We asked Parents and Children to describe the Family Courts in one word. This is what they said.

In a post published on 15th July, we asked parents, extended family members and children with experience of the family courts to tell us what they thought of the family justice system, in one word.

We gathered the responses, which were submitted to the website and our Twitter and Facebook pages, and they make for bleak reading.

These are the words people used to describe their perception of the family courts in England and Wales:

  • Non-evidence (based)
  • Unjust
  • Oppressive
  • Draconian
  • Inconsistent
  • Dishonest
  • Brutal
  • Inhumane
  • Cabal
  • Unacceptable
  • Unethical
  • Dangerous
  • Lazy
  • Diabolic
  • Shambolic
  • Self-serving
  • Disgraceful
  • Abusive
  • Abhorrent
  • Traffickers
  • Inadequate
  • Corrupt
  • Kakistocrats
  • Blind
  • Incompetent
  • Catastrophic
  • Useless
  • Criminal

This list is more than just a series of criticisms, it offers much-needed insight into how the system makes people feel, which is hugely significant.

While not everyone inside the system is guilty of poor practice, we hope that policy makers, judges and child welfare professionals will use this list as critical feedback and start to think about the ways in which the system can be improved in a meaningful way.

The UK’s family courts have come under scrutiny for the last decade for its poor handling of family cases, wide variations in the quality of support and services on offer and widespread unethical behaviour inside councils, courts and medical professionals’ practices.

The nation’s independent inquiry into child sexual abuse has also exposed deeply alarming levels of child abuse at the hands of child welfare professionals inside the system.

Add a heading

 

The Buzz

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

Buzz

Forced Adoption Podcast – Researching Reform Speaks With Voices of Family Law

Researching Reform was very kindly invited to talk about the issues surrounding forced adoption in the UK, by Chloe Lee, a pupil barrister and the host of family law podcasts Voices of Family Law.

During the interview we spoke about the unique nature of adoption policy in the UK, the challenges the system faces in improving family intervention and cases we worked on involving forced adoption.

Chloe asked poignant questions about the ways in which forced adoption affects families and children, and the problems that irrevocable orders cause in the context of child development and parental health.

You can listen to the podcast here.

The podcast is part of a series looking at issues within the family justice system like adoption, transparency and access to justice. The series is an important addition to the growing conversation around family law and child welfare.

For those who use iPhones, you can also download the podcast and the entire series of interviews on Apple Podcasts.

Chloe is a Justice First Fellow at the Legal Education Foundation with a special interest in family law. She will be joining Spire Barristers as a pupil.

You can follow Chloe on Twitter @chloe_lee93 and her Voices of Family Law podcasts @VoicesofFamLaw.

A special thank you to Chloe for having us on her show, and we wish her lots of success with her projects.

Screenshot 2019-07-29 at 14.14.11

New Children’s Minister Appointed

Nadhim Zahawi has been replaced as Under Secretary for Children and Families in a government shakeup which follows Boris Johnson’s election as UK Prime Minister.

The new Children’s Minister is Kemi Badenoch, and she is the MP for Saffron Walden.

Kemi has been a member of Parliament for two years and backed Michael Gove’s recent Conservative leadership bid. She was a member of the London Assembly, the body which monitors the Mayor of London’s activities, and was a member of the London Assembly at the tail-end of Boris Johnson’s tenure as Mayor of London.

She has a background in IT and finance, which could mean that there may be a strong focus on big data and AI being implemented across the family justice system.

Her voting record in Parliament tells us that she voted for less central government funding for local authorities, and declined to vote on same-sex marriage and lifting the abortion ban in Northern Ireland.

While working at the Department for Education, Kemi will be overseeing several areas including special educational needs, safeguarding in schools, disadvantaged children, and social mobility.

Gavin Williamson is the new education secretary.

KB

 

Campaign To Help Reunite A Mother With Her Son

Legal Action for Women (LAW) is supporting a campaign to help a mother gain permission for her son to join her in the UK. Her son is alleged to be at risk of becoming a victim of honour killing after he helped his mother and sister escape domestic abuse.

We are adding the details from LAW below.

“Dear Friends,

Support not Separation is supporting this campaign for a member of the All African Women’s Group – a lesbian mum from Pakistan fighting to be reunited with her son. The immigration laws separate families but unlike the family courts there is nothing to stop public campaigning. One more reason why the family courts need to be open!

It would be great if you could write to the Home Office in support of Ms Mohammed (see link to template below) by 30 July. Please send a copy to the All African Women’s Group who will forward everything to Ms Mohammed in preparation for her Appeal Hearing in August.

Since the Home Secretary is no longer Sajid Javid but Priti Patel, we suggest sending emails with letters of support to this address: privateoffice.external@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk.

Remember to send a copy of your letter to the All African Women’s Group aawg02@gmail.com

Best wishes,

Anne & Cristel

Support Not Separation (Legal Action for Women)”

The template for writing to the Home Office has been made available here.

Screenshot 2019-07-26 at 10.12.14.png

Why campaigners are battling the UK’s adoption policy – Report

This month we wrote a piece on forced adoption for Apolitical, a global platform which features innovative ideas and solutions being considered by government.

In the piece we look at a dynamic form of family intervention where biological parents remain in close contact with their children wherever possible, while highly trained social workers ensure that children in need of extra support are properly cared for, through every stage of their childhood.

The piece includes interviews with two adoptees, now adults reflecting on their lives as adopted children, as well as groundbreaking research by Joe Smeeton, Director of Social Work Education at the University of Salford and Jo Ward.

You can read our piece for Apolitical, “Child health: Why campaigners are battling the UK’s adoption policy,” here.

The full interviews with adoptees Emma* and James*, are added below:

Emma:

“Charities such as Adoption UK do a lot of work to promote education around attachment between children and their parents or carers. Whilst this is helpful, it often approaches the issue of the attachment with the view that something traumatic has happened in the child’s life pre-adoption to cause the child to have difficulties in forming healthy relationships with caregivers and others.

The idea is usually that the trauma is to do with domestic violence, alcohol, drugs or neglect within the child’s pre-adoption family. However, this fails to recognise that the act of severing a child, either permanently or temporarily from their parents and family is, in itself, hugely traumatic for that child.

Many adoptees describe themselves and each other in relation to whether they are either in or out of “the fog”. The fog is a happy and comfortable place to be, where the adoptee sees their adoption as having had a wholly positive impact on their life and feels that it was necessary in order for them to reach certain goals, e.g. to have a good education, stable home life or get a good job.

The adoptive family who surrounds the adoptee will reinforce this view as it generally fits in with the views of the adoptive parents who feel that the adoption has been a “win, win”, with the child gaining adoptive parents and being removed from whatever problems the child’s family were facing.

Though I love my adoptive parents very much, I’m not sure if it’s a genuine love or a love which I developed through a need to survive. I was acutely aware that if I didn’t at least make efforts to try to fit in with biological strangers and play my role of daughter, there was every chance that I could be returned to foster care and be without the material and immediate advantages that adoption presented to me.

Although my adoptive parents were materially wealthy and offered me comforts such as my own bedroom and lovely family home, I suffered the stress of hiding my adoptive mother’s alcoholism from the world. Her drinking caused my adoptive father to become angry and perpetrate domestic violence upon my adoptive mum and I. It was frightening and scary, but after being told for so long that I’d been saved and needed to show gratitude for what I had, I felt I should make the best of the hand I had been dealt.

Knowing that speaking up to teachers or other adults about some of the horrors going on at home could mean that I would be removed from my adoptive family (the only family which I had a conscious memory of) felt like too much of a risk. Having already been removed (without conscious memory) from my own family at birth, loss was hugely frightening and I felt I had to hold on to my adoptive family with the tightest of grip, regardless of the difficulties we faced.

I am confident that my experience of abuse and neglect within my adoptive family is widespread. No families are immune from poverty, addiction or emotional difficulties. I knew from things my adoptive parents had said to me in the past (e.g. “why can’t you be more like your cousin?”) that they felt the pain of me not being biologically theirs and that I couldn’t replace the child they were unable to have, regardless of how hard I tried.

All of this makes me wonder why children’s hearings and social workers are keen to put the wheels in motion to move towards adoption in the modern day (e.g gradual reduction of contact with their families) when it serves no real or guaranteed long term benefit to the child.

Quite the opposite, the child is required to enter into a permanent, irreversible legal agreement to which they have no capacity to consent to (and to which their consent is not required). They are often required to grow up with people who (through lack of biological links) share no physical traits or characteristics. They lose a sense of self and sense of family history. They feel like flowers picked from the ground and placed into a vase – nice to look at for a while until they eventually wither, without their roots to feed and nurture them.”

James:

“How does adoption affect a very young kid, as I was? I joke sometimes about an abandonment syndrome, and I think there is something more to it than a joke. If I’d not known I was adopted, I’d really grapple with the nature / nurture debate as I had very little in common with my adoptive parents.”

We would like to thank Emma, James and Joe for their time and kindness in speaking with us, and a thank you to Apolitical for the opportunity to highlight the issues within non-consensual adoption.

*The adoptees’ names have been changed to protect their identities.

Screenshot 2019-07-24 at 10.35.37.png

 

House of Commons Releases Debate Pack For Youth Services Discussion

The House of Commons library has published a briefing paper for a debate on youth services in England, Wales and Scotland, being held in parliament today.

The pack is 23 pages long, and includes information on the statutory duties and responsibilities held by local authorities in relation to the provision of youth services; funding for these services; and the impact of reduced council budgets on youth services around the country.

Very interesting questions and comments around youth services asked in the House of Commons by MPs in July are a fascinating addition to this pack, which also confirmed that the Government would review its guidance on the statutory duty for local authorities to provide youth services.

The review was launched on 10th July. 

The questions also confirm that the Prime Minister’s knife crime task force has only met twice, and that the Home Office would be publishing draft guidance on the operation of Knife Crime Prevention Orders (KCPOs) for public consultation in the near future.

Here are some extracts:

Asked by: Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)

The Home Secretary really should be ashamed of himself. If he comes to a place such as Huddersfield and other towns in West Yorkshire, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) has just mentioned, he will find that it is about not only diverting young people from violence, gangs and crime, but tackling extremist views early on. If the Government dismantle local government youth services, they cannot just pass the responsibility across to community associations and think that is okay.

Answered by: Sajid Javid | Conservative Party | Department: Home Department

The hon. Gentleman should know that we have done a great deal since 2000 to support community projects, including youth community projects. I mentioned earlier the £63 million that we put into the “Building a Stronger Britain Together” programme. That is through the Home Office alone, but much more is going on through the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department for Education and local government. He mentions Huddersfield. Just last week, I had the pleasure of meeting a young man called Jamal, who was the victim of racism, a form of extremism, in the hon. Gentleman’s own constituency. I had the opportunity to welcome him to our great country and to tell him that what happened to him in Huddersfield in no way represents the people of our great nation.

Asked by: Lord Roberts of Llandudno | Party: Liberal Democrats

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support youth services working to deter young people from crime, and violent crime in particular.

Answering member: Lord Ashton of Hyde | Party: Conservative Party | Department: Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Youth services and their strategic partners provide crucial preventative and targeted interventions and are an important partner in the strategy to tackle serious violence. My Department allocated over £863m between 2014/15 and 2018/19 to youth programmes providing positive activities for young people.

The Home Office’s £200m Youth Endowment Fund will deliver a ten-year programme of grants enabling interventions targeted at those who are most at risk of involvement in crime and violence in England and Wales. This follows an investment of £22m by the Home Office between 2018/19 and 2019/20 through the Early Intervention Youth Fund to support community services which deter young people from violent crime.

Her Majesty’s Government will continue to work together closely to implement the Home Office’s Serious Violence Strategy.

You can watch the debate here. 

HCYS.png

Lords Push For Mandatory Reporting of Child Sexual Abuse

Welcome to another week.

Several high profile peers called on the government to introduce legislation that would make it compulsory for child welfare professionals to report suspicions of child abuse in a debate in the House of Lords.

The calls came during a discussion on the Victims of Crime (Rights, Entitlements, and Notification of Child Sexual Abuse) Bill, on 19 July, which was having its second reading.

The Bill contains a clause (clause 11), which places a statutory responsibility on “any person who works in a regulated profession or works with children in a regulated activity [to] make a notification… if, in the course of his or her work, they discover that a child appears to have been subject to an act of sexual abuse.”

The Bill could also be amended to place a duty on members of the clergy to report child abuse after the Archbishop of Canterbury told the nation’s child abuse inquiry that reporting by clergy should also be made compulsory.

The government dismissed proposals for legislation to make reporting mandatory after it carried out a consultation on the matter in 2016. The results of the consultation were published in 2018.

The Department of Education said that the majority of submissions it received argued against the idea of a mandatory duty to report. That was not the case.

Of the 768 responses it received, 12% wanted to implement a duty right away, while 63% were in favour of allowing the Government’s existing programme of reforms time to be implemented before considering additional statutory measures.

Ireland made reporting child sexual abuse mandatory in 2017. 

The debate in the Lords highlighted several important points. The first was that the consultation was carried out at a time when the government’s understanding of child abuse was not as great as it is now.

A growing body of research shows clearly that mandatory reporting does not interfere with the running of child protection agencies or bodies, nor does it cause harmful delays or increase costs inside the child protection system. We also know from the research that it can reduce instances of child abuse.

Calls for a mandatory duty to report during the discussion came from Baroness Brinton, the Bishop of Rochester, Lord Marks of Henley-On-Thames and Baroness Benjamin.

The debate also outlined significant findings by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) on the rise of child sexual abuse images online, particularly imagery involving girls between the ages of 11 and 13. Some of the data shared in the debate included the finding that from 1 January to 30 June, the IWF handled 22,484 reports of self-generated child sexual abuse content. Of those reports, 96% featured girls.

Although the minority of IWF reports included boys, we must not forget them. A study carried out by Interpol in 2018 found that while boys accounted for one third of child victims online, they were more likely than girls to suffer the worst kinds of child sexual abuse. 

While the peers didn’t look at this aspect of abuse in relation to boys, they chose instead to address the abuse boys suffered at the Peterborough and Southampton Football Clubs by football coach, Bob Higgins.

They also discussed the double jeopardy rule and how it affected child sexual abuse cases, making reference to a meeting with solicitor Dino Nocivelli, who is representing six of the football club abuse survivors. Dino launched a petition asking the government to remove the double jeopardy rule for all sexual offences.

This debate is a must read, for its advocacy on a compulsory duty to report – which Researching Reform fully supports – and for the very important information it contains.

Further reading:

legal duty to report child abuse