The Buzz

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

Buzz

Councils Using Alternative Orders to Remove Children from Parents After Judicial Push Back on Care Applications

Councils are increasingly turning to other types of court orders to remove children in child protection proceedings after senior judges warned social workers that care applications should only be used as a method of last resort.

The development was revealed by new Cafcass chief Jacky Tiotto, during an interview with Children and Young People Now (CYP Now) magazine.

According to Tiotto, there has been a marked increase in requests for orders for deprivation of liberty, secure accommodation and emergency protection during child protection proceedings.

The finding raises serious concerns about whether social services are making false allegations around service users’ mental health in order to remove children from parents.

Emergency protection orders are only to be used in the most serious circumstances and give councils the right to remove children from their parents if there are concerns around child abuse. These orders can also limit a birth parent’s responsibilities towards their child.

Secure accommodation orders allow councils to place children in residential placement units where they can be stopped from leaving, and have been criticised by judges and other legal professionals because of the way in which they impact human rights like freedom of movement. These orders are usually only used in cases where there appears to be a risk of gang violence, child sexual exploitation and child trafficking.

Deprivation of liberty orders have also gained international media attention because of the way these orders impact children’s human rights under Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and are closely linked to secure accommodation orders.

Care applications however, dropped more than 5% from last year.

The drop has been attributed to a shift in social work practice, which now requires social workers to look at care applications and adoptions as the last port of call, rather than the first option in child protection proceedings.

Several senior judges have published judgments relating to child protections cases in order to raise awareness around the need to keep children with their parents wherever possible. The judgements were also made public to confirm the law and policy in this area, which makes it clear that removing children from parents must only happen if all other avenues have failed and only if that removal is genuinely in the best interest of the child in the case.

Despite the warnings, child protection professionals, perhaps desperate to keep their jobs as budget cuts continue to squeeze councils, now appear to be looking to other orders to secure removals.

Tiotto told CYP Now that Cafcass would be working to find out the reasons for the unusual rise in the different types of orders:

“What’s been understood from that drop in care applications is that the public law system is less busy – but it isn’t.

“Behaviour is changing in terms of what [orders] people are going into court for and we need to understand why that is.

“We will be prioritising work to understand that.

“I think in enough authorities people are looking for different solutions for children that may not be public care.

“I’d be surprised if that’s not what we find when we look at the data.”

There is clearly a conflict of interest in a social work organisation taking on this task, and we would like to see an independent body reviewing the data.

Whatever research is conducted though, the investigators will need to look at:

  • The life of these cases and whether these orders ultimately lead to children being permanently removed from their parents at a later stage,
  • The cases involved and the kind of evidence gathering that’s taken place,
  • Which courts these cases are being heard in, paying attention to Court of Protection applications (a Court which remains largely closed off from the public) and;
  • The internal management issues facing each local authority engaged in placing submissions for these orders.

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The Buzz

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

Court Reform Event

The Courts and Tribunals Service has launched an event to showcase its latest updates to the court system and it has opened the conference to the public.

The changes to the system are part of a £1bn reform programme, which covers family, criminal and civil courts as well as tribunals.

According to the invitation for the event, the programme has now reached its halfway point. It is not clear whether the halfway point refers to the amount of work completed or the time period the reform programme has to complete its updates.

The conference itself will include presentations and market stalls, and will also give people the chance to ask questions to individuals who are leading the programme’s development.

The event takes place on Tuesday 5th November, at the Ministry of Justice in London, and runs from 9.15am to 1.30pm.

The invitation says places are limited and registration is required to express an interest in the first instance. The team will then contact you to confirm attendance or to notify you that you’ve been added to a waiting list.

The Eventbrite page can be accessed here.

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The Buzz

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

Many thanks to Dana for the first item.

Buzz

Mother Ordered To Return Children To Father Accused of Domestic Violence

A High Court has ruled that three children taken to live in England by their mother must be returned to Germany where their father resided, after the father applied to the court for their return.

The mother had accused the father of physical and psychological abuse, and said she had taken the three children now 13, 11 and 8, to live in the jurisdiction of England and wales to avoid exposing them to harm. The mother and the children’s residence was unknown to the father until last December when he discovered their whereabouts.

Robert Peel QC, who was sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge in the Family Court, took the view that the allegations were no longer ‘live’, that the mother had been able to coexist with the father for some years after the initial allegations were raised and that her care of the children had not been affected.

While the children all said they did not wish to go back to Germany, the Cafcass officer speaking to the children took the view that their wishes had been coloured in part by the mother’s view of the father and that other matters took priority over their feelings. The Cafcass officer also took the view that the children’s wishes could not be determinative because they were too young.

The court ordered a mandatory return of the children to Germany, and also directed that protective measures needed to be put in place in relation to the practical consequences of their return to Germany.

You can read the judgment on BAILII. 

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New Initiatives Aim To Keep Birth Families Engaged with Children in Care

Welcome to another week.

The government has unveiled plans to offer carers more support when looking after fostered children, while also preserving ties with birth families and their children after they have entered the care system.

According to the press release, the initiative aims to offer carers, “short breaks, mentoring, emergency sleepovers and social activities with other families to help create stability as they adjust to their new lives together.”

The support package has been inspired by The ‘Mockingbird Family Model’, which will be delivered by The Fostering Network and builds on an already invested £500,000 for support services for foster carers by the government. It is not clear how much extra money the government has injected into the original investment sum to provide these services.

The Model is explained on the Fostering Network’s website as an “extended family model which… improves the stability of fostering placements and strengthens the relationships between carers, children and young people, fostering services and birth families.”

The Network’s website also includes evaluation reports and plans for the model’s roll-out across the country.

In addition to this initiative, the Department for Education said it would allocate £84 million to new projects in 18 council areas which would “support vulnerable children coping with chaotic home lives as a result of their parents’ problems with mental health, domestic violence or addiction.” And, that the projects would “reaffirm the core principle of the Children Act 1989 that where possible, children are best brought up with their parents.”

No further details about how the Department intends to achieve this are included in the statement.

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Children in Care Want to see More “Love, Respect and Recognition” – Conference

The first ever conference dedicated specially to children who have experienced the care system has published its report on the event, and it is a must-read for anyone working with children.

The Care Experienced Conference, which is chaired by Ian Dickson, a retired social worker and former Ofsted inspector who grew up in care and now advocates for children’s rights, took place in April and offered 20 workshops touching on a broad range of subjects nominated by care experienced people.

There were 141 care experienced people at the conference ranging from 14 to 82 years old, and attendees came from all walks of life.

The conference also featured outstanding artwork by individuals who have been in care, and many of the pieces are deeply moving. You can see the artwork here.

The conference group has published two documents, one being a summary report on the event and the other being a research report.

We have not had the chance to read the research report yet, but we will as soon as we get the chance. The summary offers quotes about experiences inside the care system shared by people of all ages, and while the sentiments are well known to most of us who have been campaigning to raise awareness around these issues it is wonderful that there is now a conference to represent children inside the system.

Some of the quotes will also be loaded with meaning for some. For example, this one:

“Bin bags.”

This refers to the way in which children’s belongings are ‘packed up’ when they are sent to a placement. They have to carry their possessions around in a plastic bin liner.

The summary also offers a list of the top ten messages delivered at the conference:

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Unsurprisingly, the biggest takeaways from the conference were that children in care needed to feel loved, and that the system had failed entirely to provide the nurturing children need.

One of the other important aspects about this summary report is that it includes the names of the core working group for the conference, and the many individuals and organisations who supported the event.

While Researching Reform doesn’t know everyone on those lists, the names we did recognise were all professionals we would call “the good guys” inside the sector, including Ian Dickson, who we have known for some time through the social media platform Twitter.

They are men and women who champion children and believe in pure social work, which places the needs of every child above any other aspect inside the system. These are individuals worth following.

Useful links:

Conference Home Page

Summary Report

Research Report

You can catch Ian on Twitter @IDickson258.

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Important Family Law Cases This Week

We thought we would start sharing family law judgments more regularly, as they are still being published for the public and offer important insights into how the family courts work.

They also highlight the flaws inside the system, and many of these judgments are made public by family law judges to raise awareness around poor and unethical practice, as well as law-breaking by child protection professionals.

The first judgment stems from a case in which the father had been controlling and manipulative to an extent that the mother had been completely ostracised from her children’s lives.

The children also said that the mother had hit them and had acted in a cruel and abusive manner towards them.

The court found the father’s evidence unhelpful and dishonest, and sought to rehabilitate the children with their mother.

The presiding judge was the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFargone (real name McFarlane), who concluded that while the mother had hit the children, the assaults had not caused them significant harm.

This site remains deeply troubled by the judge’s view that the children’s feelings about the verbal and physical abuse they experienced by their mother did not justify more concern, and caution. We hope that this will be taken into account at the next hearing in which contact with the mother will be decided.

You can read the full judgment on BAILII

The second judgment looked at whether parents had the right to consent to living arrangements for a 16 or 17-year-old child which would otherwise be a deprivation of liberty within the meaning of article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), in situations where the child lacks the mental capacity to make the decision for himself  or herself.

Lady Hale concluded that parental responsibility for a child of 16 or 17 years of age did not extend to “authorising the confinement of a child in circumstances which would otherwise amount to a deprivation of liberty.”

Disagreeing with this view, Lord Carnwath (supported by Lord Lloyd-Jones) saw nothing in the Mental Capacity Act 2005 which detracted from the common law principle or from the definition of ‘parental responsibility’ in the Children Act 1989.

The UK Supreme Court offers a very helpful bundle for this case, including the judgment, a summary and hearing details.

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Journalists Overtake Family Judges in Transparency Drive

The number of published family law judgments which are made available to the public has decreased since 2015, but the media is picking up the slack, and bringing more cases to an international audience.

Research by family law blogger John Bolch suggests that the number of published judgments for family law cases are diminishing year-on-year, after an initial spike in publications which took place shortly after guidance was issued on transparency in 2014 by the then President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby.

According to John, there were 734 published judgments in 2013, 773 published judgments in 2014, 575 in 2016, 501 in 2017, 473 in 2018, and 444 in 2019 so far.

In his post, John claims that the decrease in published family law judgments is down to a lack of enthusiasm by the judiciary, and that the “experiment” as he puts it, has failed. He also takes the view that the judgments have not helped the public to understand the issues or the family courts any better, because the public continues to view the system sceptically.

We do not agree with any of this logic.

The number of judgments has dropped because judges don’t have the time to write them, and perhaps, because judges might not always be sure that their reasoning is sound.

The public have engaged deeply with these cases and their scepticism remains, and we would say has increased because they have come to the conclusion, like those of us campaigning for change, that the system is not fit for purpose.

And while judges may not be able to write judgments for the public, both national and international media have increased their reporting of family law related cases, with some even dedicating entire sections to the subject, like The Independent, The Guardian and The Law Gazette.

The Transparency Guidance paved the way for insight into the family courts and allowed the world to see how judgments were made. Most importantly, it gave journalists the ability to report on stories that mattered.

That appetite for reporting has not waned, with family cases often making the headlines. As children continue to take center stage in politics, law and human rights, that appetite is only set to increase.

Many thanks to Dana for alerting us to John’s post.

Emoji Judge