The latest child welfare news:
Welcome to another week.
Ongoing failings within Family Court process have been highlighted in a recent case where judge, Mrs Justice Pauffley condemns, amongst other things, unethical private agreements between judges and social work staff, negligent child protection assessments of parents and psychiatric reports which are written often in a day and without even speaking to the family members whom the reports are about.
The case is so riddled with deeply embedded malpractice that President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has promised to tackle the secretive nature in which agreements are reached between local authorities and the court.
Mrs Justice Pauffley said in court:
‘There was, apparently, an established but largely clandestine arrangement between the local authority and the court which, to my mind, has considerable repercussions for justice.’ Mrs Justice Pauffley added: ‘In public law proceedings the local authority is the applicant. It is not and should never be seen as the decision maker. That is the role of the court.
Our question to you then, is just this: how can the Family Court rid itself of unethical practices?
Prime Minister Theresa May has made a number of important changes to the roles and responsibilities of ministers working on child welfare policy.
These include a wider brief for Minister Of State For Vulnerable Children And Families, Ed Timpson, with added responsibilities in the areas of children’s mental health, the pupil premium and the National Citizen Service.
We still think it’s strange that child welfare matters continue to be lumped in under the Department for Education, and spread out across other ministerial roles. It’s time we had a dedicated department for this work.
We’ve added a break down below of the current roles, responsibilities and who’s in charge of which area:
Department of Health
- Philip Dunne Minister of state for health Hospital care; NHS performance and operations; the workforce; patient safety and maternity care
- Nicola Blackwood Under secretary of state for public health and Innovation Children’s health; school nursing; and mental health in general
- David Mowat Under secretary of state for community health and care Carers; community services; learning disabilities; and all elements of primary care – including dentistry and pharmacy
Department For Education
- Justine Greening Secretary of State for Education; minister for women and equalities Early years; adoption and child protection; teachers’ pay; the school curriculum; school improvement; and the establishment of free schools and academies; crossgovernment equality strategy; transgender equality
- Edward Timpson Minister of state for vulnerable children and families Children’s social care, including child protection, children in care and adoption, care leavers, local authority innovation and intervention, and the Children and Social Work Bill; special educational needs, including education, health and care plans and reforms, attainment and progress, high needs funding; rounded and resilient young people, including mental health and character; school sport and personal, social and health education; National Citizen Service; behaviour and attendance, exclusions and alternative provision; pupil premium and pupil premium plus
- Caroline Dinenage Under secretary of state for women, equalities and early years Childcare and early years, including free childcare expansion; school bullying; sexual orientation and transgender policy; the Equality and Human Rights Commission
- Nick Gibb Minister of state for school standards Teachers; national schools funding formula; curriculum assessment and qualifications; school accountability, including Ofsted; Education for All Bill
- Robert Halfon Minister of state for apprenticeships and skills Careers education and guidance in schools; apprenticeships; funding for post-16 provision; further education and sixth form colleges
Communities and Local Government
- Sajid Javid Secretary of State for Communities Supporting local government, communities and neighbourhoods; and Troubled Families programme
- Sarah Newton Under secretary of state for vulnerability, safeguarding and countering extremism Drugs and alcohol; antisocial behaviour; crime prevention; gangs and youth crime; child sexual exploitation and abuse; online child abuse; honour-based violence; missing children; FGM; prostitution; domestic violence
- Robert Goodwill Minister of state for immigration Resettlement policy including the operation of Home Office resettlement programmes for vulnerable children and families
Ministry of Justice
- Elizabeth Truss Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Overall strategy on criminal justice; penal policy; human rights; and rehabilitation
- Dr Phillip Lee Under secretary of state for victims, youth and family justice Offender health and mental health; substance misuse; Taylor Review of youth justice; youth custodial estate; YJB; youth sentencing; restorative justice; and family law, family justice and mediation, including Cafcass
- Sam Gyimah Under secretary of state for prisons and probation Prison reform; custody; offender employment and education; probation services; parole; and sentencing
Department For Work and Pensions
- Damian Hinds Minister of state for employment Employment strategy; Jobcentre Plus; Youth Contract; family support issues, including childcare, maternity benefits and flexible working
- Penny Mordaunt Minister of state for disabled people, work and health Cross-government disability issues and disability benefits
Culture, Media and Sport
- Rob Wilson Minister for civil society Volunteering and social action; voluntary sector; social investment; mutuals; youth work policy; NCS
What do you think? Would you create new departments, or add other areas that may have been overlooked?
An open event next month, hosted by Halsbury’s hopes to explore issues relating to Legal Aid and Litigants in Person (LIPs).
The debate takes place on 22nd September 2016, 6.30pm -10pm, and will be held at One Great George Street.
Confirmed speakers to date include:
- Joshua Rozenberg QC (as chairperson)
- Sir Robin Knowles
- Paul Yates (Freshfields)
- Ruth Daniel (Access to Justice Foundation)
Questions up for debate will include:
- Where are we on access to justice for those with limited income: how have we got here, and (most importantly) where do we go from here?
- How do we ensure quality of service for those that receive legal aid?
- If the future is maintaining current budgets, are there smarter ways of spending which can ensure this has a greater effect/impact?
- How do we set up a justice system that respects and caters for unrepresented litigants?
This is a free event and hopes to bring together senior figures from politics, the judiciary, the Pro-Bono and Legal Aid communities, campaign bodies and others to discuss Legal Aid and priorities for the future.
If you’d like to attend, you can book your place here.
For anyone unable to attend, you can follow the debate on Twitter, @HLEThinkTank and search the hashtag#HLEDebate.
The latest child welfare and family law news:
- Care applications reach all time high for any one month (and no one knows why they continue to rise)
- President of the Family Division Tries to tackle unprecedented rise in care cases through Settlement Conferences and the Tandem Model
- New study from Cafcass explores the impact of radicalisation on front-line practice
For our column over at Jordans this month, we explain why the appointment of a fourth Chair for the nation’s Independent Child Abuse Inquiry should be viewed as a second chance and what the Inquiry must do now to make the most of that chance.
In the article, we discuss the missing elements to the Inquiry which are currently preventing it from moving forward and we offer some suggestions for improving the Inquiry’s chances of success.
As part of our commitment to transparency we’ve added a short film about Jordans below for anyone wishing to know more about the publication we write for.
Welcome to another week.
The Court Of Protection has often raised concerns for the secretive way in which it conducts its business. With far reaching powers like the ability to compel individuals to undergo abortions, surgery and even detain those considered to be mentally impaired in places like hospitals, it is a court with an enormous amount of influence on day-to-day living.
Google “Court of Protection Problems” and a lot of items come up, including an article from The Guardian which explains why the Court Of Protection carries out much of its work behind closed doors. The piece explains that many of the cases the Court hears are private and involve families who would prefer not to let the world in on their personal affairs.
But every now and then a case crops up which blurs the boundary between right to privacy and public interest, and raises questions about the judges who make such draconian orders. The case of Kathleen Danby, a grandmother facing jail for hugging her grand-daughter is one such case. The case began with a contact order which effectively banned Ms Danby from seeing her grand daughter, Janine, who was placed in care. Ms Danby defied this court order in 2014 by hugging Janine, an event which was caught on CCTV by social workers, and subsequently saw Ms Danby go to jail. Ms Danby faces jail again, after her grand daughter ran away from her care home recently, and tried to make her way to Ms Danby.
Whilst we don’t know the reasons for the order banning contact (the article explains that Ms Danby lives near Janine’s father, so perhaps there are concerns in relation to his conduct), we do know that Janine is 20 years old, an adult in the eyes of the law. Ms Danby is 74 years old, and clearly not deterred by jail time.
No one has yet questioned how Janine was able to run away from her care home not once, but twice. We already know that there are huge numbers of children running away from care homes in England, a phenomenon which continues to place children at risk of exploitation and other forms of harm.
So our question then, is just this: Do you think the Court Of Protection is handling this case in the best way possible, regardless of what the facts may be, or is it unfair to judge without all the information?
Former Inquiry panel member, Professor Alexis Jay, has been chosen to replace Justice Goddard as Chair for the nation’s Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual abuse.
In a statement on the Inquiry’s website, Professor Jay says:
“I am committed to ensuring this Inquiry does everything it has set out to do and does so with pace, with confidence and with clarity.
“Be in no doubt – the Inquiry is open for business and people are busier than ever working hard to increase momentum. The Panel and I are determined to make progress on all parts of the Inquiry’s work, including speaking to victims and survivors.
I am determined to overcome the challenges along the way. I will lead the largest public inquiry of its kind and together with my fellow Panel members we will fearlessly examine institutional failures, past and present and make recommendations so that the children of England and Wales are better protected now and in the future.”
In a letter to the Home Secretary in which Professor Jay responds to the Government’s invitation to Chair the Inquiry, Professor Jay accepts, and declares she has no direct interests relating to the subject matter of the Inquiry. The letter goes on to detail her experience as a social worker, manager and Chief Executive and Chief Inspector of Social Work For Scotland. However she is perhaps best known for her report on child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, often referred to as the Jay Report, which was very well received by survivors and victims of abuse.
Professor Jay’s appointment is important for several reasons. It of course symbolises the latest effort in finding a reliable and appropriate Chair but it is also the first time that the Inquiry has hosted a Chair without any legal qualifications. This may prove challenging if the Inquiry continues along its adversarial path, holding trial-like hearings and flirting with Inquiry boundaries as set out by the Inquiries Act, but it is also a blessing. The Inquiry is heavily dominated by legal minds, which whilst very useful for pouring over detail and pulling out potential violations of law, is not so well suited to teasing out the narrative which has allowed abuse in this country to go undetected and ignored for so long. That requires someone who has direct experience with the subject matter of child exploitation and a solid understanding of victim and survivor culture. Professor Jay may well be able to offer the insight necessary to make the Inquiry much more efficient and potentially ground breaking.
We wish Professor Jay much luck and strength.
An article in the July-August edition of Private Eye magazine highlights a controversial loophole which could allow incompetent and unscrupulous Family Court experts to practice whilst enjoying immunity from malpractice claims.
It describes how unqualified psychologists are able to act as experts, and dodge malpractice claims by simply avoiding the use of various “protected” titles like ‘educational’, ‘clinical’ or ‘forensic’. This means that they can offer their services without the need to be registered and regulated by the UK’s watchdog, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).
The article goes on to express concerns about unregistered court experts who are often invited to give evidence on cases involving rape, child exploitation and child contact and care cases. The piece focuses on one particular psychologist who is not registered but uses several of the protected titles on his website and has worked on high profile and often complex child protection cases. However, as he calls himself a consultant and not a psychologist the HCPC maintains he is not misusing a protected title and therefore cannot act.
This development is particularly serious because the consultant works in the Family Court advising on child welfare matters. The new Family Justice Council Guidelines also require that psychologists working in the family courts as experts must be HCPC registered – which this psychologist is not.
Professor Jane Ireland’s 2012 report detailing serious concerns about the quality of expert evidence from Family Court psychiatrists and psychologists – it found that over 20% of psychologists in family cases were unqualified and 65% of expert reports were either of ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ quality – is also mentioned in the Private Eye piece. Jane’s report was responsible for the new Family Justice guidelines on expert witnesses which were designed to protect the public.
It’s clear that the law and policy in this area needs urgent attention. Researching Reform is a strong advocate of regulating this area further in order to ensure that the quality of expert evidence in the Family Court, and in other courts too, conforms to best practice guidelines.
We are adding a redacted version of the Private Eye piece below:
“A gaping hole in the regulation of psychologists could put the public at risk from unscrupulous, inept or unaccountable ‘experts’.
Providing psychologists don’t use one of nine so-called ‘protected titles’ – for example, educational, clinical, or forensic – any can offer their services without the need to be registered and regulated by the U.K.’s watchdog, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). Even if serious concerns or complaints are raised about them, they remain immune from investigation because they’re not registered.
Nowhere is the danger of the regulatory body’s impotence more starkly illustrated than in the courts, where it seems that unregistered, unqualified and potentially unfit psychologists can operate as ‘experts’ in even the most serious cases of murder, rape or child sexual exploitation. No-one illustrates this absurd Catch-22 better than ‘consultant psychologist’ [edited], who has acted as an expert in several high-profile cases, including the [edited] child grooming case, where a gang raped and trafficked underage girls.
[Edited], a trained educational psychologist who used to work in local government, has been the subject of at least four complaints, including manipulating data and acting beyond his qualifications and expertise. Three have not been investigated because he has never been registered with the HCPC. Because of the fourth, his application for registration in 2012 was refused, when he was judged to be ‘not of good character’.
According to his website, [edited] also acts in the family courts in sensitive child contact and care cases, in what looks like a clear breach of new guidelines from the Family Justice Council (a public body which advises on family justice matters) and the industry body the British Psychological Society (BPS). The guidelines state that family courts expect all psychologists acting as experts to be HCPC-registered unless they are academics.
In fact his website offers services in several of the areas of expertise covered by protected titles (educational, forensic, practitioner, counselling), again contrary to what the BPS says in its online directory of chartered psychologists (in which [edited] is listed). It says that ‘anyone offering services within these [protected title] areas must also be registered’ with the HCPC.
[Edited] website logo even uses the word ‘educational’ – but because he simply chooses to call himself a ‘consultant’, the HCPC maintains he is not misusing a protected title and thus it can’t act. It adds that statutory regulation and corresponding regulatory titles are decided by the government, and it’s for ministers to change them. The BPS, meanwhile, says it now only ‘advises’ on standards and best practice, ‘but where we are aware of gaps in regulation, we raise these with the regulator’ – i.e. the HCPC!
The BPS says it can’t comment on individual members, but adds that it has raised concerns that the general title ‘psychologist’ is not protected. It still seems happy to promote [edited], though.
As the HCPC admits, [edited] is not the only one dancing rings around registration. Prof. Jane Ireland – author of a damning 2012 study which triggered the recent family court reform, having found that one in five psychologists in family cases was working beyond their expertise and 65% of expert reports were either of ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ quality – tells the Eye: ‘All practising psychologists who act as expert witnesses should be regulated so that the public are protected’.
[Edited] was refused registration because of ‘concerns about his character’ after staff at [edited] Young offenders Institution asked in 2012 for proof of identity and, er, HCPC registration. It triggered lengthy and ‘inappropriate’ correspondence between [edited] and the jail. An HCPC regulatory panel threw out his appeal in 2013, saying he was completely unable to accept that his written outbursts had been unacceptable, that he had demonstrated no insight into the potential consequences and that he had shown no remorse. The panel said that he had displayed a similar attitude in communication with the HCPC itself, that it could not rule out a repetition of similar behaviour and that his conduct would ‘damage public confidence in the regulatory process’.
[Edited] response to the three complaints made by fellow psychologists has been to fire off counter-allegations, the irony being that those properly registered and regulated complainants then find themselves under HCPC investigation, while he escapes.
Thus, in the [edited] grooming case, [edited], a registered chartered psychologist, was so alarmed to find an unregistered educational psychologist, whom she considered neither qualified to reach his conclusions about an adult sex attacker nor completely open about those conclusions, that she complained to both the HCPC and the BPS. She was told neither could do anything. Instead she herself was investigated when [edited] fired off a counterblast. ‘It was very irritating, but of course there was no merit in his complaints and they were all swiftly dismissed,’ she told the Eye. [Edited] boasts on his website about the [edited] case: ‘Of the seven men convicted, five were given life sentences. The man I assessed was given a sentence substantially below that of his co-defendants, and without a tariff’.
Another victim of [edited]’s revenge salvos was [edited], an academic and leading clinical and forensic psychologist. After taking advice, he complained to the then regulator, the BPS, that [edited] had manipulated IQ test scores in the trial of a man accused in 2008 of converting replica weapons into firearms used in a series of murders. It made the man appear less intelligent, and therefore less culpable. [The academic] told the Court at the time he had ‘never encountered such extraordinary conduct before’. In the event it seems [edited] evidence held little or no sway: the defendant was convicted and sentenced to life.
When [edited] duly counter-complained, however, the BPS decided to investigate [edited] complaint first. It swiftly exonerated [the academic]; but it never got round to investigating [edited] because, in the meantime, fitness to practise and regulatory issues had been passed to the HCPC. [The academic] told the Eye: ‘Guidelines indicate that the need to protect clients from unsafe practice from psychological experts and professional witnesses is paramount. But there is absolutely no protection if a psychologist is not registered’.
In a third case involving [edited], while he again escaped investigation of complaints about his expertise and findings, it took almost two years before his unfounded counter-allegations against a registered psychologist were dismissed – this time with an HCPC apology.
No-one can say whether the complaints about [edited] would have been upheld. The scandal is that because he can so easily act outside the regulatory system, no-one even bothers to consider them.”
What changes would you like to see in the regulation of Family Court experts? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
A very big thank you to Roger Crawford, who alerted us to this article.
The latest child welfare news from around the world:
- Point Blank: The Public Health Case For Gun Related Injury Research – Approximately 7 children each day, die from gun related injuries (US)
- New laws being written to overcome Child Protection Failures – decision made after damning Nyland Report (South Australia)
- Abuse Inquiry’s former Chair, Justice Goddard to go before Home Affairs Committee in September to Explain Resignation