The Buzz

The child welfare items that should be right on your radar:

Buzz

 

EXCLUSIVE: Footage of Forced Adoption Demonstration in London

A video report of a forced adoption demonstration which took place outside London’s Central Family Court has been produced by journalist Tom Edwards, who very kindly shared the footage with Researching Reform. The footage has not yet been published elsewhere.

During the video Tom offers some background about the demonstration which is part of a series of protests organised every month by Legal Action for Women (LAW). In the video, LAW’s Anne Neale talks about the problems inside the UK family courts in relation to forced adoption. Geraldine, a member of the All African Women’s Group also shares her thoughts about forced adoption and the courts.

Very many thanks to Tom for sharing the footage with us. You can follow Tom over on Twitter at @Tom_Edwards1997.

BBC Radio 4 – Repeat Removals Of Children in Child Protection Cases

The BBC has produced a radio programme on the UK’s child protection system and the way in which children are removed from mothers.

The website offers further information about the programme:

“With the numbers of children being taken into care in England at a ten year high, we take a look at the women who face the repeat court-ordered removal of subsequent children. We hear the story of one woman who had already had her first two children removed under court orders – and decided to flee the country when she was 37 weeks pregnant with a third child.

Jenni discusses why some women face the repeat court-ordered removal of their children and what support vulnerable mothers require to break the cycle.”

The programme interviewed the following people:

  • Sophie Humphreys, child protection expert and board member of Cafcass
  • Claire Mason, senior research associate at the Centre for Child and Family Justice Research and social worker
  • Paula Jackson-Key, from Doncaster Children’s Services Trust
  • Joanne Harris, author of The Strawberry Thief

The programme’s website doesn’t explain that the representative from Doncaster is an agent from Pause, the controversial women’s charity which insists women are fitted with coils before they can receive support to prevent further removal of children from their care.

You can listen to the programme here. 

We will forward comments you leave us to the BBC.

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How Good Is Free Family Law Advice?

This is what we would like you to tell us.

As the legal sector sets its sights on McKenzie Friends – lawyers have renewed their calls to ban lay advisors who charge for their time – Researching Reform would like to hear from anyone who has used organisations and McKenzie Friends offering family law advice for free.

There are several organisations offering free legal advice, including family law guidance and support in the UK. The most well-known services are:

  • Citizens Advice – centres usually offer guidance on family law matters
  • Advocate – Free legal help from barristers (used to be called Bar Pro Bono Unit)
  • Public access portal – you can search for a pro bono barrister in your area and you can contact them directly too
  • Personal Support Unit – charity with around 700 volunteers offering free legal advice
  • McKenzie Friends – many lay advisors offer family law advice and court representation free of charge, or ask you just to cover the cost of their travel and lunch.

If you have used any of these organisations, lay advisors or any other services, we would love to hear from you.

What was your experience like? Did you find the support useful? Was the advice you received accurate and effective?

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In The News

The latest child welfare items that should be right on your radar:

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Family Court Demonstration over Forced Adoption

Legal Action for Women (LAW) are organising a demonstration this coming Wednesday to demand that the UK puts an end to its forced adoption policy.

The UK is one of a minority of countries around the world which allows governments to remove children deemed to be vulnerable from parents without first getting parental consent.

The demonstration is part of LAW’s Support not Separation campaign, which highlights racial and gender bias inside the UK Family Court.

The charity offers the following information:

FACTS:

  • Women are primary carers in 90% of households. 28% of children live in poverty.
  • There are more children ‘in care’ now than at any time since 1985 – 75,420 by 2018. Children from poor areas are 10 times more likely to be taken. Of families whose children are taken, 75% are single mothers.
  • 90% of adoptions are without parental consent.
  • While mothers are denied support, it costs £56k p.a. to keep a child ‘in care’.
  • 70-90% of court cases feature domestic abuse yet less than 1% of child contact applications are refused – violent fathers nearly always get contact.

USEFUL INFORMATION:

  • Courts and social services must prioritise the welfare of the child by keeping children with their mother or other primary carer wherever possible.
  • Section 17 of the Children Act (1989) instructs local authorities to assess what resources they should offer ‘children in need’, including what support (financial and other)mothers need to keep children safe in the family. This should happen BEFORE any care plan. If it doesn’t, a lawyer can challenge it (by judicial review).
  • Disabled mothers are entitled to further help under the Care Act (2014).
  • Victims of domestic violence have a right to be protected in court and NOT to be cross-examined by their abuser. Lawyers and judges should follow the guidelines in Practice Direction 12J.
  • Mothers have a right to REFUSE to sign a Section 20 allowing their children to be taken into care. S20 is ‘voluntary’ but once signed it’s very hard to get the children back.No one should sign ANYTHING they don’t agree with.
  • Children in foster care are entitled to an Advocate (and possibly their own lawyer). There should be review meetings at least every six months which mothers have the right to attend to discuss how the children are doing.
  • Mothers denied contact with their children by Children’s Services, the special guardian, or other parent/carer have the right to go back to court.

The demonstration takes place on Wednesday 3rd April, from 12.30-1.30pm, at 42-49 High Holborn, London WC1V 6NP.

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Children’s services not fit for refugees – Top Minister

Senator John Le Fondré, Jersey’s Chief Minister said children’s services on the island were not fit for refugees, after Lord Dubs called on the Island to take in child refugees last week.

At a further meeting on Friday with his Deputy, Le Fondré, said the island’s child welfare services were in a “very poor state” and “not presently in the right position to deal with even [Jersey’s] own children properly.”

He added, ‘It is not just a case of money. It is about getting people in the right place, and giving stability, for example, to the social-worker workforce, so those relationships can carry on in the longer term. That is incredibly important.’

Jersey’s children’s services have been blighted by poor practice and serous failures.

After concerns were raised by the Independent Care Inquiry, Ofsted confirmed last year that it would inspect the island’s social services. Ofsted’s report was damning. The inspection body found that Jersey social services was not prioritising the needs of its children, that children in care on the island were falling far behind their peers at every stage of their education and that structural and cultural problems inside social services were hampering service delivery.

Jersey put together an improvement plan in July 2018 to address the failures highlighted inside Ofsted’s report. Little has been done to action the plan.

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Legal Advice Groups Launch Event Hosted By Magic Circle Law Firm.

An event looking at ways in which lawyers, lay advisors, charities and academics can help improve access to justice has been launched by the Advice Service Alliance, the Access to Justice Foundation, LegalVoice and the Litigant in Person Support Strategy.

The event is being bankrolled by Magic Circle law firm Allen & Overy.

Researching Reform was very kindly sent the invite from the Access to Justice Foundation.

There are three confirmed sessions so far, which include:

  • Identifying and supporting distressed clients – a psychiatrist view
  • Driven to digital distraction – re purposing tech for good so it works for us
  • Supporting health and well-being in your organisation

Allen & Overy’s press briefing for the event offers further details:

About

This collaborative event, aimed at people working in the access to justice sector, will provide space and time to share work, experiences, problems and learning points on some of the key issues facing the sector, as identified by the sector. The conference will create a dialogue between professionals and explore the potential to develop solutions and further collaboration.

Delegates will have the opportunity to engage in and contribute to strategic developments for the sector, network with access to justice and related sectors and benefit from expertise in allied and external sectors. Our aim is for attendees to leave the event with relevant and practical information in priority areas which can support the delivery of services in their organisations.

The aims and objectives of the conference are as follows:

Aims

  • Host a collaborative event working in partnership with access to justice organisations, for people working in the access to justice sector.
  • Provide a space and time for people to share their work, experience, problems and learning and discuss issues in particular focus areas that stakeholders in the sector have identified.
  • Bring in external sector expertise to understand how other professions and sectors support similar issues in these areas.
  • Focus on solutions and invest resources to investigate the potential to further develop the solutions and collaborations identified at the event.

Objectives

Delegates who attend the event will have:

  • Useful and practical advice or specific outputs which can be implemented in their work
  • Increased understanding of what other work is going on inside the access to justice sector and where their work and experiences are shared.
  • Opportunity to network with the access to justice sector and related external sector experts.
  • Opportunity to engage in and contribute to strategic developments for the sector.

While we were reading up on the event, we came across a legal support website called Advice Now, which is run by the Access To Justice Foundation. There is a Family and Personal section which deals with Family Law issues like care proceedings. Do let us know what you think of it.

The Litigant In Person Network is also interesting. Members include the Bar Pro Bono Unit and Child Law Advice.

The conference takes place on 21 May, 2019 at Allen & Overy’s London Office.

Tickets can be booked here. The event is free however the organisers request a £20 deposit which attendees will get back upon arriving at the venue.

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Family Law Judge Investigated Over Condescending Bevahiour in Court

Judge Judith Hughes has been investigated for condescending behaviour during a family law hearing in which she allowed her bad temper to get the better of her by banging her head on a desk after a litigant in person appeared before her in court.

Lord Chancellor David Gauke and Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett acting on behalf of the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) found that Hughes’ behaviour was “sarcastic and condescending”, and “failed to demonstrate the standards expected of a judicial office holder”. 

Very little information about the context of the complaint is offered by the JCIO though it seems as if the complaint may have been made by the litigant in person, who is likely to have been a parent. Litigants in person are typically members of the public who cannot afford to pay for legal fees, and find they have to represent themselves in court through no fault of their own.

Hughes was issued with ‘formal advice’, and will continue to sit as a family court judge.

This is not the first time Hughes’ temper has been documented. The Telegraph reports an incident from 2017 when the judge also allowed herself to get angry about matters that came before her.

We are encouraged to see parents making use of complaints bodies who appear to be fair and balanced. Perhaps more complaints where warranted might help to put an end to judicial bullying of parents and children in the family court.

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