BBC’s Today Programme And Researching Reform On Children’s Right To Speak To Judges

BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning focuses on children’s right to speak with family law judges. Researching Reform had the privilege of talking with Sanchia Berg about the policy, what happened to it and why it was needed.

The piece includes thoughts from a boy called Oscar, who says he feels children should have the right to speak to judges and that it would make the process more friendly.

An extract from our conversation can be heard at around 0:52:00 over on BBC Radio 4’s live player, and the accompanying article on the topic can be read here.

For a summary of this policy, and its development over the last ten years, our Lexis Nexis article offers a complete history.

Many thanks to Sanchia for inviting us to share our thoughts.

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What Happened To The Government’s Child Welfare Consultations? RR Finds Out.

Welcome to another week.

Instead of our usual Monday question, we decided to share our latest Freedom Of Information Request, reminding the government that it still has outstanding child welfare consultation outcomes it needs to publish.

After we discovered that the current government had chosen to ignore the consultation looking at children in family court proceedings being able to speak to judges, Researching Reform felt a formal update on other outstanding consultations was needed.

This was our letter to the Department For Education:

FOI Roundup

We will let you know as soon as we get a response.

Open Letter To Cafcass & NSPCC On The Eve Of Families Need Fathers Conference

Legal Action For Women and Women Against Rape, have written an open letter to Cafcass and the NSPCC a day before they are due to take part in a Families Need Fathers Conference looking at Parental Alienation.

The letter invites the organisations to withdraw from the event, where representatives have been asked to speak.

The letter is added below:

OPEN LETTER to CAFCASS and NSPCC re your PARTICIPATION in a conference run by FAMILIES NEED FATHERS (FNF)
Saturday 14 October

We understand that you are speaking at this FNF conference on parental alienation. You must be aware that FNF have consistently attacked women.

Must we refresh your memory? As long ago as 1994, during a debate on the Child Support Agency, MP Glenda Jackson reported in Parliament that FNF advised fathers who were not allowed access to their children to ‘kidnap them. If that failed and nothing else could succeed, it advocated the murder of the mother.’ Recently we helped a father re-introduce contact with his child. He had previously gone to FNF and was horrified when their facilitators described the whole system as stacked against men, and kept referring to ‘feminist Nazis’. He said they promote and perpetuate misogyny and refused to go back.

FNF deny domestic violence, dismissing it as false allegations. They claim that ‘False and unfounded allegations poison proceedings when a non-resident parent is seeking parenting time with his children. Judges need to make findings of fact as soon as possible and to take false allegations into account when determining the best interests of the child.’ FNF claim that ‘there is widespread abuse of men and boys in the context of the family courts’ and accuse women of ‘making allegations’ as ‘a motorway to obtaining legal aid’.

Such claims are totally outrageous. Surely you know that:

  • One in five women aged 16-59 have suffered sexual violence in England and Wales;[1] two women a week are murdered by a partner or ex-partner; one in four women have been subjected to domestic violence in their lifetime; 81% of victims of domestic violence are women; domestic violence has a higher rate of repeat victimisation than any other crime; 62% of children in households where domestic violence is happening are also directly harmed;[2] 50% of rapes are domestic. The level of false allegations of rape is less than 1% and less than 0.5% for domestic violence, both are much lower than false allegations for other crimes.[3]
  • Family courts have allowed violent fathers (even when they have a criminal record for violence) to terrify, threaten and intimidate those they had victimised and who managed to escape them. These legal standards would never be tolerated in an open court. Judges have insisted on contact and even residence, dismissing what women and children were telling them. Nineteen children and two mothers were killed between 2005 and 2015 following court orders to allow fathers unsupervised contact. (WA)
  • FNF have the view that fathers who are estranged from their children have the same rights as mothers who do the daily work of caring and protecting them. That is the traditional patriarchal view by which children and their mothers are men’s property for them to do what they want with. No organisation or charity which gets public funds, especially ones that claim to speak for children, should give credence to such views.
    We hope you will reconsider your participation in this conference.

Legal Action for Women and Women Against Rape

law@allwomencount.net  war@womenagainstrape.net

[1] An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales, Ministry of Justice, Office for National Statistics and Home Office, 2013

[2] http://www.refuge.org.uk/get-help-now/what-is-domestic-violence/domestic-violence-the-facts/ quoting various ONS and Home Office sources

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/mar/13/rape-investigations-belief-false-accusations

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UPDATE: Shortly after we published this post, Families Need Fathers contacted us and tried, unsuccessfully, to upload their response to the letter. We add their response, which they emailed to us, below:

“It is evident that the authors of this letter do not know Families Need Fathers as well as the contributors to this event do. We are a reputable registered charity that engages constructively with relevant and distinguished stakeholders to discuss important issue relating to children’s welfare following family separation. We promote the clause of the UNCRC that children have a right to a relationship with both their parents, unless there is a welfare reason otherwise. We look forward to a successful conference tomorrow.”

UPDATE, 15th October, 2017: Legal Action For Women has sent Researching Reform an email with links offering evidence to qualify their statements.

“FNF’s use of the phrase “feminist Nazis” was reported to us by a father who had gone to them for help but stayed only for one meeting because he was so horrified by their attitude to women/mothers.   It is a direct quote from him, but obviously we can’t pass on his name.

The first quote is from a FNF press release dated 12 September 2017: Lies, Damned Lies and False Allegations!  See top paragraph.

The other quotes are from their press release dated 27 July 2017: CAFCASS Betrays the Trust of Fathers – see paragraphs 2 and 5.”

 

America Trials Online Reporting Of Child Abuse

In order to deal with the backlog of calls Los Angeles County gets about allegations of child abuse, it has decided to pilot a new system which will allow for the reporting of some of these allegations to be online. 

Online reporting is not available to everyone, and can only be used by what California calls mandated reporters. These are individuals working in professions which are required by law to report any suspicions they have about child abuse. The law places a legal responsibility on these individuals to report suspicions or allegations. It is a law we don’t currently have in the UK, but it is being considered in a consultation which was launched in 2016. (We sent a tweet last night to the Department For Education to find out when the findings would be published).

Consultation

The online reporting system is meant only for what the county calls ‘non-emergency’ child abuse, the idea being that life threatening and serious abuse can be dealt with faster as they become prioritised over less ‘urgent’ forms of abuse.

Here is an interesting extract from the article in The Chronicle Of Social Change:

Located south of downtown at the DCFS Emergency Response Command Post, Child Protection Hotline fielded nearly 219,000 calls of child abuse in 2016.

That’s an average of one call every 2.4 minutes to the hotline, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The total number of child abuse reports in 2016, according to DCFS documents, represented an increase of 22 percent over 2006, when about 179,000 were placed to the hotline.

According to a DCFS report, the increased number of calls to the hotline has been caused by several factors. Media attention paid to high-profile cases of abuse and neglect have driven more reports, and DCFS now has new responsibilities to field calls for groups like older foster youth and commercially sexually exploited children (who were previously were overseen by the Probation Department).

The process for using the online reporting system involves fielding calls within a framework designed firstly to work out which cases should be investigated, through a series of ten questions.

If the case meets the criteria, it will then be investigated right away, or a social worker is dispatched to follow up with the child within five days. This latter part concerns us quite a bit. We know child abuse can escalate over night, so a five day waiting period seems incredibly reckless.

If any of the mandated reporters answer yes to any one or more of the ten questions, which include queries like, is the child’s health at risk and does the alleged perpetrator have access to the child? then the report is barred from being made online and will have to be filed through the emergency hotline.

 

There are suggestions that the system is helping to free up the hotline and speed up responses to cases involving critical abuse.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this pilot.

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The Buzz

The latest child welfare items:

Buzz

RR For HuffPost: Children Must Have The Right Not To Be Hit

In honour of UNICEF’s Day Of The Girl, Researching Reform has written a piece for The Huffington Post inviting the government to ban all forms of corporal punishment.

Hitting, or smacking children as we call it, is still allowed in England and Wales, although it is fast being banned all over the world. A delicate issue, parents still feel that hitting their children is their prerogative, and an inalienable right that doesn’t cause long term damage, but weighty evidence is mounting up that contradicts these views.

Our aim with this article is not to threaten parents, or make them feel they are under attack. Researching Reform’s editor is a parent herself, and understands only too well how easy it is to lose control when tired and under pressure when it comes to parenting. This effort is about changing the law, to amplify a culture of respect for children and recognise them as equal in the eyes of the law.

Affecting girls as it does, corporal punishment is also a big issue for boys, and so we also ask that girls share this day with the boys, and that we join forces for a better, more egalitarian world, where children of both genders are protected and respected.

A very big thank you to Professor Joan Durrant, who is a pioneering child rights activist working on the effects of corporal punishment in the home, and without whose professional generosity and patient guidance, this article, with its host of renowned contributors would not have been possible.

You can catch our piece here.

HP Oct

Munby: Parents Who Object To Care Proceedings Should Not Be Gagged

High Court ruling has confirmed that family judges do not have an absolute right to gag parents who object to care proceedings.

President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, who handed down the judgment, said that in the interests of open justice courts should balance every child’s right to privacy with people’s right to freedom of expression.

Munby also noted that injunctions preventing the identification of a children’s guardian, council and social workers should only be granted if there were compelling reasons.

The president also made other points in relation to the case involved, which are important for families going through care proceedings in general:

  • Family courts cannot prevent parents, the media and websites from identifying social workers once care proceedings have ended
  • Video footage or photos posted online by parents are allowed as long as the content does not lead to the identification of any children involved in care proceedings
  • In the first instance, reporting restrictions do not apply to councils, social workers and children’s guardians.

Many thanks to Jane Doe for sharing this development with us.

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Section 20 Consent Forms For Parents and Children – Get Yours Here.

Together with child rights campaigner Michele Simmons, Researching Reform has produced two consent forms for families and children thinking about entering into a S.20 Agreement.

Michele, whose idea it was to create these forms, wanted to be able to offer parents and children the opportunity to fully inform themselves about these agreements and to protect them from their more controversial, and illegal, use – coercing families to place children in care.

Section 20 Agreements are intended to allow children access to temporary accommodation for a variety of reasons, including situations where parents through no fault of their own are unable to care for their child at that time, and instances where communication breaks down between parent and child. Their purpose and function are outlined in the Children Act 1989.

These agreements have become infamous for their misuse. Their implementation is now being investigated after it emerged that councils were removing children from parents and initiating child protection proceedings through them, which is illegal.

A new row has emerged over whether parental consent should be required before S.20 Agreements are created, with the Supreme Court to rule on this issue in the not too distant future. 

In the meantime, The President Of The Family Division has issued guidelines which request all local authorities to obtain parental consent prior to signing off on any S.20 arrangement.

Michele and Researching Reform have put together two forms – One for parents, and one for children who feel able to engage in the process and want to have their wishes and feelings set in writing. The consent forms have been saved in Word files, and uploaded onto Scribd, where the documents can be downloaded free of charge and completed at home.

The forms all come with links to key guides on S.20 Agreements, and other relevant law and policy relating to them, and we would urge parents and children to read them before signing any agreement.

To access the parent consent form, click here.

To access the child consent form, click here.

These forms are intended to invite social workers and families to work together and treat S.20 Agreements as supportive collaborations, which is the spirit in which they were intended to work.

If you would like to offer feedback on the content of the forms, we would welcome it.

Consent Forms

Question It!

Welcome to another week.

Controversial S.20 Agreements, meant for placing children in local authority accommodation where child protection concerns exist but which have been illegally used to take children into care, are now on the Supreme Court’s radar.

After the Court of Appeal ruled that there was no duty on councils to get parental consent for these agreements, the family involved in this case appealed the decision, and the Justices at the Supreme Court have now granted permission to challenge the ruling.

Section 20 Agreements have been so badly abused by social workers that in April of this year an investigation was launched, which aimed to look at how and why these agreements were being used to coerce families and children into child protection proceedings.

The ruling by the Court of Appeal also contradicts the President of the Family Division’s own guidelines, released in 2015, which explicitly state that parental consent must be obtained for any S.20 Agreement.

At Researching Reform we take the view that parental consent must be a basic ingredient of any Section 20 Agreement, which is by its nature a voluntary arrangement. Failure to secure that consent, to our mind, renders the agreement null and void precisely because it is a voluntary arrangement, which expressly implies a need for consent.

Just as critically, failure to obtain consent acts as a gateway to abuse, allowing social workers to coerce families into child protection proceedings. It is this lack of transparency, and consent, that has led to councils being able to use S.20 Agreements to break the law and take children from parents.

But that’s just one view.

Our question then, is just this: do you think parental consent should be a legal requirement for S.20 Agreements?

A very big thank you to Michele Simmons for alerting us to this development.

Questions

Media Call For Charities Working With Child Poverty.

News channel, France 2, which is the equivalent of our BBC, is producing a news report on child poverty in the UK and is looking for charities based in London, Birmingham, Manchester and beyond, who would be willing to speak with the reporters.

Their interest springs from the latest figures published by the UK government which suggest that around 4 million children are considered to be living in poverty in the country. France 2 would like to investigate this development and shed light on what they feel is an extremely important issue.

Ideally, the France team would like to talk to someone from a charity and to a family who could explain the challenges they face.

The media team at France 2 is incredibly thoughtful and considerate. Researching Reform has worked with them for several years and they are genuinely caring and interested journalists, professional and lovely to work with. We are adding a statement from France 2 below:

“We do not wish to judge, we understand that this is a sensitive issue and will be very respectful of the families we meet. We believe that in order to establish a relationship of trust with the families we are meeting it would be better to meet them through the charity.”

If you would like to get involved, please email the team at  f2londres@france2.fr
or give them a call on 02076364573.

France 2