Question It!

Welcome to another week.

As a report detailing findings in relation to allegations that former Prime Minister Edward Heath was a paedophile is set to be published, confirmation that the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual abuse will be considering the report as part of its work, has emerged.

Operation Conifer, which was led by Wiltshire Police, was set up to look into the allegations and to explore ways to safeguard children and vulnerable adults who could be at risk of abuse today and, where possible, bring living offenders to justice.

Wiltshire Police’s statement reads:

“The operation commenced in August 2015, following an IPCC press release naming Sir Edward Heath as a suspect in an investigation into non-recent child sex abuse.

“Operation Conifer is investigating a number of separate allegations made by persons who have come forward. Two arrests have taken place in relation to Operation Conifer and, at this time, both remain on police bail. Due to the fact that this remains a live investigation it would not be appropriate for us to comment any further at this stage.

“A panel of independent experts outside of policing are providing ongoing scrutiny of the investigation to ensure its proportionality and justification. Furthermore, in line with recognised best practice, Wiltshire Police recently commissioned Operation Hydrant to undertake an independent review of the investigation to ensure its ongoing proportionality and justification.

“Further to the release of the Henriques review Wiltshire Police, in conjunction with the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs Council, will consider where relevant any national guidance and policy recommendations that may impact upon the ongoing Operation Conifer investigation.”

The Inquiry’s role in examining the report has, however, upset some survivors of abuse. The Inquiry has said that it will only be looking at how law enforcement agencies responding to allegations of sexual abuse. Survivors have expressed disappointment at this position, preferring to see the Inquiry use its powers to uncover new evidence rather than assess the appropriateness of government bodies’ responses to claims of abuse, based on the current evidence before them.

One of the great difficulties in examining periods in history where alleged abuses took place is being able to find evidence relating to alleged crimes, with much vital data either lost or purposely destroyed.

Our question this week then is this: do you think the Inquiry should be doing more than just assessing responses or is that all the public and survivors can hope for given the Inquiry’s scope and limited access to often decades-old evidence? 

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Crown Prosecution Service Makes Ground Breaking Statement Supporting Male Victims Of Abuse

In its first ever public statement on the subject, The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has vowed to support male victims of sexual and domestic abuse. The statement was published this week on the CPS’s website:

“The Crown Prosecution Service has published its first ever public statement recognising the needs and experiences of male victims of offences including rape, domestic abuse, harassment, stalking and child sexual abuse.

Many male victims of these crimes never come forward to report them to the police. This can be for a variety of reasons, including fear that their masculinity may appear to be diminished if they report domestic abuse or that homophobic assumptions will be made around their sexuality if they are raped by a man.

The CPS has always been committed to securing justice for all victims, both male and female, and applies policies fairly and equally. It has worked with groups which represent the interests of male victims to explore the issues they face in relation to these offences.

The new CPS public statement sets out:

Plans to give prosecutors more information, to help them better understand the experiences of male victims and the barriers to them reporting offences;

A commitment to work with third sector organisations and campaign groups to challenge gender stereotypes and improve reporting;

Proposals to involve more national men’s groups, as well as groups working with boys and girls, in the scrutiny of CPS policies.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, said: “The way society views masculinity can make it very difficult for men and boys who are the victims of sexual and domestic offences to come forward.

“This ‘public statement’ formalises the CPS commitment to male victims and recognises that stereotypes of masculinity and femininity can, and do, feed sexist and homophobic assumptions. These can deter male victims from reporting abuse and pursuing a prosecution.

“The statement addresses this challenge and I hope it will create an environment that gives male victims increased confidence to come forward and get the justice they deserve.”

The statement forms part of the CPS revised Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy 2017-2020 which outlines the CPS’s approach to all VAWG Crimes.

The CPS, in line with the United Nations conventions, ratified by the Government, recognises these crimes have a disproportionate number of female victims, hence the continued use of the term “VAWG”. However, the CPS also recognises the experience of male victims and the distressing impact on them.”

The statement was followed by reactions to the pledge from the Mankind Initiative and Survivors Manchester:

ManKind Initiative
“The public statement and the commitments it makes are landmark moments for male victims of crimes such as domestic abuse, stalking and forced marriage. We are very pleased with the CPS for sending a clear and inclusive message to both the criminal justice system, and to society as a whole, about the need to ensure male victims are recognised. I am certain this statement will encourage more men to come forward with the full confidence of the positive support and acknowledgement they will receive when they do so.”

Survivors Manchester
“We very much welcome this ground-breaking public statement on male victims of crimes currently included in the VAWG strategy, to ensure that the voices of male victims and survivors of sexual rape and abuse are heard. We look forward to continuing our work with the CPS to progress our collective understanding further across agencies. I am confident this will make a real difference in the lives of boys and men”.

The story was also covered by The Brief, over at The Times, which increasingly features child welfare stories in its daily news roundup. We highly recommend this newsletter, which is free. You can sign up here. Follow The Brief editor Judge John Hack over on Twitter for the latest.

A very welcome development.

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NSPCC “We do not believe our press release demonised parents.”

The NSPCC has published a formal statement about its recent child neglect campaign, after a child welfare campaigner raised concerns about its contents.

The campaign drew intense criticism from parents and activists for failing to mention that neglect is often an unavoidable side effect of acute poverty.

The children’s charity addressed the claim this week, telling the public that it did not feel the campaign demonised parents.

Concerns were raised when Michele Simmons spotted a large volume of child neglect articles online which bore a striking resemblance to each other. She noticed that all of the statistics mentioned were produced by the NSPCC, which works closely with the government on child welfare policies.

The tone and content of the articles concerned Michele so much that she decided to send a Freedom Of Information request to find out whether the articles were part of a wider campaign, who put the campaign together and how many news outlets had been contacted in the process.

Michele also contacted the NSPCC directly to try to get an immediate response to her query. This is the email she sent the charity:

“Good afternoon. I would like to ask a few questions and leave some constructive feedback too if  I may, which would appear to be of public interest.

I came a cross a published newspaper story on 23.08.17, published online and soon realised there were more with a similar running theme concerning the NSPCC with release of information widely available pertaining to the various Council boroughs. A non barrister/legal researcher soon saw my concerns and advised me, I need to aim my query toward your editorial/policy team to ask whether you have just ran a campaign on this issue and reached out to various Councils and newspapers and if so, which ones.

It looks like the run was coordinated for August 2017 in the main. It suggests that there has been a sharp rise in child neglect cases where I have discovered 20 strinkingly similar articles all referencing statistics from the NSPCC, indivudially tailored for the readers of each regional publication.

The said ‘copy cat’ story if I can put it this way, and upon further research, at a time children are about to head back to school with at least 40 more entries show them (said stories) to be spanning almost as many locations within Great Britain. I am interested to learn the origins of these articles, who requested them and how many areas were targeted.

I am concerned that articles like these are demonising parents rather than promoting a policy of support and help.

Perhaps it would have been better to publish all the data in one article for all to read, showing the name of the Council and the alleged percentage of neglect in each area. Surely the reader in each particular area, could feel conerns/the story is only aimed at their own area which would appear to be somewhat misleading. Make it more cost effective too.

I would have been interested to see a follow up story, explaining the possible causes for the different levels of neglect in each area. For example, poverty which could potentially be the root cause perhaps.

May I ask-

1. How many Councils the said newspaper story (as described in my subject line summary) covered or did not cover if this latter is easiest to collate. 
2. A chronological (if possible) brief summary list of all the Council borough areas (A-Z) the said NSPCC story reached for publication. 
3. Can I request this (all as already described) for England and Wales, then also Scotland and Ireland if possible. If you cannot help regards providing me my information for Scotland and Ireland, can you point me in the right direction who can help please. “

In response, the NSPCC issued a statement about the online articles. The charity confirmed that the news items had been part of a wider digital campaign aimed at tackling child neglect. The statement also goes on to outline where the data they shared came from, and tries to reassure parents that there was no intent on their part to stigmatise struggling parents. This is their response:

“Dear Ms Simmons,

Thank you for your email regarding a press release we put out on Wednesday 23 August 2017. The figures we released were the number of contacts to our NSPCC Helpline about child neglect, which have risen by 61 per cent over the past five years in the UK. If you would like to see the original data you will find it in Indicator 8 of our How Safe are our Children? report for 2017 .

Figures on the number of recorded neglect and cruelty offences are collected by the Home Office (for England and Wales), Police Service Northern Ireland and Scottish Government. We’ve provided information about this in Indicator 5 of the How Safe are our Children? report:
How Safe are our Children? 2017(PDF)

People from all over the country get in contact with our Helpline about a variety of issues, and our Practitioners will provide them with advice or refer the case to the Police and/or children’s services. When a case is referred to the authorities we record which local authorities the referral was made to. We regularly release Helpline statistics on a range of subjects to the media, and we provide these local breakdowns if appropriate, as it is this data that local and regional newspapers are interested in to make the story relevant to their area. For this press release on neglect we made local and regional data available to local media outlets in every UK region and nation.

We do not believe this press release demonised parents, and stated early on that, ‘the rise [in people contacting our Helpline] shows that more people are willing to speak up about the issue’ which can only be a positive sign. However, it is important we continue to raise awareness of this issue because we have seen a rise in people contacting the Helpline about child neglect and it is vital those children and families get the help they need.

In the press release we also said it vital we understand the true nature and scale of child neglect in the UK so we can collectively tackle the fundamental causes. We made a call to Government to commission a nationwide prevalence study on child abuse and neglect.

We hope this information is helpful.

Best wishes,

Duty Information Specialist
Knowledge and Information Services”

It’s a thoughtful response.

With many thanks again to Michele for sharing the NSPCC’s reply to her FOI request with us.

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Munby And McFarlane Go Head To Head Over Family Court Presidency

President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby has put to rest rumours that he will be retiring next year.

In a speech at the Families Need Fathers’ Annual Conference this March, Munby told the audience that he had no plans to step down as President and that the claim, widely circulated by media outlets like The Times and The Law Society Gazette, was unfounded:

“There’s been a lot of what I think in some quarters is called “fake news”. The effect that I have announce my retirement – I have not. It’s even being said on a well-known website that I’ve decided to retire in despair at the system, which is not so.

This point has only emerged because some journalist with nothing better to do has rung up the judicial office and was told by the judicial office, “Sir James reaches the age of 70 in July 2018. He is required by statute to retire at his 70th birthday.” Which has become this very non-story.

I have no particular ambitions, although my ability to remain silent from the side-lines, freed from the fetters of judicial responsibility I suspect may be limited. I suspect I am thought of, in too many quarters, as too plain speaking and the price you pay for speaking truth to power, which is what I’ve done, I suspect I wouldn’t be welcome in certain places. Not that I have any particular wish to go there.”

The remark comes one month after articles published in the media suggested that a spokesman for the judiciary had confirmed Munby’s retirement over the phone to a journalist.

Whilst Munby may not be stepping down just yet, the question mark over his presidency remains.

A position of considerable authority, family law judges aspire to the Presidency both for its kudos and the opportunities for peerage and power it offers.

News of Munby’s alleged retirement did not go unnoticed, and one judge in particular looked like he had his eye on the prize.

Shortly after the bogus announcement at the beginning of February, Lord Justice McFarlane delivered an interesting speech for the The Bridget Lindley OBE Memorial Lecture 2017, on 7th March. The similarities between Munby’s openly political judgments and outspoken approach to the problems inside the family justice system, and McFarlane’s own attempt at mimicking that style, did not go unnoticed.

The speech was a brazen attempt at securing support from all sides – appealing to legal and child protection sectors, as well as families and in particular fathers who feel disenfranchised by the Family Court. It was a stunning display of chutzpah, even before Munby himself had gone on record to confirm the rumour.

But perhaps McFarlane’s confidence isn’t completely self manufactured. After spotting our piece on McFarlane’s bid for the presidency,  reliable sources told Researching Reform that he had been tipped as the next President by officials working in the corridors of power. And in November 2016, at The Family Justice Young People’s Board (FYPJB) conference in London, Munby allegedly told attendees that he would be retiring.

In an apparent change of heart, the current President has since decided to hold on to his title.

Munby’s growing impatience with a system that refuses to modernise or address its failings may well have given the Executive, and other government branches, a reason to force him out.

Nevertheless, any perceived or actual bids on the Presidency didn’t stop Munby from defending his position. One month after McFarlane’s call to arms, Munby retaliated with a well timed speech at the Families Need Fathers conference, quashing any suggestion that he would be retiring. Munby casually dropped this sentiment in at the end of his lecture, though the move was far from casual, or off the cuff.

McFarlane will now have to bide his time.

Many thanks to Family Coalition for alerting us to Munby’s speech and Penny Lilac for information on Munby’s comment that he would retire, at the conference in 2016.

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Lord Justice McFarlane, “A barrister wouldn’t tell a lie.”

Yet another Family Law case involving parents going through child protection proceedings has made the headlines this week.

In this case, the parents claimed their barrister forced them to wait outside the court room, preventing them from presenting evidence about their child’s treatment whilst in care. An adoption order was made in their absence, and the judgment itself was never given to the parents.

The judgment then appeared on the free legal library BAILII ten months later, whereupon the parents discovered that the judge had been told by their barrister that the parents had in fact elected to stay outside the court room.

The mother subsequently applied to the Court Of Appeal for a fresh hearing, having been denied her right to be heard in the first instance. Lord Justice McFarlane, who was the appeal judge for the mother’s application, listened to the mother’s evidence and then contacted the mother’s barrister to get her version of events. The barrister did not reply for some time, finally sending a letter several weeks later, repeating her claim that the parents had chosen to stay outside the court room that day.

Whilst it seems that no other evidence was produced at the time, other than the mother’s word against the barrister’s, the judge ultimately accepted the barrister’s position. The mother, who made notes during the hearing, heard the judge make a remark in passing. That remark was, “a barrister wouldn’t tell a lie.”

There are a lot of concerning things about this case.

The first is that we know lawyers do tell lies. Carry out a simple Google search, and you can access publicly available information on this phenomenon very quickly (perhaps McFarlane should do one of those internet courses):

There was the barrister in 2014 who faced jail after lying to police . 

The barrister who lied about her career, and ended up being disbarred.

The trainee barrister who went to jail for falsely accusing her boyfriend of rape. 

The barrister who lied and defrauded people and businesses out of hundreds of thousands of pounds,  resulting in a jail sentence of nine and half years.

Solicitors too have been caught fabricating evidence, conducting make believe litigations and even making up entire reports that were said to be written by experts in the cases concerned.

So, Mr McFarlane’s view of the legal profession is a little naive.

It’s also telling that he does not quality why he believes the mother’s barrister over the mother. This would suggest that there was no actual evidential basis for his conclusion, which in itself is deeply concerning.

The Family Court is riddled with bias. Some of it is manageable, but for the most part it ruins lives, makes a mockery of the legal duty to conduct a fair trial and in the worst case scenario, as you can see here, leads to children being removed from their parents.

This appeal should have been allowed. McFarlane should have probed more as to why the parents may have chosen to stay out of the court room, if they did – which on the face of the facts available seems extraordinarily unlikely – after all, they wanted very much to share their evidence in court – and a call for evidence on both sides should have been made to come to a conclusion about the question over attendance, as there clearly wasn’t any offered at the time of the initial investigation by the judge.

A deeply disappointing result from a judge who is most likely going to become the next President of the Family Division.

Very many thanks to Michele Simmons for sharing this news item with us.

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NSPCC Responds To Concerns About Child Neglect Campaign

The NSPCC has replied to concerns raised about a campaign the children’s charity ran last month, which aimed to tackle neglect. Parents on social media reacted to the campaign with disappointment, calling the campaign irresponsible and one sided.

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The campaign featured a large number of stories published across national and regional publications referencing child neglect data and research but did not offer any insight into how families who find themselves in need often struggle to care for their children. Parents were left feeling demonised by the campaign. It also suggested that child neglect was on the rise, pointing to an increase in phone calls to the charity in which people raised concerns as evidence of the increase. Parents and campaigners were quick to point out that a rise in calls did not automatically equate to an actual rise in verified cases of child neglect.

Michele Simmons, a parent and child rights activist decided to send a Freedom Of Information request to ask the government, who works closely with the charity, for more details about what she suspected was a targeted campaign.

After reading the FOI request, Peter Morris, an equality campaigner wrote to the NSPCC expressing his concerns about the campaign. He received this reply from the children’s charity:

NSPCC Response

It’s a fair response from the NSPCC, though we see the reply as a missed opportunity to foster good will amongst families.

Our question this week then, is just this: what advice would you offer the NSPCC for any future campaigns they run?

A big thank you to Michele and Pete for sharing these items with us.

 

 

Question It!

Welcome to another week.

And the onset of our drizzly Winter.

An article published in The Nordic Page over the weekend suggests that private investment companies are increasingly investing in child welfare organisations because they may be more profitable than the oil industry.

Anti privatisation organisations are worried that this trend will lead to services eroding as investors look to make a quick return rather than improving and developing those services.

The trend is something international and UK Family Court campaigners have observed in England and Wales. A French documentary in 2016 suggested that the UK child protection system was increasingly welcoming in private sector companies often listed in the stock exchange to oversee child welfare services inside the sector. Austerity measures, which have crippled the child protection system have made it ripe ground for companies looking to profit from the impact of the budget cuts.

Our question this week then, is just this: do you think there is a trend?

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Times Calls For Children Placed With “Culturally Unmatched Carers.”

The Times’ story about the five year old girl fostered by a Muslim household caused an uproar across social media this week with its controversial take on the case.  The piece suggested that the child’s distressing fostering experience was down to being placed with an orthodox Muslim family.

Since its publication, social platforms like Twitter have been quick to seize on the story with many social media users highlighting factual inaccuracies in the piece. The judgment published by The Family Court reveals that there is some common ground between The Times’ version of events and the partial information offered in the judgment itself.

The tone of the article was also criticised for being xenophobic.

As a follow up to its story, The Times is now looking for people who are or have been in a placement where they were sent to live with foster carers who came from different backgrounds to them, and had a bad experience because of the differences in cultural heritage. This latest development is also stirring up strong feelings, with Twitter users condemning the move as an attempt to further a xenophobic agenda.

We are sharing this call for information because we feel it is an opportunity to broaden the debate and offer The Times something invaluable – a proper look at the flaws within the care system. A chance to highlight the real issues around fostering.

So, what are those issues?

After a decade assisting individuals who have experienced social care, either as children who have been fostered, or parents and grandparents of foster children, this is what we’ve learned:

  • Culture is not nearly as important as emotional intelligence – a child can feel relatively comfortable in any new home as long as the family are willing to put the child’s needs first and treat them as equals (and we say relatively comfortable, because even in a culture-matched home, it is still a strange family and a strange environment to the child)
  • Fostering is sometimes about the money – bad experiences can stem from being treated like an outsider or a second class citizen in the home
  • Siblings are routinely split up – this can cause enormous distress

We have seen so many comments on this blog over the years talking about personal experiences of foster care, and they are all incredibly powerful, so we would urge you to get in touch with The Times and tell them your story.

You can contact The Times at community@thetimes.co.uk.

Good luck.

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