Hello and welcome to this week’s family law news roundup with John Bolch and Researching Reform. From the latest news on co-habitants’ rights, to what our family court judges are getting up to, tune in below for three minutes of hot-off-the-press action. Oh, and listen to John get horribly embarrassed as we wish him a very loud happy birthday, on this is his special day!
It is Monday so it is only right that we make a peace offering to the Gods of Labour (no, not that lot), in the hope that the week will be fine and the sun will continue to shine….. it would seem that our series really does have an effect on the weather (except for all those times it didn’t)….
So, the one and only Sir Paul Coleridge, a high court judge in the family courts, is starting his campaign to ‘fight the scourge of divorce’ and try to persuade people to stay married. But our question this week is not about whether this judge should have focused on the scourge of conflict rather than divorce, which is present in marriages as well as divorces, or whether this judge understands the highly delicate tightrope he is walking. No, that would be too easy!
Instead our question this week is, should judges who are so overtly against a legal right, in this case a ratified mechanism allowing people to separate, be allowed to serve as impartial judges in a democratic court?
Possible answer: No human being is ever totally impartial, but there must be a threshold – just as registrars who refuse to marry gay men and women should not be allowed to work as registrars (after all, it is a legal right for such men and women to have a civil ceremony), judges who feel divorce is ‘wrong’ and actively campaign against it, should not be allowed to work in our courts, as their view will ultimately negatively colour the way they see the spouses that come before them.
In an article in the Daily Mail which only came out very late last night, who much to their credit are keeping up with Dr Hibbert’s story and monitoring its development, we are told about a co-worker, yet another professional, who had doubts about the way Dr Hibbert was running his practice.
Reading the article, you can see a mixture of potential problems from dubious practice of Dr Hibbert’s own making, cutting corners in the examination process of parents (due, either, we presume to the desire to either take more parents in and make a larger profit or perhaps equally to cut down assessment delays) and the now seemingly routine practice in the family justice system of hiring experts who then pass the workload down to their unqualified workers (unqualified to carry out the complex assessments, which is why a so-called expert is hired in the first place), and who don’t seem to engage properly with the families, at all.
This would be understandable if we were talking about one of the thousands of professionals inside the system – not everyone can be meticulous all of the time, but this is not just ‘some professional’ inside the system. This is, supposedly, the best the system has to offer: the leading light that leads others in the profession, to carry out similar standards.
You can see how an epidemic of poor services can start and spread, when one leading professional is marked out as the gold standard. And it’s a disgrace. The family justice system should be hanging its head in shame, rather than looking the other way. We await the GMC Fitness to Practise hearing, with interest.
Thank you once again to Miss A, for drawing our attention to this latest development.
For many of us working in the family justice system, the presence of corruption does not shock or incite gasps of disbelief. For many of us, it is an everyday reality which we encounter with almost every case file and family unit.
So, it’s no surprise to us that an ex CQC inspector has been arrested over allegations of bribery: in short, she is suspected of pressurising care providers to pay for favourable inspection reports.
The implications of this, if found to be true, are enormous. It speaks firstly to the care received by children in these institutions, secondly to the culture inside the system for allowing this activity to take place for so long and thirdly the ingrained levels of corruption which have seeped into the system and have gone largely ignored until now, mostly due to the fact that the grand scale of incompetence is now costing the government money.
To that, all we have to say is “Duh”. Get it right the first time, provide dignified, loving, supportive services for children and the many errors which are taking place will not only be drastically reduced, but they will be forgiven by the public.
And, most importantly to our government, they will have to pay out less. And less. And less.
Let’s do this thing, already.
This evening the Telegraph has published an article in which they say that ministers will not be changing the rules on parliamentary privilege and that they will be publishing a review in which they recommend the rules remain as they have been since their inception in 1689.
There will also be a public consultation, which will run until the end of September, with a joint committee of peers and MPs who will also examine the issues in detail.
To our mind, this is good news for democracy, freedom of speech and the protection of society. It also means that injustices within the family justice system are less likely to be swept under the carpet. And whether John Hemming’s critics or the government like it or not, Mr Hemming has played a significant role in protecting the democratic principles that make Great Britain, great.
Since we started blogging here, we have been very privileged to receive feedback from all sorts of people, from all sorts of departments across an inspiring selection of countries and we would like to take this opportunity to say thank you.
Thank you to all the posters, who make this blog what it is, whatever indeed, that is. Having a blog without comment is very much like having a ship without fuel. It also provides fuel for us, by allowing us to encounter different points of view and views similar to our own. It allows us to experiment and to test the waters and most importantly, to make sure we are in touch with the things that really matter.
Some posters visit regularly and some take enormous time and care to write their comments. We thank you tremendously for sharing your thoughts with us. Some posters come on and leave pearls of wisdom; we are incredibly grateful to you all.
Thank you also to the readers of the blog. Knowing that you are reading, regardless of whether you agree with us or not, is a privilege and one we don’t take lightly. You are the guardians of the site, angels in cyberspace.
So, in honour of you, the readers and posters, we have decided to do the only thing we know how to do. We shall celebrate your kindness with a kick-ass tune……(and a little 70’s flavour, because it wouldn’t be a Researching post if we didn’t add a little humour to the thing)…
Thank you for being a friend of Researching Reform…..
Yes, we know, the Daily Mail is looked upon by some as an unreliable paper, but we are finding it very interesting and have done so now for the last few months, as we find ourselves reading much of what they write and this article, although perhaps flying out on a limb in its translation of a comment made by a high-profile female historian, raises some really interesting questions about motherhood.
In the article, a high-profile historian, Lucy Worsley (we must admit, we have not heard of her nor read any of her books ), has been put on record as saying, “‘I have become the poster girl for opting out of reproduction. I am happy to stand up and be counted….. I have been educated out of the natural reproductive function. I get to spend my time doing things I enjoy.’
The journalist writing about this statement goes off on a rather long-winded, class-fuelled rant, which perhaps says more about the journalist’s own prejudices than anything else, but in there somewhere, is a very good point about the demeaning of motherhood amongst women who have chosen not to have children.
At first glance, we thought perhaps Miss Worsley might have passed her remark with a touch of almost intangible wistfulness, a little like a conversational consolation – “I’m 38, and perhaps reaching a point where I may not be able to have children, and that is daunting, but I’ve made my peace with it”, but we don’t know Miss Worsley personally, so we would rather assume that she genuinely does not want children. And for the sake of this post that assumption helps….
As it happens, we support women who make the decision not to have children. It is a hard decision, in relative terms, but kids need parents who are ready to let their worlds revolve around their children and women like Miss Worsley, are clearly not ready to do that. That kind of selflessness is mandatory. In this way, women like Miss Worsley do any potential offspring a wonderful service: they avoid bringing children into the world who will spend their childhoods suffering from neglect. And they keep the population from exploding – which is no bad thing.
But what of the idea that self fulfillment and intellectual pursuits are mutually exclusive and separate from motherhood and that motherhood is not enjoyable, as Miss Worsley implies?
This notion really just rests on a point of preference. Some women love having children and some don’t and there are all sorts of reasons why people come to find themselves in one camp or the other. Perhaps Miss Worsley did not have a wonderful childhood or perhaps she did not win the parent jackpot and was not lavished with love and affection, but either way, Miss Worsley has made a fundamental error in relation to motherhood, self fulfilment and the pursuit of intellectual accomplishment. Because, you see, to do any of these things well, requires passion.
It is true that reproduction is an instinct, sometimes a strong one in which women feel compelled to have children, quietly driven by chemical reactions or conventional pressures, but in the end, being a mother requires a level of intellectual involvement, which can be as little or as great as every parent wishes. The same is true for academics. Yet, to show the world to a child is to open up new worlds for yourself and there is no greater cerebral challenge than looking at the world through another’s eyes and re-evaluating your perceptions, prejudices and perspectives.
And as with any craft, learning, evaluating and plain old-fashioned hard work are all involved, but if we truly love what we do, whether it’s bringing up children, making mischief in a job we love or studying to make the world a better place, it is just like any other relationship: it demands us to engage, in sadness and in joy, through good times and bad and to take the rough with the smooth.
Miss Worsley has chosen to dedicate herself to history, which is a wonderful thing and has made the astute decision not to bring children into this world, after evaluating her own personal circumstances and views. But the bottom line has nothing to do with intelligence or lack of it, enjoyment or lack of it or even heaven versus hell, if women choose to bring children into this world or care for them. The bottom line, and we suspect it is one which Miss Worsley is tacitly aware of, is whether or not we feel we can be mothers.
There is a very interesting article in Community Care today about a survey that was recently done to highlight the violence social workers sometimes face when dealing with parents and other members of the public.
Notwithstanding self defense, violence is never excusable, that much all of us know, but what is shocking about this piece is that it fails completely to understand why parents react in a hostile way in the first place. So whilst Unison and Community Care join forces to protect social workers from abuse, the real issues are being ignored and their efforts to protect their workforce will, we would modestly suggest, fail.
Because, the root cause of the hostility does not lie in any unreasonable or un-explainable phenomena. The world has not gone wild. What has happened, is that government organisations have simply lost the trust of the people. They have taken advantage of the public, whether through charging too much for terrible services or not putting enough money into services that are needed; they have forgotten they are there to assist the public, rather than to dictate. And perhaps most importantly, government culture has become all about passing the buck, so when something goes wrong, there is effectively, noone to turn to, to take responsibility.
Whether social services blame the courts for the delays inside the system or the courts blame family breakdown for the delays, all we seem to see are government bodies failing to man-up and do the right thing.
If we were head of Social Services for a day, the first thing we would do, after discovering that our workforce was being put in dangerous situations, is carry out extensive research on why: why do parents feel so angry? We have a feeling the answers would not be that hard to come by.
Take a look at some of the accounts of social workers in the article, where they explain how they came to be either verbally or physically attacked. One social worker cut a man diagnosed with HIV’s care package down. He had effectively discovered he had AIDS and then along comes a social worker who says “Sorry mate, you’re very sick but we’re going to give you less help”. The individual in question was terribly angry and threatened to hurt her physically and even to give her his AIDS virus. It was a very unpleasant reaction. And perhaps the social worker who delivered the message was compassionate, but the message from the state is still the same. The message is still, “Fuck you”.
And what of compassion? How many social workers really have the training to deal with complex emotion elegantly, and of those, once they are overworked and exhausted, how many can keep that kind of diplomatic and instinctive communication going? The answer may be, very few. Here, the training is at fault and who is going to admit that better training is needed? No one from inside the sector, unless they’re very brave.
Or, take the account of the social worker who advised a mother she could not have her travel expenses to have contact with her child because she had not attended contact for three months – we do not know the reasons why she didn’t. Perhaps the mother was ill. Or perhaps she hadn’t been the greatest mother, but she was trying very hard to be, now. The social worker, quite understandably, was upset when the mother spat in her face. That is not a nice thing to do. But there is another side to the story and no-one ever tells the side of the parents’.
We are not trying to play down the incidence of violence. One social worker lost her baby after being pushed down a flight of stairs. These things are not right, but we have to be very careful not to create a Them and Us Society, where government officials are protected and members of the public are treated automatically with suspicion and contempt.The slogan for this campaign is, rather unoriginally, “No To Violence Against Social Care Workers”. How about a tandem slogan which reads and “Yes To Dignified Care in The Community”.
These are delicate times. It will take strong people with a gentle touch to get it right. We hope very much that Unison and Community Care will do some soul-searching and not just attempt a skin deep solution for what is, at its heart, a very deep and delicate problem.
Here at Researching Reform, we have always felt that the best way forward for families in divorce is not going to court but courting one another to listen, and this very astute team of lawyers, who can obviously see what the future of family law is going to look like, are already making it happen.
But it’s not happening here. Our justice system hasn’t quite understood what works and what doesn’t, yet. No, the magic is happening in New Orleans.
Embracing collaborative law in the truest sense, families are guided through their divorce with a team of coaches. In New Orleans that means everyone agreeing not to go to court, having a mental health professional for each parent, a financial consultant and if there is a child, a child specialist. And whilst we’re not mad about the touchy-feely ‘talking to a mat’ role play nor the idea that the child specialist keeps poking their nose into the child’s life ‘well beyond’ the divorce process, these are the sorts of models we need to be thinking about.
Our own view has always been that the government should offer independent accountants for the finances (leaving that sort of thing to lawyers is a little like asking a ballerina to break dance), coaches for the parents (and no, not mental health professionals, we Brits still like to solve our problems minus medication, by and large) and a child coach (not specialist), but only for children who are old enough to talk and want to do so, not for babies (to us, there is something rather patronising about involving child specialists in divorces unless the child is at risk).
Yes, if the government want to get it right, free up the courts and help families stay together, we feel that these First Aid Units are the key, the answer, the Holy Grail. And the infrastructure is already out there. And no, we don’t mean New Orleans……. we mean right here, in the UK.
Researching Reform recently wrote about a very brave group of church abuse survivors and lawyers championing their cause, who held a meeting in London to create momentum for a public enquiry to take place on child abuse within the church.
The latest development has seen this Group organise a further meeting in London which took place on Thursday 19th April and was also filmed and broadcast in part on the BBC’s evening news. The movement is being backed by prominent lawyers, high-profile individuals and MPs. Fresh cases of child abuse continue to come to light, despite the Church’s weak claim that these complaints are historical (and to that we say, the claim is no less important for that).
Please do watch the video if you have time and if you have been abused yourself by the Church, you can get in touch with the Group above either through us or on the website which is placed in the second link above.