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

New law proposes whole-life sentences for extreme child cruelty cases

A proposed amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, would allow judges to hand down whole-life sentences for perpetrators of the worst forms of child cruelty.

The proposal, raised by Tonbridge and Malling MP Tom Tugendhat, follows a campaign by the adoptive parents of 6-year-old Tony Hudgell, whose birth parents had inflicted such severe physical injuries that he was left fighting for his life, and subsequently lost both of his legs.

Tony came to the media’s attention after he collected more than £1.3 million for Evelina Children’s Hospital, walking 10 kilometres to raise the money.

The perpetrators were only sentenced to ten years in prison for their abuse, the maximum sentence available under current guidelines.

The legal proposal, which is called “Tony’s Law”, was first introduced in 2019, and seeks to amend section five of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004, to raise the maximum sentences for causing or allowing a child or vulnerable adult to suffer serious injury or death to 14 years for the ‘serious injury’ offence, and life for death.

Speaking in Parliament last September, Tugendhat said, “Tony’s law aims to send the message that we cannot and will not tolerate severe offences committed against the most vulnerable among us, that although they are not old enough to vote or stand for Parliament, still their life and safety matter as much as that of an adult.”

In the same month, the government introduced whole-life orders (WLO) for individuals found guilty of killing children. The sentence can be handed down for the most serious cases of murder. Judges will also be able to impose WLOs on 18-20 year olds in exceptional cases involving mass loss of life, such as terror attacks.

Tugendhat said he would be raising Tony’s Law in Parliament this week, to ensure the amendment makes it in to the policing bill.

The Buzz

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

  • Children in care: Government sets out proposed national standards for unregulated accommodation
  • Research: Placing children for ‘welfare’ and ‘justice’ reasons together in secure children’s homes
  • Research: Supporting SEND: a summary for children and young people

Question It!

Welcome to another week.

As the government considers vaccinating secondary school pupils against Covid-19 in September, debate rages on about whether children should be given the jab.

Some experts say that children do not need the jab as current research suggests that children are less at risk of infection, and should not be immunised purely on moral grounds – to shield the adult population from infection. Vaccine sceptics have also raised concerns about the safety of the vaccines available.

Other experts say children are just as vulnerable to the virus as adults, and that new data from countries like Brazil show that babies and children are dying at unusually high rates in the country due to Covid-19, as a suspected new variant of the virus takes hold.

Our question this week then, is just this: do you think children should be vaccinated against Covid-19?

Additional links:

Parliament to debate UK child food poverty after petition tops one million signatures

UPDATE: There is still some confusion around the date, time and details of this debate, with the Commons Library now suggesting the discussion will take place on Wednesday 26 May, from 2.30pm, and will be hosted by Catherine West MP.

A petition urging the government to end child food poverty in the UK will be debated in Parliament, after it gathered more than one million signatures.

The Parliament UK petition, launched by footballer and child welfare campaigner Marcus Rashford, asks the government to implement three recommendations from the National Food Strategy to expand access to Free School Meals; provide meals and activities during school holidays; and increase the value of and expand the Healthy Start scheme.

The petition forms part of Rashford’s End Child Food Poverty campaign, which aims to ensure that no child in Britain goes without food.

The House of Commons debate, ‘Support for children entitled to free school meals’, has been tabled by Labour politician Catherine West MP who is Member of Parliament for Hornsey and Wood Green, and is scheduled for Wednesday 26 May, 2021 from 2.30pm.

The House of Commons library will publish a briefing paper for the event as soon as it is available, which can be accessed here.

The debate can be watched on the UK Parliament YouTube channel.

Father’s parental responsibility severed by family court judge

In a rare case, the family court agreed to remove a father’s parental responsibility and allow the child to change their surname and terminate any contact, following the father’s convictions for sexual abuse of his daughter, and receiving a caution for harassing the mother.

The latest hearings for the case took place on 19 April, 2021 and the judgment was handed down by Mr Justice MacDonald.

There is a very good summary of the case on Lexis Nexis, by Monifa Walters-Thompson, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers, an extract of which we’re adding below:

“In D v E the father had been cautioned for harassment against the mother and convicted for sexual offences against a child. The child he had abused sought help, and he had made threats against her when he found out she had reported the crimes.

Around that same time period he punched and used a car to harm another female victim. At the time of the hearing in these proceedings, the father still denied the offences and made excuses for his sexual offending. Further, he breached his sexual harm prevention orders on two occasions, on one occasion allowing a child under 16 to be present at his home address. In 2019 the father sent threats to a female victim and advertised on Facebook seeking someone to harm to an ex-partner. He was unable to articulate why this was wrong.

The probation service noted that he was a risk to children and intimate partners, in particular children from 13 to 15 years of age. The specific risk was sexual grooming, dependent on the extent to which the father could exercise power over the child. In relation to partners, the primary risk was at the end of the relationship, giving rise to potential for serious harm. This father had not provided any evidence to suggest he had engaged in therapeutic or other work to reduce the risks.

The court also considered that the child had no relationship or recollection of her father, due to the mother terminating contact in 2015 on the advice of the local authority when the father was arrested for sexual offences. The child had never used the father’s surname and it was unknown to her, despite it being on her birth certificate. The father’s inaction was also a significant factor in the face of the application. Despite saying he opposed the applications, he did not file evidence or make any applications of his own.

When taking these matters together, it is not hard to see why the court made the draconian orders it did. It would be difficult to see how it would be in this child’s best interests to begin a relationship with her father in these circumstances. In a less ‘one-sided’ case, these applications would be much more of a struggle.”

You can follow Monifa on Twitter at @MWTFamilyLaw.

You can read the judgment in full here.

The Buzz

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

Many thanks to TumTum for alerting us to the first item.

Temporary guidance issued for domestic abuse perpetrator programmes

Welcome to another week.

A backlog of family law cases at the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) has led the organisation to issue interim guidance for cases involving the provision of Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programmes (DAPPs).

In its update on the matter, Cafcass said it had considered the development of remote DAPPs, but said there had been a lack of evidence to support the adoption of a remote model. As a result, Cafcass has issued a temporary process to be applied in England, which has been agreed by the president of the Family Division.

The temporary process features the following actions:

  1. New temporary guidance to support Family Court Advisers when making recommendations progressing cases in the current context where DAPP provision is severely limited, to take immediate effect.
  2. A small, dedicated team has been launched by Cafcass to review the circumstances of families for whom a DAPP has been ordered, but not yet completed, prioritising first those for whom a DAPP has not yet commenced.  These case reviews will involve a Family Court Adviser reviewing the child’s file, speaking with adults and children to re-assess the current risks and options, taking account of the new guidance.   The child will be given the opportunity to write to the court explaining the impact for them and their wishes and feelings.
  3. For cases that have been reviewed, Cafcass will request the court’s permission to file a further report, and there may need to be a further hearing to consider this. These reports may recommend either:
    • that the case remains on the waiting list as no safe and beneficial arrangements for time with the child are possible without this provision, with appropriate ongoing oversight including a process of monthly review; or
    • that the application to court for the existing order for a DAPP can be discharged and an alternative plan (informed by the reassessment) can be put in place: this could be a final order of no contact, a final order for contact with a safety plan and other provision, or an interim order for ‘a step-by-step approach to the progression of contact arrangements’, with a further review and an addendum ordered. From 1 May 2021, Child Contact Interventions commissioned by Cafcass on behalf of the Ministry of Justice were replaced with the new Improving Child and Family Arrangements (ICFA) service.  The ICFA service is designed to be a more tailored and less prescriptive approach to meet the needs of individual children and their families.
  4. In areas where there is capacity to commence new individuals in face-to-face DAPP programmes, families identified at 3a above will take priority, under new arrangements for oversight, which are currently being developed.  Cafcass will only start making referral recommendations in reports for new cases once those families with delayed proceedings have been able to progress, unless a DAPP is seen to be the most suitable option. In this situation, the family will be added to the DAPP waiting list.

You can access the interim guidance here.

Workshop: disabled mums and our children

An online workshop launched by community group WinVisible will offer disabled parents information on their right to Care Act support, and how the group is tackling the discrimination of disabled mothers by social services and the family courts.

Winvisible is a multi-racial community group of women with visible and invisible disabilities, who offer one another support and information on a range of issues such as benefits, accessing health, transport and support services, home care charges and fighting discrimination.

The event, entitled Disabled mums and our children — our rights to support not separation, features the following keynote speakers and topics:

• Proud to be a disabled mum: The right to have children and family life – Nicole Als

• The struggle for support to care for our children: Why are disabled mums investigated under “child protection” when we ask for the support we are entitled to? – Ms X

• Being deaf is used against us in council and court proceedings – Asha Nauth, Deaf Ethnic Women’s Association

• Disabled mums and children against forced adoption – Jean Eveleigh

• Mums with mental distress versus violent ex-partners given custody – Ms Y

• Introducing the Disabled Mothers’ Rights campaign – Tracey Norton, Support Not Separation and WinVisible

This Zoom conference offers BSL/English interpretation and live speech-to-text on Streamtext.

The event takes place on Wednesday 19 May 2021, from 13:30 – 15:30 BST.

You can register to attend using the workshop’s Eventbrite page.

Further links:

Many thanks to Support Not Separation for alerting us to this event.