National Stalking Awareness Week – 24 to 28 April

The UK’s National Stalking Awareness Week, which begins on 24th April, aims to raise awareness around stalking and related issues.

Perpetrators of domestic violence often use stalking to intimidate their victims. The behaviour has come under the spotlight over the last few months in light of new evidence which suggests violent partners are using the family courts to stalk, harass and bully partners, children and acquaintances.

The ONS has some interesting data on intimate partner stalking. The table below comes from the ONS and shows stalking incidents by partners and family members.

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A lot of work still needs to be done in this area in particular training organisations and the police up to be able to recognise stalking behaviours, however the government’s latest proposals to create stalking protection orders and double the criminal sentence for stalking have been welcomed by campaigners.

Paladin, a stalking advocacy service, has some useful stats on their site:

  • The Crime Survey of England and Wales shows up to 700,000 women are stalked each year (2009-12) although the British Crime Survey (2006) estimated 5 million people experience stalking each year.
  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men will experience staking in their adult life.
  • In 2013/14 CPS figures revealed that 743 stalking offences were prosecuted whereas 9,792 were prosecuted for harassment out of the 61 175 allegations recorded by police. Therefore only 1% of cases of stalking and 16% of cases of harassment recorded by the police result in a charge and prosecution by the CPS.
  • Research reveals that only 11% of stalkers received an immediate custodial sentence for Section 2a stalking and just 9% for a Section 4a stalking offence in 2013.
  • Victims do not tend to report to the police until the 100th Incident.
  • 50% of victims have curtailed or stopped work due to stalking
  • The Workplace Violence Research Institute found that 90% of corporate security professionals had handled 3 or more incidents of men stalking women in the workplace and claimed stalking was related to homicide in 15% of cases.
  • 75% of domestic violence stalkers will visit the workplace.
  • 79% of domestic violence stalker will use work resources to target victims.
  • 1 in 2 domestic stalkers, if they make a threat, will act on it.
  • 1 in 10 stalkers, who had no prior relationship, if they make a threat will act on it.
  • Statistics show that the majority of victims (80.4%) are female while the majority of perpetrators (70.5%) are male.
  • The Metropolitan Police Service found that 40% of the victims of domestic homicides had also been stalked.

Cyber stalking also, has become increasingly prevalent, with around 40% of those affected being men. 

Further reading, resources and support:

If you’re a Twitter geek, the hash tags for this event are  and .

Stalking Week

Your Story: Family Support Versus Forced Adoption

Our next story looks at what happens when councils ignore expert evidence encouraging the use of support services and choose to file care orders instead.

1. Could you give a brief summary of the facts of your case?

Our four children were removed from our care without our consent, all through forced adoptions. The two eldest were placed with family and our two youngest were adopted by strangers. The orders were made using the ‘risk of emotional harm’ threshold, however my wife’s lawyer felt strongly that the criteria had not been met. I was unrepresented because I could not afford a lawyer.

Our family became known to social services because my wife pushed one of our children’s car seats a little too aggressively, which resulted in her being placed on the child protection register. She was then removed from the register a year later and was never placed on it again. We both have medical conditions which can be addressed with medication. Both my wife and I have argued in front of the children at times but we have never gotten physical with each other. Like most parents, when we get tired we can shout at the children too, however this behaviour was viewed in a completely different light by social services.

Despite several assessments which confirmed that my wife and I could look after our children with support from professionals, we never felt supported or listened to. When I began to get upset about losing my two eldest daughters, professionals in the case just assumed the behaviour was proof that I couldn’t parent, and instead of offering me help to cope with the loss, they simply penalised me for my pain, and assumed the anger was “part of a pattern,” which professionals ended up taking personally and then simply pushed on with the adoptions out of what felt like spite. It was all very primitive.

Incidents included a social worker assaulting my daughter, another social worker blocking my way when trying to stop the assault, being routinely threatened with prison if I didn’t agree to various suggestions, and being told my children would simply vanish if I was obstructive.

2. What went wrong in your case?

Our solicitors during the first set of hearings didn’t seem to be bothered, and just weren’t interested in pursuing the truth. Most of the judges we came across in subsequent hearings seemed preoccupied with internal politics which appeared to affect the way they processed our case. We got the feeling there was collusion between the professionals and a lot things had been decided before the hearings actually took place. A strange cultural quirk I also noticed was that judges seemed to accept whatever social services told them without questioning the quality of the reports or evidence produced. When it came down to our word against theirs, we didn’t stand a chance.

Bizarrely, when we did eventually get a good lawyer who was fighting our corner, the council then threatened to sue her and her firm. It was like watching a soap opera.

3. What happened after you alerted the professionals to the errors?

Nothing. No one seemed to be able to correct the mistakes that had been made in the paper work. The most distressing aspect of the case was the taking out of an Emergency Protection Order for my son. A prominent politician at the time was so concerned by the EPO in our case that he even raised it in Parliament, where he questioned the legal validity of its use in our case both under Family Law and Human Rights Law.

4. How do you feel the errors were dealt with?

They were never dealt with and no one has been held to account for the incredibly poor way our case was handled.

5. What do you think could have been done differently?

I think adoption targets have a lot to answer for. They blind social workers to their reason for being, which is to first and foremost offer families support and guidance. Not remove children from loving parents who if you treat with respect and kindness would be only too glad to work with them.

6. What message would you like to pass on to the child welfare system?

The system can’t carry on like this, it needs to improve drastically. If it doesn’t, its days are definitely numbered.

If you would like to share your story, get in touch by leaving a comment below or emailing Researching Reform at contactnphillips at gmail dot com. 

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In The News

The latest child welfare stories:

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Infamous Section 20 Arrangements To Be Investigated – Have Your Say

Troublesome accommodation arrangements organised by local authorities for vulnerable children are to going to be investigated by a group hoping to learn more about why there is a gap in good practice when it comes to the use of Section 20.

Section 20 arrangements stem from the Children Act 1989, and allow a local authority to place a child in accommodation where there may be child welfare concerns.

Section 20 arrangements have come under the spotlight for improper use by local authorities, which includes trying to force parents to agree to these arrangements and using S.20 arrangements as a way to secure care proceedings.

Another concern is that current thinking suggests there is no duty on councils to get written or other forms of consent from parents when offering children accommodation, which makes it easier for councils to misuse this legislation. The thinking also contradicts guidance issued by the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, which says all S.20 agreements must be in writing and show parents’ consent, obtained in full.

Now, Your Family, Your Voice, an alliance of families and child protection practitioners developed by Family Rights Group to counter the stigma and negative presumptions about families whose children are subject to, or at risk of, state intervention, has set up a Knowledge Inquiry to look at S.20 Arrangements in practice.

Their website tells us the following:

Context

The Knowledge Inquiry is also being supported by a panel, or Reference Group, who will be sharing their knowledge and experience with the Inquiry:

Reference Group

The Inquiry would like to hear from as many people as possible, including children, parents, kinship carers, lawyers and policy makers. The full list is added here:

People

If you’d like to take part, choose your questionnaire from below and complete it online:

Good luck, and let us know what you thought of the questionnaires.

S.20

 

A New Law To Tackle Child Groomers Is Now In Force – Here’s How It Works

As of today, sexual communication with a child under the age of 16 is now a criminal offence. 

Anyone aged 18 or over who intentionally communicates with a child under 16, acting for a sexual purpose and where the communication is sexual or intended to elicit a sexual response can be sent to jail for a maximum of two years, and will automatically be placed on the Sex Offenders Register.

The offence applies to online and offline communication, including social media, e-mail, texts, letters, and other forms of communication.

The law was created after the NSPCC campaigned for better protections for children online. During the Lords Report stage of the Serious Crime Bill Lord Harris of Haringey then tabled an amendment proposing a new criminal offence in this area.

The provisions can be found in S.67 of The Serious Crime Act 2015:

Sexual communication with a child

After section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 insert—

15A Sexual communication with a child

(1)A person aged 18 or over (A) commits an offence if—

(a)for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification, A intentionally communicates with another person (B),

(b)the communication is sexual or is intended to encourage B to make (whether to A or to another) a communication that is sexual, and

(c)B is under 16 and A does not reasonably believe that B is 16 or over.

(2)For the purposes of this section, a communication is sexual if—

(a)any part of it relates to sexual activity, or

(b)a reasonable person would, in all the circumstances but regardless of any person’s purpose, consider any part of the communication to be sexual;

and in paragraph (a) “sexual activity” means an activity that a reasonable person would, in all the circumstances but regardless of any person’s purpose, consider to be sexual.

(3)A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—

(a)on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or a fine or both;

(b)on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years.

Researching Reform has received guidance notes on this new law, and we can tell you the following:

  • Laws previously in place do already address this kind of behaviour, however they are unlikely to apply if the communication does not ask the child to engage in sexual activity, and many do not require automatic sex offender registration.
  • This is NOT an internet specific offence. It will apply equally to offline and online communications, including oral communication and written notes.
  • The new law will only apply where the defendant can be shown to have acted for the purposes of obtaining sexual gratification. This distinction has been created to ensure that ordinary discussions such as family chats on safe sex guidance or discussions in an educational context, will not be caught by the offence.

How this behaviour will be detected, remains. With many online messaging platforms using encryption and the existing difficulties surrounding children reporting this kind of communication and adults identifying it, prosecution in this area will be difficult, but the new law will at least send out the message that grooming is not acceptable and perpetrators are being targeted in a much more focused way.

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Child Protection ‘Rosie’ Reappears In New Virtual Reality Game.

In 2011 we wrote about a then new virtual reality game produced by Kent University, designed to help train social workers called “Rosie, Virtually Safe”.

The idea was excellent – to simulate real life child protection scenarios, in a safe environment in order to train social workers. The reality was unfortunately very different. Poor graphics, terrible narratives and even more concerning multiple choice options which lacked depth and understanding left the ‘game’ really wanting.

Now, six years on, and with a new interactive experience under her belt, Rosie has made another appearance in ‘My Courtroom: Rosie’s Family Goes To Court‘.

In this virtual reality game, which outlines a private family law matter this time around involving Rosie and her biological father, social work professionals are invited to discuss solutions and look at potential issues arising from the scenario.

If early user experiences are anything to go by there appear to have been some encouraging improvements in the new game. Unlike the first game “Virtually Safe”, you now get to see Rosie and meet her. You can also hear her thoughts, which is clever and hopefully will foster empathy and a better awareness of how children feel, though much will depend on the quality of thought featured in the game.

Interestingly, several social workers said the new game triggered emotional responses from them which motivated them to engage better with the simulation – an important point, as emotion and its huge potential for problem solving when channelled properly, is often left out of the equation in social work.

Other fantastic additions include the highlighting of cultural variations within the family courts and the placement of subtle signs of neglect to test the ‘player’ in the ‘game’.

Researching Reform was kindly invited to Kent University in 2012 shortly after the first Rosie game was produced. We had played the game and we were very concerned by one particular aspect. We couldn’t see any ‘best practice’ scenarios or guidance within the game. When we asked the professors who had created the game whether best practice guidelines could be accessed within the game, the professors confirmed that there weren’t any. All the game required of its player was a text book defined ‘good enough’ response, which is currently nowhere near ‘good enough’ in real life. Whilst there is no indication that “My Courtroom” includes any best practice guidelines, information published suggests that at least discussions about best practice should be encouraged. It’s a start, but we hope the game also includes a very thorough set of options to the dilemmas it poses, which include cutting edge child protection responses.

Have you played “My Courtroom”? We’d love to know what you think of the game.

UPDATE 6TH APRIL, 2017 – It looks as if a second version of the game will be made for service users. We’ll keep you posted.

Rosie Goes To Court

 

 

How Will Brexit Affect Children And Families?

Prime Minister Theresa May has signed the letter which kick starts the UK’s departure from the EU. Whilst this is just a formality and we are unlikely to see big changes on the ground as a result of Article 50 being triggered, questions are now being asked about the impact of Brexit on families, and family law and policy.

At the moment most of the commentary is based on speculation. Last year concerns over what might happen to children being looked after by EU citizens were raised, with some fearing that carers or guardians would have to leave Britain and in so doing place children in precarious situations.  Bleak views suggesting that Brexit would lead to the erosion of children’s rights were also expressed.

Across social media platforms, family lawyers have suggested that things may not change as drastically as we imagine, with the UK simply enacting its own legislation and policies to mimic those currently shared with the EU, whilst others see Brexit as an opportunity to improve on existing family legislation in order to provide a much more tailored set of laws for families in the UK.

However the child protection debate after Brexit continues to raise concerns. Child trafficking in particular is a big issue, with a Parliamentary watchdog warning that the UK could place more children at risk  by leaving the EU, as it would effectively lose some very important legal protections for this group of vulnerable children.

The Children’s Society also published a report looking at the impact of Brexit on children’s rights,  which raised concerns over child safety and called on the government to clarify its position in relation to ensuring children were not placed at risk during and after the separation process. Some commentators though, have taken the view that the debate on trafficking and border control is not as clear cut as it might seem, offering thoughts on how Brexit could either aggravate trafficking, or reduce it, depending on where you stand in relation to border control and its effects on freedom of movement.

Although no one knows what the long term effects of Brexit will be on children, families and child welfare as a whole, worrying short term signs are already there. Theresa May has announced plans to make welfare cuts which are predicted to plunge more than a million children into poverty, no doubt a move to try to bolster the economy ahead of Brexit’s full implementation.

Researching Reform predicts a very serious economic downturn for the UK, as it tries to steady itself after leaving the EU. This will undoubtedly have a devastating effect on child welfare. What do you think?

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Image courtesy of The Children’s Commissioner 

 

 

Being Mum And Dad – BBC Documentary Tonight

The BBC has produced a documentary featuring former Manchester United and England footballer Rio Ferdinand, who lost his wife to breast cancer in 2015. The programme, called “Being Mum and Dad”, looks in depth at the emotional as well as practical difficulties bereaved parents face after the death of a partner or spouse.

The programme is an effort at helping bereaved parents so that they feel they can come forward and seek help, perhaps more so fathers who are finding it hard to transition into primary carer roles and are unsure about who they can turn to. It also explores the kind of support children need when they lose a parent.

You can watch the documentary tonight on BBC 1 at 9pm.

We are also adding some organisations who help families, parents and children cope with the loss of a family member:

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