Iranian Toddlers Are Used to Sell Drugs Inside Prisons, Charity Says

For our piece over on Kayhan Life this week, we have chosen to write about a phenomenon which has received virtually no coverage from media outlets around the world. To address this, we are sharing the story on this site as we feel the development is very important.

President of Children of Imprisoned Parents International (COIPI), Hamed Farmand said his organisation had received reports of toddlers living inside Iran’s prisons being used by drug dealers to coerce their mothers into buying and taking narcotics. Female prisoners make up the majority of offenders with addictions in Iran’s jails, making them lucrative targets for drug dealers serving their own sentences.

Some inmates are also torturing toddlers and babies in a bid to force mothers into buying drugs. The state of Iran’s prisons have come under fire from Iran’s ministers, international charities and the UK Home Office.

You can read the article here.

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A mother with her child in a prison cell in Iran.

In The News

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

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Top Judge: Law Has Trouble Viewing Children As Real People

In a speech prepared for the Society of Legal Scholars Centenary Lecture, Supreme Court Judge Baroness Hale said that the law still found it difficult to view children as real people.

The lecture took place in November and was held at the University of Essex, however a transcript of the speech has only just been made available on the Supreme Court’s website. The speech, entitled “All Human Beings? Reflections on the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights” looks at how the law views children and how human rights legislation should be challenging those perceptions. Lady Hale also considers how the law affects people with disabilities.

In her speech, Lady Hale offers two examples of how the law fails to treat children as human beings. The first example relates to the language the law uses to describe children. Lady Hale says:

“We still find a child referred to as ‘it’ in legislation, law reports and learned legal publications. As Michael Freeman has written, ‘calling a child an “it” gives the game away. It constitutes the textual abuse of childhood in the English-speaking world . . . the word dehumanises the person who is the subject of these proceedings.”

The second example she offers looks at the way court judgments identify children in proceedings through the use of initials, but offers thought-provoking observations on getting the balance right in this context:

“In the interests of anonymity, we insist on referring to children in judgments by soulless initials, such as T, rather than as real people. So I always try and refer to a child by a plausible name, even though not her own… Julia Brophy’s research-based ‘do’s and don’ts’ for judges anonymising judgments contains the following… ‘some children do not like the use of pseudonyms and such practices can present problems for some minority ethnic families.’ The answer, I think, is to consult the children (if old enough) or their families about how they would like to be named.

Lady Hale goes on to talk about the best interests of the child and how the idea has been interpreted throughout the years, current obstacles to implementing laws that would bolster child welfare, the distinction between ‘welfare’ and ‘best interests’ (Lady Hale explains that children’s best interests are wider in scope than welfare) and mental capacity.

The speech is very much a worth a read.

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Question it!

Welcome to another week.

The President of The Family Division, Andrew McFarlane, said in his first View From The President’s Chambers that the system would have to cut corners in order to keep going amid budget cuts and increased workloads. McFarlane used his first report as President to highlight his concerns for the wellbeing of social workers, lawyers, judges and court staff in the family courts.

McFarlane said that cutting corners could include increasing the time limit on care proceedings which is set at 26 weeks (the current average completion time is 30 weeks), shortening the working hours of the family courts and reducing the length of Position Statements so that they are initially not more than one side of A4.

The President’s green light to draw out family law cases comes at a time when families are reporting increased levels of mental illness during family proceedings, with some saying that protracted hearings are re-traumatising parents and leading to mental health conditions like PTSD.

It is not clear whether the views expressed in the President’s View are in breach of human rights legislation and the Children Act 1989.

Our question this week then, is this: does the Family Court President ever have a right to allow the cutting of corners in child welfare cases?

Questions

 

 

 

Interesting Things

ACEs Connection, a social network that helps communities develop the global Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) science movement has launched a new campaign called #AMillionVoicesToEndHitting #UseYours. The campaign is supported by The US Alliance to End the Hitting of Children, the NY Foundling Institute, the American Professional Society of Abuse of Children, StopSpanking.org. 

The campaign also includes a video which features adults and children talking about corporal punishment.

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Another new campaign launched this week aims to end violence in schools so that children can learn without fear. The campaign, which is called #SafetoLearn has been organised by The Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children and has already led to Sierra Leone’s Minister of Education Alpha O Timbo endorsing the Call to Action and committing to making all schools safe. The Partnership has offered some further reading on the subject, including a UNESCO report called “Behind the numbers: ending school violence and bullying”, and the Partnership’s latest report on corporal punishment around the world.

 

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Health Body Invites Care Experienced People To Join Committee

The National Institute For Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is hoping to recruit care experienced individuals to join its Looked-after children and young people Committee.

NICE, which publishes guidelines for health technologies, clinical practice, public sector health workers and social care services, is looking for people aged 16 years and up who have personal experience of using health or care services. The committee has been set up to revise NICE’s guidance on looked-after children and young people, which was last updated in 2015.

There are four positions open for what NICE calls lay members of the committee:

  • 2 care leavers aged between 18-25
  • 1 foster carer
  • 1 young person aged between 16-18 with experience of care

NICE’s website explains that it is looking for people with an understanding of looked-after children and young people and the issues which are important to them. This experience can be gained through personal experience of receiving care, personal experience of leaving care, or as a foster carer within the last 2 years.

The role will involve attending committee meetings, taking part in discussions to shape the guidance, reading committee papers, commenting on documents between meetings and keeping the committee’s work confidential.

Selected members will be required to ensure that the views, experiences and interests of children and young people who use social care services are taken into account by the committee, identify areas of concern for children and young people using social care services and review topic information and draft guidance from a children and young person’s perspective.

Travel expenses are offered at a maximum of £20 per day,  with attendance payments set at £150 per full-day meeting (four hours or longer)  and £75 per half-day meeting (shorter than four hours). If you are applying for this position, please confirm payment with the team beforehand.

The page featuring the current guidance on looked-after children and young people includes:

Full details including application forms, role description and information about the committee and the position can be found here.

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UK Family Courts Are Harming Children’s and Parent’s Mental Health

Complaints by families that their mental health is being badly affected by the way Britain’s family courts handles child protection and divorce proceedings are growing.

A rising number of service users on social media sites are reporting heightened levels of anxiety, depression and symptoms similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Some parents are also being diagnosed by counsellors and psychiatrists with mental health conditions including PTSD, which have come about during the Family Court’s handling of their cases.

Failures by councils, lawyers and police to properly investigate abuse and organise support early on are also causing concern. A new suit filed against a UK council makes several allegations about the local authority’s handling of a public family law case, including failings around providing the applicant parent with proper psychiatric support. The parent, who was a victim of domestic violence, was also not made aware of their right to obtain occupation and non-molestation orders, leaving them vulnerable to further harm. The claim says the parent’s mental health was further aggravated by poor social work assessments filled with dangerous inaccuracies, and a psychiatrist’s report which was based on too brief a session to be able to come to any meaningful conclusions about the parent’s suitability to take care of their child.

The system’s less than robust framework and highly variable professional standards across the country are particularly dangerous in light of the serious nature of child protection cases.

One vulnerable mother who saw a psychologist after her mental health deteriorated during a child protection investigation was noted to have been re-traumatised by the process. The psychologist stated in their report that the damage could have stemmed from forced therapy sessions and prolonged trauma associated with lengthy social work investigations which took place over a period of several years.

Not all families feel they can seek external help when child protection proceedings affect their mental health. Some parents are choosing not to reach out for support when they feel overwhelmed, claiming that the culture inside the system blocks families from being pro-active and protecting their health. Several domestic abuse survivors have told this site that when they started to feel mild symptoms of depression as a result of controlling behaviour by a partner, they became fearful that councils would use the request for support as an excuse to remove their children from them and place their child with the abusive parent. The perceived threat of removal in these cases is leaving a significant number of vulnerable parents without the mental health support they need and crucially, allowing their symptoms to get worse over time.

One mother told this site, “I don’t dare to seek help, as SS [social services] may use my mild depression and anxiety caused by coercive control as a reason to take my child and give him to my abuser.”

Being wrongly accused of abuse and experiencing the wrongful removal of a child can also be hugely damaging to parents’ mental health. While investigations are important and the need to establish whether a child is being harmed or is in danger is not in dispute, the current processes and policies around these assessments are primitive and often amount to emotional abuse.

Parents are being routinely accused of domestic abuse without any tangible evidence, often only through hearsay and a social worker’s personal preference for a parent. One mother we spoke to who is currently undergoing a child protection investigation told us that social workers were initially unable to find a reason to remove her child but seemed determined to make a care order. After months of acute bullying, which included forcing the mother to take her son to a pre-adoption medical examination, the social workers in her case changed tack and claimed that her oldest son who has Asperger’s was a danger to her younger child after her eldest experienced an episode. The council then applied for an adoption order. The protracted ordeal left the vulnerable mother, who had previously managed her pre-existing mental health conditions successfully, feeling so mentally unstable that she had to start taking her anxiety medications regularly again. She told Researching Reform, “I do feel the courts and LA [Local Authority] make the parents in this process subhuman. At times, they are even abusive themselves.”

There are also serious concerns around social workers not being able to distinguish between pre-existing mental health conditions and court-process induced mental health illnesses. That confusion is so embedded inside the system that parents now suspect social workers of using the onset of poor mental health during proceedings as a quick and cost-effective way of removing children from parents rather than offering support and assistance.

Parents are often left to deal with heightened mental illness on their own after child protection proceedings. Some parents never fully recover from the unforgiving and impersonal family court process, while some try to find ways to cope with the legacy of a legal system that has yet to modernise.

As one parent explained, “The trauma doesn’t go away, there are always triggers. But I’ll pull myself back, I always do.”

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In The News

Welcome to another week.

As some of our readers noticed last week, we accidentally published a draft story we were still working on. As of this morning we are still gathering information, so please bear with us as we finalise the piece.

In the meantime, these are the news items that should be right on your radar:

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Government Holds Children’s Social Care Debate IN SECRET.

A government debate on children’s social care hosted by the Backbench Business Committee took place yesterday. In an unusual move, the Committee did not send out details about the public event before it was held in the House of Commons.

The debate which was sponsored by Tim Loughton MP and initially scheduled to take place in October, was quietly cancelled last year without notice after thousands of parents across the UK expressed interest in the discussion. Some families had set aside funds to travel down to the event, while others had arranged to take the day off work at personal expense to attend. Backbench Committee debates are open to the public. Families across the country reacted to the cancellation with disappointment, while some parents criticised the government for what they felt was a cowardly decision

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We asked Tim for a further update on the event in November, but did not receive a response. The children’s social care debate which took place on 17 January first came to this site’s attention this morning, after seeing a tweet by Labour MP, Emma Lewell-Buck which featured a video clip of her speaking at the event. Unlike the original discussion set to take place in October, the debate held yesterday afternoon did not feature in any of the Backbench Committee’s email updates.

The committee also failed to provide timely and detailed information about the event through its own dedicated page on the Parliament website, choosing this time round to publish only the bare minimum on a sub-page of a Research Briefings section within the site just two days before the event. The page does not offer any information on the time-slot for the debate, who is hosting it, where it will be held in the Commons or when a transcript of the discussion might be available. The only information offered is a summary report on children’s social care. 

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The debate was opened by Tim Loughton MP and started at around 3pm. Discussions went on for two hours, ending at 5pm. MPs who took part included Parliamentary Under Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, Emma Lewell-Buck, Alex Burghart, Karen Lee, Lyn Brown, Vicky Ford, Laura Smith, Mohammad Yasin and Luke Pollard. You can watch the discussion on Parliament TV. 

The transcript of the debate is also available in Hansard.

Many thanks to Michael Roberts for sharing the link to the debate on Parliament TV.

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