Tag Archives: abuse

Abuse and ‘neglect’ – how is this identified? And what support is offered?

 

I am grateful to this post from one of CPR’s readers, who is parent to an autistic child. She writes about her difficulties in getting help and support for her son and the problems families experience in a system which does not seem set up to identify difficulties and offer support. What happens when children with difficulties arising out of their undiagnosed disabilities are mis-identified as children suffering from parental neglect or abuse?

As she comments:
As it stands, the Child Protection system is a blunt and sometimes cruel instrument often used without much prospect of bringing about positive change because it can only ever work as one part of a system of support for families, and this system of support is largely absent.

Not having met a social worker in our local authority until the day my son with an Asperger Syndrome diagnosis entered Care under section 20 of the Children’s Act 1989, I began to read anything I could find about children with his profile who enter Care. That was the day I accepted that having tried everything else, Care was the only option available to get an integrated package of support for him, something we and he had needed by any measure for some time. He was not going to be someone ‘who didn’t fit within our services’ remit’ nor just another statistic of a disabled young person living rough with poor mental health or worse, something that seemed almost inevitable at that time, without trying everything including Care.

As part of my coping mechanism for the immense grief and desolation I was experiencing, I read report after report to learn about the Care system. Eventually, to cut down on my reading, I’d open reports and papers in pdf format and search within the document with the search facility using terms like ‘disabled, disability, autism, neuro-developmental, ASD, ASC’ and might get one ‘hit’. What I did notice was that if I carried out the same search using ‘neglect’ as a search term I’d get scores of ‘hits’ within the same document. I concluded that for social workers ‘neglect’ was ‘sexy’ and disability anything but. Children like mine, with an autism diagnosis but without an obvious learning disability were a bit of a side show while all the action in Child Protection was around ‘abuse and neglect’ and that didn’t seem to be up for discussion. There were a few reports like the excellent ‘Unprotected, Overprotected’  that made links between disability and core child protection issues but generally these reports were few and far between.

If one looked a little wider to the family unit with an autistic or learning disabled family member there seemed to be almost nothing in terms of research into how to support families with complex difficulties around neuro-disability including poor mental health, different ways of thinking and processing information, mental inflexibility and the need for extreme control to manage anxiety as just some examples.

I came to loathe the word ‘neglect’, surely the reasons why children enter care are multi-faceted yet this word is so un-nuanced and brings with it a mountain of stigma, shame and blame for parents.

One of the things that also became apparent to me, was that there seemed to be a lot of children with extreme difficulties within Care. When I asked why our son hadn’t a social worker from The Children with Disabilities Team I was told they only took on cases of children with multiple and complex disabilities and they had a very full caseload. Similarly when I asked why his case did not have clinical oversight, (something that eventually did come) I was told ‘’All our children have the same kinds of difficulties’. My response was ‘’well, are they being given autism assessments?’’ The answer to that question ( yet more reading..) was that ‘no, children who enter Care are not assessed or even screened for autism – all their difficulties (they are most commonly described as having developmental delay not disability and/or traumatised with poor mental health) unquestionably stem from ‘’neglect and/or abuse by parents prior to entering Care’’. Well that is not my experience so..?

I eventually came to the conclusion that assessments and healthcare for children in Care are not remotely up to the task of meeting the needs of a sizable number of children who are in Care, many with undiagnosed hidden disabilities. There is almost no data collected on children in Care with disabilities and we do not know how many are diagnosed as being autistic before they enter Care or within Care although we know from 2017 Freedom of Information requests there is considerable local variation in their numbers from 0% (Calderdale) -to 12.7% (Walsall). Surely this is Corporate Neglect and why were Child Protection professionals / CQC / Ofsted not making that point? Obviously some types of neglect are more ’sexy’ for professionals working in Child Protection than others.

There are some other troublesome issues around ‘neglect’

I’ve recently being made aware of this project. Identifying and Understanding Inequalities in Child Welfare Intervention Rates. It is worth watching the You tube video associated with the link as it identifies that in a poor neighbourhood within a wealthy borough there are a lot more children on child protection plans than in a poor neighbourhood in a poor borough. Surely ‘abuse is abuse’ and ‘neglect is neglect’ so how to explain this? Assuming ‘abuse’ is an absolute, maybe the concept of ‘neglect’ is a relative one, so one person’s/team’s idea of neglect is not another’s? I’ve a working lifetime of experience where I’ve learned to never ask anyone in a local authority whether they would like to be involved in decision making unless it falls within their strictly defined statutory remit and I check that myself first rather than asking. This is because I have found that many are tempted to try and control things they have no statutory remit for and ‘it is best not to invite trouble’. This is certainly not unique to people who work in Local Authorities just that when asked for our opinions, most of us have difficulties not telling people what they should be doing based on our own likes/dislikes/perspectives. When it comes to Child Protection, where there is a huge power imbalance and a very diffuse remit, I think this can enter some really dangerous territory.

Take this situation where there are concerns about abuse and neglect by parents of their autistic children :-
‘’ Some families may feel that they accept their child for who they are and allow them to withdraw from the world. Is that neglect? Many people with autism need to have structure and routine in their lives to cope with an unpredictable world. Some parents may allow this to take over and dictate the lives of the whole family, others may rally against it, believing it’s in the child’s best interest for them not to give way to the structure. Is this abuse?

There are many different therapies and interventions available which claim to cure autism. Some of these practices can in themselves ‘appear’ abusive. Some parents pursue these out of desperation and when the claims for some of these therapies and interventions are far from clear, it can be difficult for parents to know what to believe’’

http://www.autismeurope.org/activities/projects/speak-up-publications/guide-for-the-protection-of-children-and-young-people-with-autism-from-violence-and-abuse.html

If social workers working with children have little training about autism, are they really able to make decisions about what constitutes ‘neglect’ when it comes to this group? What if an autistic child doesn’t t have a diagnosis because clinicians do not have resources to carry out specialist assessments? If they do not have very good multi-disciplinary working arrangements that can quickly identify the reasons for a child’s difficulties and help build the child’s capacity, ,not just focus on questions about the parent’s fitness to parent, are they likely to get this right?
Where is the discussion about this in Child Protection circles and if decision-making is wrong why is that not abuse? It is absolutely foreseeable and mostly preventable with good training and good multi-disciplinary working arrangements around diagnosis.

Which brings me to ‘Edge of Care’ support for autistic children.

Autism is a spectrum condition and a child’s difficulties can present in many ways. One of the most difficult to explain is that a child who is very bright and no trouble in school can have extreme difficulties in processing what is happening around them and may develop very poor mental health particularly around anxiety. See this National Autism Society video  explaining how autistic children who have acute difficulties such as these, may end up in secure or forensic settings.

The tone is very much ” Their parents never taught them and because of this..” My response to that would be ”Give parents the tools to help their autistic children and most will.” Autistic children need an autism diagnosis (my son got his at 16 in the most horrendous circumstances) and parents need support (we got none). I also believe billions of pounds of cuts are purposefully being made to Children’s Services, legal aid and the NHS with an unspoken acceptance that naive carers/parents in desperate circumstances will find it almost impossible to access support for themselves and their children. Many pathways to support exist in name only, are supposed to be provided by the market via brokerage or self-funding or unfunded charities, are initiatives or time limited programmes that quietly disappear, unlike the fanfare around their introduction. Services where they exist are understaffed and complaints/appeals processes so difficult to negotiate that only the most committed, resourceful and able persist. All, including professionals who have to somehow work in this environment whilst retaining their own humanity, understand this, so is this the ‘neglect and abuse’ that Child Protection Professionals are concerned about? Maybe.

I could go on and on..

As you will have gathered my own ‘special interest’ is around children who are autistic. See this piece http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-41345647
”About 20,000 children have been harmed by valproate medicines in the UK since the 1970s. The medicines regulator said the drug had been kept under constant review. Babies exposed to the drug in the womb have a 40% risk of developing autism, low IQ and learning disabilities.” —Almost 70% of women surveyed about a powerful epilepsy drug have not received new safety warnings about the dangers of taking it during pregnancy.”

Anyone interested in the law may already know that a number of years ago, legal aid was withdrawn to families trying to take a case against the drug’s manufacturer and it could not proceed. Since then children continued to be born with abnormalities and some died, as a result of their mothers taking this drug without being aware of the risks, causing unimaginable and completely preventable suffering to children. Is that ‘neglect’ by the State? Can it get any more serious if so?

Or is this the kind of ‘neglect and abuse’ that the United Nations has called for action on, United Nations criticises treatment of disabled children in the UK  that concerns Child Protection professionals?

These are rhetorical questions in the main because although Child Protection professionals refer to preventing ‘abuse’ and ‘neglect’ of children what they really mean is intervening in families that are experiencing difficulties with the mind-set that children’s difficulties stem from neglectful or abusive parenting. The reality is that it isn’t possible for parents or professionals to nurture children particularly children with high needs, without the State taking an active role in supporting and protecting families.

As it stands, the Child Protection system is a blunt and sometimes cruel instrument often used without much prospect of bringing about positive change because it can only ever work as one part of a system of support for families, and this system of support is largely absent. I think families are a huge resource – painting us as incompetent, neglectful, not to be trusted, ignorant etc. is just so damaging for our children. My son didn’t need rescuing. We needed to be listened to and we needed help. That our son had to enter Care to get it is my idea of what constitutes ‘neglect’.

 

Further Reading

NHS (2017) Developing Support and Services for Children and Young People with a learning disability, autism or both  ”The Department for Education supports the development of the work undertaken in the Transforming Care Partnership Boards and encourages local authorities to pay regard to this guidance”

Tizard, Challenging Behaviour Foundation (2017) Developing Better Commissioning for Individuals with behaviour that challenges services – A scoping exercise.
The Children Act 1989 – deeply flawed legislation?

PRACTICE DIRECTION 12J – CHILD ARRANGEMENTS AND CONTACT ORDERS: DOMESTIC ABUSE AND HARM

This Practice Direction supplements FPR Part 12, and incorporates and supersedes the President’s Guidance in Relation to Split Hearings (May 2010) as it applies to proceedings for child arrangements orders.

This is the updated PD12J from 2017. For a more general discussion of issues around violence in family proceedings see this post “Reporting Domestic Violence” Comments from the President of the Family Division about what the amended PD hopes to achieve are set out below in his ‘circular’ of September 2017. 

Summary

1. This Practice Direction applies to any family proceedings in the Family Court or the High Court under the relevant parts of the Children Act 1989 or the relevant parts of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 in which an application is made for a child arrangements order, or in which any question arises about where a child should live, or about contact between a child and a parent or other family member, where the court considers that an order should be made.
2. The purpose of this Practice Direction is to set out what the Family Court or the High Court is required to do in any case in which it is alleged or admitted, or there is other reason to believe, that the child or a party has experienced domestic abuse perpetrated by another party or that there is a risk of such abuse.
3. For the purpose of this Practice Direction –
“domestic abuse” includes any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass, but is not limited to, psychological, physical, sexual, financial, or emotional abuse. Domestic abuse also includes culturally specific forms of abuse including, but not limited to, forced marriage, honour-based violence, dowry-related abuse and transnational marriage abandonment;
“abandonment” refers to the practice whereby a husband, in England and Wales, deliberately abandons or “strands” his foreign national wife abroad, usually without financial resources, in order to prevent her from asserting matrimonial and/or residence rights in England and Wales. It may involve children who are either abandoned with, or separated from, their mother;
“coercive behaviour” means an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten the victim;
“controlling behaviour” means an act or pattern of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour;
“development” means physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development;
“harm” means ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development including, for example, impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another, by domestic abuse or otherwise;
“health” means physical or mental health;
“ill-treatment” includes sexual abuse and forms of ill-treatment which are not physical; and
“judge” includes salaried and fee-paid judges and lay justices sitting in the Family Court and, where the context permits, can include a justices’ clerk or assistant to a justices’ clerk in the Family Court.

General principles

4. Domestic abuse is harmful to children, and/or puts children at risk of harm, whether they are subjected to domestic abuse, or witness one of their parents being violent or abusive to the other parent, or live in a home in which domestic abuse is perpetrated (even if the child is too young to be conscious of the behaviour). Children may suffer direct physical, psychological and/or emotional harm from living with domestic abuse, and may also suffer harm indirectly where the domestic abuse impairs the parenting capacity of either or both of their parents.
5. The court must, at all stages of the proceedings, and specifically at the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (‘FHDRA’), consider whether domestic abuse is raised as an issue, either by the parties or by Cafcass or CAFCASS Cymru or otherwise, and if so must –
• identify at the earliest opportunity (usually at the FHDRA) the factual and welfare issues involved;
• consider the nature of any allegation, admission or evidence of domestic abuse, and the extent to which it would be likely to be relevant in deciding whether to make a child arrangements order and, if so, in what terms;
• give directions to enable contested relevant factual and welfare issues to be tried as soon as possible and fairly;
• ensure that where domestic abuse is admitted or proven, any child arrangements order in place protects the safety and wellbeing of the child and the parent with whom the child is living, and does not expose either of them to the risk of further harm; and
• ensure that any interim child arrangements order (i.e. considered by the court before determination of the facts, and in the absence of admission) is only made having followed the guidance in paragraphs 25–27 below.
In particular, the court must be satisfied that any contact ordered with a parent who has perpetrated domestic abuse does not expose the child and/or other parent to the risk of harm and is in the best interests of the child.
6. In all cases it is for the court to decide whether a child arrangements order accords with Section 1(1) of the Children Act 1989; any proposed child arrangements order, whether to be made by agreement between the parties or otherwise must be carefully scrutinised by the court accordingly. The court must not make a child arrangements order by consent or give permission for an application for a child arrangements order to be withdrawn, unless the parties are present in court, all initial safeguarding checks have been obtained by the court, and an officer of Cafcass or CAFCASS Cymru has spoken to the parties separately, except where it is satisfied that there is no risk of harm to the child and/or the other parent in so doing.
7. In proceedings relating to a child arrangements order, the court presumes that the involvement of a parent in a child’s life will further the child’s welfare, unless there is evidence to the contrary. The court must in every case consider carefully whether the statutory presumption applies, having particular regard to any allegation or admission of harm by domestic abuse to the child or parent or any evidence indicating such harm or risk of harm.
8. In considering, on an application for a child arrangements order by consent, whether there is any risk of harm to the child, the court must consider all the evidence and information available. The court may direct a report under Section 7 of the Children Act 1989 to be provided either orally or in writing, before it makes its decision; in such a case, the court must ask for information about any advice given by the officer preparing the report to the parties and whether they, or the child, have been referred to any other agency, including local authority children’s services. If the report is not in writing, the court must make a note of its substance on the court file and a summary of the same shall be set out in a Schedule to the relevant order.

Before the FHDRA

9. Where any information provided to the court before the FHDRA or other first hearing (whether as a result of initial safeguarding enquiries by Cafcass or CAFCASS Cymru or on form C1A or otherwise) indicates that there are issues of domestic abuse which may be relevant to the court’s determination, the court must ensure that the issues are addressed at the hearing, and that the parties are not expected to engage in conciliation or other forms of dispute resolution which are not suitable and/or safe.
10. If at any stage the court is advised by any party (in the application form, or otherwise), by Cafcass or CAFCASS Cymru or otherwise that there is a need for special arrangements to protect the party or child attending any hearing, the court must ensure so far as practicable that appropriate arrangements are made for the hearing (including the waiting arrangements at court prior to the hearing, and arrangements for entering and exiting the court building) and for all subsequent hearings in the case, unless it is advised and considers that these are no longer necessary. Where practicable, the court should enquire of the alleged victim of domestic abuse how best she/he wishes to participate.

First hearing / FHDRA

11. At the FHDRA, if the parties have not been provided with the safeguarding letter/report by Cafcass/CAFCASS Cymru, the court must inform the parties of the content of any safeguarding letter or report or other information which has been provided by Cafcass or CAFCASS Cymru, unless it considers that to do so would create a risk of harm to a party or the child.
12. Where the results of Cafcass or CAFCASS Cymru safeguarding checks are not available at the FHDRA, and no other reliable safeguarding information is available, the court must adjourn the FHDRA until the results of safeguarding checks are available. The court must not generally make an interim child arrangements order, or orders for contact, in the absence of safeguarding information, unless it is to protect the safety of the child, and/or safeguard the child from harm (see further paragraphs 25-27 below).
13. There is a continuing duty on the Cafcass Officer/Welsh FPO which requires them to provide a risk assessment for the court under section 16A Children Act 1989 if they are given cause to suspect that the child concerned is at risk of harm. Specific provision about service of a risk assessment under section 16A of the 1989 Act is made by rule 12.34 of the FPR 2010.
14. The court must ascertain at the earliest opportunity, and record on the face of its order, whether domestic abuse is raised as an issue which is likely to be relevant to any decision of the court relating to the welfare of the child, and specifically whether the child and/or parent would be at risk of harm in the making of any child arrangements order.

Admissions

15. Where at any hearing an admission of domestic abuse toward another person or the child is made by a party, the admission must be recorded in writing by the judge and set out as a Schedule to the relevant order. The court office must arrange for a copy of any order containing a record of admissions to be made available as soon as possible to any Cafcass officer or officer of CAFCASS Cymru or local authority officer preparing a report under section 7 of the Children Act 1989.

Directions for a fact-finding hearing

16. The court should determine as soon as possible whether it is necessary to conduct a fact-finding hearing in relation to any disputed allegation of domestic abuse –
(a) in order to provide a factual basis for any welfare report or for assessment of the factors set out in paragraphs 36 and 37 below;
(b) in order to provide a basis for an accurate assessment of risk;
(c) before it can consider any final welfare-based order(s) in relation to child arrangements; or
(d) before it considers the need for a domestic abuse-related Activity (such as a Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programme (DVPP)).
17. In determining whether it is necessary to conduct a fact-finding hearing, the court should consider –
(a) the views of the parties and of Cafcass or CAFCASS Cymru;
(b) whether there are admissions by a party which provide a sufficient factual basis on which to proceed;
(c) if a party is in receipt of legal aid, whether the evidence required to be provided to obtain legal aid provides a sufficient factual basis on which to proceed;
(d) whether there is other evidence available to the court that provides a sufficient factual basis on which to proceed;
(e) whether the factors set out in paragraphs 36 and 37 below can be determined without a fact-finding hearing;
(f) the nature of the evidence required to resolve disputed allegations;
(g) whether the nature and extent of the allegations, if proved, would be relevant to the issue before the court; and
(h) whether a separate fact-finding hearing would be necessary and proportionate in all the circumstances of the case.
18. Where the court determines that a finding of fact hearing is not necessary, the order must record the reasons for that decision.
19. Where the court considers that a fact-finding hearing is necessary, it must give directions as to how the proceedings are to be conducted to ensure that the matters in issue are determined as soon as possible, fairly and proportionately, and within the capabilities of the parties. In particular it should consider –
(a) what are the key facts in dispute;
(b) whether it is necessary for the fact-finding to take place at a separate (and earlier) hearing than the welfare hearing;
(c) whether the key facts in dispute can be contained in a schedule or a table (known as a Scott Schedule) which sets out what the applicant complains of or alleges, what the respondent says in relation to each individual allegation or complaint; the allegations in the schedule should be focused on the factual issues to be tried; and if so, whether it is practicable for this schedule to be completed at the first hearing, with the assistance of the judge;
(d) what evidence is required in order to determine the existence of coercive, controlling or threatening behaviour, or of any other form of domestic abuse;
(e) directing the parties to file written statements giving details of such behaviour and of any response;
(f) whether documents are required from third parties such as the police, health services or domestic abuse support services and giving directions for those documents to be obtained;
(g) whether oral evidence may be required from third parties and if so, giving directions for the filing of written statements from such third parties;
(h) where (for example in cases of abandonment) third parties from whom documents are to be obtained are abroad, how to obtain those documents in good time for the hearing, and who should be responsible for the costs of obtaining those documents;
(i) whether any other evidence is required to enable the court to decide the key issues and giving directions for that evidence to be provided;
(j) what evidence the alleged victim of domestic abuse is able to give and what support the alleged victim may require at the fact-finding hearing in order to give that evidence;
(k) in cases where the alleged victim of domestic abuse is unable for reasons beyond their control to be present at the hearing (for example, abandonment cases where the abandoned spouse remains abroad), what measures should be taken to ensure that that person’s best evidence can be put before the court. Where video-link is not available, the court should consider alternative technological or other methods which may be utilised to allow that person to participate in the proceedings;
(l) what support the alleged perpetrator may need in order to have a reasonable opportunity to challenge the evidence; and
(m) whether a pre-hearing review would be useful prior to the fact-finding hearing to ensure directions have been complied with and all the required evidence is available.
20. Where the court fixes a fact-finding hearing, it must at the same time fix a Dispute Resolution Appointment to follow. Subject to the exception in paragraph 31 below, the hearings should be arranged in such a way that they are conducted by the same judge or, wherever possible, by the same panel of lay justices; where it is not possible to assemble the same panel of justices, the resumed hearing should be listed before at least the same chairperson of the lay justices. Judicial continuity is important.

Reports under Section 7

21. In any case where a risk of harm to a child resulting from domestic abuse is raised as an issue, the court should consider directing that a report on the question of contact, or any other matters relating to the welfare of the child, be prepared under section 7 of the Children Act 1989 by an Officer of Cafcass or a Welsh family proceedings officer (or local authority officer if appropriate), unless the court is satisfied that it is not necessary to do so in order to safeguard the child’s interests.
22. If the court directs that there shall be a fact-finding hearing on the issue of domestic abuse, the court will not usually request a section 7 report until after that hearing. In that event, the court should direct that any judgment is provided to Cafcass/CAFCASS Cymru; if there is no transcribed judgment, an agreed list of findings should be provided, as set out at paragraph 29.
23. Any request for a section 7 report should set out clearly the matters the court considers need to be addressed.

Representation of the child

24. Subject to the seriousness of the allegations made and the difficulty of the case, the court must consider whether it is appropriate for the child who is the subject of the application to be made a party to the proceedings and be separately represented. If the court considers that the child should be so represented, it must review the allocation decision so that it is satisfied that the case proceeds before the correct level of judge in the Family Court or High Court.

Interim orders before determination of relevant facts

25. Where the court gives directions for a fact-finding hearing, or where disputed allegations of domestic abuse are otherwise undetermined, the court should not make an interim child arrangements order unless it is satisfied that it is in the interests of the child to do so and that the order would not expose the child or the other parent to an unmanageable risk of harm (bearing in mind the impact which domestic abuse against a parent can have on the emotional well-being of the child, the safety of the other parent and the need to protect against domestic abuse including controlling or coercive behaviour).
26. In deciding any interim child arrangements question the court should–
(a) take into account the matters set out in section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989 or section 1(4) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (‘the welfare check-list’), as appropriate; and
(b) give particular consideration to the likely effect on the child, and on the care given to the child by the parent who has made the allegation of domestic abuse, of any contact and any risk of harm, whether physical, emotional or psychological, which the child and that parent is likely to suffer as a consequence of making or declining to make an order.
27. Where the court is considering whether to make an order for interim contact, it should in addition consider –
(a) the arrangements required to ensure, as far as possible, that any risk of harm to the child and the parent who is at any time caring for the child is minimised and that the safety of the child and the parties is secured; and in particular:
(i) whether the contact should be supervised or supported, and if so, where and by whom; and
(ii) the availability of appropriate facilities for that purpose;
(b) if direct contact is not appropriate, whether it is in the best interests of the child to make an order for indirect contact; and
(c) whether contact will be beneficial for the child.
The fact-finding hearing or other hearing of the facts where domestic abuse is alleged
28. While ensuring that the allegations are properly put and responded to, the fact-finding hearing or other hearing can be an inquisitorial (or investigative) process, which at all times must protect the interests of all involved. At the fact-finding hearing or other hearing –
• each party can be asked to identify what questions they wish to ask of the other party, and to set out or confirm in sworn evidence their version of the disputed key facts; and
• the judge should be prepared where necessary and appropriate to conduct the questioning of the witnesses on behalf of the parties, focusing on the key issues in the case.
29. The court should, wherever practicable, make findings of fact as to the nature and degree of any domestic abuse which is established and its effect on the child, the child’s parents and any other relevant person. The court must record its findings in writing in a Schedule to the relevant order, and the court office must serve a copy of this order on the parties. A copy of any record of findings of fact or of admissions must be sent by the court office to any officer preparing a report under Section 7 of the 1989 Act.
30. At the conclusion of any fact-finding hearing, the court must consider, notwithstanding any earlier direction for a section 7 report, whether it is in the best interests of the child for the court to give further directions about the preparation or scope of any report under section 7; where necessary, it may adjourn the proceedings for a brief period to enable the officer to make representations about the preparation or scope of any further enquiries. Any section 7 report should address the factors set out in paragraphs 36 and 37 below, unless the court directs otherwise.
31. Where the court has made findings of fact on disputed allegations, any subsequent hearing in the proceedings should be conducted by the same judge or by at least the same chairperson of the justices. Exceptions may be made only where observing this requirement would result in delay to the planned timetable and the judge or chairperson is satisfied, for reasons which must be recorded in writing, that the detriment to the welfare of the child would outweigh the detriment to the fair trial of the proceedings.

 

In all cases where domestic abuse has occurred

32. The court should take steps to obtain (or direct the parties or an Officer of Cafcass or a Welsh family proceedings officer to obtain) information about the facilities available locally (to include local domestic abuse support services) to assist any party or the child in cases where domestic abuse has occurred.
33. Following any determination of the nature and extent of domestic abuse, whether or not following a fact-finding hearing, the court must, if considering any form of contact or involvement of the parent in the child’s life, consider-
(a) whether it would be assisted by any social work, psychiatric, psychological or other assessment (including an expert safety and risk assessment) of any party or the child and if so (subject to any necessary consent) make directions for such assessment to be undertaken and for the filing of any consequent report. Any such report should address the factors set out in paragraphs 36 and 37 below, unless the court directs otherwise;
(b) whether any party should seek advice, treatment or other intervention as a precondition to any child arrangements order being made, and may (with the consent of that party) give directions for such attendance.
34. Further or as an alternative to the advice, treatment or other intervention referred to in paragraph 33(b) above, the court may make an Activity Direction under section 11A and 11B Children Act 1989. Any intervention directed pursuant to this provision should be one commissioned and approved by Cafcass. It is acknowledged that acceptance on a DVPP is subject to a suitability assessment by the service provider, and that completion of a DVPP will take time in order to achieve the aim of risk-reduction for the long-term benefit of the child and the parent with whom the child is living.

Factors to be taken into account when determining whether to make child arrangements orders in all cases where domestic abuse has occurred

35. When deciding the issue of child arrangements the court should ensure that any order for contact will not expose the child to an unmanageable risk of harm and will be in the best interests of the child.
36. In the light of any findings of fact or admissions or where domestic abuse is otherwise established, the court should apply the individual matters in the welfare checklist with reference to the domestic abuse which has occurred and any expert risk assessment obtained. In particular, the court should in every case consider any harm which the child and the parent with whom the child is living has suffered as a consequence of that domestic abuse, and any harm which the child and the parent with whom the child is living is at risk of suffering, if a child arrangements order is made. The court should make an order for contact only if it is satisfied that the physical and emotional safety of the child and the parent with whom the child is living can, as far as possible, be secured before during and after contact, and that the parent with whom the child is living will not be subjected to further domestic abuse by the other parent.
37. In every case where a finding or admission of domestic abuse is made, or where domestic abuse is otherwise established, the court should consider the conduct of both parents towards each other and towards the child and the impact of the same. In particular, the court should consider –
(a) the effect of the domestic abuse on the child and on the arrangements for where the child is living;
(b) the effect of the domestic abuse on the child and its effect on the child’s relationship with the parents;
(c) whether the parent is motivated by a desire to promote the best interests of the child or is using the process to continue a form of domestic abuse against the other parent;
(d) the likely behaviour during contact of the parent against whom findings are made and its effect on the child; and
(e) the capacity of the parents to appreciate the effect of past domestic abuse and the potential for future domestic abuse.

Directions as to how contact is to proceed

38. Where any domestic abuse has occurred but the court, having considered any expert risk assessment and having applied the welfare checklist, nonetheless considers that direct contact is safe and beneficial for the child, the court should consider what, if any, directions or conditions are required to enable the order to be carried into effect and in particular should consider –
(a) whether or not contact should be supervised, and if so, where and by whom;
(b) whether to impose any conditions to be complied with by the party in whose favour the order for contact has been made and if so, the nature of those conditions, for example by way of seeking intervention (subject to any necessary consent);
(c) whether such contact should be for a specified period or should contain provisions which are to have effect for a specified period; and
(d) whether it will be necessary, in the child’s best interests, to review the operation of the order; if so the court should set a date for the review consistent with the timetable for the child, and must give directions to ensure that at the review the court has full information about the operation of the order.

Where a risk assessment has concluded that a parent poses a risk to a child or to the other parent, contact via a supported contact centre, or contact supported by a parent or relative, is not appropriate.

39. Where the court does not consider direct contact to be appropriate, it must consider whether it is safe and beneficial for the child to make an order for indirect contact.

The reasons of the court

40. In its judgment or reasons the court should always make clear how its findings on the issue of domestic abuse have influenced its decision on the issue of arrangements for the child. In particular, where the court has found domestic abuse proved but nonetheless makes an order which results in the child having future contact with the perpetrator of domestic abuse, the court must always explain, whether by way of reference to the welfare check-list, the factors in paragraphs 36 and 37 or otherwise, why it takes the view that the order which it has made will not expose the child to the risk of harm and is beneficial for the child.

 

PRESIDENT’S CIRCULAR : 14 September 2017
DOMESTIC ABUSE : PD12J

In the summer of 2016 I asked Mr Justice Cobb, who had chaired the Working Group which drew up the Child Arrangements Programme in 2014, to review Practice Direction 12J, to examine whether further amendment was needed in the light of the recommendations made by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic Violence in its briefing dated 29 April 2016 and by Women’s Aid Federation of England (WAFE) in its ‘Nineteen Child Homicides’ report published in February 2016, and to produce recommendations. His Report, accompanied by a draft amended PD12J, was dated 18 November 2016. I published it in January 2017: [2017] Fam Law 225. At the same time, in my 16th View from the Presidents Chambers, [2017] Fam Law 151, 160-161, I indicated that, with one important exception, I accepted all his recommendations.

As I had hoped, the publication of the draft amended PD12J generated comments and helpful suggestions, including from Families Need Fathers and, following a presentation they gave at the President’s Conference in May 2017, from Southall Black Sisters.

Although final responsibility for any amendment to PD12J rests with me as President of the Family Division, I thought it appropriate to consult both the Family Justice Council and the Family Procedure Rule Committee. The draft amended PD12J has accordingly been considered by the Family Justice Council and, at a number of its meetings when various iterations of the draft were considered, by the Family Procedure Rule Committee, most recently on 10 July 2017. Following this, a final revised draft amended PD12 was prepared by officials, for whose assistance I am grateful, incorporating the various amendments agreed by me and by the Committee and helpfully identifying a few additional issues (none of major significance) for my consideration. I should add that, throughout this process, I have benefited greatly from Mr Justice Cobb’s continuing advice, for which I am most grateful.

On 7 September 2017 I made the new PD12J, annexed to this Circular. It has since been approved by the Minister of State and will come into force on 2 October 2017. It applies (see paras 1, 3) to all judges, including lay justices, whether sitting in the Family Court or in the High Court.

PD12J will require further adjustment if and when the proposed legislation restricting cross-examination of alleged victims by alleged perpetrators is enacted. We cannot await that. Hence my decision to proceed without further delay.

The new PD12J contains numerous amendments, many of important substance. Here, I highlight only two:
1 There is (see para 3) a new and much expanded definition of what is now referred to as “domestic abuse”, rather than, as before, “domestic violence”.
2 There are mandatory requirements (see paras 8, 14, 15, 18, 22, 29) for inclusion of certain specified matters in the court’s order. I appreciate the additional burden that this may impose on judges and court staff, but there is good reason for making these requirements mandatory and they must be complied with.

There have been recurring complaints in Parliament and elsewhere of inadequate compliance with PD12J. I am unable to assess to what extent, if at all, such complaints are justified. However, I urge all judges to familiarise themselves with the new PD12J and to do everything possible to ensure that it is properly complied with on every occasion and without fail by everyone to whom it applies.

The Judicial College plays a vitally important role in providing appropriate training on the new PD12J to all family judges. As I have said previously, “I would expect the judiciary to receive high quality and up-to-date training in domestic violence and it is the responsibility of the Judicial College to deliver this.” The Judicial College has risen to the challenge, as many judges will already have experienced, and I am confident that it will continue to do so.
Domestic abuse in all its many forms, and whether directed at women, at men, or at children, continues, more than forty years after the enactment of the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976, to be a scourge on our society. Judges and everyone else in the family system need to be alert to the problems and appropriately focused on the available remedies. PD12J plays a vital part.

James Munby, President of the Family Division
14 September 2017

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

Screaming “Corruption” won’t address the real changes that need to be made.

This is a post by Conference on Coercive Control, an individual who wishes to remain anonymous. I am grateful for the time they have taken to write this post, in an attempt to move forward the debate about the family justice system to a more constructive arena. There are things we can do to improve matters; we should not be doomed to simply shout at each other from our different sides of the divide. Rather than continue to put the focus on a ‘corrupt’ or broken system, we need to be looking at what we could practically do, to make things better. 

It has become almost commonplace for the words “corrupt”, “secret” and “family courts” to be conjoined in a splenetic invective centring on children snatched from loving parents by conspiratorial social workers pushing a forced adoption agenda or by fathers denied their rights to see children due to alienation or contact denial. A system oft described as ‘broken’ where lawyers become rich on decisions made behind closed doors in “secret” family courts.
‘200 children cruelly lose contact with their fathers every day in secret family courts” claims a fathers rights group, whilst elsewhere, headlines talk of parents fleeing the country to escape local authorities intent on removing children. That the family justice system is callous, corrupt and broken is an oft repeated refrain in certain circles and I imagine many people throwing up their hands in despair and those about to enter the process terrified by what they are about to face.

It is not just angry parents who feel the system is failing. Professionals wade in adding fuel to an already intensely burning flame yet not everyone involved (professionals included) have the full facts to hand so the discourse quickly descends into an embittered exchange of poorly-informed rants instead of becoming a discussion on how effective changes can be made so that a system that is struggling can improve.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand anger. I also understand the mistrust of the local authority. Having been in a situation where I nearly lost my children to adoption due to a false allegation, having been involved with a person so devious, he maintained a campaign of blackmail and control for years, keeping it well below the radar to near-devastating effect and having had my mental health questioned so often even though, to this date, I have never been diagnosed with a psychiatric illness.

Yup, I know all about anger and all about professionals misreading a situation of smoke and mirrors.
But before talking further about these so- called “corrupt” family courts…

My experience of the family court system

a little bit about me…
Without delving into specifics, I have been in the family court for over 30 hearings. For about 20 of them, I did not qualify for legal aid. Although there was proof of domestic violence I did not pass the means test and so represented myself as a Litigant in Person. I can honestly say that the whole experience was one of the most traumatic of my life. It was all-consuming and for nearly 2 years it dominated my life as I learned to become a lay lawyer. Each time the postman came, I held my breath. I waited with dread for yet another court application to drop on the mat. Each time the phone rang I would freeze. Panicking if it showed a withheld number fearful of yet another fictitious allegation made to the police and designed to send me into a tailspin. To this day, I still hold my breath when the post van arrives and keep holding on whilst I walk (slooowly) to the front door. His need to keep making applications is ongoing and so I wait. Old habits die hard.

I learned to represent myself when I was still recovering from his abuse so was often prone to floods of tears. Having to manage my own case file with all the information still raw and searingly painful and against a backdrop of a pending criminal investigation was far from easy. There was literally no escape, no mental escape from the trauma, no escape from the flashbacks, the nightmares. Living on “high alert” with the constant fear that he would return to the house to break in again and this time with more than a crowbar. There was certainly no escape from the ever growing pile of paperwork that was threatening to take over the house and no escape from the reams and reams of paperwork he sent me as part of his statement with information designed to deeply humiliate me in court to deflect from what I was saying. I swear that year my stomach had taken up temporary residency near my tonsils.

I was very, very lucky in that my wonderful SOIT arranged for support to make sure I was ok and so I received extensive counselling, some weeks I had 5 hours and I needed it. It was this support that gave me the strength to carry on. It was a God-send to know that if I couldn’t cope, it was only a day or two until therapy. It helped me focus.

My biggest fear was meeting my abuser in court and not being able to control my bodily functions. I would be so tense that if my stomach lurched hard enough at the sight of him, I would have to run off to vomit or worse. There were several occasions where I incurred the wrath of the judge because I had to run off, at a moment’s notice to the loo to dry retch. I don’t think the judge ever really understood the impact of being in the same room as the man who did what he did. How could he? The man in front of him was charming and softly spoken and said all the right things. How was the judge to know that saying the right thing was easy and meaningless? Putting it into practice, not so much. To the judge, the end of the relationship signalled the end of the abuse. We needed to concentrate on contact. We needed to move forward.

I would try to keep my tears in check by clenching my teeth, aware that it would make me look stern, possibly even angry but I was scared my body would leak so my words would come out distorted in either a barely audible whisper or a robotic monotone. To stop from crying I opened my eyes wide. Thinking of it now, I possibly may have looked a little crazy but I needed to do all I could to not collapse into sobs. Either way, it contrasted greatly with his ability to talk mellifluously, even tell a small joke or two. Yes, judges need training on how people can change their persona and their demeanour. I’m sure some get it but just not enough of them do, sadly.
At some hearings I would sit stock still, not move at all, hardly breathe and just stare ahead determined not to cry even though my eyes were stinging from tears forbidden to fall.

Sometimes I could feel myself shaking from exhaustion. The few days before a hearing would play havoc with my sleep. He sometimes made a joke about me being mentally ill and paranoid and both he and the judge would laugh. I wanted to shout out, why are you falling for this act? I do not have a mental illness. Read the bundle. I wanted to scream that my perceived mental illness was a fiction to explain away the sleep deprivation from being woken up by him 4 or 5 times during the night, lack of sleep, the stress, caring for a baby. All were reasons for my sluggishness and disorientation. But for him it was convenient to say “Look at her, she can’t cope- it’s because she is mentally ill”. It was a distraction that helped to gloss over his abuse, but I stayed silent. I was too worried my stomach would let me down – or worse.

Those were my experiences. Traumatic and deeply distressing and I have heard many others say the same of their experiences. Whatever the reason for finding yourself in the family court, the experience of court is horrific but, even with the misinterpretations, lack of training, some really dubious report writing and certain conclusions that were so way out I suspected the author may have been high, I do not believe the courts are corrupt.

Family courts are not ‘corrupt’ but the Judges NEED training

What I DO believe is that many judges and magistrates are out of touch with what happens, especially where domestic violence is concerned. Their understanding of the dynamics of abuse, perpetrator tactics and victim behaviour does not reflect what happens in real life and that concerns me greatly. I especially believe there is very little understanding of the coercive and controlling behaviour that can reduce a person to a hostage in their own home but without a bruise or fracture to validate their fear. There is an urgent need for training to help identify behaviour that is invisible to the untrained eye so that outcomes reflect the actual situation and not the distorted picture that has been presented. All too often what appears to be a high conflict split has been categorised as ‘toxic’ and whereas this can be the case, often underlying coercive control has not been identified and so the abuser remains able to manipulate and control in the knowledge that it will not be seen as abuse but six of one and half a dozen of the other.

Training-Training-Training

I believe some very poor decisions are being made due to a general lack of understanding. Training should not be confined solely to Judges. Social workers, Cafcass officers, expert witnesses, lawyers as well as court staff need to be aware. There needs to be a shift from looking at isolated incidents to identifying patterns of behaviour and more training across all sectors will help to change the way domestic abuse is investigated by creating better awareness and understanding to identify and evidence abuse that hides in plain sight.

Evidence

Evidence is not always available in the form of an outright confession or CCTV footage and sometimes evidence needs to be gathered in a different way. This could apply to witnesses. Courts are hugely intimidating to most people and often court staff, lawyers and judges forget this. Courts are scary enough for the parties involved in an actual hearing but for witnesses whose only involvement is to provide information, it can be too much and so many are reluctant to go to court thus depriving someone of valuable evidence. By making the process less intimidating for someone to act as a witness, it would be a benefit especially in cases of domestic violence, abuse and child neglect, cruelty where people are reluctant to get involved for fear of getting it wrong or for fear of retribution from the party they have information on.

Court does not make people angry

I also don’t feel the court system is broken. It is in need of a systems upgrade but it is not broken. It is the people coming in to the court who are broken. Court doesn’t make people angry, the come in angry and a high stress environment will only increase the likelihood of volatility. When looking at improving the court process, it is vital that the parties themselves are not excluded. A less traumatic experience can only have long term benefits not just for the parties but also the efficient running of the court.

A Plea for Pre-Hearing Counselling

There is a duty CAFCASS officer in court on family days to help with children. I believe that Litigants in Persons should have someone there for them to help with information and for support. A Pre-Hearing Counselling Session would be a session where a counsellor or similar is on duty to help explain the court process, calculate rough timescales as to length of the matter, what to expect in a hearing, an explanation of what the judge is looking for but more importantly, that person should be a calming influence with good negotiating and people skills and able to engage with people who are emotional and agitated and put them at their ease. They will be able to, at least in part, inform, ease someone’s distress, assuage their fears as well as signpost them on to counsellors or suitable support services they may need. I believe a friendly face in court would allay a great deal of the fear, tension, distress and animosity, especially one who could say. “Look, I understand your anger but for this matter, you have to put it to one side as it won’t help you and it won’t help your child.” then get the parties to see that feelings of anger, hurt and betrayal are natural but using it as a weapon helps no one.

Post – Hearing Counselling

To help parties consolidate and come to terms with what just happened.

Vulnerable People are Easily Exploited

I have lost count of the times I have said to someone who has contacted me, if you want contact, start a dialogue but don’t expect much cooperation if you’ve put their photo on Facebook and are calling for them to be sent to prison for contact denial. In some cases, the hostility started from the word go and has escalated into an entrenched impasse but often, the hostility has come from family or friends and it has dictated the direction of the split and the injured party has been caught up in the conflict. I cannot begin to count the number of times I have heard that someone was hurt, upset and betrayed by the loss of their relationship and they did not know where to turn, who to speak to and they allowed themselves to be convinced by the anger of their friends or family or some action group and are in a situation where everyone feels personally invested. There is a role for family and friends to act as go-betweens but only if they are able to sit on the fence and remain neutral. A huge problem is that people love to feel involved, even interfere and some use the opportunity to wage war.

Many years ago, a male friend told a female friend that if the father of her children did not pay maintenance, she should stop contact. The father had been made redundant and his ex-wife was sympathetic to his plight but I could see the effect her friend’s anger was having on her and at the time I felt his involvement was unhelpful and told him. He responded in two syllables. Often litigants have no idea of the legal process and rely on false information. They are distressed, worried about legal costs, intimidated by the thought of court, suspicious of lawyers and frightened. One thing I have learnt from being with an abuser is that vulnerable people are easily exploited and this is as true of a divorcee coming across a ‘charmer’ as it is of a distraught dad coming across some of the angry and unhelpful ‘advice’ in the form of people who have had bad experiences and lash out at the system. Better signposting for available help in the form of either legal advice or therapy would be hugely beneficial and would help those in distress with no way of knowing where to go to avoid those out to exploit.

Interview your lawyer

For those lucky enough to have legal representation, lawyers can and do offer support and advice and I have known some brilliant lawyers who were able to get a client to maintain focus on a desired outcome and not go over to the Dark Side. I have also known some pretty bad lawyers who have been dismissive, have not taken the trouble to explain things adequately but continued to flummox with legal jargon leaving a client perplexed and excluded at their own hearing. Some are in desperate need of people skills and some hold deeply ingrained beliefs that are contrary to their client’s. It is important to make sure the lawyer you choose is one you can work with. Much the process will be deeply uncomfortable and distressing with sometimes very personal information being discussed so it is important to feel comfortable with the person representing you.

Make sure they ”Get It”

Most lawyers are lovely, though admittedly even the lovely ones don’t’ always understand your experiences and it is important that they do. As an example, the dynamics of domestic violence/coercive control or a deep mistrust of social services are not always understood or acknowledged. I have often heard lawyers dismiss domestic violence as a ‘legal aid matter’ and some hold the view that abuse is only serious if it has been physical. A client needs to make sure their lawyer “gets them” and understands their situation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of them.

Reactions

Sometimes it gets forgotten that people in a state of high distress are incapable of thinking straight. It’s not that they don’t want to but the hurt, the fear, the anguish sits there and dominates proceedings and they sometimes react unexpectedly. This needs to be remembered. Court staff, lawyers, magistrates, judges need to be aware of this. People in distress don’t always react the way normally expected of them. Abusers can cry, and they do and some actually look as though they mean it. They admit their mistakes and say they have learnt but not all are sincere. Victims don’t always cry. They can come off as more aggressive that the alleged perpetrator. Some have an unfortunate nervous laugh. Often they come across as defensive and brittle. Corner a frightened animal in a cage, they don’t always cower. Adequate training for court staff, magistrates, lawyers, judges, social workers, CAFCASS should be mandatory so that in family cases, both private and public, there will be better insight Having been in hearings where it is obvious the Judge has no idea of who to believe and which direction to take, training would help to make a decision that is appropriate. I will always remember the words of a solicitor who said, of a judge who was fair. “Being fair isn’t always right”.

Self–Defeating Attitude Kills Hope

It is a huge judgement on my part, I know, but some people are just so wrong for the job. I recall a lawyer who, arms folded, towering over my seated position and glowering, hissed at me that if I did not agree to her client’s demands, there would be hearing upon hearing upon hearing until I had no money. She advertised herself as a domestic abuse lawyer and she was representing my abuser. I have to say, I was terrified. Not just by what she said but by her aggressive stance and intimidating body language. There should be no place for bullies in a domestic abuse situation. I have met many people who, at the start of their career, would have had a passion for their work, be it law, statutory services, the volunteer sector but somewhere along the line they have become despondent, disillusioned, bitter, resentful, have given up but not yet left the building. If you are an employer and looking for change, for progress, you need to have people who believe it can happen. Nothing will change if the prevailing view is “What’s the point, nothing will happen, why bother, nobody listens, nothing ever changes” Negative thinking and a self-defeating attitude will 100% guarantee that nothing gets done and, in the case of domestic violence, when you are advising a victim of abuse that there is a way out, there is a chance to start again, you’re not trapped. How will a victim believe that, if they know you don’t? If you no longer believe in what you do, it’s time to get out.

Practical Changes

There are some changes that could be made fairly easily and which would create a less cumbersome system which could potentially go some way towards creating a better experience. One of them is staggered arrival times. I speak for myself and others when they describe the terror of arriving in court with the possibility that they may bump into their ex with a possible entourage. I have been known to hide in bushes because of queues for the security check and I did not want to risk my abuser walking up behind me. I have also known an abuser bring his extended family to wait for him before the court opened. His ex had to force herself to walk past the sneering and name calling. Maybe staggered arrival times aren’t always practical, maybe some courts could put in place separate entrances for applicants and respondents. It seems extravagant to give each a private meeting room and this could be a simple way of reducing the likelihood of an unwanted encounter.

In cases where there is domestic violence where victims of abuse act in person, a coding system could be arranged whereby on arrival, the victim could show a discrete badge or ticket and the security guard could accompany them to a separate waiting room without a huge disruption. Court staff could then inform their arrival to the Usher. It is very common that abusers will chose to sit either right by the Usher, the door to the loo or the water cooler. I have known some that will happily switch between all three, knowing that every time they move position, it creates distress. I have heard many stories of victims transfixed to their seat and unable to go to the loo or the water cooler and have often gone into a hearing parched and bursting for the loo. I feel that often court staff do not get it. An innocent gesture of the perpetrator opening the door for the victim and accidentally brushing their hand is enough to intimidate a victim into silence yet looks harmless to the untrained eye. Keeping applicants and respondents apart would minimise much of the subtle ‘below the radar’ forms of intimidation seen in coercive control.

Maybe creating separate waiting rooms is not feasible so maybe screens could be put up to give at least some semblance of protection from intimidating stares although diehard intimidators will use heavy sighs, coughs and annoying finger clicking to announce their presence, the main purpose of which is to signal “ Yoo hoo, I’m here and I know you can hear me”.

Court staff should be made aware of subtle forms of intimidation so they can report it to the judge. I remember a hearing where the abuser was accompanied by a Mackenzie friend with an exceptionally loud booming voice. Whilst waiting to be called into the hearing, the MKF would stand by the victim and have a conversation, very loudly, in Italian (which I suspect only she and the MKF spoke). The conversation was less than polite about her but how do you prove it? Luckily, he was so loud, the usher asked him to continue out in the stairwell whereupon he stood just outside the ladies lavatory. Classic intimidation but who would have recognised it?
Someone else told me that their abuser would delicately run his index finger down his face, it was a code to her to say he would cut her face. To everyone else it looked like he was brushing off a stray hair. Training and observation. Much better training. That is what is needed.

Feeding the meter

Parking for court hearings is another thorny subject. It never fails to amaze me that conference halls can organise tickets for all day parking yet with hearings, lawyers and their clients often have to dash out to feed a meter which, at an all-day hearing, is not only distracting but adds to the stress levels already at play. I fail to see the difficulty in a system whereby a person due in court can purchase a half day/full day parking permit online when they are listed for a hearing.

Listings

I fail to see the reasoning behind listing a hearing for 10 am and then having to hang around all day waiting to go into court. I understand the bit about not wasting the judge’s time but, in light of legal aid cuts, all this hanging around must be a huge drain on the public purse.

Court Security

I can laugh about it now but I remember the time I arrived at the court with an urgent ex parte application for an occupation order. I arrived and asked the security guard where I could deliver it only for him to shout, “Why are you coming here with an occupation order? We’re not the bloody job centre, you know!”

Finally
In conclusion, some suggestions I would have welcomed as a LiP which would have made the whole process a little less distressing but, if I am completely honest, I would have put up with a hearing in a barn with a mouldy squat loo if it meant the judges, lawyers, court staff et al had received comprehensive training in identifying below the radar non-physical abuse.

Now there’s a thought.

What happens if no one does anything to help?

A true story.

This is a post from one of our contributors who wishes to remain anonymous.

In 1951 an unmarried woman (H) aged 23 had a relationship with a married man. Her parents sent her to a home for unwed mothers. In 1952 she gave birth to a daughter (C). Despite the social mores of that time and that place H decided to keep C. C was 2 years old when H’s parents allowed her to return to their home with C.

When C was 9 years old H returned home from work one day and announced that she had got married that afternoon. She had married a man that neither her parents nor her daughter had ever heard of much less met. The next day H brought her new husband (O) to her parent’s house to meet the family. The first shock was that O was 36 years older than H. He was in fact 12 days older than H’s father. Then the family was told that O was renowned in his artistic field.

Within a week H and C had moved into O’s home. C became increasingly unhappy and uncomfortable. Within 6 months what would now be called grooming began in earnest with H’s encouragement. It was ‘artistic’ for C to be urged to wander around only partially clothed. The female body was something to be celebrated, not hidden. C was nearly 11 when the active sexual abuse started. H was in hospital for a few days and O insisted that C sleep in his bed. The abuse continued covertly after H returned home.

Shortly after C turned 12, O informed H that he was divorcing her so that he could marry C. There were jurisdictions nearby where such a marriage would be legal. O presented C with a diamond solitaire ring. He then divorced H. H and C returned to H’s parents’ home.

A few months later O and H remarried. H and C returned to live in his home. H insisted that the diamond solitaire was merely a birthstone ring, not an engagement ring. C was forced to wear it. The sexual abuse resumed immediately. It continued for a couple of more years until O again divorced H. Once again H and C returned to H’s parents’ home.

A short time later O and H re-married for the third time. However this time C was allowed to remain living with her grandparents.

It should go without saying that by this time C was a deeply disturbed and depressed teenager. Although she was safe with her grandparents, she fantasised about how she could escape her excuse for a life.

C went to university when she was 18. During that academic year she made a ‘cry for help’ suicide attempt. She was admitted to the psychiatric ward at the hospital. For the first time she told someone about the abuse. She confided in her doctors. Somehow H discovered what C had said. The hospital bill was being paid for by H’s insurance. She told the doctors that C was lying and immediately instructed the insurers to stop paying the bill. C was discharged the next morning. C finished that academic year but did not return to university the next year. She found a job and a place to live and never returned to live at home again.

O died that summer. H had 3 months to vacate his home. She moved back in with her mother and filled her mother’s house to overflowing with O’s possessions.

C married at 21. She was 23 when she gave birth to her son (J). She was still disturbed and depressed. She probably also developed severe post natal depression. When J was 10 months old, C made an extremely serious suicide attempt. She was only saved by a miracle. She was again admitted to the psychiatric unit but this time it was her insurance paying for it and she received the help she desperately needed.

A couple of months after she was discharged from hospital she and her husband separated. C and J went to live in subsidised housing. C’s mother H also more or less moved in with them. To be fair the initial help that H provided enabled C to continue working. But soon that help turned into H attempting to take over completely. H also began a relationship with a man that reminded C far too much of O. J’s father had no interest in helping or supporting his son.

C took J and moved to another city. She was unable to find a job and a few months later returned to her home town. She stayed with friends. It was at this point that she had to accept that she could not provide for her son or give him the life he deserved. She had to make the most difficult decision of her life. She therefore took J to live with his father’s brother and his wife. They formally adopted him about 18 months later.

The after effects of all of this have plagued C for 30+ years. The demons are still there. C is beginning to confront them. But they are strong.

This is what can happen when child abuse is not acknowledged. This is what can happen when there is no help available. This hurts. It stabs and slices. C wishes there had been a service whose main aim was to protect children at risk when she was a child.

Be thankful for Social Services.

What do we mean by ‘significant harm’?

 

Your starting point in care proceedings is section 31 of the Children Act 1989. You can find the whole Act here or read what Wikipedia says about it.  For more detail about this issue from the social worker’s perspective, please see this helpful article

Section 31 of the Children Act allows a Local Authority (LA) ‘or authorised person’ to apply to the court for an order which makes it lawful to to put a child in the care of a LA, or under the supervision of a LA. At the moment, the only other ‘authorised person’ is the NSPCC.

It is NOT the social worker who decides whether or not there should be a care or supervision order. This is a decision for the Judge or the magistrates. They are only allowed to make a care or supervision order if :

  • they are  satisfied there is evidence (‘threshold criteria’)
  • which proves on the balance of probabilities, that:
  • the child is suffering OR;
  • is likely to suffer significant harm in the future AND;
  • this significant harm will be a result of either ‘bad’ parenting – likely to be seen as the parents’ fault; OR
  • the child is beyond parental control – which may not necessarily be seen as the parents’ fault.

[For discussion about what is meant by ‘beyond parental control’ see the case of P (permission to withdraw care proceedings) [2016] EWFC B2.]

The ‘significant harm’ has got to relate to what the parents are doing or likely to do when they are caring for their child. The court will consider the standards of a ‘reasonable parent’: see Re A (A Child) [2015] EWFC 11 and  Re J (A Child) [2015] EWCA Civ 222.

The court will look at two different issues:

  • how is the parent looking after the child? Is the kind of care they are giving the kind you would expect from a ‘reasonable parent’? or
  • Is the child out of control? for example, not going to school or running away from the parents and getting into trouble?

There is already quite a lot to unpick here.

  • What does ‘harm’ mean?
  • What does ‘significant’ mean?
  • What happens when the court is worried about risk of future harm?

What do we mean by ‘harm’ ?

Section 31(9) of the Children Act tells us that harm means:

  • ‘ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development including, for example, impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another’.

This last part about being exposed to someone else being badly treated, was added by the Adoption and Children Act of 2002. It is intended to cover such circumstances as a child who witnesses or hears someone else being hurt, for example if the parents are fighting or shouting at one another at home.

Development means ‘physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development’

Health means ‘physical or mental health’

Ill-treatment‘ includes sexual abuse and other forms of bad treatment which are not physical. This includes ’emotional harm’. This is the category of harm which probably cases most concern for a lot of people; they are concerned about what kinds of behaviour get put into this category. We will look at the issue of ’emotional harm’ more closely in another post.

 

What do we mean by ‘significant’ ?

Section 31(9) tells us what is meant by ‘harm’. But it doesn’t give a definition of what is meant by ‘significant’. The original guidance to the Children Act 1989, issued by the Department of Health,  stated that:

Minor shortcomings in health care or minor deficits in physical, psychological or social development should not require compulsory intervention unless cumulatively they are  having or are likely to have, serious and lasting effects on the child.

We can get further guidance from looking at Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 8 exists to protect our rights to a family and a private life. Article 8 makes it clear that the State can only interfere in family life when to do so is lawful, necessary and proportionate.

Proportionality is a key concept in family law. A one off incident – unless extremely serious, such as a physical attack or sexual assault – is unlikely to justify the making of a care order as the court would be unlikely to agree that a single incident would have long lasting and serious impact on a child. But the same type of incident, repeated over time may well have very serious consequences for the child.

Read Article 8 here. For further discussion about what is meant by proportionality, see our post here. 

There are some useful law reports where ‘significant harm’ has been discussed. For example, Baroness Hale stated in B (Children) [2008] UKHL 35:

20. Taking a child away from her family is a momentous step, not only for her, but for her whole family, and for the local authority which does so. In a totalitarian society, uniformity and conformity are valued. Hence the totalitarian state tries to separate the child from her family and mould her to its own design. Families in all their subversive variety are the breeding ground of diversity and individuality. In a free and democratic society we value diversity and individuality. Hence the family is given special protection in all the modern human rights instruments including the European Convention on Human Rights (art 8), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (art 23) and throughout the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. As Justice McReynolds famously said in Pierce v Society of Sisters 268 US 510 (1925), at 535, “The child is not the mere creature of the State”.

21. That is why the Review of Child Care Law (Department of Health and Social Security, 1985)) and the white paper, The Law on Child Care and Family Services (Cm 62, 1987), which led up to the Children Act 1989, rejected the suggestion that a child could be taken from her family whenever it would be better for her than not doing so. As the Review put it, “Only where their children are put at unacceptable risk should it be possible compulsorily to intervene. Once such a risk of harm has been shown, however, [the child’s] interests must clearly predominate” (para 2.13).

In 2013 the now Lady Hale stated in Re B (A child) 2013 UKSC 33

Significant harm is harm which is “considerable, noteworthy or important”. The court should identify why and in what respects the harm is significant. Again, this may be particularly important where the harm in question is the impairment of intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development which has not yet happened.

The harm has to be attributable to a lack, or likely lack, of reasonable parental care, not simply to the characters and personalities of both the child and her parents. So once again, the court should identify the respects in which parental care is falling, or is likely to fall, short of what it would be reasonable to expect.

Sometimes, a lot of time is needed in care cases to argue about whether or not the harm in a particular case is serious enough to meet this statutory requirement. If the Judge decides there is no significant harm either being suffered now or likely to be suffered in the future, then he or she cannot make a care order or supervision order.

If he or she decides that there is enough evidence of significant harm, we move to the second stage of the necessary legal test – whether or not to make a care or supervision order is in the child’s best interests. This is called the ‘welfare stage’ of the test and we will examine this in another post.

 

Different types of abuse which can cause significant harm

In some cases it is very easy to see that a child has already suffered significant harm, for example when a child has been sexually abused or physically attacked. The court is likely to have clear and first hand evidence in the form of reports from doctors or the police who have examined or interviewed the child. The majority of people agree that being attacked or sexually abused is likely to be very harmful to children.

The more difficult cases involve issues of neglect and emotional abuse where it is hard to find one particular incident that makes people worried – rather it is the long term impact on the child of the same kind of harm continuing. These cases are particularly difficult when it is also clear that there are positives for the child in his or her family and the court has to decide whether the positive elements of family life are outweighed by the bad, or whether the family can make necessary changes quickly enough to meet the needs of the child.

For example, if on occasion you get angry with your child and shout at him or smack him it is highly unlikely your child would be considered at risk of significant harm if for the majority of the time you are loving and patient. But imagine a child who is shouted at and hit on a daily basis. It is not difficult to see how living in such an environment is likely to cause that child significant emotional or even physical harm.

See what the House of Commons Education Committee said about the child protection system in 2012.

Table 1: Children and young people subject to a Child Protection Plan, by category of abuse, years ending 31 March

Category of abuse

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Neglect

11,800

12,500

13,400

15,800

17,200

18,590

Physical abuse

3,600

3,500

3,400

4,400

4,700

4,820

Sexual abuse

2,300

2,000

2,000

2,000

2,200

2,370

Emotional abuse

6,000

7,100

7,900

9,100

11,400

11,420

Multiple

2,700

2,700

2,500

2,900

3,400

5,490

Total

26,400

27,900

29,200

34,100

39,100

42,690

You can see from the Committee’s figures that the most common cause for concern about children in every year was the issue of neglect – but we can see a significant and consistent rise in number of cases of emotional abuse. The NSPCC confirmed that in 2015:

Neglect is the top reason why people contact the NSPCC Helpline with their concerns about a child’s safety or welfare – and this has been the case since 2006. In 2014–15 there were 17,602 contacts received by the NSPCC Helpline about neglect (3,019 advice calls and 14,583 referrals), an increase on the previous year13.

In 2012, the Education Committee examined the issue of neglect from paragraph 41 in their report and said:

41. Neglect is the most common form of child abuse in England. Yet it can be hard to pin down what is meant by the term. Professor Harriet Ward told us that, based on her research into what was known about neglect and emotional abuse, “we definitely have a problem with what constitutes neglect” and that “we need to know much more about what we actually mean when we say neglect”. Phillip Noyes of the NSPCC agreed that “There is a dilemma with professionals, and indeed the public, about what comprises neglect, what should be done and how we should do it”. He went on to explain his belief that: “at the heart of neglect […] is a lack or loss of empathy between the parent and child”.

42. There are two statutory definitions of neglect: one for criminal and one for civil purposes. Neglect is a criminal offence under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 where it is defined as failure “to provide adequate food, clothing, medical aid or lodging for [a child], or if, having been unable otherwise to provide such food, clothing, medical aid or lodging, he has failed to take steps to procure it to be provided”. Action for Children has called for a review of this definition, declaring it “not fit for purpose” because of the focus on physical neglect rather than emotional or psychological maltreatment. Action for Children also believe that the definition leaves parents unclear about their responsibilities towards children and seeks only to punish parents after neglect has happened rather than trying to improve parenting.

[….]

The civil definition of neglect which is used in child and family law is set out in the Children Act 1989 as part of the test of ‘significant harm’ to a child. This is expanded upon in the previous Working Together statutory guidance which describes neglect as:

the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse. Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment); protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger; ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care-givers); or ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment. It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child’s basic emotional needs.

  • With regard to violence in the home between adults there is some useful information from the Royal College of Psychiatrists about the impact upon children of domestic violence here.
  • Read what we say about emotional abuse here.
  • Further information about the impact of neglect from research at Harvard University. 

 

Future risk of harm – what do we mean by ‘likely to suffer’ ?

Simply to state that there is a “risk” is not enough. The court has to be satisfied, by relevant and sufficient evidence, that the harm is likely

The most difficult cases of all are where a child hasn’t yet suffered any kind of harm but the court is very worried about the future risk of harm. It is this category which has caused most concern to those who worry about the child protection system as they feel strongly it is not fair to a parent to punish him or her by removing their child for something they haven’t yet done.

As Dr Claire Fenton-Glyn explained in her recent study on the law relating to child protection/adoption in the UK, presented to the European Parliament in June 2015:

A major problem with the law prior to 1989 was that it required proof of existing harm, based on the balance of probabilities. The local authority could not take a pre- emptive step to protect a child from apprehended harm, causing significant difficulties, in particular with newborn babies. As such, the inclusion in the Children Act of the future element of “is likely to suffer” was an important innovation, introduced to provide a remedy where the harm had not occurred but there were considerable future risks to the child. However, this has also been the cause of some controversy, as the answer as to whether a child will suffer harm in the future is necessarily an indeterminate and probabilistic one.

You can read about what the Supreme Court decided in a case like this in re B in 2013 where the court had to grapple with the issue of the risk to the child of future emotional harm.

Lady Hale said from para 193:

I agree entirely that it is the statute and the statute alone that the courts have to apply, and that judicial explanation or expansion is at best an imperfect guide. I agree also that parents, children and families are so infinitely various that the law must be flexible enough to cater for frailties as yet unimagined even by the most experienced family judge. Nevertheless, where the threshold is in dispute, courts might find it helpful to bear the following in mind:


(1) The court’s task is not to improve on nature or even to secure that every child has a happy and fulfilled life, but to be satisfied that the statutory threshold has been crossed.


(2) When deciding whether the threshold is crossed the court should identify, as precisely as possible, the nature of the harm which the child is suffering or is likely to suffer. This is particularly important where the child has not yet suffered any, or any significant, harm and where the harm which is feared is the impairment of intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development.


(3) Significant harm is harm which is “considerable, noteworthy or important”. The court should identify why and in what respects the harm is significant. Again, this may be particularly important where the harm in question is the impairment of intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development which has not yet happened.


(4) The harm has to be attributable to a lack, or likely lack, of reasonable parental care, not simply to the characters and personalities of both the child and her parents. So once again, the court should identify the respects in which parental care is falling, or is likely to fall, short of what it would be reasonable to expect.


(5) Finally, where harm has not yet been suffered, the court must consider the degree of likelihood that it will be suffered in the future. This will entail considering the degree of likelihood that the parents’ future behaviour will amount to a lack of reasonable parental care. It will also entail considering the relationship between the significance of the harmed feared and the likelihood that it will occur. Simply to state that there is a “risk” is not enough. The court has to be satisfied, by relevant and sufficient evidence, that the harm is likely: see In re J [2013] 2 WLR 649.

Therefore, if the court is worried about things that happened in the past and wants to use those events as a guide to future risk of harm, it must be clear about what has actually happened in the past – you cannot find a risk of significant harm based on just ‘suspicions’ about what might have happened before.

See further the Supreme Court decision of Re S -B [2009].

Baker J commented in 2013:

In English law, the House of Lords has now concluded definitively that in order to determine whether an event has happened it has to be proved by the person making the allegation on the simple balance of probabilities. Where the law establishes a threshold based on likelihood, for example that a child is likely to suffer significant harm as a result of the care he or she would be likely to receive not being what it would be reasonable for a parent to give, the House of Lords has also concluded that such a likelihood, meaning a real possibility, can only be established on the basis of established facts proved on a balance of probabilities.

 

Please let us know if you think we should add something to this or if anything isn’t clear.

Advice from birth parents

In this post, a number of birth parents share their views on how they made it through the stress of a child protection investigation and offer insights and advice to those in a similar position. Most of the contributors to this section have shared their stories on parenting forums such as www.mumsnet.co.uk

Relationships with Social Workers

It IS hard to see the wood for the trees, and I think one thing that Social Workers don’t seem to realise is that when you add in the stress of a CIN [Child in Need] case, where you are at risk of losing your DC’s, it puts so much added pressure on a parent that is already under pressure and a victim of DV [Domestic Violence] too, and often EA [Emotional Abuse] that they haven’t yet realised, that it becomes almost impossible for the parent to stop being fearful and stressed for ling enough to see the truth of their situation. I DO feel that a gentler approach from SS would actually in the majority of cases like the OP’s resolve the CIN concerns much faster.”

Need for clear communication about what is meant by ‘abuse’ and why it is harmful

Clearly setting out what constitutes EA [Emotional Abuse} and DV  [Domestic Violence] for the parent would open their eyes to things that they have often been minimising. With examples of each thing that can constitute abuse – including financial. Also stating clearly about the long term effects on a child of living in a DV situation, with possible issues it can cause for the children – NOT everyone knows this, it’s NOT taught about in schools.

Ask them to look at the list, and to answer it honestly, while the SW isn’t present, and going back for a second session with them, being clear about what they need done would also help.

It isn’t easy, as a parent who still loves their partner, to truly see an abusive situation for what it is. And it’s even less easy to know without being told, what you are meant to do to fix it.

It’s very easy for me now, as a 30-something adult, who has BEEN in a previous abusive relationship, to see what you are meant to do.

As a teenage parent, or a young parent, who has no experience of this, how in the name of hell are you meant to GUESS what you are meant to do??!!

And this is, I feel, where SS goes wrong, and stops putting the DC’s first. If SS were clear right from the beginning with handouts that explained everything that constitutes abuse, with examples, it would be far easier to spot when you are being abused. If they also gave clear directions on what is expected in that situation to protect the DC’s, many more DC’s would be protected from living in an environment with DV MUCH FASTER.

And parents who are in an abusive relationship would not feel so confused, fearful, and would be far less ‘obstructive’ in many cases, towards the SW’s attempts at helping.

It’s not always possible to find the time for navel gazing personal reflection to attempt to work out that you are in an abusive relationship andthat you need to get out of it pdq when you are actually coping with being in an abusive relationship, dealing with the day-to-day stuff that comes with having DC’s, AND are fearful of losing your children and not knowing why or how to fix it!

I think that a clearer picture from SS would actually PROTECT far more DC’s from living in a situation with abuse present.