A thought-provoking meeting yesterday reminded us that Section 20 arrangements (agreements which allow a local authority to place a child in accommodation where there may be child welfare concerns) are still a problem area for many families.
As a quick recap, we thought we would add these key points for parents below:
- Section 20 arrangements are voluntary – this means that the local authority cannot place a child in alternative accommodation unless parents agree to the arrangement.
- You are entitled to be fully informed – the local authority must offer you as much information as you need, in a clear and accessible format
- If you have parental responsibility for a child, you can remove your child from accommodation provided by or on behalf of the local authority at any time
- If a child is 16 or 17, they can leave the accommodation without parental consent
- Always ask for a S.20 arrangement to be put into writing – something this important shouldn’t be set up on word of mouth. If anyone refuses to put this agreement in writing, tell them you have the support of the President Of The Family Division
- Children have a right to be heard – any child who wants to express their wishes and feelings in writing is entitled to do so under a S.20 agreement, and to have those views taken on board by the local authority
- A S.20 arrangement should never be used to secure care proceedings – local authorities do not have the right to put you off terminating a S.20 by giving you the impression that it’s final or compulsory
This is advice we give to every family we assist with these arrangements. At their heart, S.20s are intended to foster collaboration between families, the local authority and most importantly, the children involved. The local authority is bound to take the child’s view into account too if it’s providing accommodation for a child.
If the local authority you’re talking to doesn’t understand your rights under S.20, or isn’t aware of them, don’t be shy to tell them. They’re your rights, and they’re real.
Welcome to another week.
The news that football has been plagued by child sexual abuse has deeply affected a nation whose identity is rooted in the sport. Whilst the Football Association has promised to investigate the allegations, it now appears that other sports will come under the spotlight for child abuse.
Chief Constable Simon Bailey, who is the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, said the number of ex-players coming forward was likely to grow significantly and that governing bodies from other sports would find themselves at the center of inquiries that are now being conducted across four forces.
Chief Constable Bailey made this statement after the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) confirmed it was aware of anecdotal evidence that child abuse had been an issue across swimming, tennis and judo and had not been properly investigated.
The question Researching Reform raised last weekend over this matter was whether or not the nation’s Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse should now be adding another strand to their investigations to include this latest development.
Thoughts against doing so include the worry that the Inquiry could become too big, and fail, or become so bogged down that it will never finish its work, and that as the police are currently investigating these allegations there is no need for the Inquiry to examine the issue.
Thoughts in favour of adding sexual abuse allegations in the sports sector to the Inquiry include the need to find out why such abuse takes place in a sports setting and give the Inquiry a chance to get a rounded picture of the abuse phenomenon, which could lead to more clues as to why abuse has been such a deeply impactful and ongoing practice in our culture, and perhaps even cultures around the world.
Our question then, is this: do you think the Inquiry should also look at child sexual abuse in sport as part of its investigation?
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments section below. If you’re also on Twitter, come on over and take our Survey asking the same question.
The news this morning is that three out of the four lawyers invited to send letters to the Home Affairs Select Committee outlining why they chose to leave the Inquiry have declined to provide information unless the statutory inquiry agrees to waive its right to confidentiality, and Parliamentary Privilege.
However, some letters have been published within the Committee’s newly released report into the Inquiry. Former counsel to the Inquiry, Hugh Davies QC’s letter is now available to read, and in it, he makes several criticisms of the way the Inquiry handled the allegation of sexual assault at the investigation. Here are some extracts from that letter:
“Assuming such disclosures were made – and it does not appear to be challenged that they were – important safeguarding issues and responsibilities arise. These duties are obviously engaged whether or not the person making the disclosure wishes to pursue it as a formal complaint. Firstly, the institution cannot abdicate responsibility to the person making the disclosure, who may be vulnerable or otherwise emotionally unable to pursue a formal process. Secondly, the purpose of any such investigation following a relevant disclosure is not limited to determining a formal complaint. It is directed at establishing facts so that (amongst other purposes) the risk to others within the institution may be evaluated and addressed, and similarly to evaluate and mitigate risk in any other institution or workplace where the subject of disclosure may work.
21. History demonstrates that where bullying or other abuse reflects an imbalance of power between individuals it is more likely to be repeated.
22. As matters stand, however, there is an impression that rather than investigating the disclosures to meet these safeguarding objectives, IICSA has reached a de facto compromise agreement with the subject of the disclosures, and ended the investigation. There is no evidence of consideration having been given to either (i) the possibility of recurrence within the Inquiry; or (ii) what investigation was required, even if the person making disclosure did not wish to pursue a formal complaint, as to risk to future employees who may work with the subject of complaint in the future (whether at IICSA or elsewhere)….
As stated, where bullying and/or sexual misconduct occurs in a working or institutional environment it usually reflects an abuse of power. It is likely to be repeated unless the risks are identified and addressed following investigation. I would criticise any failure by an institution to act, and IICSA must expect to be judged by the same standards it will doubtless set for others. In the course of its work IICSA will investigate and make findings on institutions that have put reputational advantage ahead of a duty to investigate, including the use of compromise agreements with the subject of disclosure. If that is what has occurred here the reputational harm to IICSA is obvious. If it is not, it is in IICSA’s interests to correct this impression.
25. In my opinion it is reasonable to expect IICSA to provide a public explanation as to (i) the characteristics of the disclosure made; (ii) what was done to investigate it; and (iii) what was done to identify and address future risk. These questions arise regardless of whether the person making the disclosure wished to make a formal complaint. These are substantive procedural matters and need not lead to identification of the persons concerned. I am obviously not expressing any opinion on the facts underlying the reported disclosure.”
Davies also explains in the letter that due to the current confidentiality rules in place, he feels unable to go into more detail.
A request from the Home Affairs Committee for more openness and transparency at the Inquiry (especially in relation to its working methods), is causing problems. In their own letter, The Inquiry Panel have defended their decision not to waive their right to confidentiality on the grounds that it is currently conducting its own review of the Inquiry and that the legislation governing the Inquiry itself demands full independence from the Committee. The letter goes on to address Hugh Davies’ own criticisms of the Inquiry – the panel suggest Davies is not in a position to comment as he left the Inquiry almost a year ago, and expresses concern over his decision to provide personal observations on events he was not a party to.
The panel also highlight tensions between itself and the Home Affairs Committee:
“We recognise that [The Home Affairs Committee] wish[es] to help the Inquiry progress the vitally important work it has to do to protect children from sexual abuse. You will understand however that there is a tension between the role of your Committee and the independent work of the Inquiry. We are not aware that any other public inquiry has been subject to the level of scrutiny which the Committee is seeking to apply. This is particularly the case when some members of your Committee have expressed views on our Chair’s status and all are members of political parties whose conduct is being investigated by the Inquiry both at central and local government level.”
There is clearly a need for transparency at the Inquiry, so why are the panel constantly trying to block these attempts? Their lack of understanding, whether actual or put on, as to why scrutiny of its work has become necessary is astounding. The political pot shot at the end of the comment is also unbecoming of one of the world’s most important investigations.
The Home Affairs Committee’s report into the current events at the Inquiry is very much worth a read. The key observations and recommendations they make are added below:
- The Child Abuse Inquiry must remain independent, however that does not mean it can frustrate a need for transparency in its work
- The Inquiries Act 2005 does not give the Inquiry permission to keep its working methodology from Parliament, or the public
- Former Chair, Lowell Goddard has been heavily criticised for failing to give evidence to the Committee on why she left and events at the Inquiry
- The Committee rejected the Solicitor to the Inquiry’s view that the Committee could not ask questions about intentions in relation to the Inquiry’s working practices
- The Committee condemned the way the Inquiry handled the allegation of sexual assault and suggest appointing an independent lawyer to investigate the claims and find out why its Lead Counsel resigned
- The Committee recommended that the Inquiry look into whether the environment at the Inquiry allows people with concerns to come forward
- There needed to be a working document at the Inquiry outlining how it intends to deal with the current problems
- The Inquiry should also produce a strategy detailing how it intends to move forward wth investigations and evidence gathering
- The search for new Lead Counsel should be the Inquiry’s priority for now
As we’ve come to expect, other letters published in the report show the extent of the fact dodging that’s going on at the Inquiry. Toby Fisher, another lawyer who had been advising the Inquiry but has since left, makes vague and disjointed comments in his letter. Much of what he says is in fact irrelevant and doesn’t address any particular aspect of his departure, it just reads like a defensive and pretty strategic exit.
A more recent letter from Hugh Davies is equally baffling, blaming professional commitments for his departure.
Nobody really wants to talk.
As victims, survivors and Inquiry panel members continue to go head to head on the latest issues to plague the nation’s Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse, politicians and peers have been having it out in Parliament this week, too.
The debate transcript from the House of Commons makes for a very frustrating read. Lisa Nandy’s Urgent Question, which asked for an update on how the Inquiry is handling the latest setbacks, was met with resistance by Sarah Newton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. Every time a question was asked about the state of the Inquiry – was the Chair recruiting new Lead Counsel, was a new Chair going to be put forward – the response was always the same: the Inquiry functions ‘Independently’ from Government, so…. no comment.
The argument the government puts forward for not giving any details about the Inquiry’s current state is a legal one. Under the Inquiries Act 2005, it’s up to Inquiry members to sort out procedural problems, without government interference, in order for it to remain as independent as possible. However, It would have been helpful prior to the debate if Newton had actually asked Inquiry Chair Professor Jay for an update. The lack of effort on this front could only mean two things: either the government is being more dullard-ish than usual, or they’re playing for time and giving the Inquiry the space it needs to sort itself out.
More interesting, was the chat over at ‘The Other Place’.
The debate in the House of Lords begins with a recap of Newton’s formal response to Nandy’s Urgent Question, added below:
“The inquiry was set up to look at the extent to which institutions in England and Wales failed to protect children from sexual abuse. We know the terrible impact that abuse has on survivors, sometimes for many years. As the House knows, following the resignation of the previous chair, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary appointed as chair Professor Alexis Jay. She has a distinguished career in social work and a long-standing dedication to child protection. She led the independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham where she scrutinised the work of social workers and proved her capability to uncover failings across institutions and professions. She is the right person to take this work forward.
Taking the work forward is vital for creating a sense of certainty for victims and survivors. The inquiry has set up 13 strands of investigation, made 250 formal requests for information from over 120 institutions, with 164,000 documents now having been submitted. It has referred roughly 80 cases a month to the police. It has rolled out the Truth Project, providing survivors with the opportunity to tell the inquiry what has happened to them, and more than 500 people have come forward so far.
The inquiry has adequate resources to undertake its work and we will support the inquiry with what it reasonably needs. The inquiry remains independent, which means that it is not part of government and is not run by a government department. Professor Jay is mindful of both the scale of the task and the need to move forward at a pace. That is why she instigated an internal review of the inquiry’s approach to its investigations, exploring new ways to deliver its investigative work while remaining faithful to its terms of reference. She has made it clear that if any changes are proposed, the views of those affected by them will be sought. We expect the outcome of this review soon.
It is crucial that we now give the inquiry the space and the support it needs to get on with its job, getting to the truth for victims and survivors. I urge everyone in the House to do just that”.
There’s the usual response to direct questions asking about specifics at the Inquiry (the investigation is independent, bla, bla, we can’t interfere, yada, yada, so….. no comment). Then, it gets interesting.
Lord Faulks makes a suggestion which tries to shift the Inquiry’s focus away from gathering evidence about individuals who are alleged to have abused children, to collecting information about child abuse complaints instead. It’s a bizarre proposal, given that both of these actions are necessary to understand the history of child abuse in Britain, until you read on and realise why Lord Faulks makes it. Declaring his interest in the debate, Faulks tells The House that he’s been instructed by Lord Janner’s family. The late peer has been accused of a string of serious assaults against children during the 1950s-1980s. Several attempts by his family have been made to block an inquiry into these allegations.
This question is raised just as the Inquiry’s own investigation into complaints of child sexual abuse against the late peer has been put on hold. Janner’s son, a QC, has been campaigning to drop the investigation, and this latest question from Lord Faulks looks uncomfortably like a further attempt at frustrating proceedings. However, it’s unlikely Faulks will get his way. The Inquiry has confirmed that it will continue to hold hearings into the allegations against Lord Janner, once criminal investigations have taken place.
What do you think? Is the Government right to field questions about the Inquiry back to its Chair, or is it just a play for time?
Whilst letters sent to the Committee from Inquiry lawyers who resigned have not yet been published (we can expect them some time this week), further news continues to come to light about the extent of the tensions between the different bodies at the investigation.
It’s emerged that Survivors and Victims assisting the Inquiry have been asked to sign a code of conduct, and it’s this requirement that’s been at the heart of a 600 strong Group making a swift exit. You have to give whoever is doing the PR at the Inquiry, kudos – anyone with the slightest understanding of survivors would have realised this request would only enrage and further traumatise these Groups. There’s a delicious irony to the Inquiry asking survivors to sign a code of this kind. The Inquiry panel has singlehandedly managed to demonstrate the worst professional conduct ever seen within a statutory investigation.
As public pressure mounts to lay blame at Inquiry individuals’ doors, teams have begun to turn on each other. The legal section of the Inquiry is pointing the finger at new Chair Professor Jay, condemning her decision to shift the balance of the Inquiry process away from pseudo legalistic trial-by-waffle court hearings, to a more collaborative model. The upshot of this is perhaps less work for the legal team, which may account for the temper tantrums we’re seeing in the press. Lawyers at the Inquiry are also suggesting that Jay wilfully ignored an allegation of sexual assault against its former Lead Counsel, Ben Emmerson, and tried to cover up other failings at the Inquiry. The allegation of a sexual assault cover up has put the civil servants at the IICSA on the defensive. They’ve retaliated by saying no allegation was ever formally raised with the Chair or any other ‘official’ at the Inquiry.
Some may say Professor Jay set the wheels in motion for the Inquiry’s implosion. Within hours of being appointed Chair, she summarily dismissed her Lead Counsel (now being investigated by his own Chambers over the allegation of assault at the Inquiry) and expressed concerns over the way the legal team was operating. So much so, that she ordered an inquiry into the team’s conduct. But in a surprise move, she backtracked, dropped the inquiry into the legal team, and diplomatically shook hands with her most senior lawyer in a formal letter published on the Inquiry website. That she allegedly fired him without his knowledge, forcing him to discover his termination through an online media outlet, may well have aggravated things.
The reasons remain unclear as to why events played out the way they did, but it’s clear that there are enormous conflicts of interest at the Inquiry, and we doubt they center around the needs of victims and survivors. It would also be unfair to suggest Professor Jay is responsible for the terrible mess at the Inquiry. She saw a thorn in its side and decided to pull it out, with devastating consequences.
There may well be a bigger story before the letters are published this week. A conference which promises to give people an inside look at the Inquiry’s tensions and the ‘real’ reasons for lawyers resigning, takes place tomorrow. The media might report on the conference, so we could get some interesting feedback from this event. If you are attending, please do let us know how it went.
It’s widely accepted that the Inquiry has failed on all levels, but at Researching Reform, we see things differently. Had it not been for victims’ and survivors’ vigilance, inappropriate Chairs and unethical behaviour at the Inquiry would have gone unchallenged, leaving survivors and the public with yet another empty government investigation which would never have offered up the truth. Sometimes, good things, take time.
In an increasingly female dominated political landscape, perhaps it’s no surprise that the new Chief Executive responsible for overseeing the modernisation of our Court System is a woman, and she comes to the role with an interesting background.
Susan Acland-Hood may not be a name familiar to most working inside the Justice System, but she’s been advising government ministers on a range of issues, for some time.
As a civil servant private secretary, she covered Home Office and Justice matters. Susan then became former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s adviser (2007-2010), offering him information and guidance on policy and legislation relating to education, skills and families. In a list put together by The Telegraph which sets out Gordon Brown’s top 50 influencers during his time at No.10, Susan was listed at number 43.
After working with Brown, she then went on to head up Enterprise and Growth at HM Treasury, as its Director. There, she was responsible for policies on growth, business, infrastructure, exports, competition and markets, and advised on public spending for Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (now called the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy), the Department for Transport (DfT), the Department of Energy & Climate Change (which has since merged with the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), as well as growth-focused policies of each of those Departments.
Susan was also the Director of Education Funding at the Department for Education, where she managed all revenue funding for schools, and all capital funding across the Department.
In October of this year, the government announced that Susan would be heading up the Courts & Tribunals system, but it is today that she takes up that appointment. She has chosen Kevin Sadler to be her Deputy.
In her new role as CEO of HM Courts and Tribunals, she plans to deliver the Reformation programme set out, and has a budget of a billion pounds to do this. In the formal press release for her appointment, Susan says:
“I am very pleased – and know I am very privileged – to have been appointed as Chief Executive of HMCTS. I cannot imagine a better job.
What the courts and tribunals do every day is supremely important. States without justice do not function; the rule of law is one of the things that makes us civilized, and lets us live life knowing that there are some fundamental underpinnings of fairness.
I’m starting in the Ministry of Justice at a time when we have a remarkable opportunity to make a difference. The programme of root and branch change that Ministers, the judiciary and my HMCTS predecessors have developed together is one of the boldest plans in Government. And it is a plan whose time has come. With the Treasury prepared to back it to the tune of a billion pounds, we can deliver what is probably the biggest change to the system in modern times. By building what we do around the experience of those who use the system we can make justice so much better for the millions who rely on it.
I am delighted to have Kevin Sadler – who has been central to the development of the reform programme, and has led it so ably during recent months – as my Deputy CEO. His experience will be essential as we move forward.
While I intend to be mostly in ‘understanding and listening’ mode in my first few weeks, there are a couple of things that I want to be clear about from the outset. The first is that we have a great reform programme that needs delivering on, not uprooting – and my job is to keep it moving, not to start again from scratch. Secondly I’m clear that HMCTS staff are dedicated, professional, and committed to delivering a really excellent service – and my job is to lead in a way that helps them do that, including by clearing out obstacles that get in the way.
I’ve been lucky in that I was able to visit quite a few courts and tribunals around the country before I fully took up post. From those early visits I took away a clear sense of the great work that goes on in our courts and tribunals. I saw some of the changes in action – the Digital Case System and Single Justice Procedure, for example – which powerfully brought home the real impact of reform in enabling us to move away from antiquated, paper-based systems.”
Susan is not going to reinvent the wheel. Her primary motivation will be to resuscitate a system on its knees by trying to make the modernisation programme economically viable. How she will do this remains to be seen, but we very much hope it will include a long term focus on what’s best for service users, rather than the illusion of financial flash in the pan success for the current government.
If you’d like to share your thoughts on modernising the Family Justice System with Susan, she’s just opened a Twitter account under the name of @CEOofHMCTS .
Welcome to another week.
No time for a question today, as there have been some important developments this morning, at the Child Abuse Inquiry. This is what you need to know:
Letters sent to MPs by lawyers who resigned from the Inquiry may be published tomorrow, and could detail very concerning allegations about the working culture inside the child abuse inquiry. Media reports suggest that the letters are expected to outline shocking levels of discord within the Inquiry panel and detailed criticisms of the current Chair, Professor Jay which include her inaction in the face of a culture of bullying and harassment at the Inquiry. The lawyers’ letters are reported to say that Professor Jay not only knew about these issues and ignored them, but also tried to conceal the allegation of sexual assault by a team member against former Lead Counsel, Ben Emmerson.
The father of the woman who has made the allegation of sexual assault against Mr Emmerson has spoken out this morning about the incident. Whilst he understandably defends his daughter, he also goes on to say that the incident has alarmed other female staff at the Inquiry and was the reason that Aileen McColgan, a law professor who was leading the investigation into Anglican and Catholic Church abuse, resigned last week.
Mr Emmerson continues to deny the allegation of assault and an Inquiry spokesman has denied that an inquiry worker made a complaint of sexual assault “to the chairman, or to the panel, or to an official”.
We will share the letters with you as soon as they’re published.
Ahead of Universal Children’s Day on Sunday 20th November, I thought I would share something very special with you.
As part of an international effort to end violence against children, a newly published guide offering ways to end the practice of physical punishment of children in multi religious gatherings has been made available to people worldwide.
This extraordinary handbook was prepared by The United Nations, Save The Children, The Global Partnership To End Violence Against Children and The Churches’ Network For Non Violence, and sees human rights and religious leaders come together to tackle the idea that religion legitimately condones violence, by empowering Faith communities to think about religious custom and tradition differently.
The central idea is summarised by Dr William Vendley, Secretary General of Religions for Peace:
“To be faithful is not simply to repeat a tradition but to be creative in a new situation.… We must desacralize those traditions which cause harm.”
2016 has been a significant year for children: it marked the 10th anniversaries of the Kyoto Declaration, which aims to address ongoing violence against children around the world, and the UN’s pioneering Study on Violence against Children. United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon is also using this year’s Children’s Day to highlight the terrible experiences of children who have no Voice:
“This year, I wish to emphasize the importance of ensuring that the commitments made by the international community to the world’s children are extended to a group of children who are often forgotten or overlooked: those deprived of their liberty.”
The Handbook then, is a focused effort at promoting collaboration opportunities between Faith communities so that children are better heard, and protected. It provides lots of helpful resources as well.
Whilst I don’t practice any religion, myself and the Researching Reform project respect those who practice peacefully and with genuine respect for those whose beliefs do not echo their own. This handbook represents the best of religious observance – it invites world religions and their communities to collaborate, to forge new traditions in keeping with the core themes of peace and love present in each one, and to eradicate child violence by actively challenging justifications for physical harm within sacred texts.
Growing up in a Jewish-Muslim household, this drive to find the best within each Faith and tie those customs in with the fundamental belief at the heart of every religion that peace and love have to prevail regardless of the circumstances, is one I’m very familiar with. The Handbook realises my own personal view of religious practice, and at a deeper level, universal truths which we can all live by, whatever we believe.
Focusing on sanctioned violence against children within religious communities may seem like a piecemeal approach to addressing the phenomenon of legitimising all violence within Faith communities, but it represents an important development in this area which could pave the way for much broader changes in the future of human history.
I’d like to wish everyone a wonderful Children’s Day on Sunday, and hope that you’ll take a look at the Handbook and even pass it on to organisations and Faith based communities you think might be inspired by its contents. For those of you who will not be with your children or grandchildren on Sunday, my thoughts are with you.
A very big thank you to Professor Joan Durrant for sharing this publication with us.
There’s been a lot of movement at the nation’s Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse this week, so we felt it was important to write a post on this.
The resignation of another senior lawyer at the Inquiry has left victims and survivors feeling angry and disappointed that panel members are allowing disagreements to get in the way of the Inquiry’s work.
Adding to this feeling of despair is the news that the Inquiry’s investigation into the late Peer, Lord Janner, has also been delayed. The damning report into Police investigations over the allegations of a VIP paedophile ring, which identified over 40 failings, has also left its mark – ‘Nick’, the man who claimed he had been raped by several MPs is now himself under investigation. The police have rounded on the judge who made the findings, warning that the report could deter victims from coming forward in the future.
One question still remains: despite the failings, how can we be sure that Nick’s allegations are unfounded?
An ex MP who was accused of abusing children, and later cleared due to a lack of evidence has spoken out about the hardship the 18 month investigation has caused him. Harvey Proctor says the experience has left him without a home and a job and is now almost unemployable as a result of the allegations. He has since decided to take legal action against the police. Whilst we have every sympathy for those wrongly accused of a crime, Mr Proctor was given an apology by the police for their investigation of him – more than the average citizen gets when they’re accused of a crime they’re eventually cleared of. Perhaps the government will think about looking into improving the way law enforcement deals with allegations, for everyone, not just the elite.
We can expect to hear more next week about the alleged sexual assault at the Inquiry, and possible reasons for panel lawyers resigning in droves – The Home Affairs Select Committee has asked lawyers to explain why they have chosen to leave the inquiry, and offer insight into the sexual assault allegation made by an individual against the Inquiry’s most senior lawyer at the time. We’ll share these letters with you as soon as they’re published.
And finally, some good news: you can now write to the Inquiry for free just by using their new FREEPOST address. Just write ‘Freepost HEAD OFFICE’ on your envelope (no other address details are needed).