice Jackson in the Court of Appeal. In their judgment, delivered by Lady Justice King, the judges held that, “In the end, the evidence taken as a whole was simply not sufficient to justify the profound invasion of [the woman’s] rights represented by the non-consensual termination of this advanced pregnancy.”

Lieven also failed to hold the government to account over its unlawful behaviour during the pandemic following the Department of Education’s decision to relax central safeguards for children in care. In a judgment handed down last year, she said she would have ruled that the decision was unlawful had it not been made during “a national crisis of such urgency.”

Family Division Liaison judges hold several responsibilities, which include recommending lawyers they select to become Recorders and Circuit Judges to sit as judges of the High Court. The liaison position runs for four years, following which the President of the Family Division appoints a new judge to take up the role.

Lieven, whose background is predominantly in planning law and administrative law, is the chair of the Council of the Inns of Court Pupillage Matched Funding Grants Committee, and a member of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, an independent judicial body which provides support for victims of unlawful covert investigations by public authorities.

More about judge Lieven:

Children’s Commissioner launches the Big Ask questionnaire for kids

Welcome to another week, and thank you for your patience as we dialled down the number of posts over the last couple of weeks. Researching Reform will have some news to share with you shortly, which we hope will be welcomed by families across the UK.

In the meantime, the Children’s Commissioner, Rachel de Souza, has launched a nationwide survey for children aged 4-17 in England, and a survey for 18 year olds and adults, which she hopes will identify the barriers in children’s lives that are stopping them from reaching their full potential.

The press release about the survey, which is called the Big Ask, says the questionnaire is the largest ever consultation undertaken with children in England.

The survey went live today, and will run for one month, until 19 May, when it will be closed.

The Frequently Asked Questions section explains that the survey will be shared with as many children as possible, through schools, youth groups, local authorities, charities who work with children and young people, Children in Care Councils, children’s homes, children’s mental health services, youth justice settings, community groups and other networks which represent or have access to children.

There is a survey format for children with special needs, and experiences of children under 3 will be gathered in workshops and discussions with parents who have small children rather than through the survey.

Children can complete the survey anonymously. The data collected from every response will be held by the Commissioner’s office for two years and deleted unless there is a compelling reason to keep the data, where, for example, the data could be of assistance to researchers.

There is also a survey for 18 year olds which can be answered by care leavers, parents, or adults who work with children.

The survey takes between 5-10 minutes to complete, according to the Big Ask’s home page.

You can access the surveys, the FAQs and additional resources for sharing the survey here.

Online event: Marking motherhood on the body – the tattoos of mothers who live apart from their children

Welcome to another week.

An online seminar looking at the stigma faced by mothers who lose children to the care system – and who often carry their children with them through body art – is taking place this month.

The event has been put together by the university of Lancaster’s Center for Child & Family Justice Research, and will be hosted by Lisa Morriss (CFJ) who will deliver a seminar for the Morgan Centre, University of Manchester, and Siobhan Beckwith, co-founder of Women Centre’s Mothers Apart- Common Threads Collective.

Lisa and Siobhan will share the initial findings of a pilot project funded by the Sociological Review. The page for the event says the researchers used “a narrative approach alongside arts-based visual methodologies to explore the inscription of tattoos with 8 mothers who live apart from their children. Highly stigmatised and often silenced through the scrutiny of state intervention and personal shame, these mothers carry images and the names of their children on their body in the form of tattoos.”

The page goes on to say, “For these mothers, this is a unique form of loss and trauma as their children are alive, but many mothers are not allowed to know where their children are living. The children are a ‘ghostly presence’; there and not there at the same time (Gordon, 2008). The loss is especially difficult during the pandemic when the mothers are desperate to know that their child is well.”

“The tattoo is a way of embodying motherhood; keeping their child(ren) with them – etched in their skin – until reunification. Thus, their tattoos mark past separation, present connection, and hope for future reunification with their child. The intimacy of tattooing your child(ren) on your body can be seen as a way of challenging the silencing that stigma brings; and enabling the telling of alternative stories.”

The seminar, which takes place on 28 April, from 3-4pm (UK time) is open to everyone and is free to attend.

To register for the seminar, click here.

For more details on the event, you can email Lisa at (lisa.morriss@lancaster.ac.uk).

Bios:

Siobhan Beckwith is co-founder of WomenCentre’s Mothers Apart- Common Threads Collective which takes a collaborative approach to increasing awareness of the lives of mothers who live apart from their children. She is the co-author of In our hearts: Stories and wisdom of mothers living apart from their children and co-editor of I had to dig deep, exploring the isolation experiences of mothers apart during the Covid 19 pandemic. Siobhan is currently studying for her doctorate at the University of Huddersfield exploring the mental health of mothers living apart from their children following removal.

Lisa Morriss is a Lecturer in the Sociology Department at Lancaster University. Lisa developed the concept of ‘haunted motherhood’ after her experiences as a researcher in the archives of the Family Court. She has published work on haunted futures in Imogen Tyler and Tom Slater’s Sociological Review Monograph on Stigma; and has talked about her experiences in the archives on the BBC 4 radio show Thinking Allowed in the episode on Stigma. Lisa received a Sociological Review Kick Start Award to fund the Marking Motherhood project.

Researching Reform apologises for its silence over the last two weeks as we’ve been working behind the scenes on an upcoming project, which we will unveil shortly.

The Buzz

Welcome to another week.

These are the latest child welfare items that should be right on your radar:

In a world first, a corporal punishment case goes to the UN – Voice of the Child Podcast

A young girl has lodged a case at the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) detailing the relentless corporal punishment and abuse she experienced at her school in Sri Lanka, when she was just 11 years old.

The case, believed to be the first of its kind, has been accepted by the top UN body, and asks the court to protect all children in Sri Lanka from corporal punishment, and to put an end to conflicting legislation inside the country which has created a loophole allowing child assaults.

Speaking to the Voice of the Child from London, Adriana Wickramanayaka Cutter, who is now 14, talked about the violence she experienced at an international school in Sri Lanka and how it led to a trauma diagnosis.

Like many children at school in Sri Lanka, Adriana was subjected to repeated blows to the head, painful bouts of ear pulling and demands to kneel before male teachers in front of the class, as forms of discipline. After her parents complained, the school waged a bullying campaign against Adriana, which lasted almost two years.

Her brother Alex Wickramanayaka Cutter, 18, spoke about how his sister’s treatment affected him, and what happened to him after his parents objected to the routine use of corporal punishment at the school.

Adriana and Alex’s mother Dr Thushara Wickramanayaka, who is the daughter of former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka, and the founder of the Stop Child Cruelty Trust, joined the call from Sri Lanka to explain how the law suit came about, and why it is needed to put at end to a culture of child assault around the world.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Early Years Review Launches Virtually

A long-awaited government report into improving health and development outcomes of babies and young children in England launches today.

The Early Years Review, led by Andrea Leadsom MP, will launch virtually this afternoon, on Zoom.

The event, chaired by Leadsom, includes 10 speakers:

  • Lord Russell of Liverpool
  • Dr Cheryll Adams – Executive Director, Institute of Health Visiting
  • Professor Jane Barlow – Professor of Evidence Based Intervention and Policy Evaluation, University of Oxford
  • Professor Viv Bennett – Chief Nurse, Public Health England & Government Advisor on Public Health Nursing and Midwifery
  • Miriam Cates MP – Member of Parliament for Penistone and Stocksbridge
  • Professor Peter Fonagy – Head of the Division of Psychology and Language Science, UCL & Chief Executive of the Anna Freud Centre
  • Dr Alain Gregoire – Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist & Founder and Honorary President, Maternal Mental Health Alliance
  • Anne Longfield – Former Children’s Commissioner for England
  • Tim Loughton MP – Member of Parliament for East Worthing and Shoreham
  • Professor Eunice Lumsden – Head of Early Years, University of Northampton

The event will run from 1pm – 3pm, during which attendees will have the opportunity to ask the Chair and additional speakers questions.

The press release from the Department of Health and Social Care can be accessed here.

Organisations who wish to attend can register their interest here.

Children and the European Court of Human Rights – Event

An online seminar scheduled for this afternoon and hosted by Nottingham University, will look at child-focused cases which have been brought to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg.

The speaker for the event is Dr Claire Fenton-Glynn, a senior lecturer in law at Cambridge University.

Dr Fenton-Glynn, who has written a pioneering book, Children and the European Court of Human Rights, will be talking about the contents of her book, which look at ECHR case law touching upon areas including juvenile justice, immigration, education, religion, family life, child protection, and adoption.

The event takes places today, Wednesday 24th March 2021, from 3pm – 4pm, and appears to be free to attend.

You can register for the event here, which will be held on Microsoft Teams, and send any questions or queries to hrlc@nottingham.ac.uk