Charlie Gard’s Parents To Appeal At Supreme Court

In the wake of Tuesday’s Appeal Court judgment which ruled that doctors could turn off baby Charlie’s life support , Charlie’s parents now plan to appeal the decision at the Supreme Court.

It is an incredibly difficult case, in which doctors and judges have had to balance the benefits of treatment with Charlie’s life expectancy, however Researching Reform remains unconvinced that enough evidence exists to support the Court of Appeal’s decision.

We wish the parents luck with their appeal.

If you’d like to read Researching Reform’s thoughts on the case you can do so here. You can also visit the dedicated Charlie Gard website for further information and updates.

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BBC’s ‘Three Girls’ Re-Ignites Debate Over Mandatory Reporting Of Child Abuse

The BBC’s recent programme portraying the lives of three girls who were sexually abused in Rochdale has highlighted the bravery of child welfare whistleblower Sara Rowbotham and others, but it has also reignited the debate over a legal duty to report child abuse.

An excellent Community Care article about the film, entitled “The Three Girls Drama Is A Reminder That Staying Silent Is Not An Option” urges social workers to ‘do the right thing’ and ensure that children who are abused are protected, but this call to arms also invites the profession to consider how they should go about doing this.

In May 2016 the government published a consultation asking for feedback on the creation of a legal duty to report child abuse. It aimed to gather as much information as possible on the pros and cons of mandatory reporting, which professional bodies and individuals should be included in any duty report and what kind of sanctions a failure to report might carry. The government is currently analysing the submissions it received and should be publishing its findings shortly.

When it was first launched, the consultation was met with resistance by The Law Society, claiming that a duty to report child abuse would lead to a sharp rise in false allegations and a complete melt down of the justice system. And whilst some social work professionals raised concerns over a duty to report too, others welcomed the idea.

Many of the misgivings about a duty to report are unfounded. Emerging research across the world shows that a duty to report does not weigh down child welfare systems or encourage people to make false allegations. And though some evidence from the US suggests that criminal sanctions for failure to report suspected abuse can lead to professionals turning a blind eye over fears that this could cause the child in question more harm, much of the research highlights positive outcomes, including a larger number of abused children being identified.

Sara Rowbotham’s actions were extraordinary, but she paid a heavy price for speaking out. Sadly, agencies today working in the child welfare sector don’t make it easy to highlight wrongdoing, especially if it highlights poor professional practice at the same time. Mandatory reporting represents a solution to the unacceptable silence.

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Family Court Loophole Lets Rapists Intimidate Their Victims, In Jail

A woman whose husband has been sentenced to 19 years in prison for a series of rapes against two women, one of which was her, is campaigning for a change in the law to prevent offenders from being able to further abuse their victims through the Family Courts.

Now divorced from her husband, Nicola Richardson has waived her right to anonymity to speak out about her experience.

During Nicola’s divorce her ex husband tried to use the Family Courts to coerce and intimidate her by stalling the separation and filing financial claims. The judge handling the divorce branded her husband “manipulative, controlling and domineering.”

Nicola would like to see the law changed so that convicted abusers who are sent to jail are barred from filing claims against their victims in Family Court. Nicola doesn’t go on to explain how she sees this law working, however a solution could lie in creating a threshold:  if it can be shown that the claims are vexatious or likely to cause the victim significant harm, Family judges could use the current powers they have to prevent further applications, both financial and contact related.

We already know that domestic abuse can include financial manipulation. This kind of coercion doesn’t stop once an application for divorce or separation takes place, and this also needs to be highlighted. Guidelines for family professionals on domestic abuse and behaviours during divorce or separation including conduct during family court proceedings should be issued as well. The recent concerns over domestic violence offenders being able to cross examine their victims in court demonstrates the effect of this kind of behaviour which can cause serious health problems including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression.

Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, the proposal doesn’t sit comfortably with working legal principles, which demand that a balance is struck between the rights of the person making a claim and those affected by the claim. In contact cases for example, judges may argue that an abuser’s right to see his or her children is separate from the victim’s right to be free of abuse and that a child’s right to know his or her parent is the most important right of all.

However, others may argue that an abuser should lose all their rights to contact or financial remedy against the victim, not only as a deterrent to others, but also to protect all vulnerable parties including the victim. In 2015, we wrote about a case where a mother who was attacked by her husband and had her throat cut in front of her small children, was then forced by a judge to send her husband letters whilst serving time for what was essentially attempted murder. The case sparked national outrage and a petition was created to revoke the order.

It is a difficult dilemma, but one that’s important. How do we weight up the rights of everyone concerned and what facts should take precedence over law, if and when they should?

We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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In The News

News items that should be right on your radar:

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Question it!

Welcome to another week.

Leaked guidelines from Facebook have emerged which confirm that the social media platform will not delete videos of abortion, self harm or violent death. However, it will remove controversial materials under certain circumstances.

The guidelines, whilst designed to protect freedom of expression, could be viewed as contradictory. The leaked documents reveal that whilst Facebook will allow videos of abortions, it will only allow such videos if there is no nudity. They also conform that ‘handmade’ art showing nudity and sexual activity is also allowed, but digitally made art showing sexual activity is not.

Comments such as “Little girl needs to keep to herself before daddy breaks her face,” are allowed because Facebook takes the view that “violent language is most often not credible until specificity of language gives us a reasonable ground to accept that there is no longer simply an expression of emotion but a transition to a plot or design…. From this perspective language such as ‘I’m going to kill you’ or ‘F*** off and die’ is not credible and is a violent expression of dislike and frustration.”

The Telegraph reports that:

“Yvette Cooper, a former Labour Cabinet minister who chaired the House of Commons home affairs select committee in the last parliament, said the leaks “show why we were right to call on social media companies to urgently review their community guidelines as too much harmful and dangerous content is getting through”.

She said: “In most cases the reality of sharing vile and violent images of violence and child abuse simply perpetuates the humiliation and abuse of a child. 

“Images should be given to the police and removed instead. Facebook are getting this wrong and need to urgently change.”

Our question this week then is just this: do you agree with Facebook’s guidelines, or Ms Cooper? 

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Tell Politicians What You Think About The Family Courts

Researching Reform is very privileged to have a readership which includes families and children with experience of the Family Courts, however politicians, peers and judges also visit the site daily, and we know they read your feedback.

As politicians publish their manifestos and go about making pledges this month, they will also be reading your thoughts on the system in order to understand what’s not working, so now is a good time to let the future government know what you think about the family justice system.

We are adding our Top Ten Bug Bears below:

  1. Inefficient Monitoring Of The Impact Of Financial Incentives Across Child Welfare Organisations And Agencies
  2. Culture Of Mistrust And Disrespect Towards Families And Children
  3. Inadequate Training For Social Workers And Judges 
  4. No Efficient Mechanism For Correcting Material Errors In Judgments and Court Bundles
  5. The Race To Adoption” Process
  6. The 26 Week Rule In Care Proceedings
  7. Forced Adoption Practices
  8. No Hub For Professionals And The Public Offering Simple Guides About The System And The Latest Relevant Research
  9. The Need To Refine The ‘Risk Of Future Harm‘ Threshold To Avoid Miscarriages of Justice
  10. No Current Guidelines On Child Welfare Professionals Using The Internet And Social Media To Track And Trace Parents

There are of course many other concerns that we could add, but we would love to hear your thoughts. What’s on your list?

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New Research On Corporal Punishment Versus Positive Parenting

The latest research on corporal punishment of children suggests that professional organisations are increasingly of the view that all physical punishment of children should be stopped.

The paper published in March 2017 and featured on the Marriage And Family Review, is a critique of an earlier piece of research entitled “Children and Parents Deserve Better Parental Discipline Research: Critiquing the Evidence for Exclusively “Positive” Parenting. The paper attacks the earlier publication for being flawed, and whilst the two papers represent an academic struggle between researchers they both make for interesting reading.

If you would like to read the papers in full please leave a comment below this post and we will forward them on to you.

A very big thank you to Professor Joan Durrant for sharing this research with us.

For anyone interested in ending corporal punishment of children, The Global Partnership To End Violence Against Children offers information and ways to get involved. Follow them on Twitter at @GPToEndViolence, hash tag #EndViolence.

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News Outlet Lies About Its Coverage Of Rooftop Protest At Child Minister’s Home

The Consumer Watchdog Foundation has claimed that it was the first and only site to publish a story about the rooftop protest at former Children’s Minister Ed Timpson home last week. It also claims that it followed the events as they happened.

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This is not true. Whilst we broke the story first with real time video footage, and a full 24 hours before the CWF, a media outlet called The Northwhich Guardian followed shortly after us and then another online media site, The Nantwich News mentioned the protest. The Consumer Watchdog Foundation however, didn’t get to the demonstration until the following day.

We wrote in last night to mention that they had made a mistake about coverage, but as of this morning the comment has yet to be published and no correction to their article has been made. A comment added after ours has been approved.

This is not our biggest concern with the CWF’s article. It is riddled with factual errors and tries to liken the rooftop protest to a terrorist act. Protesters have been made aware of the news item by other campaigners and they are understandably very upset.

Other than getting the age of the rooftop protester and the number of hours the protest lasted wrong, as well as failing to verify details of the event or follow it in real time as they claimed to have done, the outlet then tries to liken what was a peaceful protest to Jo Cox’s untimely death. Offensive and in bad taste? We think so.

That the article was written by Consumer Watchdog Foundation Editor Leigh G Banks, (who is allegedly a former Fleet Street journalist), doesn’t do the publication’s credibility any favours.

Whilst we appreciate that the CWF is trying to create conversation around family policy in the UK, we do think their lack of journalistic care is something the CWF should address, especially when writing about issues affecting real families and children.

Many thanks to Forced Adoption Exposed for alerting us to this news item.

Self Interest And Protectionism – No Question?

Welcome to another week.

You’ll have to forgive us but this week we’ve decided not to offer you a quick question to mull over. Instead, we’d like to share with you what we feel is a growing concern inside the child welfare sector in the form of councils and fostering agencies fighting it out to try to reclaim pieces of a child protection pie they seem to feel entitled to.

Whilst we accept, and support, organisations that want to offer vulnerable children a better alternative to what can sometimes be a deeply traumatising start, the way the child welfare sector works is clearly not putting children at the heart of its decision making. And the looming economic crisis is only making things worse.

We already know that fostering agencies and local authorities try to ‘incentivise’ parents to adopt and foster through pay (a big bug bear of ours and one we write frequently about), but the scramble for funds appears to be causing a frenzy.

Although we’ve had several investigations and inquiries into fostering and adoption in the UK, the latest consultation headed up by Martin Narey – often referred to as the ‘Adoption Tsar’, whatever that is – looks like a thinly veiled attempt by councils to stop independent fostering agencies from ‘stealing their business’.  Likewise, fostering agencies lashed out at the increasing use of Special Guardianship Orders last month by suggesting they placed children at risk – no stats currently exist to show whether or not more children suffer abuse at the hands of Special Guardians over foster carers or adopters.

And a bizarre new book intended to promote fostering has surfaced. Extracts of this book have been featured online over the last few days and include experiences of children in foster care but after a harrowing account from one child was published, which we decided to write critically about for the awful way in which the child had been treated, another account followed right after which was so odd we questioned its authenticity over on Twitter. The account reads like an infomercial:

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So what’s going on? Well, it looks like the sector is taking advantage of well meaning individuals looking to improve outcomes for children whilst at the same time trying to revive a service which has been badly affected by budget cuts, and family court judgments advising that adoptions and fostering arrangements should always be a method of last resort.

Are we wrong? Have we become so cynical about the system that we believe it is capable of almost anything to preserve itself, rather than reinvent itself, which is always so much harder when everything is against change and doing the right thing?

We’d love to hear your thoughts.