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Child in need or ‘looked after child’. Why does it matter?

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore.

Teasing out the various issues arising under section 17 and section 20 of the Children Act when it comes to ‘providing accommodation’ and the consequences that flow from that, appears to be yet another example of complicated and confusing statutory provisions which put enormous obstacles in the way of parents being able to understand the process. We must either simplify our laws or increase provision of legal aid. 

What happens to children under 16 who need help from the State with somewhere to live?

Mrs Justice Black SA v KCC [2010] EWHC 848 (Admin)

“There are various provisions of the Children Act 1989 apart from s 17(6) which deal with the provision of accommodation by a local authority. Although this is not the first time I have had to consider this aspect of the Act, I continue to have difficulty in understanding how the various provisions fit together, how it was envisaged that the scheme would work in practice and how it was thought that it would enable local authorities and others to ascertain, relatively simply, whether a child is looked after or not…”

The distinction between ‘in need’ and ‘looked after’

A child can be a ‘child in need’ and get help and services under section 17 of the Children Act 1989. Or a child can be a ‘looked after’ child and get help and services under section 22 of the Act.

The distinction between these two is significant. A ‘looked after’ child gets more help, including a duty on the LA to consider offering support even when she is older than 18. A ‘looked after’ child will also experience more intervention from the LA, for example the statute provides that frequent reviews are required.

The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 creates new categories of young people entitled to support.

  • Eligible child – aged 16 or 17 and are currently looked after, either on a care order or accommodated, who has been looked after for a period or periods of 13 weeks since their 14th birthday (this total should include at least one spell of over 4 weeks, but does not include respite). This category defines those who will go on to become Relevant and Former Relevant young people when they cease to be looked after.
  • Relevant child – Aged 16 or 17 (not yet 18) and have left care, having previously been in the category of Eligible child.

There is a duty to financially support them up to the age of 18. The allowances paid to them should not fall below the level of Income Support or Income Based Job Seekers Allowance.

There is a further category of ‘Former Relevant child’ , being those aged 18 to 25 and who have
left care having previously been Eligible or Relevant, or both. The LA is under a duty to consider the need to financially support them.

A ‘looked after’ child is defined at section 22 of the Children Act 1989 as a child who is under a care order OR IF the accommodation provided is by the LA ‘in the exercise of its functions’

‘Functions’ exclude anything done under section 17, 23B and 24B of the Children Act 1989.

Accommodation is only ‘accommodation’ if it is provided for a continuous period of more than 24 hours.

So what does this mean?

Section 17 imposes a general duty on the LA to safeguard and promote welfare of children in their area. This may include providing accommodation.

Section 23B relates to 16-17 year olds and section 24B relates to those who are at least 16.

Therefore if your accommodation is provided under section 17 you are NOT a ‘looked after’ child. We must then look to sections 20 and 23 of the Children Act 1989 to understand what are the relevant ‘functions’ which decide whether or not a child is ‘looked after’.

Section 20(4) is ‘permissive’ . It does not impose a duty on a local authority to accommodate a child but says that they can do so if they think it would promote the child’s welfare and those with PR consent.

Section 20(1) however is mandatory – so a local authority MUST provide accommodation to a child if there is no one who has parental responsibility for him, or no one who can exercise it.

Section 23 is also mandatory and tells the LA that when they are looking after a child they must provided accommodation and other services. Section 23(2) sets out that accommodation can be provided by placing the child with family or any other suitable person. These people will be considered foster carers (so must be assessed and found suitable to meet regulations around standard of foster care) UNLESS that person is the child’s parent or has PR for the child or a Child Arrangements Order.

Further, section 23(6) sets out the LA ‘looking after a child shall make arrangements to enable him to live with’ a parent or person with PR, or a relative, friend or other person connected with him. The LA must also try to find accommodation near to his home and with other siblings (section 23 (7)).

The drafting of this section, as Mrs Justice Black recognises, is confusing and seems to set up different routes into ‘providing accommodation’.

It’s not the label that matters, its the facts and the legal consequences.

R (on the application of M) v London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham [2008] UKHL 13 made it clear that if the LA claim to be acting under section 17, a child will still be a looked after child if the circumstances are such that the LA should have gone down the section 20 route.

Difficulty has arisen when a child goes to live with a relative and the LA claim that this is a ‘private’ arrangement and therefore not one that should be described as the LA ‘providing’ accommodation. The court is willing to accept that there may be some cases where a LA could ‘side step’ their duty to accommodate by helping to set up a private fostering arrangement.

Private fostering arrangements are dealt with in section 66 of the CA and cover children who are under 16 and cared for in their own home by someone other than a parent, a person with parental responsibility or a relative.  A ‘relative’ is defined under section 105 of the Children Act 1989 as a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt (whether by blood or marriage) or step-parent.

Has the LA taken a ‘major role’ in making arrangements for the child to be accommodated?

It is a question of fact in every particular case. Where a LA takes a ‘major role’ in making arrangements for a child to be fostered, it is more likely to be considered to be exercising its duties under sections 20 and 23, no matter what it claims is the label to be attached to its actions.

Helpful issues to analyse are likely to be:

  • is the LA attempting to regulate the terms of the placement? for e.g. having a view about the child’s school or who has contact with the child?
  • What is the LA saying about providing financial help for the child? A true private arrangement will be between the parents and the proposed carers who must understand that the parents will be providing financial support.

Does it then matter if the LA argues section 23(2) or 23(6)?

The court said ‘no’ in SA v KCC [2010] and set out a simple approach to the statute. If the child falls within section 20(1) – there is no one with PR or no one who can exercise it – then the LA is providing accommodation for the child regardless of whether or not it finds a home with a friend or relative and regardless of whether or not the LA chooses to accommodate a child under section 23(2) or 23(6).

The LA in that case had tried to argue that whenever a child goes to live with a relative under section 23(6) then such children are not ‘provided accommodation’ unless there is care order in place. The court rejected this ‘rigid position’ as being potentially disadvantageous to the child and ignores the ‘enormous variation that there is in the circumstances of children, and their parents and carers’.

What’s in a name? The right of parents to name their child – when can the state interfere?

I was reminded of the case of C (Children) [2016] EWCA Civ 374 at a recent court hearing where the issue arose about the local authority’s duty to register the birth of a child who is subject to a care order. Hopefully that matter will be subject of some further guidance – my argument being that a failure by a parent to register a birth is an abnegation of parental responsibility, not an exercise of it and therefore the local authority ought to be allowed to register after the required 42 days without needing the court’s permission. 

However the issue of what name a child should be registered with is of much greater significance and It is clear that any argument between parent and local authority must be subject to over sight by the court. But what gives the local authority the right to have an opinion in the first place? To answer this question requires an examination of what happened in C Children.  

How far can the state interfere with a parents wish to register (or not) the birth and name of their baby?

The issue of registering a birth is interesting in the context of care proceedings as there appears to be a view in some quarters that registering a birth makes your baby the ‘property of the state’ and refusing to register means the local authority cannot issue care proceedings. This view has no substance, but of course that doesn’t prevent people from spreading it and believing it.

Registering the birth: the operation of the Birth and Deaths Registration Act 1953

The purpose of the BDRA 1953 is to create a document of public record evidencing all births and deaths in England and Wales. It determines what information is needed to register a child’s brith, who may provide that information and when they must do it.  There is no absolute requirement to register a ‘name’ at the same time as the birth, but provision is made in section 13 BDRA 1953 for the registration of a forename following a delay of up to twelve months or for the alteration of a name during the same period of time:

Section 1(2) BDRA 1953 sets out who is qualified to provide the necessary information to the Registrar; these people are known as “qualified informants”: They are the father and mother, the occupier of the house where the child was born, any person present at the birth or any person having charge of the child.  These ‘qualified informants’ have 42 days from the date of birth to register it

Section 4 BDRA 1953 provides that where, after the expiration of forty-two days, ‘the birth of the child has, owing to the default of the persons required to give information concerning it, not been registered…’, the Registrar can require any qualified informant to attend at a place appointed by the Registrar to give the required information and to sign the register in the presence of the registrar.

So it seems pretty clear from this that the act of registering a birth is an exercise of parental responsibility but is not restricted to actual parents; the focus here is on the proper registration of the birth so that the child can be recognised and identified in the society into which he is born. It is an administrative requirement, not an illustration of something special and particular for parents.

Naming your child – an issue of fundamental significance

if registering a child’s birth is rightly described as a mere administrative act, it is clear that the choice of name for a child is an act of a very different nature and quality and is likely to be of far more emotional importance to most parents.  This exercise of parental responsibility should only be interfered with in exceptional circumstances. As was recognised in C Children at para 40:

One of the first questions asked by friends and relatives following the birth of a child is ‘what is the baby’s name?’ It may be thought that any individual who has had the happy experience of debating with his or her partner possible forenames for their unborn child would be astonished at the proposition that the choice of the name of their child could be regarded as other than their right as the child’s parents, and their first act of parental responsibility. The name given to a child ordinarily evolves over the months of the pregnancy through a bundle of cultural, familial and taste influences. The forename finally chosen forms a critical part of his or her evolving identity….If a baby cannot be brought up by his or her parents, often the forename given to him or her by their mother is the only lasting gift they have from her. It may be the first, and only, act of parental responsibility by his or her mother. It is likely, therefore, to be of infinite value to that child as part of his or her identity….The naming of a child is not however merely a right or privilege, but also a responsibility; people, and particularly children, are capable of great unkindness and often are not accepting of the unusual or bizarre. It does not need expert evidence or academic research to appreciate that a name which attracts ridicule, teasing, bullying or embarrassment will have a deleterious effect on a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence with potentially long term consequences for him or her. The burden of such a name can also cause that child to feel considerable resentment towards the parent who inflicted it upon him or her….

 

Facts of C Children [2016]

So what happened in this case to justify the court refusing to allow a mother to name her children?  This case involved a mother with serious mental health issues. She had a long standing diagnosis of a psychotic disorder and of schizophrenia of an “undifferentiated type with an underlying personality disorder”. She did not accept the diagnosis and thus would not accept any treatment but she was found to have capacity to give instructions in the care proceedings.

Her three elder children had been removed from her care. She then had twin children who were subject to ICOs shortly after birth. Their father was not known; the children were conceived after the mother was raped. She told the midwife she wanted to call the twins ‘Preacher’ and ‘Cyanide’. The local authority tried to persuade her against this but failed – the mother argued that it was a ‘lovely, pretty name’ and that because Hitler killed himself with cyanide, this was a positive connotation.

After some weeks of attempts to change the mother’s mind, the local authority first asked the court to exercise its inherent jurisdiction under s.100 Children Act 1989 to prevent the children being so named but the court did not agree that this was the right route. However, as registering a birth and naming a child were ‘aspects of parental responsibility’, they were actions of a parent which could be limited by the local authority under s.33(3)(b) Children Act 1989. The court then declared that the local authority were allowed to prevent the mother from registering the children with those names.

The mother appealed on the basis that that the judge was wrong in concluding that the naming of the child and the registration of the child’s birth were each an exercise of parental responsibility and that the judge erred in concluding that a local authority has power under section 33(3)(b) CA 1989 to determine that the mother should not register her children’s births with her chosen names. Therefore, it was her human right to choose their names and register them without the interference of the local authority.

The Court of Appeal rejected the mother’s grounds and agreed that the registration of the births and naming of children were acts of parental responsibility, but also that a court could, under its inherent jurisdiction intervene in these circumstances and that the appropriate statutory route was therefore s.100 Children Act 1989.

The first court had not been happy to consider use of the inherent jurisdiction because it did not consider that the test of significant harm was met but King LJ in the Court of Appeal held that some names – such as Cyanide – were so awful that they gave rise to reasonable cause to believe that any child given that name was likely to suffer significant emotional harm. The Court did not have the same objections to ‘Preacher’ but did not think it right for one child to be named by the mother and the other not, so agreed that this name should not be registered either.

Happily in October 2015 the twins moved permanently to live with the foster family caring for their two eldest half siblings live, who chose names that they would like their brother and sister to be called

The limits to what a parent may do to a child under heading of “parental responsibility”.

This case is a useful illustration of the fact that PR while very important and worthy of protection, is not a green light for a parent to do whatever they want.  The Children Act defines “parental responsibility” as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.”

In Re H-B (Contact) [2015] EWCA Civ 389, the then President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby P, quoted with approval the judgment of McFarlane LJ in Re W (Direct Contact) [2012] EWCA Civ 999 at para 72: i:

I wish to emphasise this, parental responsibility is more, much more than a mere lawyer’s concept or a principle of law. It is a fundamentally important reflection of the realities of the human condition, of the very essence of the relationship of parent and child. Parental responsibility exists outside and anterior to the law. Parental responsibility involves duties owed by the parent not just to the court. First and foremost, and even more importantly, parental responsibility involves duties owed by each parent to the child.

The foundation of the exercise of PR is therefore those acts which contribute to or secure the welfare of the child. Refusing to register your child’s birth or giving a child a name that many others are likely to find offensive or ludicrous is an abnegation of PR, not an exercise of it and parents have no ‘right’ to do harm to their child.

 

 

Why does everyone hate the Family Court ? Part Two

I am grateful for Emma Sutcliffe for this guest post. Its been an interesting month for thinking and talking about why the family court seems to inspire such strong and invariably negative feelings. I first wrote about this on January 8th where I shared two narratives from two parents – a mother and a father, both with a very different perspective but united in their fear and distrust of the process they had experienced. 

Then I heard Professor Jo Delanhunty QC’s Gresham College talk, wishing the Children Act 1989 its happy 30th Birthday, and her clear and urgent reminder that the ethos of the Act was in serious danger of being undermined by the lack of resources now provided to support what it wanted to do – to recognise the child as the heart of every decision and to enable parents to care safety for their children. 

Short on the heels of this, I had to then consider the astonishing allegations of Victoria Haigh; who appears to be developing a presence as a ‘campaigner’ against the family court system without apparent concern or criticism from others in this field and despite the very serious findings made against her about the harm she inflicted on her own child. I can only assume the lack of challenge to her more fantastical assertions stems from the fact that they ‘feel right’ to a lot of people. This is depressing indeed. 

So what do we do? I have very little power or influence. But that’s the same for  most of us. Acting alone we can achieve little. But if we come together and were prepared to talk – openly and honestly – I want to believe that we could achieve something positive. 

So I am very grateful for Emma for sticking with our conversations on line, not always easy for either of us at times, and producing a powerful articulation of how and why her reaction to the family justice system was so negative. 

 

Why do people hate family court?

Emma Sutcliffe

People hate family court for the same reasons they hate hospitals; something pathological has happened to you that you cannot resolve alone and you have to put your life in the hands of people who are deemed to be more expert about your condition than you are. If you’re in family court you’ve likely been through something painful, there’s no guarantee it will stop hurting and the interventions themselves cause bruises. There’s also a hefty bill at the end and the surrounding quality of life direct and indirect costs of loss of earnings and utter exhaustion. Plus … like lots of diseases, it might not go away, it might come back; next time it could be fatal.

Why the determined correlation with medicine? I’m trying to align what I know with what I’ve experienced – knowledge of facts and wisdom of interpretation. I’ve been a medical writer for 25 years following a degree in medical biochemistry and application of that in the research and development of medicines. My entire nature is that of enquiry and fact-based decision making and behaviours. I believe in logic, cause and effect, sensibly following ‘doctor’s orders’.

I’ve also spent too much time in family court as a petitioner which saw 18 hearings in 22 months. My faith in facts, practitioners and the sensibility of court orders was put to the test before, during and after every one of those hearings. It was like preparing for surgery.

Let’s cut to the end result to be able to get back to the original question of ‘hatred’: although technically ‘I won’ — as in the contact order I applied for (on police recommendation) was granted — the experience was like surgery without anaesthetic where you leave feeling as though the presenting diseases may have been excised but fragments of infection are lingering away in septic reservoirs leaving with you a body and mind too reversibly damaged to recover and parent well. ‘Our case’ was just a lose:lose for the entire family. Both families; the old and the new and the penumbrae of families around us.

Our case had its ‘final hearing’ (an oxymoron if you consider that toxic parenting is a chronic condition) more than a year ago. I’m still haunted by the ghosts of hearings past and have my very own reservoir of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder leaving a lasting impression. The reality of the court orders is that unlike doctor’s orders, I’m already forced into breaking them and live every day with the fresh fear that CAFCASS will find me to be in breach and my ex husband will take me back to court. Because family court transacts on what has happened and assumes that children’s needs are fixed. Funnily enough, children grow and change whereas court orders don’t (without another set of injurious hearings reopening wounds) and as I now have a sentient, articulate adolescent determinedly refusing to stay at Dad’s house that essentially turns me into a criminal and opens me up again to allegations of the never-proved, academically derided ‘junk theory’ of parental alienation.

Like Andrew Wakefield’s infamous MMR causal link to autism saw him struck off yet the myths still perpetuate; parental alienation accusations conveniently drown out what ironically is ‘the voice of the child’ – child says ‘this is happening to me; I don’t like it’, CAFCASS officers respond with ‘they’re too young to know what they’re saying, they are the mouthpiece of the parent’. Pick a lane please. By all accounts, therefore, if recent judges’ blunt condemnations that ‘alienating mothers should be subjected to a three-strikes and you’re out’ – or imprisoned – then who knows if my next blog will be about life behind bars?

Therein lies the promulgation to distrust, fear, anger — hatred.

Despite living in purgatory, I have been able to step back and consider what in the hell happened there. My observations are that, like medicine, where a diagnosis, prognosis and treatment is sought through sedulous investigation of symptoms to reach a purely factual outcome – so too does the law of family court (specifically the implementation of ‘The Children’s Act’) rely on facts to achieve a sensible outcome that secures the best outcome for the child. As such, both the practices of medicine and law are ones which rely on its participants and processes being underpinned by integrity and accuracy. Trust should therefore be implicit.

However, neither medicine nor law accommodates human nature and emotions – which when put under pressure will contort and eclipse rational and logical decision-making. When afraid, hurt, confused or distressed the easiest of the emotion to employ is anger. Family court is that A&E part of the hospital where anger dominates; complex decisions are being made amidst a melee of jargon, allegations, process and manipulation. It becomes too easy to archetype ‘all mums are histrionic and cry wolf on domestic abuse’ or ‘all dads are intimidating and claim parental alienation’. However, this isn’t about gender – it is about which parent is the angriest parent in family court because they are more likely to be the one also prepared to be the most ruthless; to take the greatest risks. When parties enter the court they will each know how to attack and defend and how far the other is prepared to go.

The hate of family court is the knowledge that parties will default to their character type and court processes and practitioners by their very need to be thorough and percipient to protect a child have to also be open to the angriest party’s determination to exploit those people and processes in continued pursuit of punishment.

People hate family court because it prolongs the pain of punitive pursuit.

I could further my anecdotes and detail the utterly ludicrous allegations postured at me that I had to defend. But that would be pointless precisely because I was able to defend them thanks to a brilliant barrister and very caring solicitor who, importantly, were able to get me to listen all the while that my anger and fears were raging towards a maelstrom that possibly would have seen me lose custody of my own children and only be permitted supervised visits. If my ex had got his way and the full force of his anger and risk-taking of out and out lies had succeeded in influencing the judge as they biased the CAFCASS officer throughout proceedings then this story might have been very different indeed and even have seen our children placed in the care system. I won’t comment on the allegations because that’s the subject of a different blog (how narcissistic parents behave in court).

But that is why only relying on ‘facts’, denying how emotions can influence behaviours and seeing things in the fixed black/white process of the law is merely sticking a plaster over a seeping wound. People hate family court because it is sterile and doesn’t accurately reflect life outside the chambers. The law is fixed, but life is fluid. And people’s emotions over their children will always spill over … the angrier, the louder, the more heinous the allegations, the blunt threats and brinksmanship of disingenuous practitioners … when faced with the prospect of fight or flight, most mothers without strong legal support will run.

There needs to be allowance for the emotions of all parties and just as a good doctor seeks to help the physical and holistic needs of a patient; so too must family court consider the importance of helping and communicating that it should be a place for resolution rather than fuelling hatred. That can only begin when we seek to align knowledge of facts and wisdom of interpretation.

Transparency: Be careful what you wish for

This post originally appeared on The Transparency Project but objections were raised to my use of the feature image. So I repost it here.

 

This post is to comment on the latest ramifications of the long journey of two parents who faced the same accusation in both criminal and family courts but with very different outcomes.

The Transparency Project commented on this case in 2016; first looking at the legal position with regard to over turning adoption orders. Julie Doughty described the factual background in June 2016, asking the question ‘can an adoption order be undone?’ (answer – yes but it’s very rare):

In …  Re X [2016] EWHC 1342 (Fam), the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, gave permission for a full re-hearing of the original allegations made in care proceedings in 2012 involving an injury to child, now aged four, who was adopted in 2015. The problem that has since arisen is that the criminal proceedings brought against the parents, later in 2015, were dropped part-way through the trial. The trial judge directed that the parents be acquitted, as there was no case to answer. The standard of proof in a criminal case is of course higher than in a family case, but the parents now want that family case overturned. This is understandable, because if they want to have more children, or to work with children in the future, the family court finding will still say they pose a risk. However, their barrister told the President that if they were successful at the re-hearing, they would go on to challenge the adoption itself.

I also commented on this decision to hold a re-hearing in November 2016: ‘You can’t handle (51%) of the Truth’ . By October 2016 the parents were clear they did not wish to participate in any rehearing  and did not wish to challenge the adoption order. They provided written statements setting out that they could not contemplate removing X from a settled home after so much time had gone by. However, the LA, Guardian and adoptive parents all wanted a hearing.

The LA accused the parents of cynically withdrawing from a case they knew they could not win. The criminal prosecution had failed not because the parents were a victim of a miscarriage of justice and had been ‘exonerated’ but because prosecution witnesses could not agree about the existence or otherwise of metaphyseal fractures; accepted by all as a difficult area of diagnosis. Metaphyseal fractures are also called ‘corner fractures’ or ‘bucket handle fractures’ as they refer to an injury to the metaphysis, which is the growing plate at each end of a long bone, like a thigh bone. Most experts agree it is a indicator of abuse as the force applied to cause these fractures is shaking. Metaphyseal fractures occur almost exclusively in children under 2 because they are small enough to be shaken and they cannot protect their limbs.

The prosecution decided, very properly, that they could offer no further evidence against the parents in light of their own experts’ lack of certainty when set against the high criminal standard of proof.

This emphasis on declaring ‘the truth’ on the balance of probabilities, troubled me then, and troubles me now. In 2016 I commented:

What I had hoped we would see would be some open, transparent and honest discussion about the often enormous and sometimes irreconcilable tensions between doing right by parents and doing right by their children. Some recognition of the unnecessarily cruel bluntness of the lack of options for children to keep in contact with birth families, when decisions are made for adopted children, and which the Court of Appeal recognised in Re W [2016] needed further thought.

However, what it looks like we may get is some dreadful pantomime, further spending of many thousands of pounds of public money in some charade that by holding a re hearing of a finding of fact on the civil standard of proof (the balance of probabilities) we will somehow get to The Truth and we must do this because it will benefit the child.

What happened after October 2016?

For reasons which are not explained, the decisions of the court made in 2016 around this re-hearing have only just been published on the BAILII website in December 2018 so we are finally able to understand how this unusual situation has resolved.

Can a hearing take place if the parents won’t participate? And what are the implications for ‘The Truth’ ?

The first issue to be determined was whether or not the parents’ refusal to participate in the new finding of fact meant it should not go ahead. The court decided it should, commenting at para 30 and my emphasis added:

The fact is that, because of everything which has happened in this most unusual litigation, we are in a very good position to know what the birth parents’ case is and how it would, in all probability, be deployed before me were they to remain participating fully in the re-hearing. So I am reasonably confident that the essential fairness and validity of the process will not be compromised by their absence, just as I am reasonably confident that, even if they play no part in it at all, the process will be able to find out the truth for X and for the public.

I have highlighted that part of the judgment as it does not reassure me that any of the points I raised in 2016 have been answered; rather my concerns have increased. This creates a situation where the child and the wider public are asked to accept that ‘The Truth’ has been discovered on a balance of probabilities, with no participation from the parents and a Judge who is then only ‘reasonably confident’ that the process will work. By the time of the conclusion of the renewed fact finding the President was on firmer footing (see para 47), and was now ‘confident’ the truth had prevailed – but this remains ‘the Truth’ only on a balance of probabilities.

The court then continued with the finding of fact over a 12 day hearing in October and November 2016. See X (A Child) (No 4) [2018] EWHC 1815 (Fam)(decided in 2016 but not handed down in open court until 14 December 2018)

The court found that the parents had hurt X and they had decided at a late stage to try to avoid a finding of fact because they knew ‘the game was up’. The (then) President commented at para 125:

…I ought to say something about the timing and asserted basis for their attempted withdrawal from the proceedings. I cannot accept their protestation that the motivation for this was concern for X’s welfare and a recognition that there was little realistic prospect, whatever my findings, of ever being able to challenge the adoption order. If that had indeed been the case, they could have sought to withdraw much earlier. The truth, as it seems to me, is that, faced with the overwhelming weight of all the expert evidence which by then had been marshalled, they realised that ‘the game was up’ and cynically sought to withdraw, hoping that this would stymie any attempt to re-visit Judge Nathan’s original findings and thus prevent those findings being vindicated…

Matters of interest: Controversial expert evidence

These proceedings touch on a number of key issues that frequently become the subject of discussion and concern about how we deal with allegations that parents have hurt children. I have already commented on the issue of the standard of proof in family proceedings above. Annie will give below her perspective as a parent on how she reacts to the potential for different outcomes on the same facts in criminal and family courts.

It also highlights the difficulties around ‘controversial’ expert evidence which we touch upon in our guidance note relating to experts in the family courts – see Part 6relating to issues of medical controversy. In the criminal court the parents instructed Dr David Ayoub, a board certified radiologist licensed to practise medicine in the United States of America in the states of Illinois, Missouri and Iowa.

He could not be persuaded to attend the renewed fact finding in 2016 so the court considered his 2015 report and the evidence given in the criminal proceedings. Dr Ayoub had taken the controversial view that metaphyseal fractures happen extremely rarely and ‘for a great deal of the time, the medical community fail to take account of rickets’. His evidence was dismissed by the court as ‘worthless’, noting the reactions of the other doctors who described Dr Ayoub’s evidence as ‘nonsense’ (see para 43)

Asked by me to amplify what he meant by “nonsense”, whether he was using it with the colloquial meaning of “bonkers” or with the meaning “lacking any sense”, Dr Somers unhesitatingly replied “both.” Dr Somers said that Dr Ayoub’s interpretation of the images was “so far removed from any competent radiological interpretation that I have encountered that I would question either motive or competence.” He said of Dr Ayoub’s report that it “obfuscates important issues with a selective interpretation of the evidence in order to support an unproven theory.”

It is worth commenting that this is quite an incredible exchange for one expert to have with a Judge about the quality of another purported expert. There are other reported examples of parents attempting to rely on ‘foreign’ experts of less than stellar reputation and I wonder whether this is the inevitable consequence of the growing distrust of ‘the system’ and belief that all experts are in the pockets of the local authority – for an interesting example of the problems this can cause note also A (A Child), Re [2013]EWCA Civ 43. For further comments and concern about Dr Ayoub, see this article from The Times on 10th December 2018,which noted that Dr Ayoub had given evidence in other cases in the UK, further claiming calls were mounting to curb ‘incompetent experts’ and growing fears about their lack of regulation or control.

Matters of interest: Should a Reporting Restrictions Order continue to conceal the parents’ identities?

it is this issue which I think is probably the most pertinent for those of us who are interested in greater openness and transparency in the family courts. We have to grapple with the possible consequences of increased transparency, particularly in light of what seems to be a prevailing journalistic culture that rests very heavily on salacious and personal details as necessary to drive a story. When other members of the Transparency Project commented on a first draft of this post they asked why had chosen not to name the parents. My response was that I had not consciously chosen not to name them – but I felt very sorry for both of them. I have no doubt that they were encouraged to act as they did by those self styled campaigners against the family court system who persistently offer parents very bad advice on the basis that the whole system is corrupt and designed to steal children. Anyone who wants to know their names will find them by following the links in this post. I still feel uneasy about naming them here, even though I know this is futile.

The parents had welcomed considerable publicity after the collapse of the criminal trial in 2015 and their names were well known. The mother gave an interview to the Daily Mirrorsaying:

People need to know this goes on and be told the truth – you can take your baby into hospital scared they might be ill and the hospital can steal your baby away from you.

Their criminal barrister was quoted in the same article as saying:

Every step of the way when people had the opportunity to stand back, look at things again and say ‘we have made a mistake’, they ploughed on instead. These innocent parents have been spared a criminal conviction and a prison sentence for a crime they never committed. But they have had their child stolen from them. Their life sentence is that they are likely never to see their baby again.”

Sadly, this comment could not be excused as excitement in the heat of the moment arising from media attention, as the barrister’s Chambers published a blog which is still on linemaking the same points and quoting the parents’ junior criminal counsel as saying

“This tragic case highlights the real dangers of the Government’s drive to increase adoption and speed up family proceedings at all costs.”

Alarmingly, the blog post claims the parents were ‘exonerated’. They were not. The prosecution offered no further evidence. This is not a positive finding that the parents were innocent of any accusations made against them. This has echoes of the unfortunate ‘exoneration’ of Ben Butler by a family court when his text messages later revealed a very different picture; sadly after he had killed his daughter.

Such claims of exoneration are awkward when read against the 2016 fact finding. X did not have rickets. There was no miscarriage of justice. X had suffered ‘really serious abuse, child cruelty’.

At para 121 the court noted.

Standing back from all the detail, the overall picture is deeply troubling. Over a few short weeks, during the first few weeks of life, and extending, I am satisfied, over some period of time before taken to RSCH, X suffered an extraordinary constellation of what, I am satisfied, were inflicted injuries for which there is no innocent explanation: the constellation of marks and bruises noted by Dr Maynard (excepting the handful for which there may be an innocent explanation); two torn frenulae; and a number of fractures to different limbs. This was really serious child abuse, child cruelty. Whoever was the perpetrator must have known that X required medical attention. Even if someone was neither the perpetrator nor present at the time when injuries were inflicted, that person must have realised, even if only as time went by, that something was seriously wrong and that X required medical attention. Yet, until the final episode of oral bleeding, neither of the birth parents made any real attempt to obtain medical assistance for X, let alone to protect X from what was going on. Whoever was, or were, the perpetrator or perpetrators, both of the birth parents carry a high measure of responsibility for what on any view were serious parental failures.

Despite the considerable public attention already upon the parents in 2016, the court at that time agreed to impose a Reporting Restrictions Order to prohibit further naming or photographs, noting that the absence of that kind of detail would reduce the amount of publicity that could risk identification of the child or adoptive parents during the second finding of fact. The matter would be considered again when proceedings were concluded and this was done at a hearing on 30th November 2018 X (A Child) (No 5) [2018] EWHC 3442 (Fam) (14 December 2018)

In light of the outcome of the renewed finding of fact, it is not surprising that the mother now wished for the RRO to continue. She had since separated from the father who did not participate in the hearing. Her lawyers argued on her behalf that the mother was:

a vulnerable woman, lacking in formal education and certainly lacking in sufficient sophistication to negotiate dealing with the press. In the aftermath of the criminal hearing, [she] quickly came to regret having been forthcoming to the media. She experienced a level of interest and unwelcome attention that she had not anticipated and with which she could not easily cope. She withdrew from any further such involvement. She learned her lesson after the damage was done, but this socially disadvantaged young woman could never have been expected to have understood the ramifications of ‘going public’ and should not now be held responsible for the actions of others, who could have been expected to have such understanding.

However the court was not sympathetic to this argument. After conducting the balancing exercise between Articles 8 and 10 the court was clear that the parents should not be shielded by anonymity. The arguments put forward by the adoptive parents and the Press Association found favour:

…that there are in the public domain two competing narratives: one, the false narrative, in which identified birth parents portray themselves as the victims of a miscarriage of justice; the other, the correct narrative, in which unidentified birth parents are shown to have wrongly portrayed themselves as the victims of a miscarriage of justice. If the RRO continues in relation to the birth parents, it will not be possible to ‘link up’ the two competing narratives and therefore not possible to demonstrate that the false narrative is indeed false. It will remain indefinitely on the internet without anyone being able to counter it and demonstrate its falsity. More specifically, the allegation (now, as we know, false) of the identified birth parents that they – two named individuals – were the victims of a miscarriage of justice will remain indefinitely on the internet without the possibility of challenge and refutation. Ms Cover and Ms Rensten seek to meet this argument by submitting that the dragon is sleeping and will not be revived unless the birth parents are now identified. Even assuming that their premise is correct, this does not meet Ms Fottrell’s point, which is that the false narrative is out there – readily accessible by anyone with access to the internet.

A birth parent’s perspective

Annie, one half of the Project Coordinator role at the Transparency Project and author of Surviving Safeguarding: a parent’s guide to the child protection process adds her perspective.

I remember this case as it unfolded in the glare of the media in 2016.

What I, and other parents read was that these parents had taken their child to hospital, quite rightly, for medical help, and were accused of harming him or her, meaning that the baby was removed from their care at six weeks old. These parents were then put through the ordeal of a criminal trial and were found innocent of harming their baby. In the meantime, the Family Court had found, on the balance of probabilities, that the child had been harmed and decided that the baby should never be returned to their (seemingly innocent) parents and forcibly adopted. After being cleared of any criminal charges, the parents launched an appeal to have that child returned, an appeal which they then withdrew from, saying that their child had been with the adopted parents so long it would not be fair to move them.

To add insult to injury, Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Court Division (as he was then) added in cynical comments saying that he thought the parents had withdrawn because they “knew the game was up”. He stood by the family court findings (that the child was harmed by the parents).

I, like many birth parents with experience of the child protection system, felt both confused and angry by what I was reading. I felt angry with Munby and defensive towards the parents. How could birth parents who had been found innocent of abusing their child still go on to lose that child to a non-consensual adoption? It seemed utter madness – and a terrifying concept. Since 2015, I have offered direct advocacy to birth parents embroiled in the child protection process. What was I supposed to say to a parent who came to me, frightened, and not engaging with the local authority as a result, who had read this story in publications like the Daily Mail? How was I to reassure them that if they engaged with the help being offered that they had a far better chance of their family staying together when this story was being splashed all over the news and shared in amongst Facebook groups set up to protest against forced adoption? And quite frankly, who could blame these parents for feeling scared? I was, too.

I’ve since read the judgments, and taken time to review what evidence is available in the public domain. I understand better, and my view has changed. However, in the main, most members of the general public don’t read judgments. In the main, we read the news reports and form our opinions from them.

When it comes to parents involved with Children’s Services, these news reports only serve to exacerbate our fears that social workers are the “bogeymen” who will steal our children, even when we are found innocent. This perpetuates the “them and us” narrative, and means we are far less likely to either ask for help, or engage with the help being offered to safeguard children.

Conclusions

Sir James Munby’s confidence that the ‘true’ narrative will now overpower the false one, perhaps displays too great a faith in the ability of people to readily abandon narratives that chime with their own emotional reactions when presented with ‘facts’ (particularly if these are facts established as likely only on 51%). Publishing information on the internet does not by itself remedy the harms caused by adherence to more general conspiracy theories; a matter I have discussed in more detail at the Child Protection Resource.

However, this case with its harrowing and hopefully very unusual set of circumstances, sets out some powerful lessons. I think it is a continuing reminder of the need to be honest about what findings of fact in court can achieve. They are rarely about ‘exonerating’ or ‘damning’ but rather making a finding on a particular standard of proof. That means we need good quality evidence and experts who adhere to good standards of practice. Although Sir James was at the end ‘confident’ that ‘the truth’ had prevailed, the situation as highlighted in the criminal proceedings remained; the images of the fractures were of poor quality and the experts were not unanimous about what they saw.

As Annie comments above, it is a very clear example of just how confused those are outside the system about how it operates. The different standards of proof in criminal and civil cases is rarely understood, and when it is many parents make the reasonable comment that if their child is going to be adopted, it should be on the higher standard of proof.

However, most compellingly of all in my view, this case is a reminder of that he genie cannot be put back in the bottle. If we are pushing for greater openness and transparency, we all need to be mindful of the possible consequences. Once information is ‘out there’ it is very difficult to control how it will be republished or reinterpreted, no matter how hard you insist yours is the ‘right’ version. Once you have got journalists excited about the intimate details of your case, you may well attract more attention than you bargained for and end up the centre of a story that you had not anticipated.

Possibly parents who have greater faith in a court system will be less likely to seek to use journalists to fight their cause. But the risk of people pushing a false narrative with intent to deceive will remain and we are naive to think that publishing ‘the facts’ at a later stage will undo all the damage.

Feature Pic courtesy of Michell Zappa on Flickr (Creative Commons licence) – thanks!

Born into Care: Newborns in Care Proceedings In England

On 9th October 2018 I attended the launch of the Summary Report of ‘Born into care: Newborns in care proceedings in England’ from the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory for England and Wales.

The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory aims to support the best possible decisions for children by improving the use of data and research evidence in the family justice system. The main report will be online as of 10th October; this post deals with a summary and overview of its main findings.

The focus of the report is new borns subject to care proceedings, ‘new born’ being defined as an infant less than 7 days old. ‘An infant’ is a child less than 12 months old. The study used CAFCASS data from 2007 to 2017 to provide the first estimate of what proportion of care proceedings for infants are issued for newborns.

Numbers are on the rise

In the decade covered by the study, 173,002 children were involved in care proceedings and 47,172 (27%) were infants. At the outset, 32% of care proceedings were for newborns – by the end that had increased to 42%. Newborn cases also increased in volume over time; at the outset 1,039 cases were issued involving newborns; at the end 2,447. Thus the likelihood of newborns in the general population become subject to care proceedings has more than doubled. 

Regional variations

An alarming finding was the marked difference between the regions. The North West had the highest rates at 30 newborn cases per 10,000 live births in general population. Contrast this to London which had only 18 newborn cases per 10,000 live births.  A minority of LAs departed significantly from the expected average – the range for such outliers in 2016 was between 55 and 159 newborns per 10,000 live births. This is clearly troubling, and we need to investigate more closely the reasons behind such regional disparity.

The report suggests that differences are most likely attributable ‘to an interaction between professional practice and socio-demographic factors’. Of particular interest to me was the suggestion that we should investigate the influence of the local Designated Family Judges.  As it is a matter of some annoyance to me that different courts are developing divergent ‘local practice’  with regard to primarily administrative matters, it is not a great leap to think that a particular culture or approach may start to take root under the leadership of a particular Judge.

Subsequent Infants

This refers to newborns who had already had an older sibling appearing in care proceedings. In 2012/3 and 2016/7 this represented 47% of newborns. Without the experiences of an older sibling to inform the court, this raises issues about how the claim of ‘significant harm’ is going to be proved to the court – pregnancy provides only a very short window for an assessment of parenting capacity and support for change.

Duration of care proceedings

In 2012/13 only 28% of care proceedings completed within 26 weeks – in 2016/7 this increased to 61%. More research is needed to understand what is happening and what is different about the 39% of cases that do not complete within 26 weeks.

Final Legal orders

The total percentage of newborns subject to final care and placement orders was 47%. 21% were placed with extended family. 13% were placed with family. This requires further investigation – we need to know more about the circumstances behind those percentages.

Further questions

The report identifies the following areas requiring further consideration

  • Is increasing financial hardship for families a factor in the rising rates of newborns in care proceedings?
  • What is the impact of the reduction in preventative services on rates of newborns coming before the courts?
  • Does a defensive risk averse culture mean that professionals are less likely to want to work with the family without the security of a court order?
  • What accounts for fluctuations in the volume of newborn cases over time and place?

 

Main themes emerging from discussion

  • Loss of empathy in the system. What’s going wrong when people in the system want to do their best. ‘The arms that we used to put around families – which are no longer there’.
  • Development of ‘best practice’ in the maternity setting  – how to make the whole experience of removal less brutal for mothers (and fathers). A lot of this would be fairly simple to adopt and wouldn’t cost a huge amount – so why aren’t we doing it?
  • A need for better knowledge about what is done elsewhere – how do jurisdictions beyond England protect newborns, whilst also ensuring the rights of parents and wider family.
  • We have the numbers – now we need to drill down and look at reasons WHY such care proceedings are initiated.
  • And what happens AFTER proceedings? Are there groups of children who should be followed up?

 

Further reading

Care Crisis Review – report from the Family Rights Group

A little less conversation a little more action 

Myths and Monsters of Child Protection 

Evidence and Admissions made in the Family Court – what happens if the police are interested?

Section 98 of the Children Act

The purpose of this section is to encourage parents to speak openly and honestly in the family court about what happened to their child. It is supposed to provide them with safeguards against the involvement of the police who might want to prosecute them for criminal offences if they admit to, or the family court finds they have, hurt their children.

However, the situation is very complicated for even experienced lawyers to understand and it seems that it would be risky for any family lawyer to attempt to reassure their client that information or admissions contained in family proceedings will stay there.

98 of the Children Act 1989 provides that:

1. In any proceedings in which a court is hearing an application for an order under Part IV and V, no person shall be excused from-

A. giving evidence on any matter; or

B. answering any question put to him in the course of his giving evidence, on the ground that doing so might incriminate him or his spouse or civil partner of an offence.

2. A statement or admission made in such proceedings shall not be admissible in evidence against the person making it or his spouse or civil partner in proceedings for an offence other than perjury.

I tried to provide a ‘translation’ of this in this post. 

Attempt at Plain English Version: No guarantees of confidentiality can be given by the family court.

The judge should give a warning in the following terms when a parent is being questioned about causing harm to a child:

  • I need to explain a rule of law to you. Its important you understand this. Your lawyer can explain it further to you, it is their duty to do so.
  • allegations are made against you in these family proceedings. The family court is not involved in any decisions made in the criminal courts about whether you should be found guilty or acquitted of any criminal offence.
  • However, in these family proceedings, the court will have to decide whether or not the allegations made against you are true. If they are found to be true, this would mean you have done something which may also be a criminal offence.
  • in the family proceedings you aren’t allowed to refuse to answer questions or provide evidence in writing on the basis that your answers might show you or your spouse had done something criminally wrong.
  • If you do give evidence that suggests you have done something criminally wrong, this evidence is NOT allowed in any criminal proceedings against you UNLESS you are being prosecuted for perjury (i.e. you have lied on oath in the family court).
  • BUT you must understand that if the family court gives permission that ANYTHING you say or write down for these proceedings may be given to the police for them to use during their investigations into your conduct AND if you did end up in a criminal court, the prosecution might make an application for permission to ask you questions about anything you said in the family court.

The court gave guidance in A Local Authority v PG [2014] EWHC 63 (Fam) about the impact of section 98:

  • when a party to care proceedings is ordered to file and serve a response to threshold and/or to file and serve a narrative statement, that party must comply with that order and must do so by the date set out in the order;
  • the importance of parents or intervenors giving a frank, honest and full account of relevant events and matters cannot be overstated. It is a vital and central component of the family justice system;
  • a legal practitioner is entitled to advise a client of (i) the provisions and import of s.98 of the 1989 CA and (ii) the ability of the police and/or a co-accused to make application for disclosure into the criminal proceedings of statements, reports and documents filed in the care proceedings;
  • it is wholly inappropriate and potentially a contempt of court, however, for a legal practitioner to advise a client not to comply with an order made in care proceedings;
  • It is wholly inappropriate and potentially a contempt of court for a legal practitioner to advise a client not to give a full, accurate and comprehensive response to the findings of fact sought by a local authority in the threshold criteria document. This applies both where that advice is limited in time, eg until after a criminal defence statement has been filed and served and, worse still, the advice is given not to make such a response at all.

Some important points

Automatic disclosure of judgments under Rule 12.73

Rule 12.73 of the FPR 2010 and PD 12G mean any party has an automatic right to disclose to police/CPS whole or part of a judgment in a family case for the purpose of a criminal investigation or to enable the CPS to discharge its functions. BUT neither police nor the CPS can disclose the judgment or the information it contains  to any person without the permission of the family court judge.

Factors set out in Re C 1996

The leading authority remains  Re C sub nom Re EC [1996] 2 FLR 725 CA The court set out the following matters which a judge will consider when deciding to let the police have information from the family court. Each case must be decided on its merits and the importance of these factors will vary from case to case. The case also predates the shift in attitudes towards more openness in family proceedings and the impact of Articles 8 and 10 of the ECHR and the Human Rights Act 1998, so will need to be seen in that context.

  • The welfare and interests of the child or children concerned in the care proceedings. If the child is likely to be adversely affected by the order in any serious way, this will be a very important factor.
  • The welfare and interests of other children generally.
  • The maintenance of confidentiality in children’s cases.
  • The importance of encouraging frankness in children’s cases. The underlying purpose of s 98 is to encourage people to tell the truth in cases concerning children, and the incentive is that any admission will not be admissible in evidence in a criminal trial. But the incentive of guaranteed confidentiality is not given by the words of the section.
  • The public interest in the administration of justice. Barriers should not be erected between one branch of the judicature and another because this may be inimical to the overall interests of justice.
  • The public interest in the prosecution of serious crime and the punishment of offenders, including the public interest in convicting those who have been guilty of violent or sexual offences against children. There is a strong public interest in making available material to the police which is relevant to a criminal trial. In many cases, this is likely to be a very important factor.
  • The gravity of the alleged offence and the relevance of the evidence to it. If the evidence has little or no bearing on the investigation or the trial, this will militate against a disclosure order.
  • The desirability of co-operation between various agencies concerned with the welfare of children, including the social services departments, the police service, medical practitioners, health visitors, schools, etc. This is particularly important in cases concerning children.
  • In a case to which s 98(2) applies, the terms of the section itself, namely, that the witness was not excused from answering incriminating questions, and that any statement of admission would not be admissible against him in criminal proceedings. Fairness to the person who has incriminated himself and any others affected by the incriminating statement and any danger of oppression would also be relevant considerations.
  • Any other material disclosure which has already taken place.

 

A parent who confesses

There is also very useful discussion about the operation of section 98(2) and disclosure of documents to the police in the case of Re X and Y (Children: Disclosure of Judgment to Police) [2014]. This case involved a parent who confessed to causing a serious injury to a child. This confession came AFTER a fact finding hearing where the Judge couldn’t decide which parent hurt the child. On giving judgment the Judge commented that it would be possible to rehabilitate the child back to the family if the perpetrator gave a full and frank account.  The father confessed to causing the injury 2 days later and the parents separated. The children went back to their mother and Baker J gave a further judgment, exonerating the mother of causing harm.

The Father then applied for an order to stop any of this information being sent to the police/CPS. The police had by now closed their file on the case. The police cross applied to see the information about the confession so they could decide whether or not to prosecute the father. Baker J allowed the police and CPS to see the judgments but with limits on their use; they could not discuss the contents of the judgments with either parent without the court’s permission.

At para 22, Baker J considered the question of whether the father’s confession could be used in criminal proceedings – was he protected by section 98? It is for the criminal courts to decide if a admission could be used as evidence within the criminal trial or whether section 98(2) provided protection but noted that he knew of no reported case where section 98(2) has been considered by the criminal courts. In the family court, such confessions have been used to ‘shape the nature and range of the inquiries’ the police undertake [Oxfordshire CC v P [1995] 1 FLR 797].

Therefore, the police can ask a suspect about his previous confession in a further interview. If the suspects admits it was truthful, that could be evidence admitted into his criminal trial. However, being questioned in a police interview in this way runs a serious risk that any protection offered by section 98 would be nullified – as recognised by the court in Re M [2001] 2 FLR 1316.

There is – as yet – no judicial answer to the question raised in Re X &Y as to whether a suspect’s confession could be raised in a criminal trial as a ‘previous inconsistent statement’ pursuant to s119 of the Criminal Justice Act 1993.

This seems to be the worst of all worlds. Of course the police are going to be interested in a confession or an adverse judgment. Of course they are going to want to rely on it and ask questions about it. It does seem that the practical use of section 98 has been considerably eroded.

 

Liz Ingham comments:

It seems a shame, particularly in a climate where the police and CPS appear to await the outcomes of fact finding hearings before deciding on whether to prosecute and where there is sometimes inordinate delay in criminal trials being heard, that the laudable aim of section 98(2) to encourage frankness in the family courts is being eroded by the spectre of criminal proceedings waiting in the wings.

The section was put there for a purpose – if it was not to provide a complete shield for parents who are frank in children cases in order to encourage them to be so, what was the point of it? Is it right to leave the amount of protection it provides to a parent to be determined in the criminal courts where there is no necessity to consider the factors which may compete against the criminal jurisdiction’s perception of fairness such as the need to preserve the integrity of the family justice system as a whole in providing swift and child focused justice? Would it not be better to have children returned home to one parent quickly following being injured by the other parent than to be removed from their birth family for months at best (pending a fact finding hearing) and for life at worst (due to both parents remaining in the pool of perpetrators) even if the price for that were that the guilty parent escaped criminal prosecution? For the children in Re X & Y, perhaps it was fortunate that Baker J did not give the warning under section 98(2). It might have discouraged the Father from being frank and the children would have remained separated from both of their parents.

 

 

Further Reading

 

Communicating with the Home Office in family proceedings.

COMMUNICATING WITH UK VISAS AND IMMIGRATION (UKVI)
IN FAMILY PROCEEDINGS

Protocol agreed between the President of the Family Division and the Home Office issued on 16 May 2018

1 This Protocol enables the family courts (the Family Division of the High Court of Justice and the Family Court) to communicate with UK VISAS AND IMMIGRATION (UKVI), the relevant division of the Home Office, to obtain immigration and visa information for use in family court proceedings. Although it replaces and supersedes the previous guidance issued in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2014, in particular to reflect new UKVI processes and contact details, it does not alter the nature or purpose of the Protocol.

2 There are three parts of the process:

(1) HMCTS form EX660 (rev 04/18), a copy of which is annexed to this Protocol, must be completed by the parties and approved by the judge.

(a) The EX660 must be typed, not handwritten.
(b) The EX660 must be completed in full, specifying the details of the relevant family members and their relationship to the child(ren). Details of both mother and father/adoptive parents if known should be provided, whether or not they are involved in the proceedings, as this enables UKVI to trace the child(ren)’s records.
(c) The EX660 and the order must specify the questions the court wishes to be answered by UKVI.
(d) The EX660 must contain the name and contact details of someone who has agreed and is able to provide further information if needed.
(e) The EX660 must clearly state the time by which the information is required.

Failure to do this may cause delay in the time it takes UKVI to process the request.

(2) An order in the relevant form, a copy of which is annexed to this Protocol, must be drawn up, approved by the judge and sealed by the court.

(a) The order must clearly state the time by which the information is required.
(b) The order must specify any additional information or documents, such as a synopsis, which it wishes UKVI to have and set out in the order that the leave of the court to make disclosure to UKVI has been given. (Note that it may be a contempt of court to disclose this information otherwise.)

(3) The UKVI SVEC pro-forma must be completed by the court staff utilising the information in the EX660 and the order.

(a) All relevant fields in the SVEC pro-forma must be completed:
i. Section A – All fields to be completed if known
ii. Section B – Enquiry Type – Select Standard
iii. Section C – Select Subject 1 and complete all fields.
iv. Section D – Enter “Y” in “Other ” field only.
v. Section E – Enter ” Please refer to court order and EX660″.
vi. For more than one subject, select subject 2 and so on, completing steps C-E for each one.
(b) In Section B there are two fields, “Court date” and “required date”, which must be completed. In both fields the date the information is required should be entered, not the court date. These fields generate the target date on UKVI systems and, as the information ordered by the court will be required before the date of the court hearing, this will ensure that the information is provided in time.

3 The EX660 and the order must contain sufficient information to enable UKVI to understand the nature of the case, to identify whether the case involves an adoption, and to identify whether the immigration issues raised relate to an asylum or a non- asylum application.
4 In order to comply with the agreed four (4) week period for UKVI to provide a response to the court, the sealed order should be available to be sent by the court staff to UKVI on the same day that the order is made. Where that is not possible, the court, when stating the required date of receipt by the court of the information requested, must allow any additional time necessary for the preparation, sealing and sending of the order. This is to ensure that UKVI has four (4) weeks to provide a response from the time it receives the order.
5 The sealed order, completed EX660 and SVEC pro-forma should be sent immediately by the court to ICESSVECWorkflow@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk including EEREQUEST on the subject line of the email. The request for information will be rejected by UKVI if either the sealed order or the SVEC pro-forma is not provided.
6 Where the court wishes to progress a case that may be delayed, it may send an email to SVECManagement@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk
7 The UKVI official will be personally responsible for either:
(i) answering the query themselves, by retrieving the file and preparing a statement for the court; or
(ii) forwarding to a caseworker or relevant official with carriage of the particular file.
8 UKVI will ensure that their information is received by the court in time, as instructed by the judge or court making the request.

James Munby, President of the Family Division

Innovations in Children’s Social Care – to what extent are parents and children included?

This is a post by a parent. NESTA is an ‘innovation foundation’ backing new ideas to tackle ‘the big challenges of our time’. The What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care is a new project to foster evidence-informed practice in the sector in England. The Development Team is helping to identify what the Centre should focus on, how it should identify and share evidence, and how it should be managed and led.

She poses the stark question – are children and families going to be direct participants in this endeavour or is it more an effort to find cheaper innovations with no clear definition of what is meant by ‘success’? I would be interested to know what response this parent receives…

 

WHAT WORKS CENTRE
OPEN LETTER to NESTA

​Dear Sir/Madam

I’m the parent of a young person who entered Care in adolescence. I’ve been campaigning and working for better rights for families in similar circumstances and for children with disabilities who enter Care since then.

I understand that NESTA will have a key role in the new What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care

As I understand it, there are a number of ethical issues that need to be addressed as regards the aims of the Centre and how these should be achieved. The Children’s Act 1989, is the primary piece of legislation to protect the welfare of children and it is generally accepted that it was intended to promote collaborative working between families and Agencies in the best interests of children.

The Main Principles of the Act are:
– the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration.
– wherever possible, children should be brought up and cared for within their own families.
– parents with children in need should be helped to bring up their children themselves; this help would be provided as a service to the child and his family.

It seems apparent that we are at a crossroads as regards working with families in England and Wales with some stark choices:-
​ Are the principles of the Children’s Act to be bravely embraced as never before including involving parents and carers in real decision-making at strategic level when it comes to designing social care services for children and families?
Or
Are children and families to be treated as ‘guinea pigs’ in developing commercially viable ‘interventions’ in the name of ‘innovative practice in child protection’ with little say in the matter and no clear idea of how success is defined relative to the Children’s Act 1989?

I have been in a considerable number of rooms containing child protection professionals with a ‘we know best’ attitude when it comes to working with families and I find this both dispiriting and disturbing. What I’m sure of is that this attitude will never deliver for children and families. Not all programmes are like this thankfully. I’m a parent/carer member of a NHS Programme for example which has an ethos of co-production.

Please, please involve families (birth, adoptive, kinship etc) in the new Centre at decision-making level. To do anything other than this is highly unethical and will undermine the stated aims of the Centre.

This is my submission to the Care Crisis Review for what it is worth.
https://childprotectionautisticchild.weebly.com/respect.html

I look forward to a response to this email.

Yours Sincerely
 

Speaking to student social workers about the Law – and some other stuff

 

On Monday 27th November 2017 I went to talk to some student social workers about the law around care proceedings  – how important it was for them to understand what the law demands. Without that understanding, social workers cannot analyse their cases effectively and they may not appreciate what kind of evidence they need to present to the court.

I have often wondered if it is lack of proper understanding of the burden and standard of proof which explains why so many care cases go off the rails. I spoke to the students for about an hour, largely exploring areas I discuss in this post about the importance of the rule of law and this post about achieving best evidence in Children Act cases.

“Whats the point in doing the job?”

But – for me at least – the most interesting part of the day was the discussion that followed afterwards. We spoke about the importance of discussion between the different professions to enable us to understand the parameters and limits of our different roles.

I spoke about how social media was still on balance a very positive force in my life as it had enabled me to meet and talk to people I would otherwise never have met. It also allows information to be widely shared.

I asked the students what their perception now was of the role of social worker. The answer was immediate and very sad:

We started the year excited but the constant social work bashing makes us think ‘what’s the point… there is no one who talks about us doing a ‘cracking job’.

The students explained that they were receiving negative messages from all sides – from the parents who visited the college to speak and even from representatives of their own profession.

Of particular note to the students was the way the profession was portrayed by Social Work Tutor. The students confirmed that the discussion on the Facebook groups could be really helpful but they were rightly wary and quite shocked by some of the discussion which involved revealing identifying details about families or encouraging a mocking attitude towards them.

This was a very timely discussion for me – only the previous evening I had engaged in lengthy discussion with a number of others on Twitter about our concerns about Social Work Tutor – which have been fairly and comprehensively assessed on Pink Tape here.

For those who haven’t been following the debate, there have been long standing concerns raised by many that Social Work Tutor promotes a message about the profession that is fundamentally unhelpful and really quite damaging – disseminating a view of social work as a dangerous and draining profession where parents are to be either feared or laughed at.

The alternative view is that SWT has provided a useful forum via his Facebook groups that allow aspiring social workers to exchange ideas and resources and that is reliance on humourous ‘memes’ was just typical officer worker banter.

The students were unanimous in their condemnation of use of ‘banter’ as a shield to poke fun at parents, pointing out that to the recipient of ‘banter’ it usually feels like abuse. There is a fine line between banter and bullying.

The students were also very concerned about the frequent use of memes to underscore just what a horrible job social work is – this was a very demoralising message for the students to receive. They also questioned why there couldn’t be more of a positive message about what social workers aspired to do, other than the ‘social worker as super hero’ message. The students recognised this as inherently unhelpful – not merely enforcing dividing lines between them and parents but as simply unrealistic in a culture of austerity and reduced resources.

This led to an interesting discussion about how difficult it is for the social work profession to celebrate their positive achievements, owing to various laws which prohibit dissemination of information about care cases. The recent Tower Hamlets Muslim foster carer row being one of the worst examples of this.

This was an interesting afternoon but also sad. What can we do to stop the initial excitement of these students draining away in the face of persistent negative messages about their profession? Social work is an essential profession in any civilised society and it is very sobering to think that the students did not feel they could be proud of wanting to be a part of this.

My only answer is that we continue to have honest, open conversations and we keep the bantering memes to a minimum.

 

Multi Agency Response to children living with domestic abuse

Regular contributor @DVHurts writes about the recent report investigating the multi agency response to children living with domestic abuse. Some good practice is noted but also criticism of practices that do not keep children safe, such as written agreements that do not focus on the perpetrator as the source of the abuse and therefore the risk. 

I am highlighting a recent joint inspection report by OFSTEAD, HMICFRS, Care Quality Commission and HM Inspectors of Probation, into the multi agency response to children living with domestic abuse. You can read the whole report here.

This report is about the second joint targeted area inspection programme, which
began in September 2016 and which examined ‘the multi-agency response to
children living with domestic abuse’. The findings in this report consider the extent to
which, in the six local authorities inspected, children’s social care, health
professionals, the police and probation officers were effective in safeguarding
children who live with domestic abuse. The report calls for a national public service
initiative to raise awareness of domestic abuse and violence. It also calls for a
greater focus on perpetrators and better strategies for the prevention of domestic
abuse.

It raises the question whether a public health campaign similar to drink driving or drug awareness should be rolled out considering the enormous human and financial cost of domestic violence:

There needs to be a public service message aimed at reducing the prevalence of
domestic abuse as part of a long-term strategy. The focus of this public service
message needs to be on those perpetrators who have offended or might offend, and
to communicate a better understanding of the behaviour and attitudes of those
perpetrating abuse.

Once again firefighting by services, rather than prevention is highlighted:

Work with families that we saw on inspection was often in reaction to
individual crises. Agencies can be overwhelmed by the frequency of
serious incidents, particularly higher risk ones. However, keeping children
safe over time needs long-term solutions.

There was criticism on the concentration on the victim, rather than the perpetrator by services:

A pattern emerged that suggests agencies focus on the victim as the only solution.
In the worst cases, agencies placed an inappropriate attribution of responsibility on
the mother to protect her children. The end of an abusive relationship was
considered to reduce the risk to children, when in fact research tells us that
separation can escalate risk.
Most agencies did not focus on the perpetrator of the abuse enough. Instead, they
focused on removing the family from the perpetrator, leaving them to move on to
another family and, potentially, a repeated pattern of abuse.

On a more positive note, the inspectors highlighted several areas of good practice , including midwifery, in particular staff who are not frightened to ask the awkward questions:

In Hounslow, for example, inspectors praised the ‘One Stop Shop’ service
for parents who are subject to domestic abuse. The service is open one
morning a week. Parents can access a range of services, advice and
support from various professionals including legal advice, support from an
independent domestic violence adviser (IDVA), children’s social care, the
police, housing, substance misuse support, a refuge worker and an
independent sexual violence adviser. Inspectors noted that:
‘parents are gaining an understanding of the impact of living with
domestic abuse, leading to their being better able to meet the needs of
their children and keeping them safe’.

On the other hand there was criticism of practice that was highly unlikely to keep children safe:

Some of the thinking and practice we saw with victims in contexts of coercive
control were clearly inappropriate. This included the use of written agreements
that placed responsibility for managing the risk to children with the victim.
Written agreements are similar to written contracts, where social workers and
parents agree a set of terms that the parents sign. The terms may include
things like, the victim will not continue a relationship with her abusive partner,
she will not allow him into the house, she will not be in contact with him, and
so on.

The use of written agreements in two of the six local authorities was
widespread. However, we saw no evidence that they are effective. Given that
the focus of written agreements is often not the perpetrator who is the source
of the abuse and therefore the risk, it is unsurprising that they are ineffective.

Then something that a number of woman will relate to, and is often the subject of comments on this blog( not just from me):

 

Some of the women we spoke to in our focus groups described how their abusers used their distress as evidence that they were unstable. Often the women believed they were regarded as having mental health conditions or of being emotionally incapable of caring for their children. In one case, this resulted in a mother being evicted from her home and her partner being given sole custody of her children, whom she did not see for several months. Eventually her abuser, who had a severe alcohol addiction, was evicted and custody returned to the mother

Untangling this web and being consistent in identifying who needs to be held
responsible, and for what, will always be challenges for professionals. We found
instances of language being used that incorrectly held victims responsible for
the risk of domestic abuse. For example, we saw reports that described an
abusive situation as a ‘lifestyle choice’ and reports stating that victims had
learnt to ‘make better relationship choices’. We also found instances of
the multi-agency response to children living with domestic abuse
inappropriate practice, including a police log that had been updated to state
that a safeguarding visit would not be completed because both parties were ‘as
bad as one another’.

A lack of focus on perpetrators can lead to a short-term view of risks. We saw examples of swift action being taken to secure the immediate safety of the
victim and children, without any action being taken to address the root causes
of the perpetrator’s behaviour. In temporarily resolving the immediate incident,professionals can lose sight of the greater risks posed in future.

One survivor of domestic abuse told us:
‘I called the police on him multiple times and they just kind of patted him
on the back and said ‘calm down son’. And I’m like, ‘he’s just thrown me
down the goddamn stairs’.

It is a comprehensive, readable report and has been reported on elsewhere: http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2017/09/21/written-agreements-still-common-part-child-protection-practice/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2017/09/19/domestic-abuse-victims-ignored-police-officers-see-lifestyle/Mul