Mother Ordered To Return Children To Father Accused of Domestic Violence

A High Court has ruled that three children taken to live in England by their mother must be returned to Germany where their father resided, after the father applied to the court for their return.

The mother had accused the father of physical and psychological abuse, and said she had taken the three children now 13, 11 and 8, to live in the jurisdiction of England and wales to avoid exposing them to harm. The mother and the children’s residence was unknown to the father until last December when he discovered their whereabouts.

Robert Peel QC, who was sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge in the Family Court, took the view that the allegations were no longer ‘live’, that the mother had been able to coexist with the father for some years after the initial allegations were raised and that her care of the children had not been affected.

While the children all said they did not wish to go back to Germany, the Cafcass officer speaking to the children took the view that their wishes had been coloured in part by the mother’s view of the father and that other matters took priority over their feelings. The Cafcass officer also took the view that the children’s wishes could not be determinative because they were too young.

The court ordered a mandatory return of the children to Germany, and also directed that protective measures needed to be put in place in relation to the practical consequences of their return to Germany.

You can read the judgment on BAILII. 

Family Law Cases RR

 

New Initiatives Aim To Keep Birth Families Engaged with Children in Care

Welcome to another week.

The government has unveiled plans to offer carers more support when looking after fostered children, while also preserving ties with birth families and their children after they have entered the care system.

According to the press release, the initiative aims to offer carers, “short breaks, mentoring, emergency sleepovers and social activities with other families to help create stability as they adjust to their new lives together.”

The support package has been inspired by The ‘Mockingbird Family Model’, which will be delivered by The Fostering Network and builds on an already invested £500,000 for support services for foster carers by the government. It is not clear how much extra money the government has injected into the original investment sum to provide these services.

The Model is explained on the Fostering Network’s website as an “extended family model which… improves the stability of fostering placements and strengthens the relationships between carers, children and young people, fostering services and birth families.”

The Network’s website also includes evaluation reports and plans for the model’s roll-out across the country.

In addition to this initiative, the Department for Education said it would allocate £84 million to new projects in 18 council areas which would “support vulnerable children coping with chaotic home lives as a result of their parents’ problems with mental health, domestic violence or addiction.” And, that the projects would “reaffirm the core principle of the Children Act 1989 that where possible, children are best brought up with their parents.”

No further details about how the Department intends to achieve this are included in the statement.

mockingbird_family_model_logo

 

Children in Care Want to see More “Love, Respect and Recognition” – Conference

The first ever conference dedicated specially to children who have experienced the care system has published its report on the event, and it is a must-read for anyone working with children.

The Care Experienced Conference, which is chaired by Ian Dickson, a retired social worker and former Ofsted inspector who grew up in care and now advocates for children’s rights, took place in April and offered 20 workshops touching on a broad range of subjects nominated by care experienced people.

There were 141 care experienced people at the conference ranging from 14 to 82 years old, and attendees came from all walks of life.

The conference also featured outstanding artwork by individuals who have been in care, and many of the pieces are deeply moving. You can see the artwork here.

The conference group has published two documents, one being a summary report on the event and the other being a research report.

We have not had the chance to read the research report yet, but we will as soon as we get the chance. The summary offers quotes about experiences inside the care system shared by people of all ages, and while the sentiments are well known to most of us who have been campaigning to raise awareness around these issues it is wonderful that there is now a conference to represent children inside the system.

Some of the quotes will also be loaded with meaning for some. For example, this one:

“Bin bags.”

This refers to the way in which children’s belongings are ‘packed up’ when they are sent to a placement. They have to carry their possessions around in a plastic bin liner.

The summary also offers a list of the top ten messages delivered at the conference:

CEC1

Unsurprisingly, the biggest takeaways from the conference were that children in care needed to feel loved, and that the system had failed entirely to provide the nurturing children need.

One of the other important aspects about this summary report is that it includes the names of the core working group for the conference, and the many individuals and organisations who supported the event.

While Researching Reform doesn’t know everyone on those lists, the names we did recognise were all professionals we would call “the good guys” inside the sector, including Ian Dickson, who we have known for some time through the social media platform Twitter.

They are men and women who champion children and believe in pure social work, which places the needs of every child above any other aspect inside the system. These are individuals worth following.

Useful links:

Conference Home Page

Summary Report

Research Report

You can catch Ian on Twitter @IDickson258.

Screenshot 2019-10-04 at 09.20.25

Important Family Law Cases This Week

We thought we would start sharing family law judgments more regularly, as they are still being published for the public and offer important insights into how the family courts work.

They also highlight the flaws inside the system, and many of these judgments are made public by family law judges to raise awareness around poor and unethical practice, as well as law-breaking by child protection professionals.

The first judgment stems from a case in which the father had been controlling and manipulative to an extent that the mother had been completely ostracised from her children’s lives.

The children also said that the mother had hit them and had acted in a cruel and abusive manner towards them.

The court found the father’s evidence unhelpful and dishonest, and sought to rehabilitate the children with their mother.

The presiding judge was the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFargone (real name McFarlane), who concluded that while the mother had hit the children, the assaults had not caused them significant harm.

This site remains deeply troubled by the judge’s view that the children’s feelings about the verbal and physical abuse they experienced by their mother did not justify more concern, and caution. We hope that this will be taken into account at the next hearing in which contact with the mother will be decided.

You can read the full judgment on BAILII

The second judgment looked at whether parents had the right to consent to living arrangements for a 16 or 17-year-old child which would otherwise be a deprivation of liberty within the meaning of article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), in situations where the child lacks the mental capacity to make the decision for himself  or herself.

Lady Hale concluded that parental responsibility for a child of 16 or 17 years of age did not extend to “authorising the confinement of a child in circumstances which would otherwise amount to a deprivation of liberty.”

Disagreeing with this view, Lord Carnwath (supported by Lord Lloyd-Jones) saw nothing in the Mental Capacity Act 2005 which detracted from the common law principle or from the definition of ‘parental responsibility’ in the Children Act 1989.

The UK Supreme Court offers a very helpful bundle for this case, including the judgment, a summary and hearing details.

Family Law Cases RR.png

Journalists Overtake Family Judges in Transparency Drive

The number of published family law judgments which are made available to the public has decreased since 2015, but the media is picking up the slack, and bringing more cases to an international audience.

Research by family law blogger John Bolch suggests that the number of published judgments for family law cases are diminishing year-on-year, after an initial spike in publications which took place shortly after guidance was issued on transparency in 2014 by the then President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby.

According to John, there were 734 published judgments in 2013, 773 published judgments in 2014, 575 in 2016, 501 in 2017, 473 in 2018, and 444 in 2019 so far.

In his post, John claims that the decrease in published family law judgments is down to a lack of enthusiasm by the judiciary, and that the “experiment” as he puts it, has failed. He also takes the view that the judgments have not helped the public to understand the issues or the family courts any better, because the public continues to view the system sceptically.

We do not agree with any of this logic.

The number of judgments has dropped because judges don’t have the time to write them, and perhaps, because judges might not always be sure that their reasoning is sound.

The public have engaged deeply with these cases and their scepticism remains, and we would say has increased because they have come to the conclusion, like those of us campaigning for change, that the system is not fit for purpose.

And while judges may not be able to write judgments for the public, both national and international media have increased their reporting of family law related cases, with some even dedicating entire sections to the subject, like The Independent, The Guardian and The Law Gazette.

The Transparency Guidance paved the way for insight into the family courts and allowed the world to see how judgments were made. Most importantly, it gave journalists the ability to report on stories that mattered.

That appetite for reporting has not waned, with family cases often making the headlines. As children continue to take center stage in politics, law and human rights, that appetite is only set to increase.

Many thanks to Dana for alerting us to John’s post.

Emoji Judge

Foster Carers Call For Ban on Child Contact With Biological Parents

A study by the Centre of Excellence in Child Trauma (CoECT) has concluded that hundreds of children are being taken to see their biological parents by unwilling foster carers who say that contact is damaging the children and should be stopped.

The survey follows a backlash by carers who want to see a total ban on contact with biological parents.

According to the survey, which received 1,125 responses from parents who have adopted, fostered, or cared for children, 53 percent of carers polled “had to take” their child to see a biological parent.

A further 85% of parents believed it should be illegal for biological parents to be guaranteed contact time. (We are not sure what “guaranteed” means in this context).

There are several concerns with this study (which does not seem to be available on the CoEct site).

The survey calls biological parents who have lost their children to the care system “abusive parents”, without defining what abusive means, and fails to make any distinction between children living in homes where the parents are struggling with poverty, subjected to domestic violence or experiencing direct emotional and physical harm.

It’s a shoddy survey. And it gets worse.

Sarah Naish, who is the CEO and founder of CoECT, a former social worker and a parent of five adopted siblings compared all biological parents to rapists in an interview with The Telegraph today:

“You would not expect to meet your rapist once a month for a cup of tea, so why do we force children to keep seeing their abusers?

“Looking at the poll alone, this is evidence that over 500 children have been marched back to visit their abusers, which is an absolute disgrace. From the stories I hear on a daily basis this is the tip of the iceberg and something needs to be done.

“This should be regarded as one of the biggest scandals that still exists in the British legal system today. The legal view that contact with parents is beneficial to a child’s welfare becomes absolutely ridiculous when that parent is the one that abused them.

“The parents I speak to dedicate their entire beings to try and heal the children they have to care for, only for them to be the adult that has to march their child back to the person that abused them.

“The government needs to take action on this and ban parents that have abused their children from having contact with them.”

Naish is also the founder of the National Association of Therapeutic Parenting, which offers paid for courses, workshops and training for carers.

It is also not clear from the survey whether the respondents were all pooled from Ms. Naish’s association.

And the survey itself is not new, having been announced initially in August, where the alleged findings from this survey seemed to focus not on a ban on contact with biological parents but an effort to get the government to offer more therapeutic support, like the courses Ms. Naish offers, for carers.

While it may be inconvenient for foster carers to have to facilitate contact with biological parents, it is being recognised as an important element in a cared-for child’s life, as a growing body of research tells us very clearly that many of these children don’t want to lose that connection and that the loss of it can lead to children suffering emotional and psychological harm throughout their adult lives.

In situations where a child genuinely doesn’t want to see a parent at a particular time, or during a particular period in their childhoods, that should be respected, but that should not include a complete lack of engagement from the foster carers with the biological parents. That connection must be kept alive for the child, throughout their childhood, even if it is done behind the scenes.

For those few children who have parents that are violent, or unable to engage with them without causing them harm, contact is clearly not a good idea, but the vast majority of child protection cases don’t involve extreme violence or emotional harm.

As of March 2018, there are 55,200 children living with foster families. The alleged ‘hundreds’ of children meeting with their biological parents is a small percentage compared to this figure.

The latest figures which include all forms of care, put the number of looked after children at 75,420. It’s a stat that has continued to rise over the last thirty years, without any explanation for the increase being offered by child protection professionals.

The piece by The Telegraph is inflammatory and we would advise that parents who have children in care and are feeling emotional at this time, not read it. For those who feel comfortable doing so, the sensationalist piece can be read here.

We reached out to CoECT on Twitter and via email to ask for a copy of the survey. We did not receive a response.

UPDATE

We received an email from CoECT on 10th October about our request for access to their survey. This is all they offered:

Hi Natasha,

Many thanks for your email Please see the survey results below.

Abusive contact

Are you looking after, or have you looked after, a child who was forced to have contact with a parent or other adult who had abused them?
53% YES
47% NO
Do you think it should be illegal for parents who have been abusive to their children to still be guaranteed contact time?
85% YES
15% NO

Adoption 7

Company of Former PM’s Husband Gets UK Licence For Cannabis Medication

GW Pharmaceuticals has been given the green light by European regulators to produce a cannabis-based medication to treat severe forms of childhood epilepsy in the UK and Europe.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May’s husband Philip May’s company, Capital Group, owns a significant share in GW, which is one of the biggest cultivators of cannabis in the world. Capital Group also has interests in BAE systems and Lockheed Martin.

The approval is the first of its kind for the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

However, Epidiolex has not been approved for use by the NHS over concerns around its effectiveness but will be available privately, which could drive up the price of the medication for families in need.

GW says it is also working towards getting approval for NHS use.

The medication does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), an element of cannabis which some parents with children suffering from epilepsy say is the ingredient that helps the most.

While this site is for the legalisation of cannabis, the timeline in which this medication was produced and the agents involved leave us feeling deeply concerned.

Our investigation into GW’s production of Epidiolex last June raised some serious questions about whether the former Prime Minister’s husband had used his political connections to stave off competition in the UK from other pharmaceutical companies by keeping the ban on cannabis medication in place until GW was able to produce its own medication, and then seek approval for the product by the EMA, completely unhindered by a competing product.

The promotion of Victoria Atkins to a senior ministerial position at the Home Office despite minimal experience also coincided with GW’s efforts at getting its medication on the market in the UK. Ms. Atkins’ husband owns British Sugar – The company that produces the main ingredient GW uses for its cannabis medication.

If Mr. May did use his connections in government to stave off competition and keep the UK’s cannabis medication ban in place in order to do so, he would also have placed the lives of several children at risk, who need this medication to stop their seizures. Blocking competition and insider dealing are also illegal.

You can see a timeline of events below:

2016 – Theresa May wins the general election
May’s husband’s company owns a significant share in the world’s largest producer of cannabis, GW Pharmaceuticals
2017 – Victoria Atkins Becomes Parliamentary Under Secretary – despite almost no government experience 
Atkins’ husband owns British Sugar – The company that produces the main ingredient GW uses for its cannabis medication
2018 – Atkins Is Promoted To Home Office Minister
June 2018 – The Home Office seize cannabis medication from a child at the airport, and then return it after the press are alerted to the story
16 June 2018 – The Home Office starts to make exceptions for children who need cannabis oil to treat epilepsy
25 June 2018 – GW Pharmaceuticals announces the FDA has approved cannabis medication it has made, to treat childhood epilepsy
September 2019 – GW Pharmaceuticals’ cannabis medication is approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA)

cannabidiol

 

Denying Children Access to Their Parents Violates Right to Family Life – Harriet Harman MP

An important, and potentially groundbreaking report, has been published by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which argues that children should not be separated from mothers who are sent to prison – because that separation violates the right to family life.

The conclusion in the report follows a landmark case in the European Court of Human Rights which found that a forced (non consensual adoption) had also violated a child and mother’s right to family life.

Harriet Harman MP, who is the Chair of the human rights committee told Politics Home that imprisoned mothers should not be separated from their children, because the effects of that separation are life-long and deeply damaging to children. The report suggests creating legislation which requires judges in criminal courts to consider the best interests of children whose parents are being tried for crimes.

She went on to say, “The Right to Family Life, set out in article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, states that “Everyone has a right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence”. It is this right that is violated when a child loses their mother to imprisonment.”

That same logic must be applied to children who are forcibly removed from their parents during child protection proceedings, and who arguably may be separated from their parents for their entire childhoods, not just a few months, or years.

While this site is not arguing that children should remain in homes where their lives and wellbeing are at risk, we are advocating for more intelligent forms of child protection policy which understand that removing a child from a parent – particularly without parental consent – is a direct violation of a child’s right to family life, and that there are far better ways of addressing welfare problems than outright separation.

This is hugely significant in the case of adopted children, who like children of parents sent to prison, suffer similar setbacks as a result of family separation.

It is not a coincidence that a large percentage of adopted children seek out their birth parents at some point in their lives. This reality must be acknowledged and understood as an important phenomenon and a deeply damaging effect of removal.

If children of parents who have committed crimes can be allowed to have contact with their parents, the same must be allowed for children who are removed from their families during child protection proceedings.

The myth that parents who have children taken from them inside the family courts are evil or without any love for their children also has to be addressed. In the ten years we have been assisting parents, most of the cases we come across involve parents in need of support – support which would make it very easy for these parents to keep their children at home.

Will the government acknowledge that child protection policy also needs to be reviewed?

You can access the Committee’s report here.