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Why The British Government Won’t Apologise For Forced Adoption

When MP for Wirral South Alison McGovern, decided to try to get an apology from the British government for its forced adoption policies in the 1960s, she didn’t realise that what she was asking for would place the government in an impossible position.

At a debate she hosted on 12th July, McGovern asked the Children and Families Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, to offer a formal apology to women who had had their babies forcibly removed from them at birth, under a policy which considered single women to be unfit mothers. Zahawi never offered an apology, and didn’t confirm that he would take the request up to the Prime Minister to try to get a national apology on the practice, which other countries like Australia had already done.

Australia is often ahead of the curve and ahead of the UK when it comes to child protection. In 2013, the then Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard apologised to women nationwide for similar forced adoption practices which took place inside the country during the 1950s and 1960s.  One year before Gillard made her speech, New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell, also publicly apologised over the policy of previous government in Australia to remove children from unmarried mothers. Two states inside the country had already apologised for the practices prior to O’Farrell’s own apology. That’s four official “I’m sorry” speeches from just one country.

So why does the UK refuse to apologise for forced adoption at all?

The answer lies in the UK’s continued use of forced adoption, or involuntary adoption as it is sometimes called today. During the debate in the House of Commons last month, whilst McGovern was trying to focus the government’s mind on an apology, it was Zahawi’s bizarre and factually incorrect speech which caught the public’s attention. Unsolicited, the Children and Families Minister went off on a tangent, offering reasons why today’s forced adoption practices were legitimate, and different to previous government’s historic policies, all whilst side stepping the question of an apology.

Zahawi’s strained speech highlighted an uncomfortable truth: if he apologised for historic forced adoption policies, he would effectively be ceding ground, leaving him and the government vulnerable to inspection over its modern day policies around forced adoption. Someone must have explained to Zahawi that the adoption sector, which is underpinned by forced adoption today, would fall apart overnight if he were to apologise for anything remotely connected to its existence.

Researching Reform tried to reach out to Alison McGovern to explain the intimate connection between the two periods of forced adoption, but we never got a reply. Without this understanding, her efforts at obtaining an apology fell by the wayside, and an opportunity to open a real and meaningful debate, which would have benefitted a far larger number of women, and men, was lost.

As for Zahawi’s argument during the debate that 21st century forced adoption in the UK is different to past practice and perfectly legitimate, much like most of his speech, it stands on shaky ground. Modern day forced adoption practices target vulnerable families in the same way historic policies on forced adoption once did, and have led to groups like Legal Action For Women openly accusing the government of taking children away from able mothers. A growing body of social work professionals are also questioning the legality of forced adoption, concerned about the ethical and human rights violations the policy presents, as well as its impact on children.

Forced adoption has seen a worldwide decline, mostly because countries have become aware that consensual adoption is far better for families and children, doesn’t hinder child protection and removes many of the conflicts of interest involuntary adoption creates, which include pitting birth parents against adoptive parents from the outset.

It’s time we had a consultation on modern day forced adoption practices in the UK, and we will be asking for one.

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Question It!

Welcome to another week.

Lawyers representing child sexual abuse survivors have asked that Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, be called to give evidence at the nation’s Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse.

The request comes after evidence from several witnesses suggested that Gove intervened in an investigation into alleged sexual abuse by a priest. The claims, which allege that Gove telephoned to ask about the priest and requested a report on the complaint, were made by two child protection professionals. Gove denies the claims.

The lawyers believe that Gove should be questioned at the Inquiry in order to resolve the contradicting testimonies.

The Guardian reports:

“Clare Winter, the deputy director of children’s services responsible for children’s social care at Somerset county council, told the inquiry in 2017 that she received two telephone calls in 2010 from Gove and his office inquiring about the investigation.. The second call, she said, came from “somebody who said they were the secretary of state for education” who repeated a request for information about the progress of the investigation into a priest, known only as F65, suspected of having oral sex with a 16-year-old boy.

Jane Dziadulewicz, another safeguarding official responsible for child protection, told the inquiry that she helped produce a report for Gove’s office on the progress of the Downside investigation following the calls.”

MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has connections to Downside school, never responded to the Guardian’s questions in relation to whether he had discussed the investigation with Gove.

As the communications to the professionals were not made in person, it is possible that an individual was pretending to be Gove in order to access information. If calls were recorded by councils, this would have offered strong evidence and helped to clear up the conflicting testimonies in this case.

Our question this week then, is just this: do you think councils should record their calls? 

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MP Calls For Government Review Of CAFCASS

A debate in the House of Commons which took place on 18th July, has led to an MP calling for a government review into child welfare body, CAFCASS.

The discussion comes after a petition on website Change.org asking the government to investigate CAFCASS policy, family court transparency and training for child welfare professionals, amassed over 116,000 signatures.

Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, Jess Phillips, hosted the debate, which looked at ways in which the government could protect victims of domestic abuse in the family courts. Jess chose to focus on the cross examination of alleged victims of domestic violence by alleged and proven domestic abuse offenders and CAFCASS training.

During the discussion, Jess confirmed that she had received 199 pages of testimonials the morning of the debate, which she said contained around 10 to 13 testimonials on each page. She then read some of the testimonials out:

“CAFCASS is not working in the best interests of the children, who are victims of domestic abuse themselves”;

“CAFCASS is enabling the perpetrators of abuse to gain more control”;

“CAFCASS did not talk to my children, who, too, are victims. Their voices were nowhere on the accounts”;

“They think that abusive partners are good dads”;

“They were incompetent, stupid, easily taken in by a manipulative perpetrator and aggressive towards me. One woman couldn’t even be bothered to know my name. They called my 999 call a ‘minor disagreement’ in their official records. They are a complete disgrace”;

and,

“I, too, have had a terrible time with CAFCASS and the family courts. They were more supportive of my abusive ex than actually listening to my kids. Also, when my son made a statement and showed signs of abusive behaviour, they continued to put him through the court and pooh-poohed and belittled everything that we had to say.”

The government’s response to concerns raised by Jess and other MPs was predictably defensive, however the debate is worth a read.

The call to have CAFCASS investigated comes at the end of the debate. Jess sums up the problem in the following way:

“On the issue of CAFCASS workers receiving appropriate training, I say to the Minister that it is not working. There needs to be a Government review of CAFCASS and the way its workers are interacting with victims, as well as of settings where families go for visits.”

Researching Reform spoke with several families about these developments and we only heard one positive story. When we reached out to these families, most were still calling the body by its nickname, CRAPCASS.

 

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Interesting Things

Research

A new study suggests that child protection cases where children are being returned to their parents, are breaking down in the long term. The researchers at East Anglia University’s school of social work make the claims in their latest report, which is part of a series of papers looking at reforming the care system. 

The research was produced to offer insight into how two high profile cases (re B and re B-S), have impacted child protection cases. The two cases have made it much harder for councils to push adoption orders through.

The report takes the view that the family courts and councils are increasing their use of supervision orders and Special Guardianship Orders in order to meet timescales and fend off austerity measures. The stats in the report suggest that within the time periods they examined, 25% of supervision orders were unsuccessful in the long run. Jonathan Dickens, who is head of East Anglia University’s school of social work and who co-led the study, told Community Care that whilst only a small number of orders broke down, difficulties experienced by some special guardians highlighted the need for joint support, including financial support, with adopters.

Do be careful with this research. While some of the observations are sound, the conclusions are not, including the view that courts are issuing supervision orders rather than adoption orders because they are under pressure both in terms of time and resources. There is also a clear push by the research team to increase adoption orders, which is underlined by their view that adoption is the best way forward in cases where orders break down. We know from scientific evidence and research that this is not always the case, and that more often than not, parents can, with proper support, love and care for their children very well.

East Anglia was granted the funds for this research by the ESRC, whose council is made up of individuals who, amongst other organisations, work for the Home Office, and Department of Health and Social Care.

Child Welfare Complaints

For the fist time, the latest Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman decisions show a marked drop in the number of complaints around child welfare proceedings. We don’t know if the drop is related to our post explaining that the ombudsman cannot investigate such cases. You can access the latest decisions here. 

Child Sexual Abuse In Football

The findings of the Football Association’s independent inquiry into the historical child sex abuse scandal are due to be published shortly. The investigation is led by barrister Clive Sheldon QC, whose latest report will outline the key failings that allowed abusers to prey on children in the past. Sheldon previously acted as counsel for the Health Secretary, then Jeremy Hunt, over a new junior doctors’ contract. 

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Evidence Storing App Targets Families Going Through Child Welfare Proceedings

A new app developed by a former family lawyer and family court psychiatrist has been created to give parents going through the family courts a place to organise their case materials. On Record offers individuals a platform to store and organise evidence and information relating to their cases. The site says that the software can be used by anyone, and for a wide variety of legal matters.

The app, which was launched in July, was created by Jill Canvin, a former family law solicitor and her partner Dr George Hibbert, who made the headlines in 2012 after being accused by work colleagues and parents he treated at his clinic in Tadpole Cottage of unethical conduct. The allegations included deliberately producing biased reports which councils used to take children from mothers and then place them for adoption. Hibbert underwent an investigation by the GMC, which then set aside the allegations due to a lack of evidence. Dr Hibbert stepped down from his practice shortly after the allegations were brought to the media’s attention in what was viewed as a bid to avoid being investigated.

While the company’s website lists a variety of uses for the app, On Record appears to focus on parents going through family proceedings and litigants in person. 

We reached out to Jill Canvin for further information, and she initially agreed to being interviewed. We then sent her the questions below:

  • You’ve developed an app called On Record – can you tell us a little about how it works?
  • What gave you the idea for the app?
  • Who else is on the On Record team?
  • How much did it cost to produce the app and how was it funded?
  • How many users do you have at the moment?
  • What happens to users’ data once it’s stored?
  • Who, including On Record staff, has access to that data?
  • Your You Tube About page says you will also be offering sensible but not legal advice – what will that mean in practice?
  • Dr George Hibbert is listed as a director for On Record but his name does not appear on Companies House records – is there a reason for the omission?
  • Finally, what do you hope to achieve with the app?

Shortly after the questions were sent, Dr Hibbert wrote back to us with the following email:

“Dear Ms Phillips,
I have seen the questions you emailed to Jill. 
I wonder whether you could explain what you mean by “his name does not appear on Companies House records”. I am registered as a director and PSC of On Record Ltd at Companies House. 
I hope you are not inclined to publishing misleading information.”

We then replied:

“Dear Dr Hibbert,
Thank you for your reply.

The email I sent Jill contained questions, which I have invited her to answer. As a result, it would not be possible for me to offer misleading information as she has the opportunity to respond.

There are now several companies associated with this app, and for the sake of clarity, and to avoid any misrepresentation, I’d like to invite you to explain the structure:

Analogue Digital – Jill Canvin, sole officer

On Record Ltd – Jill Canvin, George Hibbert, officers

Tadpole Cottage – Jill Canvin, George Hibbert, Mark Bridgens

If I have omitted anything, please do let me know.”

Dr Hibbert has to date not responded to our last email.

The app idea itself is a good one, however there are some concerning question marks over the app’s founders, funding and access to users’ data. We are particularly concerned with whether the app’s team will have access to the evidence lodged, how that data will be used by Hibbert and Canvin and whether or not the app is in compliance with the new GDPR regulations, which requires all businesses to outline exactly how they intend to use their customers’ data.

Hibbert previously tried to launch software for use inside the family courts, but was unsuccessful.

Many thanks to Janie Doe for alerting us to this development.

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Image source: On Record website

 

Question It!

Welcome to another week.

The Home Office is advising families travelling with differing surnames to bring birth or adoption certificates to the airport, to prove the identities of children within family units.

Officers at the airport are to step up interrogations in a bid to tackle child trafficking and exploitation.

The request was not well received by parents, and some member of the public on Twitter, who felt the new policy was draconian and heavy handed.

A tweet posted on 1st August, highlighting the change has received over 500 comments, most of which appear to be deeply critical of the move.

Replying to the Home Office on Twitter, Welsh MP Hywel Williams said:

“Wholly unacceptable. Having different surnames is not some bureaucratic problem. My wife is Davies- she’s not an add-on to me. My children are Hywel – a pattern becoming more common in Wales as we shed practices enforced on our culture during industrialization.”

Academic researcher Dr Johnna Montgomerie observed the effect this would have on married women who chose to forego taking their husband’s names:

“Just to clarify women who chose not to take their husband’s surname or have children with a partner they are not married to will be subject to increased border measures. This is what freedom looks like under a government? Straight out of

Tweeter Nicky Marsh pointed out the impact this would have on men, as well:

“Absolutely, this is terrifying. And this extends to men, too, and might even be more problematic for them: my children have my surname rather than their father’s and although we are married this is an issue for him.”

Another tweeter pointed out an issue in relation to carrying several important documents around:

“This is a great way to lose important documents while travelling. Brilliant advice from the same department who will probably try to deport people later on when they have lost, say, a marriage certificate abroad after following this advice.”

Our question this week then, is just this: do you agree with the new policy?

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This Week’s Child Welfare Complaints Decisions

The latest complaints about the way councils treat children are in, with the focus this week being on children with special needs. There has also been a marked drop in the number of complaints about family law cases.

The news published on this site last week that the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman was unable to investigate complaints relating to evidence and conduct brought to light in court hearings is unlikely to have affected the number of complaints in this area, though only three such cases are listed this week.

Most of the cases in the latest newsletter highlight councils withdrawing support services for children with special needs. The Ombudsman does hold several councils liable for removing these services and tells those councils at fault to reinstate support, though it’s clear from these cases that councils are cutting back and trying to save costs.

You can read the decisions here. 

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