Important Child Welfare Cases To Watch

Three cases have surfaced which test the boundaries of councils’ and other government bodies’ duties of care around vulnerable children.

On our Watch List are the following:

CN & Anor v Poole Borough Council

This case involves two men who were children at the time, and who along with their mother, were placed in accommodation near a family with a history of  anti social behaviour. The mother and her sons, one of whom was severely disabled, were targeted, and suffered deep distress from the harassment they experienced, with one child trying to commit suicide as a result. The family had tried to get help from the local authority, police and housing association, without success. They were relocated some time later.

The case has now made it to the Supreme Court, and looks at whether the local authority has a duty to protect children from harm by third parties whilst under the council’s control. The appeal will take place over a day and a half with the hearings set to end today. Lady Hale, Lord Reed, Lord Wilson, Lord Hodge and Lady Black are reviewing the case. Aswini Weereratne QC, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Nicholas Brown are acting on behalf of Article 39 & the Care Leavers’ Association.

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Rotherham Survivors

Individuals who were abused as children in Rotherham are awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court on whether they can bring a case to hold local authorities accountable in negligence for exploitation at the hands of grooming gangs and paedophiles. The action is being led by Sammy Woodhouse, who is herself a survivor of child sexual abuse in Rotherham.

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Forced Adoptions

A high profile case in Dublin, Ireland looking at the legality of forced adoptions, has resulted in a settlement after a mother challenged the state and the religious organisation responsible for removing her son from her care, 57 years ago.

The media in Ireland had previously revealed a host of illegal registrations, as well as evidence of tampering with birth records, including name changes, cash payments and other ‘irregularities’.

The case is likely to offer hope to forced adoption campaigners, who would like to see the practice of non consensual adoption come to an end in the UK.

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Question It!

Welcome to another week.

A debate in the House of Commons looking at protections for victims of domestic violence will take place on Wednesday 18th July. The Westminster Hall debate will look at the government’s efforts to protect victims of abuse during cross examination in family courts.

This is the summary offered on the Parliament website:

“The Prisons and Courts Bill published in February 2017 contained provisions to prevent perpetrators of domestic violence cross examining their victims in the family court. However, the Bill fell at the General Election in 2017. The Queen’s Speech 2017 confirmed that there would be a draft Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill and also that a Courts Bill would re-introduce measures to prevent alleged abusers cross-examining victims directly.

In March 2018, the Government launched a consultation ‘seeking views on both legislative proposals for a landmark draft Domestic Abuse Bill and a package of practical action.’

In relation to protections in the family courts, the consultation states that new Family Procedure Rules allow vulnerable parties to family proceedings to give evidence behind a protective screen or via video link. It sought views on whether there were other aspects of the criminal court treatment of vulnerable people which the family court could learn from. A draft Domestic Violence Bill is due to be published later this session.

There have been calls for the Government to act more quickly. Women’s Aid and Queen Mary University School of Law published a report in May 2018 which argued that the Government shouldn’t wait for the Domestic Abuse Bill but should use “the quickest legislative vehicle available” and the Victims Commissioner Baroness Newlove has also argued that “time is of the essence”.”

Currently, alleged and convicted offenders of abuse are not allowed to cross examine alleged victims of that abuse in the criminal courts. This automatic presumption does not exist in the family courts.

Our question this week then, is this: do you think the law should be amended to prevent all alleged and proven abusers from cross examining alleged victims in family court?

You can access the full report here. 

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Children And Families Minister Defends Current Forced Adoption Practices In Bizarre Speech

In a confused speech delivered during a debate on forced adoption in the House of Commons yesterday, Parliamentary Under Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi defended the ongoing practice whilst also labelling the policy, “appalling”.

Zahawi’s ministerial appointment raised eyebrows, after he was found to have attended the now abolished President’s Club Dinner several times, and allegations around him supplying oil to Islamic State were revealed.

The motion for the debate called on the government to offer a public apology to single mothers in the 1950s and 1960s in the UK, who were coerced into giving up their children for adoption, at a time when government viewed single parenthood as a threat to the social fabric of the country. Zahawi sidestepped this request, failing to address it during the debate.

Instead, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Children and Families, who Researching Reform is aware reads this blog, tried to shoehorn some ill timed and awkward comments on modern forced adoption practices during the discussion, after this site called on the government to address the issue.

Before making the comments about today’s forced adoption practices, the MPs involved in the debate were discussing details relating to several of their constituents who had had children taken from them by the state. Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck asks Zahawi to clarify the date of a report he was referring to, which was produced in the 1970’s. This is his reply:

“Yes—I did say that when I referred to it.

Children can only be removed permanently by a court without the consent of the parents if the court is satisfied that the child is suffering significant harm or is likely to suffer significant harm if they remain with their birth family. Courts must consider all the evidence put before them, including evidence from the parents themselves, who will have legal representation. Adoption agencies and fostering services are now inspected by Ofsted, whose role is to ensure that practice is in line with the legal framework.”

Rather oddly, Zahawi then switches to issues around mothers looking to trace their children after losing them to non recent forced adoption:

“For the mothers who are at the heart of this debate, it is essential that they are able to trace their children and that their children can establish their parentage”.

After sharing a few more thoughts on the motion itself, Zahawi then doubles back and makes another comment about current forced adoption practices, this time making some terrible mistakes in the process. This is what he says:

“We believe that the lessons of the time have been learned and have led to significant change both to legislation and practice now. No child is removed from their birth family unless they have suffered significant harm or are at risk of such harm, and of course, parents have legal representatives”. 

It’s clear from this speech that Zahawi has very little understanding of forced adoption, and the current crisis within the family courts. As we have written about many times on this site, judges and social workers have become increasingly concerned about the use of forced adoption policies to remove children from parents, and we also know that parents do not, “of course”, have legal representation. In fact, the latest government reports confirm that most parents are now having to represent themselves in court due to a lack of legal aid and an inability to afford private representation.

Trying to make a distinction, as Zahawi does, between non recent and current forced adoption practices is also pointless. There is no difference between non consensual adoption to remove children from mothers in the 1950s, 60s and 70s for being single, and removing children from parents in the twenty first century for being poor, vulnerable or missing out on a full education. Moreover, the similarities between non recent and current forced adoption practices are striking, because they are both rooted in unethical, and unlawful, social engineering.

As Labour MP Stephen Twigg points out during the debate:

“At heart this is a human rights issue. Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 outlines, “the right to respect for…family and private life”. In the case of forced adoptions, it is surely absolutely clear that the parents and children have been denied that most basic of human rights. If the Government accept that that is the case, surely we have a responsibility as a country and they have a responsibility as a Government to address the matter urgently”.

It’s time the government had a debate on forced adoptions taking place today.

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Government Refuses To Offer Details Of Ministers Invested In Fostering And Adoption Agencies

Information requested by Researching Reform in June, on government ministers with financial interests in fostering and adoption agencies, has been refused by the Ministry of Justice and The Department For Work and Pensions (DWP).

The Ministry of Justice’s replies to two of our Freedom Of Information requests relating to the above query, cited costs as the underlying factor for not being able to provide the information, but did offer the suggestion of narrowing down the request in order to access these details.

The DWP’s response is more controversial. The department’s approach was to classify the data requested as personal information, which under current legislation is protected and so not required to be shared, unless it falls into one or more of the following categories:

  1. Consent from the individual/s concerned
  2. Compliance with a court order;
  3. The prevention of the duplication of payments from public
    funds, or;
  4. Where there is a compelling public interest in making the disclosure

Given that adoption and fostering agencies have been routinely privatised over the last few years, raising serious concerns about their efficiency and financial structures, and that ministers have in the past been accused of profiting from these agencies at the expense of children inside the care system, this information clearly crosses the public interest threshold.

Researching Reform also wrote to other Departments, so we will have to see what they come back with. Please don’t hold your breath. And yes, we will be narrowing down our requests and trying again. There’s something here.

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Forced Adoption Debate – Briefing Paper

The House of Commons library has just released the briefing paper for the debate on forced adoption, which is taking place tomorrow. MPs will also ask the government to apologise for the practice.

Calls to extend the debate beyond forced adoption practices in the 1950s and 1960s were ignored by MPs leading this debate, despite overwhelming support from families, social workers, academics and reformers. 

This is a disappointing result, but perhaps MPs will consider hosting another debate in the not too distant future on forced adoption practices in the 21st century…

You can read the briefing paper, which is an 8 page report, here. 

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Researching Reform Turns 9

Researching Reform, a project which was started in 2009 to help highlight issues around child welfare legislation and policy, celebrates its ninth birthday this week.

Since its launch, the project’s website has recorded developments within child protection and family law, both in the UK and abroad. It has hosted children and their families’ stories about the family justice system, stakeholders and members of the government, and details about events looking at the system and its processes.

In its first year, the project welcomed eighteen comments on its website. Today, we are lucky to host a growing number of thoughts from our readers, many of whom are service users, and, or, actively engaged in trying to improve the family courts.

In 2009, public comment on child welfare in the UK was unheard of. Politicians refused to discuss social care, child protection and divorce, considering the topics to be political minefields which could ruin their careers. Social work and medical professionals were also wary of discussing these issues, with many in denial about the problems both the system and families faced in trying to resolve these matters.

Researching Reform was met with hostility by child welfare professionals, judges and lawyers, who, understandably, did not feel comfortable with the project’s often direct and transparent approach to a system which had historically been closed to the public.

Today, many of those same professionals have begun to support the project, and embrace the project’s openness and inclusive methods. More people than ever are speaking out about difficulties inside the child protection system and, crucially, willing to engage with service users, who are parents, extended families, and children.

This year we would like to thank not only our readers, who have been jaw-droppingly loyal and who continue to offer thought provoking and insightful views, but also brave child welfare professionals who have spoken out and tried to offer solutions to the obstacles they and families face inside the child welfare sector.

The site’s viral stories offer insight into what our socially conscious and politcally savvy readers care about most. With almost six thousand shares on Facebook, this 2015 piece on politicians leaving the chamber whilst then Home Secretary Theresa May delivered what was widely anticipated to be a ground breaking speech about the child abuse inquiry, is our most read story. Not far behind is our breaking story about Lord Blackheath, who admitted in the House of Lords that he had knowingly trafficked children to Australia, where they were subjected to sexual abuse and placed into slavery, facts which he also knew, before illegally separating them from their parents and shipping out what amounted to thousands of children. Our third most popular post offered parents information on recording child protection meetings.

Researching Reform will continue to push for change on child welfare issues. Thank you for standing by us and doing the same.

A very special thank you to the children who have spoken out, who have shared their experiences with us and who have lived through some truly terrible circumstances with a deeply humbling grace. This site is, and always has been, for you.

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Justice Committee Suggests Using Experts To Assess Psychological Harm On Children

The Justice Committee, a parliamentary group set up to examine the policies, spending and administration of the Ministry of Justice and related public bodies, published a report on 3rd July, which recommends reworking the current criminal law guidelines for sentencing around child cruelty offences, including the need to obtain expert evidence on psychological harm, and developmental harm on a child.

The recommendations were made after the government floated a consultation on the topic. Respondents included judges, criminal justice organisations, local government, members of the public, lawyers and NHS bodies.

The report tells us that 623 offenders were sentenced for child cruelty crimes, in 2016, with 6 offenders sentenced for causing or allowing the death of a child, and 23 for causing or allowing serious physical harm to a child. To date, there have been no convictions under Section 3A of the FGM Act 2003.

The report also confirms that more women than men have been sentenced for these offences.

Cruelty to a Child can be broken down into four categories; assault and ill-treatment, neglect, abandonment and failure to protect.

Key proposed changes to the guidelines:

  • The addition of two further offences: causing or allowing a child to die or suffer serious physical harm, and failing to protect a child from the risk of female genital mutilation (FGM);
  • Setting a lower starting point for offenders who have failed to protect a child from cruelty, as opposed to inflicting it;
  • Engaging expert evidence to determine psychological harm/developmental harm
  • A new range of aggravating factors: for example, those in positions of power, such as a teacher or priest;
  • A new range of mitigating factors, such as remorse and good character
  • Looking at ways to clarify the law around failing to protect a child and committing an act against that child. The guidelines currently combine the two elements when the perpetrator of direct harm in the household is not known;
  • Taking into account the complex cultural and social context which leads parents to mistakenly believe that FGM is in a girl’s best interests, during the sentencing process

The report’s findings and recommendations are likely to engage child abuse campaigners and family law reformers, who would like to see tougher sentencing for child abusers and a great deal more solid evidence in risk of future harm cases.

You can access the report here. 

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Support To Widen Forced Adoption Debate Grows.

Welcome to another week.

As politicians get ready to debate non recent forced adoption practices in the UK, Researching Reform has called on Alison McGovern, the MP leading this debate, to include modern day practices of forced, or non consensual adoption. We tweeted Alison on Saturday, but have not yet had a response.

The motion to discuss forced adoption, which asks that the government recognise the “pain and suffering that the practice of forced adoption caused many women from the 1960s onwards”, has been widely discussed on social media, with campaigners pledging to contact Alison McGovern, and social work professionals supporting the move to widen the discussion, which takes place on Thursday this week, in the House of Commons.

Campaigner, Ian Josephs, who coined the phrase Forced Adoption, wrote to Alison on Sunday, along with several others child welfare reformers and family court activists.

Maggie Mellon, former Vice Chair for the British Association Of Social Workers, who remains outspoken about the way in which the current social care system treats children and families, welcomed the move to broaden the debate, on Saturday.

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MPs To Demand Government Apology For Forced Adoptions In The UK

A debate on the practice of Forced Adoptions is to be held in the House of Commons, on Thursday, 12th July, 2018. The topic was chosen by the Backbench Business Committee.

The backbench MPs responsible for bringing forward the debate will also call on the government to issue an apology for the practice.

Whilst details of the debate seem to suggest that the discussion will focus only on non recent forced adoption practices – for example, women pressured into handing over their babies for adoption during the 1960s – the exact title of the motion leaves the door open for wider debate, which should and must include modern day practices around forced adoption.

The motion tabled by the cross-party backbench MPs calls for recognition of the “pain and suffering that the practice of forced adoption caused many women from the 1960s onwards”.

We therefore urge everyone with an interest in widening this debate to incorporate the current practices of forced adoption – which include the use of S.20 arrangements to illegally detain children in state care, with a view to putting them up for adoption or within foster placements – to contact the MPs involved and ask them to include modern day aspects of forced adoption as well.

We invite fathers who have lost children through forced adoption to reach out too.

The MP leading this debate is Alison McGovern, the Labour MP for Wirral South. You can contact her on Twitter at @Alison_McGovern, or email her at alison.mcgovern.mp@parliament.uk

The House of Commons library will be publishing a briefing and may also offer materials for the debate, nearer the time. Anyone interested in being notified when this information becomes available can do so by emailing papers@parliament.uk. You can also access a transcript of the debate, usually around 24 hours after it’s taken place, from the Hansard.

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Female Paedophiles Abused As Children Revealed In Paedophile Information Exchange Survey

A survey has been published which offers a detailed breakdown of members of The Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE), a pro-paedophilia activist group in the UK established in the 1970s.

The organisation received government funding, and counted several political figures as members. It campaigned under the pretext that it hoped to liberate children’s sexuality and often lobbied the government to reduce or remove the age of consent completely. Despite its campaigns, which also conflated underage sex with gay rights, PIE was widely believed to be nothing more than an attempt at facilitating adult men wanting to have sex with children. PIE officially disbanded in the 1980s.

The survey itself can be found on BoyWiki, a site for male-oriented paedophiles, which aims to encourage paedophiles to work together to record paedophilia’s history and culture.

The questionnaire, which has been uploaded onto the French BoyWiki site, was produced by PIE, and ran from 1975 to 1976, over a period of eight months, in an attempt to gather information about its members.

The total number of members as at 29th March 1976, was 127, with 114 of those being from the UK. Of those, 96% were paedophiles, with 87% being from the UK.

Whilst the majority of members were male homosexual paedophiles, information about two female paedophiles, recorded only as paedophile A and paedophile B, can be seen inside the survey. The survey tells us that neither woman was married at the time, did not have any children and were aged 22, and 26 respectively. Paedophile A appears to have been attracted to children aged between 5-9 years. Paedophile B, the survey tells us, was unsure about her preferences at the time. Both confirmed that their first sexual experiences were with women.

The survey reveals a startling fact about PIE’s female paedophiles: Much like PIE’s male members, both women say that their first sexual experience took place while they were small children.

There is a lot of detailed information inside the survey, from members’ marital status, precise sexual orientation, age groups which are most attractive to PIE’s paedophile membership and a detailed report below the survey itself, written by Keith Hose, who was one of PIE’s chairmen. The report offers general conclusions about the data, but also tries to analyse why its female membership is so low. This is an extract from the report:

“The low number of females in our sample needs more explaining. Our advertising was limited to predominantly male homosexual publications at first. But as we became more widely known it could be expected that the number of female paedophiles in our sample would increase with the number of male heterosexual paedophiles. This has not happened.

One possible reason is that we are an organisation run by males. It is well known by those in the Women’s Liberation Movement that women tend not to join organisations run by men, especially when discussion of intimate aspects of the personality is involved. While this may be part of the explanation of the low number of female paedophiles in the survey, the major reason may be concerned with definition. The word paedophilia may be more applicable to an adult male, since it is used to describe a sexual attraction toward children. Sexual feelings and acts have been defined in various different ways from culture to culture. Acts such as two men embracing are defined to be sexual in some cultures but not in others.

In our culture such an act is defined as sexual for men but not for women. It is the difference in the treatment of the sexuality of the sexes which makes comparison difficult. The role of woman in our society allows her far more tactile contact with children than the role of man allows him. Some contact between a man and a child would be regarded as sexual while the same contact between a woman and a child would not be regarded as such. There is even a tendency to deny the full sexual nature of acts which do not involve heterosexual coitus. Therefore, it is easy to see that a man could be more easily defined to be paedophile by either himself or others than a woman.”

Many thanks to Maggie Tuttle for sharing this survey with us.

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