The latest child welfare items that should be right on your radar:
Welcome to another week.
The latest family court statistics for England and Wales tell us that in January to March 2021 there were 1,178 adoption applications, up 6% on the equivalent quarter in 2020. The number of adoption orders issued also increased by 6% to 1,166.
Meanwhile, an 81% increase relating to deprivation of liberty orders were noted in January to March 2021. Orders decreased by 4% in the latest quarter compared to the same period last year.
Our question this week then, is just this: what do you think explains the rise in adoption orders, and deprivation of liberty orders during those periods?
A new survey produced by Taken UK, a support group for parents going through the family courts founded by Jacque Courtnage, aims to better understand how care proceedings resulting in adoption orders have affected birth families in Britain.
The open survey is made up of 18 questions, including:
- Prior to a care order being enacted on your child/children, were you offered or did you receive help from these early help provisions by being signposted to them by a social worker?
- Once the adoption order was made, were you offered any support to deal with loss, coping strategies and everything associated with losing a child to adoption?
- If you had other children that have remained with you, where any of them offered any support to help cope knowing they have a sibling in adoption?
- Has any organisation offered to help you reunite with your adopted child once they have reached the age of 18?
- Would you want to reunite with your adopted child in the future?
Another open survey, which was published several weeks ago by adoptees Paul Brian Tovey and Suzanne Davies, investigates adoptee experiences in the UK, and has gathered almost 100 responses since it started running. The questions in this survey include:
- Was your adoption as a UK adoptee negative or positive?
- Were you abused by your adopters as a child?
- Do you wish to revoke your adoption order?
- If your adoptee status was terminated, would you want to revert to your birth or other identity?
- Was there any therapy in the UK specific for your adult adoptee needs?
A family court judge has published a recent judgment he handed down to highlight the success of the Resolutions Model in reuniting parents with their children in child protection cases.
Judge Baker, who oversaw the case, J (A Child) (Resolutions Model), said he wanted to raise awareness of the Resolutions Model of risk assessment in cases where parents disagree with findings that they caused injuries to their child.
Lancashire County Council had made an application for a care order for Jane (not the child’s real name) the day she was born after the court had found that the parents’ first child, Amber (not the child’s real name) had suffered non accidental injuries which it believed had been caused by the parents.
However, Judge Baker said the parents may be able to care for Jane using their family and support network to build a protective and supportive ring around Jane to ensure her safety.
The judge approved a plan in which Jane and her mother Beverley were supervised when together, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, following the mother separating from the father.
The plan saw five family members and a close family friend working in shifts, with small periods of unsupervised contact being gradually introduced into the routine.
The periods were extended, and family members’ roles in supporting Jane’s health and safety were revised through planned and unplanned observations and family meetings, developed in cooperation with local authority staff.
The judge congratulated Lancashire County Council and the Children’s Guardian, Peter Morey, for being flexible and offering support to the family, which he said had resulted in a very strong care plan for Jane. Baker congratulated the mother, saying in the judgment that he was “very impressed” with the way she had changed.
Judge Baker said the Resolutions Model could work in cases where, “In the right set of circumstances, the fact that a parent denies causing an injury need not rule out the possibility of that parent resuming care of or involvement in the care of that child.”
Though rarely used and little known, the Resolution Approach is a model which the family courts should be increasingly implementing, as a compassionate and sophisticated way of supporting families in need.
The model is unique in that it is used to work with parents who deny causing injuries to their children and explores the possibility of returning children to parents’ care using family support networks to make sure the child is not at risk.
This recent case is not the first time the Resolutions Model has been used to great success. A case in 2017 saw parents reunited with their 2 ½ year old child following a two-year fight through the family courts. In that case, the child was taken to hospital with several injuries, and a subsequent family court hearing held that the injuries had been caused by either the mother or the father. The parents said they had not intentionally caused the injuries.
The parents’ lawyers then asked the court to implement the Resolutions Model, which provided the parents with tailored professional support and an extensive family network to help with care needs for the child. The parents engaged with the process and were reunited with their child.
It’s worth noting that local authorities and social work staff were initially hugely resistant to the use of the Model in both cases, and that the legal teams were responsible for pushing the Model through in each case.
We very much hope this is the start of a smarter, more humane approach to families in need of support, and one which should be extended not just to cases with suspected non accidental injuries, but to all cases which feature child protection concerns.
Victims of domestic abuse and their children who risk being homeless must be prioritised for accommodation by councils under new measures in the Domestic Abuse Act which came into forced on 5th July, 2021.
The new duty on councils is designed to protect victims of domestic violence who may be forced to stay with their abusers if they are unable to find a home of their own.
Previously, victims had to prove they were ‘vulnerable’ as a result of domestic abuse before being prioritised for housing. Under the new law, domestic abuse is now a standalone reason to qualify as a person needing housing support.
In the press release announcing the measure, Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing, Eddie Hughes MP said:
“Domestic abuse is a heinous crime and it is a tragedy that some victims remain with their abusers for fear of not having a roof over their head.
[The] change will mean all councils must find accommodation for victims who are homeless as a result of domestic abuse – ensuring they have a safe space to rebuild their lives.”
Councils are now under a legal duty to ensure that accommodation is provided to victims of domestic abuse.
You can follow the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on Twitter @mhclg
The latest child welfare items that should be right on your radar:
Welcome to another week.
A new case published on 2nd July offers insight into a different judicial perspective on violent parents — and young children’s engagement with family judges — but also goes to some trouble to highlight a wide range of factors which led to the decision.
The case involved a mother of two daughters who had been stabbed 15 times by her partner in 2019, following a history of domestic abuse which included the father serving a prison term in 2016 for assaulting the mother. The father was sentenced to a minimum of 13 and a half years in prison for the attempted murder of the mother.
The eldest daughter, who is now seven, witnessed the attack when she was five, and was struck in the face by her father’s elbow as he stabbed her mother. The mother suffered serious life-changing injuries. Both the mother and the daughter continue to have therapeutic counselling for the attack.
On 4th April, 2020, the police received a report from Crime Stoppers that the father had called through to say the mother was going to be murdered that day. Around the same period, the mother had received two Instagram friend requests (which she declined), from two relatives of the father.
The mother decided to bring two applications to the court: one for the termination of the father’s parental responsibility for both daughters, now aged seven and two, and another to change the girls’ surname from their father’s name.
The oldest daughter also wrote to the judge explaining that she did not want to see her father ever again and that she wanted to change her surname so he could not find her.
The court granted both those requests, and gave the following reasons why it chose to do so (we have highlighted significant points of reasoning in bold which appear to show a shift in the court’s thinking on child welfare, and we have also explained the shifts in italic writing):
(i) The father will be in prison until at least March 2033, by which time X will be an adult and Y a teenager. The father will not be able to exercise his parental responsibility in any meaningful way until then;
(Prior judgments have concluded that a parent in prison can offer some meaning to a child’s life).
(ii) The girls’ physical, emotional and educational welfare can only be met by them having no contact with their father, direct or indirect – there is no need for him to exercise parental responsibility;
(Past cases where one parent has tried to murder the other parent and the offending parent has asked for contact often succeed, making this judgment a departure in some ways from that base line. The shift seems to represent an understanding that a child’s needs, particularly if she or he has witnessed violence and is afraid of that parent, are sometimes better served by creating boundaries).
(iii) Further than that, there is a risk of harm to the girls if he were to exercise his parental responsibility for them. He played only a limited role in the girls’ life previously, he holds strongly negative views about the mother, her parenting capacity and the wider maternal family. He has shown no insight into the impact of his actions on the children and continues to represent a high risk to them and their mother. In the circumstances, the Court can have no confidence that he would exercise his parental responsibility for the benefit of his children;
(Past case law on parents who have played a limited role in a child’s life suggests that the policy has been to welcome contact, usually by a father, if a request for contact is made. Critics of current policy on contact say the pendulum has swung too far in favour of parents who don’t genuinely wish to have contact and are simply using it to abuse ex partners and their children.)
(iv) There is a real risk that he could use his parental responsibility to undermine the mother as a parent, or for the purpose of causing her or the children harm, for example by contacting schools or doctors to obtain information about them or their whereabouts;
(v) The father’s relentless negativity about the mother as a parent makes it clear that there is no prospect of him being able to co-parent with her and she should not have to consult with him before making significant decisions about the children;
(vi) If the father had not been registered on the girls’ birth certificates there is no prospect that any application he should make now for parental responsibility would be granted;
(vii) The fact that the father was registered on the girls’ birth certificates in the first place does not carry significant weight (a) in circumstances where the mother alleges she was subject to the father’s control and (b) where the law provides that an application to the Court may be made for both the discharge of parental responsibility and a name change in appropriate circumstances;
(An interesting comment, which suggests that where a parent has been violent and controlling, as in this case, parental rights could be stripped from abusive parents.)
(viii) The father continues to be assessed as a high risk to both mother and the girls. To permit the mother to change their names would be consistent with their welfare and enable her to act protectively;
(ix) X is traumatised by her memories and experiences of her father. A change of name is consistent with her strongly expressed wishes and feelings;
(Family judges often overlook trauma children experience at the hands of violent parents, even if they are not the primary victims, preferring instead to try and ‘mend’ the relationship between the child and parent even in extreme cases of violence. This judgment seems to represent a shift away from that, giving the child’s views weight and thinking ahead to the long-term implications of keeping ties which are, at a given point in time, very painful for a child, but also ultimately taking a different view on the effect of that disconnect.)
(x) Y has no memory of her father and no established relationship with him. The name she holds is nonetheless a continued reminder for all the family of the experiences her mother and sister have had as a consequence of the father’s actions and it is in all their welfare interests for that name to be changed;
(xi) The girls have no relationship with their extended paternal family and no positive associations with the second name they have been given. The applications do not represent a significant interference with theirs or their father’s right to a family life.
Though we think this judgment falls on the right side of the child welfare balance, we can see there may be some push back on it. Several aspects of the judgment go against established views and principles on contact with violent parents, but it is, to our mind at least, right, and represents an acknowledgment of the fact that some bad experiences can’t be mended or soothed by the law.
And rather critically, we think, it touches upon something significant – the idea that a parent who abuses the other parent cannot have their child’s best interests at heart, knowing as they will, that the abuse will interfere with the victim parent’s ability to care for their child.
In short: the abuse of one parent by the other is a selfish act, which places the abuser’s emotional state above that of their child’s wellbeing.
The latest child welfare items that should be right on your radar:
Three very important judgments from family law cases have been published which are worth reading this week.
The judgments span child contact with a jailed father convicted of child sex offences; a potentially ground breaking case about circumcision placing the decision with the child in question; and an attempt at removing a ban on reporting the names of medical professionals involved in ‘end of life’ proceedings for children.
The very good LexisNexis has provided well written summaries of these, which we are adding below.
This case considered a child arrangement order for contact with an imprisoned father. In deciding to endorse the consent order for there to be indirect supervised contact between the father who was presently in prison following a conviction for sexual offences and the children, the Family Court held that the court had no power to compel a prison governor to facilitate the contact which was the subject of a child arrangements order under s 8 of the Children Act 1989.
Further, it held that a decision by a prison governor to refuse to facilitate contact, whether pursuant to an order made by the court or otherwise, was amenable to challenge in the Administrative Court, subject to the normal requirements applicable to claims for judicial review. Moreover, it held that it would be in both child’s best interests to approve the consent order that there be indirect supervised contact between the children and the father.
The case involved the applicant parents’ application, which failed, for the court’s authorisation for their son (P) to be circumcised, in accordance with the custom of the Muslim faith. P had lived all his life with extended maternal family members, who were likely soon to become his permanent carers under a Special Guardianship Order. The Family Court held that decision to circumcise P would be deferred until he was able to make his own choice, once he had the maturity and insight to appreciate the consequences and longer-term effects of the decision which he reached.
The case involved applications for the discharge of Restricted Reporting Orders (RROs) prohibiting the naming of any medical clinicians as being involved in the care and treatment of children who had been the subject of ‘end of life’ proceedings. Both sets of parents unsuccessfully applied for orders immediately discharging the reporting restriction orders (RPOs) prohibiting the identification of any treating clinicians and staff as being involved in the care and treatment of their respective children until further order and which had been made during ‘end of life’ proceedings prior to the children’s death.
The Family Division held that the court had jurisdiction to consider the continuance of the RROs, that the dispute about the continuance of each order fell to be determined by evaluating the competing rights under arts 8 and 10 of the ECHR in accordance with the approach described in Re S (a child) (identification: restriction on publication)  ALL ER (D) 402 (Oct)and that the result of that process was that continuation of the RROs was justified and proportionate.
The latst child welfare items that should be right on your radar: