Bill to End Corporal Punishment of Children Advances in Wales

A bill currently making its way through the Welsh Assembly, which removes the right to hit a child, has reached the third stage of its journey.

Stage 3 involves a detailed look at the legislation, by every member of the Assembly in Plenary, as well as proposed amendments to the law. Members have five working days before the meeting takes place to table any amendments they would like to add.

The Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill abolishes the common law defence of reasonable punishment (chastisement), which means that once ratified, parents or those acting in loco parentis will no longer be able to use this as a defence upon being charged with the assault or battery of a child.

The Bill’s page on the National Assembly of Wales’ website outlines the law’s purpose and background:

“The Bill is intended to support children’s rights by prohibiting the use of physical punishment, through removal of this defence. The intended effect of the Bill, together with an awareness-raising campaign and support for parents, is to bring about a further reduction in the use and tolerance of the physical punishment of children in Wales.”

Britain is now the only country in the UK which has failed to consider legislation banning the smacking of children in a home setting.

Ireland was the first state to ratify legislation banning smacking (a term we would like to see abolished too, because it downplays child assault and battery), which it did in 2015.

Scotland has promised to incorporate similar legislation, and held its own Stage 3 meeting on October 3, in which the Scottish Parliament looked at tabled amendments to its Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill. The meeting is very much worth a watch for the insightful comments around the Bill’s shortcomings as it stands in draft form.

Currently, 58 countries around the world have placed a total ban on corporal punishment in the home.

British politicians have routinely ignored calls by charities and groups like Researching Reform to make all forms of child assault illegal, with several ministers seemingly in favour of the practice. Both David Lammy MP and former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling have openly admitted to hitting their children and standing by corporal punishment as an effective way of raising children.

But established research contradicts that view.

The Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill is scheduled to have its Stage 3 meeting on Tuesday 21 January 2020 and can be watched on Senedd TV.

Many thanks to Professor Joan Durrant for sharing this development.

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Question It!

A case in which a mother blocked the father from having contact with their son over grounds that the father was domestically abusive and had raped her, will now go to a fact finding hearing.

The mother lost custody of her four year old son after making the claims in court.

The initial ruling raised concerns after the the judge overseeing the case said the woman had not been raped because she had not fought back during the encounter.

Judge Tolson was criticised by the mother and her legal team for failing to make factual determinations on the several allegations around domestic violence raised by the mother, and for his outdated views on rape.

Established research confirms that victims of rape often freeze or become passive when being attacked.

The case was heard in the Family Division of the High Court last Thursday, where Ms Justice Russell said a new fact-finding hearing would take place and would be handled by another judge.

Our question this week, is just this: should parents who are found guilty of domestic abuse, or rape, be allowed to have contact with their children?

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The Latest

The latest child welfare items that should be right on your radar:

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Join The Purple Winter Campaign Against Child Abuse

Purpler Winter, an annual social media campaign which goes viral every year, highlights and raises awareness around child abuse.

The campaign, which launches tomorrow on Twitter for just 24 hours, urges social media users to wear a purple item and share snapshots of themselves, while also talking about ways to spot, and stem, child abuse in its many forms.

People from around the world use this day to upload images and videos of support in a variety of languages. The campaign is supported by charities, celebrities, and survivors of childhood abuse.

If you are a Twitter user and you’d like to take part in the campaign, log in to the platform and type in #PurplerWinter, for all the latest updates and ideas on how you can get involved.

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In The News

The latest child welfare items that should be right on your radar:

Many thanks to Dana for alerting us to the first news item.

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UN Official Calls For Inquiry Into Forced And Illegal Adoptions in Ireland

UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, has called for an inquiry into forced and illegal adoptions in Ireland, after a report she produced raised serious concerns around the sale and exploitation of children inside the country.

There is a very good summary of this development over on The Irish Examiner, but here are a few key thoughts from Boer-Buquicchio about why this inquiry is so important and what it should focus on:

  • Her report highlighted failures to provide information, accountability and redress to survivors of institutional abuse, and to individuals adopted in a manner that would amount to the “sale of children under international law”;
  • Commercial ties to forced and illegal adoptions were also highlighted;
  • The UN Rapporteur said the inquiry should focus on illegal activity around forced adoptions
  • Rather than focusing on individual institutions, she would like the State to focus on investigating “the gamut of human rights abuses identified in these and similar settings”

A Twitter survey carried out by this site in May found that 86% of those polled also wanted to see a full scale inquiry into adoption practices in England and Wales.

Further Reading:

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Question It!

Welcome to another week, and apologies for our absence, work has been a little busy.

Our question this week focuses on child rights.

As the system still struggles to understand children and how their wishes belie important needs, we wanted to ask you: in what ways do you think the system could truly put children first? 

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Question It!

Welcome to another week.

Family law body Resolution has revised its guide to working with Litigants in Person, and there are a number of interesting suggestions.

For example, in child protection cases, the guidance suggests that aggressive or inflammatory language in lawyers’ communications both written and verbal should be set aside in favour of polite and considerate communications.

The guide also asks lawyers to think carefully about whether a C1A form – which is used to set down allegations of harm and domestic violence – needs to be submitted.

The guidance aims to try to preserve any goodwill between the parents where possible by trying to reduce friction which can be caused by aggressive form filing (rather than legitimate filing).

Our question this week, is this: what would you like to see in to the guidance? 

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Interesting Cases

This week’s cases were taken from the most recent set of Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman complaints, and they are compelling.

One of the biggest takeaways from these cases is the investigatory gap which exists between complaints bodies, resulting in important issues going un-examined.

For example, the Ombudsman can look at council process, but it cannot investigate matters being looked at in family courts, even if some of the elements in those cases also do not fall within the court’s remit.

The end result creates a loophole, in which families and children find they cannot seek relief for the most basic of injustices. The cases below highlight this point.

London Borough of Bromley (18 015 715)

This case features a complaint made by parents in relation to the way the council issued care proceedings for their son, who has autism. The parents said they had been treated badly by social workers and had been routinely ignored when they asked for information during the proceedings.

They had contacted the council to seek support for their son, but found that the council was more interested in issuing care proceedings, after discovering their son’s needs were complex and posed a substantial challenge to the council.

The parents accused the council of issuing unnecessary care proceedings and of fabricating risk assessments to meet the relevant thresholds for care applications.

The council then dropped its care application ten minutes before the hearing and provided no explanation for changing its mind.

Very much worth a read, for the several other awkward developments which prevented this family from having their complaint properly examined.

London Borough of Newham (18 017 840)

This case involved a couple who were informed by the council that their baby would be taken into care as soon as the child was born (the Ombudsman uses the word ‘it’ to describe the baby, we wish people wouldn’t), but were also initially told that would not be the case.

The couple’s relationship was marked by some domestic violence, but both parents actively took classes and assessments to try to address their conduct. The court noted the effort and set aside the adoption order the council requested to allow the mother to be assessed further.

The family were reunited, and lived under a supervision order until it ran out in 2017.

Unsurprisingly, the parents felt they had been badly treated by the council.

However, the case was set aside by the Ombudsman for exceeding the time limit to apply to the complaints body.

Birmingham City Council (19 002 217)

This complaint stems from the way a mother and her children were treated by social services, and the errors she said were prevalent in the council’s files about her case.

One of the concerns the mother raised was that social workers arrived at her children’s school to observe them. In a previous post on RR, we explain that this practice has no legitimate policy or law to underpin it, and that social worker visits during school hours whether to observe, interview or remove a child are not professional, nor are they appropriate. (And Ofsted agrees).

The case also involved surveillance of the family, the mother being questioned in the street by council officers, and allegations that the mother had committed criminal offences, which the mother said was not true.

The Ombudsman said it could not investigate what happened within schools, and that it did not have any evidence to find fault with the council, and so the complaint was dropped.

Sheffield City Council (18 015 263)

In this case, a father who alleged that the mother of his child had been emotionally abusive to their son complained that the council had used incorrect and outdated information about him during the proceedings.

That information was being transferred to other departments to be used for assessments, therefore perpetuating the errors which made the assessments inaccurate and flawed.

The father told the Ombudsman that if the assessments in this case had been carried out properly, he would not have lost contact with his children.

The mother made a number of false allegations against the father which were disproved by previous assessments but not taken into account during the final proceedings. There were also concerns that the children’s wishes and feelings were not properly documented.

The father asked for several remedies, most of which the Ombudsman could not offer, but the Ombudsman approved a small sum for compensation. This is what the Ombudsman said:

“The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman does not give ‘compensation’ in the way a court might – we remedy injustice arising from Council fault. Our guidance says, in relation to payments for ‘distress’ and ‘time and trouble’, these are ‘more of a symbolic payment, which serves as an acknowledgement of the distress or difficulties’. I set out agreed payments below:

  1. For the Council to apologise to Mr E, in particular for complaint d) which I consider should have been upheld within a month of the date of my decision.
  2. For the Council to make a payment of £300 for the time and trouble experienced by Mr E. Mr E expected the matters he complained of in 2012 to be resolved so he would not need to make the same complaint again. The Council will also make a payment of £300 for the distress experienced by Mr E, which has, again, been prolonged because he has had to revisit the incorrect statements made about him. I note the Council has already made a payment of £500 to Mr E as a remedy to his complaints and will pay a further £100 within a month of the date of my decision.
  3. For the Council to consider whether it needs specific guidance on emotional abuse for social workers who are carrying out assessments. It should tell me what action it plans to take within two months of the date of my decision.
  4. For the Council to share information with the other council about matters that affect its assessment of Mr E’s other children within a month of the date of my decision.”

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