Some interesting child welfare developments were published this week, so we’ve rounded up a selection of cases and research that offer important insights.
A report by King’s College London offers a curated look at how some councils coped during lockdown, including how they implemented contact with birth parents, foster care duties and care leaver support.
The briefing paper confirms that most contact sessions with birth parents were virtual during lockdown, despite the government making it clear that face-to-face contact should continue wherever possible.
The researchers go on to mention the incorrect Barnardo’s stat that children needing foster care had risen by 44% during the pandemic.
Unsurprisingly, local authorities in the study said they had not experienced this increase, with the majority saying that the number of children in care had remained stable and in some cases fallen dramatically.
Barnardo’s assertion was quashed by Fact Check, and we reported on this at the beginning of July, so we invite King’s to correct their documents.
There is a “Lessons for the Future” chapter, but it is incomplete as there is no data on how many children and care home staff were infected with the virus, and how those outbreaks were dealt with, included in the report.
New research by King’s College London and City University of New York tried to find out whether memories linked to childhood abuse caused more psychological damage to survivors than the abuse itself.
The study suggests that whether you have been abused is less important to your future adjustment than whether you have subjective memories of abuse.
It’s important to add that the data was unable to confirm a causation link so that it could not say with absolute certainty that those subjective memories were the cause of any psychological conditions survivors experienced in later life.
A family court judge was caught making biased, non-evidence based remarks about a mother. Her comments were broadcast accidentally on a remote court link which she had failed to turn off.
The judge accused the mother of pretending to feel unwell during the hearing, and said she had used ‘every trick in the book’ to avoid answering difficult questions.
Mrs Justice Judd was forced to step down after the Court of Appeal ruled that the leaked comments showed that the judge had formed a biased opinion of the mother on the basis of something that could have been asked about during the proceedings by the judge, but had not.
The case will now be sent back to the family division, where a new judge will be appointed to oversee the case.
Another controversial case has highlighted the fine line between judicial bias and the best interests of a child, this time featuring a mother’s adherence to a cult which the court said was alienating the child from her father, who did not follow the same practices. There were no concerns about the mother’s ability to care for her daughter.
This is an extremely contentious case. The cult has not been banned, and while its practices are not based in science and have received some concerning criticisms, it continues to run freely and legally in the UK.
At its core, the judgment says that two parents with differing points of view create alienation to varying degrees, and that this should lead to a child being re-homed with the parent they identify with the least. It also leaves no room for the possibility that a child may change their mind and grow out of a way of life in the future.
Removing children from parents with distinctly different views on life is a slippery slope and one our judges need to watch.
On a separate note, the judgment makes reference to Andrew McFarlane, the President of the Family Division being hospitalised, which does not appear to have been reported in the media. The comment was made during an explanation in the judgment about why the case was reallocated to another judge.