Is The Care System To Blame For Children’s Psychological Damage?

Child development and any subsequent events in a child’s life which may cause disruption to that development, are hugely complex areas in which even cutting edge knowledge today is still not sophisticated enough to offer a clear pathway in these fields.

It is no surprise then, that in a system which is understaffed, under resourced and unable to offer its professionals the latest research in a fast and efficient way, mistakes about the cause of a child’s deteriorating mental health are made.

And whilst it can be the case that a child entering the care system has suffered terrible psychological damage as a result of their home environment, the care system itself can and does makes children’s mental health worse.

Former Liberal Democrat MP, John Hemming has recently highlighted this issue in a blog post, and offers research and data on the topic. What he effectively says, is that if we agree that there is a specific period within which children need to form attachments in order to avoid significant disruption to healthy development, then the data available suggests that a large proportion of children are being taken into care during these critical periods and suffering psychological damage as a result. John explains that the numbers don’t give any indication as to what is causing the damage during these critical blocks of time, but he does suggest that the system is either not responding to children’s needs efficiently or actively making things much worse by adding to any existing problems.

The post is worth a read to get a sense of the numbers and what the research says about the potential effects of taking children into care, particularly if systems are not properly set up to really support and nurture the children it takes in.

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Lib Dem MP: Schools Should Encourage Children To Consider Prostitution As A Career

As Brexit anxiety continues to sweep the country, so too does the stupidity of politicians looking to find ways to boost the economy.

Dennis Parsons, a Liberal Democrat MP, is calling on schools to add prostitution to their careers advice agenda. The comment was made during a special session on sex work and he compared prostitution to accountancy, saying:

“The fact that we are asking “should we seek to prevent people entering sex work?” is part of the problem. You wouldn’t ask the question, should we prevent people becoming accountants?”

More bizarrely, perhaps, is Parsons next observation:

“We have had a chap suggest that one of the areas we need to be concerned about was families coercing people to go into the sex trade. Well, again, you wouldn’t protest at families urging and coercing people into becoming accountants.”

Prostitution itself, that is the exchange of sexual services for money, is not illegal in the UK, though some activities relating to it, are. 

Whilst the debate around the legalisation of prostitution and accompanying activities like running a brothel is ongoing, Parsons’ comments are less about liberal thinking, and more about economic gain. Delegates at the session were told that decriminalising prostitution would raise £1 billion a year for the Treasury in taxes. That’s a lot of money, at a time when it looks like the EU are set to punish the UK for severing ties, through the ending of trade agreements and free cross border movement.

Wherever you stand on prostitution, it is no secret that many of the men, women and children who work in this industry do so as a last resort, often under duress and are treated badly, both by clients and pimps. To then promote prostitution not just as an alternative to accounting, which does not suffer with the same levels of crime and violence, but as a way to boost our economy is ridiculous and yet another way of exploiting sex workers.

Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron has refused to address Parson’s comments, saying that he believes in free speech and the importance of being able to air views and then talk them out. Researching Reform does too, however Farron’s stance completely ignores the reality of Parsons’ agenda.

Many thanks to Dana for alerting us to this news item.

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Question It!

Welcome to another week.

The Ministry of Justice and HM Courts and Tribunals Service have released a joint statement outlining their intention to go ahead with what they’re calling “an ambitious programme of reform” to modernise the justice system. And that includes the Family Courts.

Setting aside the standard rhetoric inside the accompanying vision statement, the aim is to make the system just, proportional and accessible. The section focusing on the Family Courts can be found at page 13, and explains that the main focus for these courts should be to make the law simple and straightforward, whilst placing the welfare of the child first.

It’s no coincidence that the family justice system has decided to review the way it functions just as it finds itself on its knees, struggling to cope with an ever-growing number of cases and an ever shrinking budget to handle them. Whole scale reform was something we predicted would happen eight years ago, and it offers an amazing opportunity to finally develop the system in a way which is both humane and effective.

Our question then, is just this: whether you are a parent, child or family professional, what reforms would you like to see, and why?

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Researching Reform Becomes A Member Of The End Violence Against Children Global Partnership

Researching Reform is thrilled to announce that our application to become a Member of the End Violence Against Children Global Partnership (EVAC) has been accepted.

EVAC’s Partnership project involves governments, UN agencies, civil society,
private sector organisations, academics and the Voice Of The Child in order to accomplish sustainable development goals which touch upon child welfare issues.

The Partnership’s aims include:

  • Ending abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children
  • Ending violence against women and girls
  • Ending the economic exploitation of children
  • Keeping children safe in schools and communities and;
  • Promoting peace and non-violence

 

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EVAC also produces excellent research on child welfare matters around the world, as well as informative videos for their End Violence campaign, which feature world leaders, celebrities, children’s rights activists and children as well.

 

If you’d like to follow the End Violence Campaign on social media, you can do so by connecting to their Twitter account or Facebook page.

Researching Reform feels incredibly honoured to be a part of this Global Partnership and we will continue to work hard to protect children’s rights and the welfare of children both here in the UK and around the world.

 

What Is Justice?

Following on from our article this week looking at concerns surrounding sentencing for convicted paedophiles in child abuse cases, we received information highlighting the injustices of sentencing in this context.

Phil Johnson, a high profile campaigner and abuse survivor, who played an important role in bringing convicted paedophile Bishop Peter Ball to justice, very kindly sent us the statement he wrote in response to the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision to accept Bishop Ball’s plea bargain. This effectively reduced his sentence.

Peter Ball, 83, who admitted offences against 18 teenagers and young men in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, is currently serving 32 months for misconduct in public office and 15 months for indecent assaults, to run concurrently. Also at odds with this sentence is the fact that Ball has been placed on the sex offenders’ register for 10 years.

You can read Phil’s Statement below, or on the MACSAS website:

STATEMENT BY PHIL JOHNSON 8th SEPTEMBER 2015

I am one of the two individuals in the Bishop Peter Ball case who has not had a guilty plea entered in respect of the charges brought in this case.

I do not know who the other person is and to the best of my knowledge have never met them or spoken to them.

The only thing that we seem to have in common is that our allegations against Peter Ball relate to incidents when we were under the age of 16.

I first told the police about Peter Ballʼs involvement in the sexual abuse of boys and young men in 1996 and have been through 4 police investigations and 3 supposedly independent inquiries commissioned by the church over the last 19 years. Throughout this, Peter Ball has denied any wrong doing and the Church, including senior bishops, have until very recently tried to minimise and cover-up what has happened.

Bishop Peter received a police caution in 1993 for an act of gross indecency with a young man called Neil Todd. Neil was 17 at the time of the complaint but he had first become involved with Bishop Peter when he was 14. He had been living at Peter Ballʼs house in Littlington, Sussex prior to Ballʼs move to Gloucester in 1992 and had moved there with the Bishop. His grooming and abuse started at Littlington well before the move so was clearly under 16 when Ballʼs offending in relation to him started.

Neil was brave enough to report what had happened to him, going to the police in 1993, and it appears that around 5 others also made complaints against Peter Ball at that time. Neil, and the others did not get justice. Deals were done to ensure that the Bishop would not be prosecuted and there would be no embarrassing trial. He was allowed to accept a caution and resign – denying the victims justice and the chance to have their stories heard.

Over the years, Neil has been called a liar, I have been told by bishops that his allegations were false and that they had been withdrawn. The former Bishop of Chichester, Eric Kemp, who was Ballʼs immediate superior at the time of much of the offending in Sussex called Neil a ʻmischief makerʼ in his autobiography.

The Church and the establishment has colluded in covering-up Bishop Peter Ballʼs offending at the highest level over very many years. After resigning in disgrace, Peter Ball was supported by Prince Charles who he described as ʻa dear friendʼ and was gifted a house which it appears was purchased for him by the Duchy of Cornwall rather than being an established Duchy house as was stated in the press.

In 2012, Neil was contacted by the police again when the current case against Peter Ball was instigated. No safeguards were put in place by the police or the church despite requests by myself and warnings that he was distressed and needed support. Neil could not face going through another investigation and in July 2012 he took his own life.

We owe it to Neil that the whole truth of this story should be heard in public – His bravery and truth needs to be acknowledged. Throughout the 2 decades since the original disclosures none of the allegations against Peter Ball have been examined in court. None of the evidence has been tested or fully examined. At every turn there have been deals and cover-ups. The truth has been suppressed and Ballʼs offending behaviour and involvement with other abusers has been minimised.

Once again I find myself in a position where I do not get to tell my story in court, once again I feel that myself, Neil and the other complainant in this case are being silenced and denied justice. It is shameful that Peter Ball has denied these allegations for over twenty years only to admit to many of them today. For someone who is a priest, a bishop and has been held up as almost saintly over the years this is the ultimate hypocrisy.

I call upon the Church of England to strip the Right Reverend Peter Ball of his title and privileges and to re introduce the ability to ʻdisrobeʼ disgraced clergy. My evidence and that of the other complainant who was under 16 at the time was enough to convince the police that we were telling the truth, it was enough for the CPS to bring charges – It should be for a Jury to decide whether Peter Ball offended against boys who were under 16, not him and his lawyers doing deals in yet another attempt to belittle his behaviour and reduce his punishment.

This does not feel like justice.

Peter Ball

 

 

Are Sentences For Paedophiles In Non-Recent Child Abuse Cases Too Lenient?

For our column over at legal publisher Jordans this month, we look at the way in which convicted paedophiles in non recent child abuse cases are sentenced. Concerns raised by politicians, charities and survivors about the sometimes shockingly lenient terms convicted paedophiles receive have prompted calls to review the law in this area.

In our article, we outline the background to sentencing in cases of recent and non recent child abuse, explore research and policy in this area and look at why sentences may seem completely inappropriate in the face of some of the most awful crimes imaginable.

You can check out our article on Jordans’ website, or read it below:

Sentencing Paedophiles In Non Recent Child Abuse Cases – Are Courts Too Lenient?

Type in the phrase “lenient sentences for child sexual offences” into a search engine like Google and the results for the UK alone are astounding.

From government ministers to child welfare charities, the concern expressed over unduly lenient sentences in recent child sexual abuse cases continues to mount. So much so, that in 2015, several paedophiles and rapists who initially escaped jail saw their sentences increased on appeal. And in that same year, an international report published by Net Clean found that 64% of organisations interviewed felt that laws around the world, including the UK, were not suitable for child sexual abuse crimes, either because they were outdated or limited regarding the need for international cooperation. Police forces and investigators taking part in the report also expressed concern that sentences for child sexual abuse were still far too lenient, despite the fact that sentencing levels for sex offences in the UK have increased.

This apparent disregard for the severity of child abuse as reflected by low level sentencing, has deeply affected survivors of non recent abuse who feel unsure about the kind of justice they can expect. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 makes it clear that offences like rape or penetration of a child under 13 or anyone older, carry the same maximum jail term, that of life imprisonment, but whilst concerns about leniency in the sentencing of offenders on child abuse charges exist in both recent and non recent child sexual abuse cases, are both types of abuse treated the same when it comes to sentencing in practice?

Unlike other areas of the law, there are no time limits set as to when child sexual offences can be prosecuted, which has allowed victims and survivors of non recent abuse to come forward. Delays in reporting were previously treated with suspicion, but after many years of campaigning and research, it is now understood that a postponement in reporting is not indicative of a false allegation. In fact, delays in making a complaint of child sexual abuse should not affect the way the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) investigates these claims or enforces the law, at all. If enough evidence is gathered, the CPS should then consider prosecuting an individual if they feel it is in the public interest and there is a realistic prospect of conviction. This allows cases of non recent abuse to be examined and where possible lead to the securing of convictions for those guilty of child sexual abuse. In this way, cases of recent and non recent abuse are treated equally.

However, a question arises as to which piece of legislation will be used for prosecution purposes in non recent cases of child abuse, and here differences begin to set in. The starting position when an offender is sentenced is that he or she should be sentenced according to the law at the time the offence itself was committed, rather than the law in existence at the time of sentencing. This principle is also reinforced by Article 7 of the European Convention of Human Rights. As a result, individuals charged with historic sexual abuse offences are likely to be prosecuted under the Sexual Offences Act 1956, whilst any incident alleged to have occurred after 1 May 2004 will be prosecuted under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. If it is not possible to work out whether the abuse took place before or after 1 May 2004, then the old law will apply if it attracts a lesser maximum penalty. This is done to prevent the law from being retroactive, but it causes other difficulties, as we will see below.

As the courts must reconcile old legislation and sentencing guidelines with modern life, seeking justice in cases of non recent child sexual abuse becomes a more complicated matter. For example, the current sentencing guidelines for non recent child abuse tells us that an offender must be sentenced in accordance with the sentencing terms applicable at the date of

sentence, but the sentence will be limited to the maximum sentence available at the date of the commission of the offence. If the maximum sentence has since been reduced, the lower maximum will be applicable. This offers a possible reason as to why sentences for historic child sexual abuse may end up being lesser than those sentences for recent child sexual abuse.

Mitigating factors also play a role in reducing sentences in child sexual abuse, both recent and non recent, however there is an inherent unfairness when we look at one particular mitigating factor allowed in non recent child abuse cases not available for cases involving current or recent abuse. The sentencing guidelines for non recent abuse explain that where there is an absence of further offending over a long period of time, especially combined with evidence of good character, the court would be allowed to treat this as a mitigating factor.

Setting aside the difficulties in defining ‘good character’ in this context, this mitigating factor is hugely misleading and could be responsible for terrible miscarriages of justice. For instance, where a twenty year old has committed sexual offences against children for thirty years but stops due to a lowered libido, and stands trial when he is perhaps seventy years of age, those twenty years of non offending could potentially be taken into account and viewed as a mitigation of crimes which still spanned decades.

This mitigating factor then, could also offer some insight into why sentencing of non recent child abuse offenders could be relatively lower still than those being sentenced for recent child abuse, especially when combined with a judge’s ability to take into account the offender’s age at the time of trial, and if an elderly offender looks frail or unwell. The court may also take the view that it is not in the public interest to jail an elderly offender who no longer poses a threat to society at large. This view of course, does not take into account the need for justice sought by victims and survivors of abuse.

Other mitigating factors which apply to both recent and non recent child sexual abuse offences include the maturity of the offender at the time of the incident or incidents, any admissions the offender made around the time of the events, which were not properly investigated and an early guilty plea. These points if raised and accepted by the court could also reduce sentences in child sexual abuse cases.

Evidence has always been a problematic area in child sexual abuse cases, both recent and non recent. Child abuse usually happens behind closed doors, and by the time a child comes to the attention of child protection or medical professionals, if they ever do, signs of abuse may have long gone. These issues are aggravated in non recent cases of abuse, as evidence is even less likely to exist after long periods of time, and many children do not come forward until they have become adults as a result of the shame and sometimes deep trauma they experience. This affects a realistic prospect of conviction profoundly, especially where allegations simply come down to the victim’s word against the accused’s. Without robust evidence a victim of child abuse would at best secure a minimal sentence against their abuser, and at worst, be unable to mount a case at all. Less access to evidence then, could also reduce an offender’s sentence and explain why some sentences remain low despite the severity of the crimes outlined.

An even more disturbing trend in lenient sentencing of non recent child abuse cases has been highlighted by a recent case which featured two men, aged 59, both charged with non recent sexual offences against young girls. Here, the Court of Appeal interpreted S.236A of the Criminal Justice And Courts Act 2015 to mean that custodial sentences for historic child abuse allegations should be lowered, rather than include an additional period on licence. It has been argued that the Court of Appeal has misinterpreted Parliament’s intentions, but the ramifications of the judgment may be far-reaching and result in future sentences for non recent abuse set lower than they should be.

Whilst variations within non recent child abuse sentences can be understood through reasonable mitigation principles and a lack of evidence brought on by the passage of time, there are very real concerns about the way offenders of non recent abuse continue to be sentenced and which bolster the view that unmerited leniency has managed to find its way into the system. It is our duty to explore these gaps and try to develop the law so that it better serves survivors and victims of abuse.

A thank you to Cathy Fox, who invited us to write an article on this topic. You can follow her very informative blog here. 

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Alexis Jay: Scope Of Child Abuse Inquiry Will Not Be Reduced

In a statement released on the Inquiry’s website on 8th September for Core Participants, new Chair Professor Jay confirms several developments and they are worth sharing:

  • The Inquiry will not be revising or reducing its terms of reference. This means that it will remain broad in scope, and inclusive
  • An internal review of the inquiry is now in place to look at the way it is approaching investigations and to find ways of working better and faster
  • New evidence management is in place to help improve the way evidence is processed
  • Moving forward the Inquiry will increase its visibility by keeping the public regularly updated. Whether this will include putting a proactive social media account in place which actually answers survivors’ queries is not known at this time.

There have also been accusations that a large number of staff at the Inquiry are from the Home Office. This is particularly worrying for survivors and victims of abuse as many have had negative experiences dealing with the Home Office in the past. Professor Jay says in her statement that less than a quarter of the Staff are from the Home Office and those that are, are committed to the Inquiry’s goal and independent of the Home Office as they work on this project.

What do you think?

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Question It!

Welcome to another week.

Our question this week stems from a truly shocking child protection case which saw a psychiatrist heavily distort a mother’s answers to questions he put to her, and even manufactured answers to questions he never asked. The psychiatrist had used inaccurate information and quotes the mother never made to paint a very negative picture of her, and even went so far as to fabricate entire conversations in order to produce his report.

In this case, the mother had recorded the interview and was able to produce the recording in court to show that she was telling the truth. 

There is an excellent summary of the case, with the relevant passages highlighted over at the very good Suspicious Minds for anyone who would like to explore the facts further.

This recent case raises a very important question about the use of recording equipment during child protection interviews and meetings. We already know from Professor Ireland’s pioneering research that a significant number of Family Court experts producing psychological reports fall below the accepted standards of professional practice, which is hugely concerning. After eight years of assisting parents, Researching Reform always advises that meetings are recorded (for guidance on recording interviews and meetings please see our previous post).

A Human Rights question is also raised in this case. Everyone in the UK Family Court has the right to a fair hearing, a right which is fundamental to the rule of law, and democracy. In part this requires that the hearing must be before an independent and impartial court, however difficulties arise when a parent contests an expert’s report and tries to tell the court that their answers have been wrongly written down, misinterpreted or even fabricated.

As Suspicious Minds rightly points out:

 Let us be honest – if the mother simply asserted that she had not said this, and had not tape-recorded the sessions, who would have been believed?

Solutions to these problems must surely involve better monitoring of experts before they enter the system to ensure they are both properly qualified and competent. But perhaps they should also include accurate recordings of meetings in order to ensure best practice and effective outcomes for children and families.

There are though, potential pitfalls to recording interviews particularly if they involve children in some way. For instance, if children know their interviews are going to be recorded they may feel less able to be honest with the interviewing psychiatrist where there is the possibility that those interviews may be played back in court in front of their parents.

Our question to you then, is just this: do you think all assessments and interviews within child protection cases should be recorded?

A big thank you to Dana for alerting us to this case.

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