The Buzz

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



🌏 Introducing Kayhan Life 🌏

Researching Reform is hugely humbled to announce that its editor is working for a new online newspaper, launched today, which focuses on Iranian politics. The site also has a dedicated section for child welfare.

Kayhan Life is an impartial news outlet offering breaking, exclusive and important stories about Iran and its people. Its publisher, acclaimed journalist Nazenin Ansari, is passionate about child rights, and works with several children’s organisations around the world. The newspaper itself is fully independent, and is not funded by any government or political organisation. Kayhan Life is part of the Kayhan Media Group, which has a distinguished journalistic history , starting out in Iran as the most widely circulated newspaper in the country, before it was confiscated by the regime and turned from a liberal paper into a hard line mouth piece for the government.

Iran has, of course, become a regular feature in the news. Its relationship with the West, and its often controversial, and increasingly powerful moves on the world stage have made it an important country to watch. Once closed and virtually impossible to understand, Iran has found itself the subject of intense speculation, and criticism, as its citizens and its displaced population have increasingly used social media to shed light on the struggles, and successes, of its people. An emerging child rights focus has taken on a life of its own, with Kayhan at the forefront of this development.

We would love to invite you to take a look around the newspaper, which we hope you will find to be interesting, thought provoking, and a window into the hearts and minds of Iranians.

We are hugely privileged to be able to write for this outlet. Our first two pieces for Kayhan Life look at child executions in Iran –Iran sentences more children to death than any other country in the world – and the similarities between Iran and the UK in the ways each country treats its child sex offenders.

The newspaper also has a blogging platform for those who are passionate about Iran, and want to write about its politics, or its arts and culture. Anyone interested in blogging for the outlet can get in touch and pitch an idea, using the link in this paragraph.

Come and say hi to the Kayhan Life team over on social media – you can find them on Twitter and Facebook, sharing all the latest:

Stay tuned for the newspaper’s official launch, which is coming soon…

KL Taster

Prime Minister Theresa May And Other Controversial Figures Set To Make Huge Profits From Cannabis Legislation.

UK Government officials, including Prime Minister Theresa May, look set to make massive profits from legislation that will legalise cannabis for medicinal purposes. The  case of 12 year old Billy Caldwell, who needs Cannabis oil to treat his epileptic seizures, made the headlines after the Home Office confiscated his medicine, and has reignited calls to legalise the class B drug in the UK.

The cannabis was taken from Billy’s parents at Heathrow Airport as the family returned from a trip to Canada, where the drug is cleared for medicinal use.

After the medicine was confiscated, Billy suffered two seizures that could not be controlled by any other medication and was driven to Chelsea and Westminster hospital by ambulance. The Home Office then decided to return the cannabis oil to the family, so that Billy could be treated. The reason for the government’s U-Turn on what has been a strictly enforced policy for decades, remains unclear. Other children with similar conditions to Billy’s in the UK have in the past been denied treatment with the drug. 

Prime Minister Theresa May has now vowed to put legislation in place to make medicinal cannabis available to those who need it.

The government move, likely to have been years in the making, is not an altruistic one.

Prime Minister May’s husband’s company, Capital Group, is the largest investor in GW Pharmaceuticals, which has been mass producing cannabis in the UK, for the foreign market. GW chairman Geoffrey Guy is also a Conservative party donor.

A UN body report published in 2017 found the UK to be the world’s largest producer, and exporter, of legalised cannabis.  The report confirms that the UK produced 95 tonnes of marijuana in 2016, accounting for almost 50% of the world total. It also exported 2.1 tonnes in that same year, which is around 70% of the world’s total. Several advocacy groups have called out the UK government on its production of cannabis, criticising it for its prolific output whilst banning the substance in its own country. Evidence exists which shows that the drug can relieve symptoms of multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy, glaucoma, and epilepsy in children.

The amount of cannabis seized in the UK every year, offers another incentive for the government to push on with legalising the drug, and make enormous financial gains from a change in the law. The latest figures tell us that over 123 tonnes of cannabis have been seized by the police, which is more than the total combined amount of cocaine, heroin and opium confiscated.  

But who is buying all this cannabis?

A survey carried out by The United Patients Alliance found that around 37% of patients in the UK use cannabis to ease their symptoms, with 72% of those surveyed saying they bought their cannabis on the street. This won’t be news to companies like British Sugar, which has had a licence to produce cannabis since 2016. Now, companies, along with the government, may be looking to profit from the demand. The two are not mutually exclusive, either.

British Sugar has serious political connections. The company is run by Paul Kenward, who is the husband of MP, Victoria Atkins. Atkins, a barrister and former criminal drugs prosecutor, was made a Home Office minister this year, in charge of crime, safeguarding and vulnerability. Whilst she has actively spoken out against legalising cannabis in the UK, she has at the same time chosen to recuse herself from debates looking into cannabis use. Campaigners in favour of legalising cannabis have called her decision, “hypocrisy on a grand scale.”

Peter Reynolds, who is the president of Clear, which campaigns for cannabis law reform said, “what is appalling is [that Victoria] doesn’t just want to support it for policy reasons, quite evidently, she wants to support it because her husband and family are directly benefiting from [the regulation of] it.”

Another controversial figure involved in the production of cannabis, is Dr George Hibbert, the disgraced  family court psychiatrist who surrendered his licence to practice after co-workers and patients made several complaints about his treatment of vulnerable mothers, including the allegation that he was deliberately misdiagnosing parents in order to allow social services to remove children from them and place the children in care.

Dr Hibbert, whose father, Sir Reginald Hibbert was the UK ambassador to France and counted several high level officials as friends, has been a shareholder in GW since its floatation on the stock market in 2001 – the company which Theresa May’s husband is also the majority investor in, through Capital Group. A piece in the Guardian tells us that, “documents filed at Companies House, show that GW was supported prior to its £175m flotation in June by a list of prominent people, many of whom saw the value of their investments surge five-fold in the public offering.” The Guardian story also mentions that GW’s flotation angered analysts and fund managers, who claimed that the offering had been hyped and over-priced.

These revelations are, of course, deeply concerning. Should the production of medicinal cannabis be legalised for UK patients, safeguards would need to be introduced to ensure that the cost of the cannabis was not inflated and those in greatest need were not priced out of being able to afford the medicine. It also can’t be right that government officials, either by affiliation or engagement, have a majority stake in the production of cannabis, certainly in the UK.

At Researching Reform, we are in favour of legalising cannabis, however we are not in favour of government monopolies. Billy’s case may have been just the headline grabber the government needed to put legislation allowing the consumption of cannabis in the UK in place. The more cynical might say that the government’s decision to confiscate the cannabis was calculated, callous, and designed to bring about a change in the law.

Very many thanks to Jane Doe for sharing Dr Hibbert’s involvement with GW, with Researching Reform.



The Buzz

The news items that should be right on your radar:

Many thanks to Dana for the first news item.


Incoming Family Court President Misunderstands Nuances In Care Crisis

The next President of the Family Division, Justice McFarlane, has delivered a speech in response to the publication of the Care Crisis Review, in which he makes a series of blunders about the care system and the processes currently in use.

Whilst he rightly points out that the care system is in a state of crisis – CAFCASS figures for May 2018, record the second highest monthly figure for care applications ever received – McFarlane clearly fails to understand the complex nuances faced by children, families and practitioners inside the sector.

In his speech, which was written to coincide with the Review’s launch, he says, “thank heaven for…. the 26 weeks and the reform package that Sir James Munby so effectively introduced 5 years ago”. The result was that, when the rise in numbers began to kick in, the judges and the courts were “match-fit” to process and determine the applications in a timely manner.”

The truth is much less straightforward. Whilst the 26 week timetable was brought into effect to help speed up adoptions, primarily to prevent children from languishing inside the system, it did very little on that front, with many cases falling outside the suggested time frame, over and over again. Calls from inside the sector to remove the time frame, came from all corners – including a senior family law judge Researching Reform spoke with, who confirmed the worst: that the 26 week timetable was nothing more than a badge of honour for judges looking to get promotions, and was having a disastrous effect on truth and justice.

Social workers too, have begun to complain about the time limit, saying that it puts parents who are trying to turn their lives around in an impossible position, because the time frame is just too short for any real improvements to take place. Whilst the time frame gives judges the opportunity to speed through cases, and try to get matters off their desk, little else is being achieved. In reality, the time frame has done nothing for the Family Court’s problems, as it continues to be inundated with increasing numbers of care applications, or for children who could remain safely with their parents if time, and smart planning, were on their side.

Calling the system ‘Match-Fit’ is also telling. These cases are not matches, or sparring grounds for lawyers, though that’s how they are viewed by the legal sector. These cases represent people’s real lives, and the decisions made inside these courts will affect them and their children, forever.

The so-called reforms McFarlane alludes to, have also been useless. The starkest indication on that front lies in the ongoing, and rising, complaints against social workers, lawyers and councils, and the never ending ethics and legal breaches that are clearly documented, but never addressed, even when called out by Presidents inside the system.

Window dressing a system that has gone wild, is not the same as addressing problems and improving outcomes for everyone.

McFarlane also mentions the risk of future harm threshold, but his comments show that he is out of his depth on this topic. He glosses over this cornerstone of the Children Act 1989, which is an astounding piece of legislation for its focus on children and its elegant attempt to balance children’s rights with their best interests, but it is not flawless. The incoming President fails to pick up on the controversial ways in which future harm is interpreted, and the fuzzy quasi-definitions that never really offer a scientific take on the test.

Indeed, McFarlane seems particularly preoccupied with the 26 week timetable, choosing to make this element of the court system within public family law proceedings his focus, despite the Care Crisis Review covering a wide range of topics and issues within the care system. The entire speech reads like a superficial gloss by a President who still not does not have a global view of child welfare in Britain.

The Care Crisis Review is made up of eight reports, which you can access here. It offers 20 recommendations on how to improve the system, which include good practice, research, better communication with families and children and regular inspections. As wonderful as all that sounds, the ideas are not ground breaking, and will no doubt frustrate those inside the system who have known what needs to be done, and how to do it, for a long time.

For those of you who don’t want to wade through the 51 page Review, there is a helpful summary outlining the key recommendations.

We also recommend reading the Contributing Factors report, which looks at suggested factors relating to why children find themselves in care, and the variations across councils, of care applications and their duration.


Question It!

Welcome to another week.

More than 1,200 parents in Minnesota, America, have launched a class action to shut down social services in the state, accusing it of gross negligence and law breaking. The parents are also calling on the US government to make lying, fabricating evidence and ignoring the law whilst carrying out social work, a punishable offence.

A local media outlet spoke with a mother who had joined the class action, and reported that:

“After taking her ten-month old son to the hospital for a cough, doctors said he was stable, though they recommended she should stay. She chose to go home because, as she told the outlet, “After waiting, I had asked to leave because I wanted to put my kids to bed and I had my three-year-old with me.”

“I asked if there was anything else that had to be done,” she said. “They said ‘No, there was no other testing or anything that needed to be done.’”

But two days later, police showed up at her home to take him back to the doctor, and there was already a foster family lined up to take him. “She checked him out, all his vitals were stable,” she said. “They already had a foster parent in the room, in the room to remove my son before they ever proved … before they ever proved there was an emergency situation.”

He has been in foster care for over a week. Weber was supposed to get [her son] back on Tuesday, but the judge postponed the case because no county attorney could make it to court.

“I need to share my story and if I need to share it a hundred times, a thousand times – I will,” she told KMSP.”

Our question this week then, is just this: should the UK government make lying and fabricating evidence whilst doing social work a crime?

Many thanks to Maggie Tuttle for sharing this news item with us.



New Guidelines Urge Courts To Jail Sex Offenders and Domestic Abusers Who Breach Orders

The Sentencing Council has this morning, published a new set of guidelines advising courts to jail offenders breaching court orders, including sexual harm prevention orders and non molestation orders. The guidelines will come into effect on 1st October, 2018.

The guidance comes after an investigation by The Sentencing Council found that courts were routinely imposing penalties far below the recommended maximum allowed by law.

A consultation launched by The Sentencing Council confirmed that virtually no data was currently available on the types of orders breached, and  information about those breaches was also no collected or stored.  The consultation also reveals a further, deeply concerning issue: entrenched cultural views inside the criminal justice system around sex abuse and how the crime is perceived by professionals inside the court system. Whilst the Sentencing Council is clearly advocating for jail time where sex offenders breach an order, the majority of respondents in the consultation took the view that the current sentences being passed down in cases like these, were adequate. Here’s an extract from the report:

“The majority of respondents believed the [sex offence] penalties to be proportionate, although a small proportion thought in some cases they were too lenient. As already noted, some respondents did not approve of the proposals and thought the penalties were too high, noting a marked difference between sentences in existing guidance.”

This view exists, despite the fact that studies have shown a growing concern about the UK’s sentencing of sex offenders, both in relation to how judges currently decide penalties and the outdated way in which the law operates in this area.

The idea that sex abuse is still not considered a serious offence by judges is something that needs to be investigated, separately, in another consultation.

Another issue aggravating sentencing decisions stems around the current crisis in our prisons. Overcrowded and under resourced, judges and police have been trying to address the problem by sparing offenders jail. Allowing sex offenders to walk free purely because our prisons and our police force can’t cope with the demand should never be allowed.

The guidelines published today do not represent a landmark move towards greater protection of vulnerable men and women and the public at large. The Council issued guidance in February of this year, calling on tougher penalties and jail time for domestic abuse offenders, however there seems to have been little uptake on these guidelines, which have now been in force for over four months.

Until the government addresses the cultural problems inside the system guidelines like these will remain largely unused. Researching Reform suggests judges should be given rigorous training on the characteristics and impact of sexual abuse, as well as listening to presentations by victims of abuse, in order to understand the crime better.


Survey For Survivors Of Church Of England Child Abuse

The Church of England has commissioned The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) to produce a survey for survivors abused by members of the Anglican Church, with a view to better understanding ways in which the Church can improve its treatment of people who have been abused or are at risk of harm. SCIE is also collaborating with Minister And Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (MACSAS) in order to raise awareness around the survey. 

MACSAS also very helpfully released a statement explaining the deadline for the survey. Whilst the official deadline for the survey to be completed is 30th June 2018 (the Church hopes to be able to report on the findings as early as this Summer), the deadline itself is relatively flexible, and will continue past June so that it can gather as many responses as possible, in order to gain a realistic assessment of a wide range of experiences.

The SCIE website offers the following information:

“We are seeking the views of people with first-hand experience to find out what a good response from the Church should look like. The results of this survey will complement learning from an independent audit by SCIE of safeguarding arrangements in all 42 dioceses across England.

The Church has an obvious responsibility for anyone who has been abused by people who work for the Church, whether clergy, lay officers or volunteers. The Church also has a wider commitment to keep everyone involved in Church activities safe, including people who have been abused outside Church settings and turn to the clergy for pastoral support, and those who feel unsafe for any other reason.

The aim of this survey is to learn from survivors and victims of abuse and neglect, as well as from people who may be particularly vulnerable to harm. We want to help the Church of England to treat people who have been abused, or who need help to keep safe, in a way that works best for those individuals.”

The survey itself is divided up into two parts: the first part is made up of 17 short  multiple choice questions which effectively look to gather information about personal experiences of abuse, and offer survivors the chance to add comments too. The second part calls on survivors to share their thoughts and advice about the best ways for the Church to respond to allegations of abuse and those that have been abused or at risk of harm.

SCIE are offering the survey in two formats. You can:

It is hoped that the survey will be shared far and wide, and has already been sent to every Anglican Diocese. Please do share this post with anyone you feel might want to get involved.

Many thanks to Phil Johnson at MACSAS for sharing this survey with us.

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