Tag Archives: Ian Josephs

‘Mums on the Run’ – Where do they go? How safe are they?

For some time now I have been talking about and worried about the network of people who help parents leave the country if they are facing care proceedings. I am not convinced they are motivated by wanting to help people. I think they are more interested in showing they can get one over the ‘system’.

I have written about this before, particularly about how worried I am about John Hemming and Ian Josephs – who has given money to Marie Black, a convicted paedophile. I discussed their activities in more detail here:  ‘Helping Parents Leave the Jurisdiction’.

John Hemming set up ‘Justice For Families’ [JFF]  an organisation that;

campaigns to improve the operation of the family courts (including the court of protection) in order to treat families with respect.

John Hemming has often advised people to leave the country as they won’t get a fair hearing here – see Panorama ‘I Want My Baby Back’ in January 2014. There was a post on his blog in July 2015 about ‘mums on the run’ but that blog post no longer exists. The URL reads ‘Gena-and-kerry-mums-on-run-in-france’ [URL is an acronym for Uniform Resource Locator and is a reference (an address) to a resource on the Internet.] There is a reference to it on the ‘Brummie.net’ site which confirms the name ‘Gena’. 

So I am going to assume that John Hemming knew about someone called Gena in 2015. I am also going to assume that John Hemming has been promoting Gena as a safe ‘host family’ in France for the ‘mums on the run’ as  I have seen Facebook messages from John Hemming to a parent saying:

‘Why not go to Gena’s?’ …’The advantage with Gena is she knows the system where she lives.’

EDIT – the link between John Hemming and Gena is beyond doubt. Also, he knew that she had reported her partner as aggressive. See this article from the Sunday Times in December 2015. 

Out of the frying pan and into the fire

I have recently been given some very disturbing information in copies of texts, emails and Facebook messages from three different parents who have had first hand experience of being ‘mums on the run’. All went to a house in France occupied by ‘Gena’ and her partner.  All were given the details by John Hemming and/or Ian Josephs.

The mothers speak of horrible conditions in the house. Of being physically and verbally abused and having money either taken from them or not given to them so they could not buy even nappies for their children. One mother had to call the French police; the French authorities are now apparently investigating Gena.

I am told that one of the mothers told John Hemming and Ian Josephs about what was going on.   I have seen a message to one parent from Tim Haines [one of the JFF Advisors] saying that JFF held a meeting and said they would no longer refer parents to Gena. I don’t know when the date of that meeting was or what actual discussions were had. It would be interesting to know.

Even more disturbing information came to light in September 2016. That Gena’s partner, who lives in the house with her, was found in court proceedings in the UK to pose a sexual risk to children. 3 children between the ages of 7-14 have made allegations that he sexually abused them.

Questions that need to be answered.

I am seriously worried about this.  I have challenged Ian Josephs many times about what information he got about the parents he helped to leave the country and whether or not he followed up their cases once they had left. He carries out no risk assessment and no follow up. He has already given money to one mother who went on to be convicted of really serious crimes of sexual abuse against children.

But now it seems the problem is even bigger and even more dangerous – not only do John Hemming and Ian Josephs have little interest in the backgrounds of the parents they help leave the country, these vulnerable mothers are being encouraged to go somewhere which is not safe. Not for them or their children.

I have for a long time now accused John Hemming of not caring much for the parents or children he claims to ‘help’. I have said that he is more interested in promoting his own agenda. If I am wrong about that, no doubt John Hemming could assist me understand his actions/motivations better, by answering the questions I set out below.

I hope that someone does not have to get seriously hurt or abused before people start taking this seriously.

  • When did JFF/John Hemming/Ian Josephs start sending parents to Gena’s house?
  • How much money has JFF/John Hemming/Ian Josephs paid to Gena?
  • If they have paid her money, what was that money for?
  • Is the source of that money donations from the public or is it privately funded by either/or John Hemming/Ian Josephs?
  • What checks/risk assessment did JFF/John Hemming/Ian Josephs/ carry out on Gena and those living in her house before advising other parents to go there?
  • When did they know that conditions at Gena’s home were not acceptable?
  • When did they know that mothers were complaining about physical and verbal abuse and having their money taken/not given?
  • When did they know that Gena was living with a man who poses a clear sexual risk to children?
  • Do JFF/John Hemming/Ian Josephs refer ‘mums on the run’ to any other people abroad? If so, what checks/risk assessment have they done regarding these other people?

If you are a parent who is thinking about leaving the country rather than face care proceedings PLEASE be careful. PLEASE be wary of people offering to ‘help’ you – they may not actually have your best interests at heart at all. PLEASE get some good advice from someone you trust.

There are some links here to organisations/people who may be able to help you.

 

EDIT – some screenshots to support information given above.

Further, link to video from BBC programme in Feb 2015 where Gena states she was hospitalised by her violent partner.

 

Mums on Run Screen shot 1

 

Mums on the Run screen shot 2

EDIT BBC programme 26th September 2016 – further interview with Gena. She takes 8 families a year. And she isn’t going to stop.

 

The woeful state of our debate Part VI: 8 questions to ask family judges.

On November 24th I attended the 9th Annual Family Justice Council debate at the Strand Palace Hotel in London. You can read more about the debate and the work of the FJC at this post on the Transparency Project.

To my surprise, I found Ian Josephs himself in attendance; he took the floor to deliver a speech which had a strangely familiar ring – he seems to repeat the same things over and over again on various blogs. Also, on every chair was a piece of A4 paper which set out ‘Eight Questions to Ask Family Court Judges’ which I assume was also the work of Mr Josephs as it is set out on his website.

But I thought it was worth deconstructing here – to remedy a little the deep unease I felt at seeing Mr Josephs take to the floor in the way he did; without challenge or rebuttal (I did not think it would be appropriate to intervene, given my likely inability to remain composed and polite). Its all very well people saying he is a harmless buffoon – but people do listen to him and worse, they sometimes take his advice. And as his actions with regard to Marie Black show, he isn’t harmless, not by a long chalk.

We have to tread a fine line between heavy handed censorship and giving dangerous people a platform. I felt his presence and his contributions to the FJC debate stepped over that line into giving him a degree of respect and credibility I do not remotely think he deserves.

But judge for yourselves. Here are his ‘8 questions’ and my responses.

1. Great Britain is the only country in the world where substantial numbers of pregnant women seek asylum in other countries to have their babies SAFE from UK social services and forced adoption.  Yes British mothers are fleeing the country in ever increasing numbers to avoid the adoption of their unborn babies. Surely this shows that something is very badly wrong?

The immediate problem with this is that it is strong on rhetoric, weak on substance. There is a network of people helping ‘mums on the run’ ; Josephs himself claims to have helped about 200 families over an undisclosed period of time while Brian Rothery alleged in 2014 that 1 family arrived in Ireland ‘every week’.

But the problem is, as Josephs has enthusiastically confirmed on this blog, he doesn’t carry out any risk assessments or keep any records. So where is he getting the information to support this very clear assertion that ‘substantial’ numbers of women are fleeing and that these numbers are ‘ever increasing’ ?

Nor is it true that ‘Great Britain’ is the ‘only’ country ‘in the world’ where pregnant women leave the country to avoid the authorities. I can’t comment on his use of the word ‘substantial’ as he doesn’t even attempt to define it. For example, the Nordic Committee on Human Rights (whose President Ruby Harold Claesson appears to associate closely with John Hemming, Ian Josephs and Sabine McNeill) claimed in 2012 that 

Since the beginning of the 1980’s, a great number of families have fled from Sweden in order to protect their children from being taken into care and placed in foster homes.

Yes, it does show something is very badly wrong if pregnant and desperate women are choosing to leave their  homes, their families and their support networks with the assistance of cash from Josephs. But what is wrong is that vulnerable people are being so poorly advised; it is notable that Josephs never appears to talk about what happens when it goes wrong – how Ireland, for example, certainly does not see itself as offering a ‘safe haven’ to those escaping a brutal and repressive regime and will co-operate with the UK authorities to return children. 

2. Adoption without consent is a last resort when nothing else will do say the legal guidelines but this cannot be true, since many other countries such as France manage to find other ‘resorts’ and thus never need to use this so called last resort, so why cannot the UK adopt the same remedies as the French for example?

It is a reasonable point that severing the legal ties between child and parent is something that England and Wales seem keener on doing than do other European countries – see paragraph 72 of this report for the Council of Europe in March 2015. But what are these other ‘remedies’ used by the French? It seems that other countries do not keep the same kind of data that we do about the number of children who are not living with their parents. But certainly every European country permits adoption; abusive parents are a universal phenomenon. It seems that other European countries make more use of long term foster care than we do – but this doesn’t necessarily mean that children remain in contact with their parents or that the parents can enjoy any meaningful exercise of their parental responsibilities.

Ian Josephs doesn’t seem to know what other ‘remedies’ or ‘resorts’ other countries use; to be fair to him, that isn’t widely circulated knowledge. Hopefully comparative lawyers such as Dr Claire Fenton-Glynn can undertake further research so we can better understand what other countries do and why they do it.  Ironically, it seems that Ireland may reform its historically restrictive adoption laws in order to increase the numbers of children adopted from foster care.

3. The President of the family courts in re J (a Child) said that since the abolition of capital punishment the most drastic decision any judge could make was to take its child from its parents. If a sane mother with no criminal record has her new born baby removed for ‘risk of emotional abuse’ she is punished without her breaking any laws. Surely punishment without crime is as illogical as it is wrong?

The problem with this is that Ian Josephs continually frames care proceedings and the removal of children as ‘punishing’ parents, when the aim of such proceedings is to protect children. Thus this question is inapt. I understand and accept that to many parents the loss of their children is a devastating emotional blow, but that doesn’t make it a ‘punishment’ inflicted by the state.  That is why new born babies can lawfully be removed. It is not to ‘punish’ the mother but to protect that baby. The law recognises that this is an exceptionally serious course of action and is only lawful if there is a serious risk to the child based on established history, such as drug abuse or persistent cruelty/neglect by the parents of their elder children.

‘Punishment without crime’ is one of his favourite catchphrases but its meaningless in this debate.

4. Many babies and young children are taken at birth for eventual adoption from mothers diagnosed with ‘borderline personalities’ and similar mental failings by court appointed experts. Unlike defendants in criminal courts parents in family courts are not allowed to get a second opinion from a private medical source to call as their witness without permission from the judge. Surely that is a violation of Article 6 (Human Rights Act) giving persons appearing in court the right to call witnesses in determination of their civil rights?

I don’t know what is meant by ‘many’ babies and young children taken because their mother has borderline personality disorder – which is a serious mental health issue. That isn’t my experience in practice. I don’t know what information or statistics he has to allow him to state this.

What does he mean by ‘court appointed experts’ ? Yes, the court must permit the instruction of the expert but the expert must be instructed and agreed by ALL the parties, including the parents. Reference to Article 6 of the ‘Human Rights Act’ is telling – he means Article 6 of the ECHR. Does he actually understand what he is referring to?

If not being allowed a second expert is indeed a breach of Article 6 of the ECHR then it is odd that there has been no successful challenge to section 13 of the Children And Families Act 2014 which makes it very clear that the courts will now be reluctant to permit even one expert, let alone two.

5. Research has shown that Open Adoptions have better results for children then closed adoptions used in the UK that break all contact with birth families. If parents were promised at least one annual contact by court order (birthdays or Xmas perhaps?) thus avoiding the heartbreak of no contact at all (letter box being remote and seldom continued) many parents would not go through the agony of contested hearings so would not this be a good thing?

I agree that we need more research and more open minded thinking about adoption and contact – which I have discussed previously here. I don’t know what research he is talking about. Certainly continued contact with birth families who cannot support the adoptive placement or actively attempt to undermine it, is not a positive experience for anyone. Sadly, the reason why so many adoptive parents and social workers are wary of continued direct contact with birth families may well stem from the kind of advice Ian Josephs gives to birth parents, see for example the first of his ‘Golden Rules’ :

IGNORE SOCIAL WORKERS!! They have NO authority .Don’t talk to them ,never go to their meetings (You will be outnumbered by at least five or six to one and bullied accordingly),never obey them,never never believe what they say,never sign any documents they give you, never allow them in your house(but if they then call the police let the police in but not the social workers),never let them assess you, or send you to the psychobabble charlatans !They are paid to diagnose nearly every parent who is sent to them with non existent illnesses such as borderline personality disorders or narcissistic traits = you don’t like or admire social workers !Many of them really are “the scum of the earth!”and deserve to be locked up for perjury and corruption!

And is it a serious suggestion, that parents will be ‘happy’ with the promise of one direct contact a year and will not then contest the care proceedings? This is an extremely odd belief for Mr Josephs to hold, given that he appears to dedicate most of his website into urging parents to simply refuse to co-operate in any way at all with social workers. His mindset is that removal of children is not justified unless the parents have committed a criminal offence so why should any parent who is not convicted in a criminal court give up their right to care for their child in exchange for one direct contact a year? This suggestion makes no sense.

6. Many babies are taken at birth for ‘risk of emotional abuse’. Something unique in Europe and impossible for parents to defend against court experts who are usually judged more likely on probabilities to be correct than a distraught mother. When adoption follows due to risks that may never happen (from an ex partner who was violent for example) surely these at least are cases where forced adoptions should simply not be allowed?

I don’t know how many babies are taken for ‘risk of emotional abuse’. In my experience at least this is rare. Cases where new borns are removed usually involve serious and long standing issues around drugs, violence and/or mental health difficulties, often the mother has had other children removed who did actually suffer harm.  Again, the reference to ‘court experts’ – there is no such thing.

I note also the trivialising of the violent ex – a repeated refrain in the comments of Mr Josephs. He has little understanding or patience with any suggestion that a women who choses a violent partner may do so out of her own problems with low self esteem or co-dependency and may go on to chose other violent men in the future ,unless she can get some help to break the cycle (for example via the Freedom Programme). Violent men are a massive risk to children.

One of the most unpleasant and uncomfortable parts of the FJC debate for me was when Ian Josephs got a big laugh from the room when he suggested that no Italians would have their children under the UK’s approach to domestic violence. This was offensive and unreal. The problem with violent partners is not simply a bit of excitable shouting as per some offensive Italian racial stereotype. The impact of exposing children to violence is real and serious and Ian Josephs continually shows that he just doesn’t understand.

7. Article 10 (Human Rights Act) reinforces our democratic right to free speech. Surely it is a gross violation to gag mothers whose children have been taken (for possible adoption) by preventing them under threat of jail from identifying themselves and their children when protesting to the media. Similarly is it not also a violation of Article 10 to gag both children in care and parents during contact sessions preventing them from reporting abuse or injuries received in care, discussing their cases, whispering or discussing adoptions under threat that contact will be immediately stopped if parents or children break these rules?

Again, it is NOT the Human Rights Act he means, but Article 10 of the ECHR. I agree he has a point about our stringent rules on confidentiality in children proceedings – I think they are too strict and they should be relaxed; a proposition with which the President of the Family Division agrees. We do need to be able to talk about important issues, such as the State’s intervention in our family lives.

But the rest of this is odd. It underscores that Ian Josephs – in common with so many of the other campaigners in this field – don’t really see children as anything other than adjuncts of their parents. It is the parents’ feelings that matter. The children are there to mop up those feelings. It should be immediately obvious why it is not desirable in a contact session to start conversations about the proceedings or the fact that the children might be adopted. Younger children are likely to be simply distressed and confused by such conversations. Contact should be about enjoying the time with one another, not a platform for a parent to make their case to their children.

8. In many cases parents who have committed no crimes are forbidden by the family courts to contact their own children directly or even indirectly by email etc. Surely that must be a flagrant violation of Article 10 allowing free association when parents as a consequence jailed for breaching the order by sending a birthday card or waving at their own children in the street?

The reason why a parent would be forbidden to so contact their children is almost always because when the parent has been allowed direct contact they have abused that in very serious ways. For example, Vicky Haigh who attempted to brainwash her daughter into believing that she had been sexually abused by her own father. It is a useful indicator of Mr Josephs’ mind set that he cannot accept that Vicky Haigh is anything other than a victim of the Evil Secret Family courts. Again, I suspect this flows from his philosophy that children are important only in so far as they reflect their parents’ desires and emotions.

 

Forced Adoption

I am a passionate believer in the value of adoption in appropriate circumstances… But I fear that, in making all those orders, I never gave much attention to the emotional repercussions of them. In particular I fear that I failed fully to appreciate that an adoption order is not just a necessary arrangement for the upbringing of some children… the order is an act of surgery which cuts deep into the hearts and minds of at least four people and will effect them, to a greater or lesser extent, every day of their lives…

Lord Wilson Denning Society Lecture 13th November 2014

Forced adoption’  is a phrase we often hear used by people like Ian Josephs  and the former MP John Hemming  We have provided links to their sites under their names – but we hope that if you visit their sites, you will also stay here and read what we have to say.

See this post for discussion of the case law which judges have to consider before agreeing to any care plan for adoption. See this post for general discussion of the law around adoption and placement orders. 

 

The debate begins

Adoption, the means by which a child’s legal relationship with his birth parents is eliminated, did not become law in England and Wales until the Adoption Act 1926; some time after the USA, Australia and Canada. Many babies born out of marriage in the Victorian era were ‘farmed out’ or placed with married couples who would pretend the baby was their own.  There were increasing concerns about the lack of regulation of this private adoption industry which led to statutory intervention. Under the Local Government Act 1929, local authorities (LA) were given powers to remove children from parents, if the LA decided they could not care for them.

See this post from the Guardian giving a time line of the history of child protection. 

In 1968, 25,000 adoption orders were made, reflecting a society where illegitimacy was still stigmatised, birth control less reliable and welfare benefits less accessible.  In 2014 only about 5000 adoption orders were made. Adoptions now rarely involve babies.

The often highly polarised debate about ‘forced adoption’ and what this means for child protection work, gained increased traction around 2007 and became the focus of renewed attention towards the end of 2013. This followed discussion of Alessandra Pacchieri  (the ‘forced caesarean case’ ) and media interest in reports of parents wrongly suspected of abusing their children who were actually suffering from various medical conditions.

You can read comment on Ms Pacchieri’s case and the judgment here. The court made an adoption order in relation to her child in April 2014. The case is here. For an explanation of what sparked John Hemming’s interest in the child protection system, see ‘Hemming’s Way’ the article by Jonathan Gornall in 2007.

However, despite the enormous reduction in adoption orders over 40 years, the debate about the entire concept of adoption continues to grow. There have been serious concerns about the child protection system for many years. Those unhappy with the UK’s approach to ‘forced adoption’  raised their concerns in November 2014 with the European Parliament’s Petition Committee.

In fact, it was this 2013 ‘forced adoption’ debate that encouraged us to set up this resource as we were concerned that a lot of justifiable criticism about the system was getting lost or taken over by those who wanted to believe the more extreme ‘conspiracy theories’  – i.e. that the entire system was corrupt and that social workers are paid bonuses to snatch babies from loving homes.

For a sad example of the damage that can be done to a parent’s chances of keeping their family together, by  a ‘siege mentality’ and belief that concerns about their parenting are fuelled by a conspiracy, see Hertfordshire County Council v F & Others [2014] EWHC 2159.

We have attempted to debunk some of the more specific myths here and in particular the frequently made assertion that adoption targets exist to take babies away, rather than to promote finding adoptive families for children who have already been through care proceedings and don’t have a permanent home.

 

The Conspiracy Theory: Allegations of Systemic Corruption

People who are unhappy with the current child protection system often refer to it as a system of ‘forced adoption’ which is almost unique in Europe.

However, this assertion is not supported by the 2015 Report by the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development from the Council of Europe which notes that adoptions without parental consent are possible in Andorra, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden and Turkey.  A further 7 countries permit adoption without parental consent in ‘rare’ circumstances. See further, this post from the Transparency Project. See also this post from Claire Fenton-Glynn confirming that EVERY European country has a mechanism to provide for adoption without parental consent. 

They say that children are taken from parents for no good reason in order to meet LA’s ‘adoption targets’ set by various Governments and this is shown by the increased numbers of children being taken into care.

It is further alleged that family courts are secret and people who try to speak out will be sent to prison. Parents aren’t allowed to see the evidence against them and lawyers, experts and Judges are all in each other’s pockets and just rubber stamp the decisions made by the LA and social workers.

There are many on line groups for parents who are convinced that their children were removed on the basis of deliberate lies. The view expressed here is typical:

UK Social Services/CAFCASS are the most prolific and serious perpetrators of Domestic Violence in the country. UK Family Law Courts a close second. One day, history lessons will describe the horrific details of what is happening to families all across the country. The descendants of those who have perpetrated this abuse, will be ashamed of their ancestors and try to distance themselves from them….

Worries about social work practice come from a variety of sources. Colin Brewer wrote in the Spectator in the aftermath of the Rotherham child sex abuse scandal:

The Rotherham report suggests, as June and I suggested 34 years ago, that social workers excel at empathy but lack the ability to carry out ‘coherently planned action’. Social work with troubled teenagers is doubtless even more challenging today than it was in the 1980s, yet the report’s conclusions reveal many of the unhelpful institutional and ideological features that we identified are still with us…

It seems these were not just individual failures, occasional and regrettable exceptions in a generally efficient professional culture, but a persistent feature of a profession that emphasises doing good rather than doing it efficiently. This happens despite the fact that social workers have relatively modest case loads, especially compared with doctors.

These are not fanciful concerns. We should all be interested in the state of our child protection services. However, while we accept that sadly there have been serious examples of injustice we don’t accept that this is a result of deliberate corruption within the system itself, or chasing after ‘adoption targets’.

What is clear is that a growing number of people DO believe exactly that. We need to understand why and what we can do about it.

 

Adoption Targets: How did this belief take hold?

In 2000, the government introduced a national target to increase the number of children adopted from care by at least 40% between 1999-2000 and 2004-5. Tony Blair had been horrified by the numbers of children who remained in care for long periods of time without a permanent home.

Therefore, these were not targets to take children from their homes in order to get them adopted but a well intentioned attempt to help children who were already in the care system and hadn’t been found a permanent home.

Claire Fenton-Glynn describes the situation in her study on the UK system, presented to the European Parliament in June 2015:

The Prime Minister’s Review of Adoption in 2000 put forward the belief that the system was not delivering the best for children, as decisions about how to provide a secure, stable and permanent family were not addressed early enough. As such, it advocated an increase in the use of adoption to provide children with permanency at an earlier stage. The Review gave the opinion that there was too great a focus on rehabilitation with the birth family, at the expense of the child’s welfare. It emphasised that the first choice should always be a return to the birth family, but where this was clearly not an option, adoption should be seen as a key means of providing permanence. Foster care, on the other hand, was viewed as a transitional measure, which should be used only as a temporary option.

Following on from this, the government produced a White Paper entitled Adoption: A New Approach, which outlined the government’s plan to promote the wider use of adoption for looked after children, establishing the target of increasing adoption by 40-50 per cent by 2004-2005.39 The White Paper also announced that the government would require local authorities to make a plan for permanence – returning home, placement for adoption, or special guardianship40 – for a child within 6 months of being continuously looked after.

It was in this context that the Adoption and Children Act 2002 was introduced, with the explicit aim of promoting the greater use of adoption. The Act changed the process of adoption itself, by making the welfare of the child the paramount consideration for courts and adoption agencies in all decisions relating to adoption, including in deciding whether to dispense with the birth parents’ consent to adoption.

The Government’s official position about targets to get children taken into care is clear: they don’t exist. Matthew Dalby of  the Ministerial and Public Communications Division of the Department of Education said in October 2014, in response to an email from a parent:

I must explain that there are no targets on the numbers of children in care. In fact the law is clear in that children should live with their parents wherever possible and that families should be given extra support to help keep them together. In most cases, support from the local authority (LA) enables concerns to be addressed and children to remain with their families.

The Transparency Project responded in September 2015 to John Hemming’s assertion that the London Borough of Merton has ‘targets’ to take children from their birth families. There are certainly concerns that ‘key performance indicators’ promoting adoption could risk impacting on the integrity of decision making for individual children; the Transparency Project is investigating further and has made a number of FOI requests to other local authorities; watch this space.

Judicial response to allegations of systemic corruption

John Hemming raised very specific allegations about the corruption in the family courts in the case of RP v Nottingham [2008] which were rejected by Wall LJ as being without evidence:

97. It is plain to me from these documents, that in addition to the allegations set out above, Mr. Hemming believes that HJ was in the pay of the local authority and thus was “the local authority’s expert”. For good measure, he asserts that the system is “evil” and that “there does seem to be little concern in the legal profession about the reliability of opinion offered in court.”. The clear implication behind the “witch findings” items on the website set out at paragraph 95 above is that “experts” like HJ are in it for the money; that they are happy to “manufacture ‘evidence'”; and that they are in receipt of “phoney” letters of instruction. The result, Mr Hemming asserts is a “disaster”.

98. In my judgment, these comments are not only wrong and ill-informed; the simple fact remains that they have no foundation in the evidence presented either to the Nottingham County Court or to this court. That they are made publicly by Mr Hemming once again strikes me as an abuse of his position.

Wall LJ went on to say at para 127:

In my judgment, the arguments advanced by Mr Hemming in this case are ill-informed and tendentious. They are contradicted by the evidence, and must be rejected. I think this most unfortunate. Nobody who works in the Family Justice System regards it as perfect: most of us see it as under-resourced and struggling to deal with the work loads thrust upon it. Constructive criticism, particularly from those in a position to bring about change, is to be welcomed. I am myself in no doubt that the system must change and adapt, and I have spoken many times in public in support of my belief that there needs to be greater transparency in order to combat the partial, tendentious and inaccurate criticisms made against the system. I therefore welcome the opportunity provided by this case to demonstrate that the system has operated properly, and that the criticisms made are unfounded.

Rejection of the official position

However, following the introduction of targets to speed up finding a home for children in care, some then argue that the ‘law of unintended consequences’  came into play and these targets acted to promote undesirable behaviour from those in the child protection system.

John Hemming has argued that these targets did little to help the older children already in care but rather had the effect of encouraging local authorities to issue care proceedings with regard to more ‘adoptable’ children so they would filter through the system, end up adopted quickly and improve the adoption rates.

This was denied at the time; see this report from BBC News On Line in 2008:

The Children’s Minister Kevin Brennan has denied claims that young children are being taken into care by local authorities to meet adoption targets. Mr Brennan has written to two national newspapers to say there has never been any financial incentive for councils to meet national adoption targets. The claims surfaced over the case of a baby in Nottingham placed into care just hours after being born. Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming has accused the council of baby-stealing.

In a letter to The Times and The Daily Mail, Mr Brennan says there were national adoption targets designed to place more children in care into loving, family homes. But, he writes, “they ended in 2006; and there was never a financial incentive for local authorities to meet these national targets.”

The belief that children are removed from loving homes in order for LA’s to meet their ‘adoption targets’ persists to date.  There is no doubt that this version of events feels very ‘right’ to a significant number of people.

As Claire Fenton-Glynn comments:

While national adoption targets were set for some years, these ceased in 2006. The government emphasised that targets were intended to make sure more children who had been adjudged to need an adoptive placement were found permanent homes. They were not intended to affect the judgment of whether the child was in need of an adoption. However, despite the government’s statements, there is a danger that such targets do impact on such an evaluation, or at the very least, create the perception that they do so. Moreover, the government’s focus on adoption risks disadvantaging those children in care for whom adoption is not suitable. In the year ending 31 March 2014, only 16% of children who left the English care system were adopted, with others returning home, being placed with relatives, or with a special guardian, among other options. As such, an excessive focus on adoptive placements can mean that these others do not receive sufficient attention.

So what is really going on?

There are a number of elements we need to look at to try and work out whether assertions about a deliberately corrupt system contain any truth. Without doubt, the child protection system is not working well. We need to think more deeply why that is.

  • The continuing and repeating pressures on the child protection system which lead to growing distrust between parents and professionals;
  • The cost of care proceedings – why would a LA bear these costs without very good reason?
  • What do the statistics tell us about adoption rates for babies or very young children?
  • Adoption rates are now set to fall in the aftermath of the judgment in Re B-S.

 

A system under pressure

Helping children is a human process. When the bureaucratic aspects of work become too dominant, the heart of the work is lost.

The Munro Review of Child Protection Final Report

We consider the  history of concerns about the child protection system in more detail in this post. In brief, it seems that for very many years the system has become overwhelmed by the demands placed upon it. Excessive bureaucracy, dangerously high caseloads and low morale amongst social workers combine to work against good decision making and protecting children.

Some argue that it is the Children Act 1989 itself that has contributed to the problems, as it has pushed the law into ever less measurable levels of ‘abuse’ rather than setting out realistically measurable standards to govern the protection of children.

The fact that the system is under considerable strain and pressure is a serious problem for us all – but it is not evidence of deliberate malignity on the part of those decision makers.

 

The cost of care proceedings

It seems odd to suggest that LA deliberately set out to target children to adopt to ‘make money’ when you consider just how much care proceedings will cost them.  Research from the University of Bristol in 2011 said this:

Bringing care proceedings is a costly and time consuming business for local authorities. It has been estimated that each care case takes up 20 per cent of a full-time social worker’s working hours for a year (Plowden 2009). In addition, the local authority will have to contribute towards independent assessments ordered by the court and may need to instruct barristers (counsel) to represent it at court. In order to ensure that proceedings are used only where the local authority can prove its case and court orders are required, as well as to control expenditure, local authorities have established internal procedures for approving court applications. Legal advice and senior management approval are generally required even where an application if made for an order to remove or detain a child in an emergency (Masson et al 2007; DCSF 2008, para 3.3).

However, some will assert that the cost of care proceedings is actually an illustration of the problem – it’s a ‘gravy train’, keeping lawyers, social workers and experts in employment.  So if the financial burden on the LA does not reassure people that care proceedings are not taken lightly, what can we see from the statistics about children taken into care?

If Hemming and others are right, we should see a clear rise from 2000 in the number of babies or very young children taken into care and then adopted.

 

Lies, damned lies and statistics

See here for government statistics regarding looked after children. For more discussion of statistics put forward by John Hemming in August 2015, see these posts from the Transparency Project. The Full Fact Organisation considered the statistics in October 2015.

The statistics do NOT support an argument that more babies and young ‘adoptable’ children have been targeted since 2000, although it is clear that the number of children being adopted has been rising.

On 30th September 2014 the government issued a press release applauding this. Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education said:

Today’s figures show a significant and sustained rise in the number of adoptions – an increase of 26% in the last 12 months. This means thousands more of our most vulnerable children are finding the loving and permanent homes they so desperately need.

We also promised to remove delay and frustration from the process for both children and adopters. Today’s figures show that we are delivering on that promise. The system is working more quickly, as well as providing more support to families after an adoption has taken place.

However, In November 2014 Sir Martin Narey raised concerns that since February 2014 LA decisions to pursue adoptions are down by 46% and number of placement orders granted by the courts has halved.

His concerns were so great that the National Adoption Leadership Board issued ‘myth busting’ guidance about what the court does or does not say about when adoption is necessary.

For further discussion see Pink Tape’s ‘Take me to your Leadership Board’.  We look at this issue in more detail in the post ‘When can the courts consider adoption is necessary?

 

The rise and fall of adoption rates.

So there was no doubt that adoption rates were rising. But they are probably going to fall again given that decisions by LAs to pursue adoption have fallen by nearly half.

See further the excellent article by suesspiciousminds about newspaper reports in May 2015 concerning the ‘freefall’ in adoption rates after the ‘chilling effects’ of various cases. 

So have the anti forced adoption campaigners had an impact? Are they responsible for this fall by unmasking the truth behind ‘adoption targets’?

We believe the short answer to that question is ‘no’.  To consider this in more detail,  we need to look at the reasons behind the previous rise in the number of adoptions. There are a number of possible explanations:

  • First; that the governments plans to speed up adoption rates for the children already in care were working well; OR
  • LAs were generally under pressure to avoid another Baby P scandal and were pushing for adoption in cases where before a child might have returned home; OR
  • LAs were suffering the consequences of difficulties in recruitment and retention of social workers so cases were not being assessed as carefully as they should be; OR
  • LAs were deliberately targeting younger, more ‘adoptable’ children and social workers would lie to ensure the children’s removal from loving and blameless parents.

 

Can the statistics help us decide what’s been going on?

The danger with statistics is that often they can be used to prove any kind of argument you want. Some opponents of the system have at times offered quite contradictory views about what is going on – see this report from the Daily Mail in 2011 which asserted that adoption rates were falling because adoptive parents were afraid of being called paedophiles.

The blogger Second Daddy comments:

If you want to learn about Forced Adoption then look into it yourself, make your own mind up. If you want to see the raw figures for adoption in 2010, the year quoted by John Hemmings MP in the above Wikipedia article, it’s here. You’ll see that there were 4550 adoptions in England & Wales that year; John Hemmings stated that there were 1360 “Forced” adoptions that year, 29.89% of the total. 1000 of these he claims were “wrong”, 21.89% of the total, 73.53% of the “forced” adoptions. So a third of Adoptions are “forced”. That’s a fairly big number, and it is something we’re aware of and it is a concern, but. But. It’s a guess. With the greatest of respect, Mr Hemming has no idea how many of these were “wrong”. He pulled that figure out of his ass, he has no proof, just a hunch.

However, if it is true that local authorities are or have been targeting younger and hence more easily adoptable children to improve their adoption rates, we should expect to see that reflected in the statistics and we should be able to see a clear rise since 2000 of babies being taken into care and subsequently adopted.

 

We have found the following statistics.

In 1976 4,000 babies were adopted. In 2011, 60 (according to the Daily Mail).

The article ‘Adoption Targets Row; the Sector Responds’ from 2007 in Community Care gives the following figures:

  • 2,490 under-fives in care were adopted in 2006, up from 1,010 in 1995.
  • 4,160 under-fives were first taken into care in 2006, up from 2,870 in 1995.
  • 1,300 babies aged younger than a month when they were taken into care were adopted in 2006, up from 540 in 1995.
  • The average age at adoption in 2006 was four years and one month.
  • 3,700 children were adopted from care in 2006, up from 2,700 in 2000.

So we can see there has been an increase in children being taken into care and being adopted over time from a low starting point, but that the average age for adoption in 2006 was over 4 years old. So 4 years after Hemming argues that babies are being targeted, this does not appear  to be reflected in the average age on adoption.

Compare this with statistics from 2013 

6% (4,310) of children looked after on 31st March 2013 were under 1 year old
18% (12,360) were aged between 1 and 4 years old
19% (13,260) were aged between 5 and 9 years old
36% (24,450) were aged between 10 and 15 years old
20% (13,730) were aged 16 and over

The average age at adoption in the year ending 31st March 2013 was 3 years 8 months

2% (90) of children adopted during the year ending 31st March 2013 were under 1 year old
74% (2,960) were aged between 1 and 4 years old
21% (850) were aged between 5 and 9 years old
2% (70) were aged between 10 and 15 years old
<1% (10) were aged 16 and over

So we see that only 6% of looked after children in March 2013 were under one year old.  Only 90  (2%) were under 1 year old when they were adopted. There is a small decrease from the average age at adoption in 2006 of 4 years 1 month, to 3 years 8 months in 2013 – six years later.

However, in 2013, 13 years after LAs were supposed to be targeting babies, across the country, they have only managed to get 90 babies adopted and the average age at adoption is nearly 4 years old.

On these figures, if there is a deliberate conspiracy to target and remove babies and young children, then the LAs are doing a pretty poor job.

In 2013 there were still 3 times as many children needing adoption as there were adoptive placements. This also points against any argument that care proceedings are targeting the ‘adoptable’ children – otherwise why are there so many children in care who can’t find adoptive families?

See further the article in Community Care;  ‘An ideological approach to adoption figures means we are missing important trends’. 

 

ITV Exposure Documentary

On 15th July 2014 barrister Martha Cover stated on the ITV documentary Exposure – Don’t take my child  that orders ‘permitting adoption’ had risen by 95% in the past three years.  This seemed high to us so we are very grateful to Andrew Pack for doing some digging and commenting:

Placement Order applications since 2011, and Placement Orders made by the Court since 2011.  These taken from the Court stats spreadsheets.

  • In 2011 – applications made 5821, orders made 5109.
  • In 2013 – applications made 7178, orders made 6082.

That’s about a 20% increase. Annoyingly, I don’t have the stats for 2010, which is presumably when Martha is calculating from, but I’d be REALLY surprised if it was as high as claimed. For that to be right, the applications in 2010 would need to have been around 3500… Interestingly, you can see a downturn on both in the last 6 months (i.e. since the Re B-S stuff was really percolating through) – and it is almost 50% down in the first quarter of this year from the high point.

I reckon the error here is in taking the numbers of children each year who are subject to Placement Orders, which is going up at a significant rate, as demand for placements outstrips supply and we add to the numbers each year with new cases, but also don’t clear the decks of the children the year before who needed placements.

A 20% increase in something as drastic as placement orders is still reason for concern, but it isn’t 95%, not by a long chalk.

  • Andrew has commented further about statistics in this post for the Transparency Project.
  • To see government data showing the speed at which Local Authorities place children for adoption see these statistics from January 2014.

 

Follow the money

You may be interested in these articles by Andrew Pack for more detailed consideration of whether it is possible that there  is a financial motive or incentive driving care proceedings.

He comments:

What I would say, for the ultra-cautious people, is that I would agree that the lack of transparency on ‘payments and adoption targets’ is deeply unhelpful and creates a genuine reason for people to feel sceptical, uncomfortable and unhappy. The absence of clarity and transparency is itself very shabby. It may or may not have distorted how many times adoption was recommended in final social work evidence, it may or may not have had an impact on individual people’s cases. At this point, we don’t have the evidence to draw a proper conclusion and that in itself is wrong. It creates at best, a fishy odour, and as we well know, “Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done”

See also our post on the issue of bonuses paid to social workers.

 

Why we reject the allegation of systemic corruption

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

The court judgments, culminating in Re B-S that have so concerned Martin Narey were right to point out the dangers of sloppy analysis. But why had some cases got into such a mess?  Because the system was ‘evil’, the social workers were telling lies to get their bonuses and that all the lawyers and judges closed their eyes to this because its actually a government policy?

Or is it more likely , that what we have is a child protection system that is often inefficient and/or overwhelmed by case loads? where mistakes are made, but rarely due to deliberate malice?

The conspiracy theories take hold because they feel ‘right’ to a lot of people who may have good cause to feel that they have not been listened to or treated fairly. This can lead people to  be unable or unwilling to consider a reality which does not accord with their strongly held perceptions:

People say: “Let the facts speak for themselves”; they forget that the speech of facts is real only if it is heard and understood. It is thought to be an easy matter to distinguish between fact and theory, between perception and interpretation. In truth, it is extremely difficult.

For further fascinating discussion about the impact of cognitive bias and how hard it is to get people to abandon their narratives, even if they are based on a false premise, see this article ‘Your Brain is Primed to Reach False Conclusions’.

 

What is our reality?

We have not been able to find evidence to support the assertion that the child protection system is designed and maintained deliberately to be corrupt or ‘evil’. Recent research from Cafcass says that LAs were right to make applications for care orders in 80% of cases they reviewed.

But that of course does not mean the system is perfect. Far from it. If 80% of cases are ‘right’ we still have 20% which are not and that is worrying. There are also serious concerns that an ideological ‘push’ for adoption is masking proper consideration of statistical trends.

We agree with that justice needs to be seen to be done and there should be as much openness as possible about such serious matters.

  • We accept that there can be serious consequences when a system is overwhelmed by cases; individual practitioners may lack support, and there is a risk of bad or even no decisions getting made. There is a particularly sad example of that in the case of A and S in 2012 where the boys’ Independent Reviewing Officer had a case load three times in excess of that recommended by good practice.
  • Sometimes mistakes are made because lawyers and doctors got it wrong about the medical evidence. Here is an example of a case where the court decided there wasn’t enough evidence to conclude that a child suffered non accidental injuries as this child also had rickets due to Vitamin D deficiency.
  • There is no doubt that the Government wishes to speed up the adoption process and there are legitimate concerns about how the new Children and Families Act 2014 will operate. See further this article by Cathy Ashley of the Family Rights Group and here for the views of Barnados on the need to speed up adoptions.
  • We note the conclusions of the the Report of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development of the Council of Europe which was concerned by the high numbers of children in England and Wales who were adopted without parental consent, and commented (see para 74) that the UK’s refusal to reverse adoption orders where there had been a miscarriage of justice was a ‘misunderstanding’ of the best interests of the child, who had a right to return to his birth family.
  • Possibly the most serious problem is that social workers in child protection work are asked to wear ‘two hats’ at the same time – they are tasked with supporting families at the same time as they are gathering evidence against them. The tension and difficulties inherent in this dual role are obvious. See Wrennall, L. 2004 Miscarriages of Justice in Child Protection: a brief history and proposals for change.

But what we don’t accept is that these problems – as serious as they undoubtedly are – can legitimately lead to a conclusion that the whole system is corrupt and operating to ‘steal children’ to meet government endorsed targets.

We think it would be a great shame for children and parents if legitimate debate about problems in the system is overwhelmed by allegations that have no basis in fact and which serve only to make parents even more worried and frightened about what the system might ‘do’ to them and their children.

 

The Way Forward.

However, we accept that it is odd, if adoption really is the ‘gold standard’ for children that other jurisdictions do not seem to share the UK’s enthusiasm for adoption without the parents’  consent.

We should always be open to more discussion and debate about what we should be doing to secure the welfare of children.

You may be interested in this post describing the different approach in Finland, where children who are taken into care will Iive with foster families or in institutional care.  
You may also be interested in this article by an adoptive parent in the Guardian from 2012, discussing the difficulties caused by lack of post adoption support.
There are also concerns expressed by adoptive parents that they haven’t been given the full picture about their children’s backgrounds and this has caused enormous problems for the family. 

  • We agree that everyone who works in the system should be aware of the dangers of an insular or paternalistic approach to child protection issues.
  • We agree that adoption may not be the best plan for every child and there should not be an automatic assumption that adoption is best. There is an interesting article criticising ‘adoption driven systems’ here.
  • However, we think for many children subject to a final care order, it will represent their best chance of achieving a stable and loving home throughout their childhood.
  • We agree that placements with family members should continue to be investigated thoroughly.
  • We also agree that we need more consideration to how we support adoptive placements after an order is made as studies show the breakdown rates for adoptions can be as high as 25%. There is interesting research from the US here which looks at rates of adoption disruption and why they break down. Research published on April 9th 2014 by the University of Bristol offers another perspective on adoption disruption rates, concluding that they are low but emphasising the importance of post adoption support, particularly for older and more challenging children.
  • Social workers need more help to deal with the bureaucracy of their job, so they can focus on working with and supporting families – the ‘reclaiming social work’ model needs wider implementation.
  • What we don’t agree with is a debate that polarises around the term ‘forced adoption’ and politicians who advise parents to leave the country rather than engage with social workers.
  • Where we all hopefully agree is that every child has the right to grow up in a safe home and that any child protection investigation must be carried out quickly and fairly.

We hope this site can be part of sharing resources and information to promote open and honest debate about the child protection system.

You can read here about government sponsored research into the reasons why people are motivated to adopt or foster.

You may also be interested in what we say about post adoption contact.

 

 

Key Messages from the Department of Education Research

The Department of Education published ‘Adoption Cases Reviewed: an indicative study of process and practice’ in 2013 which provides a comprehensive review of contested adoption proceedings. Its key messages are set out below. While the review certainly did not find that everything was perfect, it did not conclude there was any evidence of systemic corruption or orders made for trivial reasons:

  • The study confirmed routine local authority and judicial compliance with the required procedural and legal framework for adoption. Parents’ rights to due process in contesting and opposing care, placement and adoption applications were ensured. Decisions were taken by the court in an appropriate way, following the full testing of evidence.
  • Local authority practice in the study cases pre-dated current statutory guidance, in which permanence is required to provide the framework for all social work with children and families. Where it lacked this perspective, social work intervention could not be relied upon to pursue effectively the protection and care planning that might have secured child safety on a permanent basis at home.
  • In addition, quality assurance of child protection and care planning was insufficiently robust.
  • Where risk assessment and protection and care planning lacked confidence and decisiveness, the right of the child to have a safe and permanent family life secured in a timely way could be compromised. Similarly, the right of parents to effective intervention to help them make necessary changes could be neglected where permanence principles were not applied equally to the process of rehabilitation.
  • While no clear pattern of contestation emerged in these cases parents often argued that the local authority had sought merely to gather evidence to make the case against them, rather than intervene purposefully to support the changes required to keep the child safely at home.
  • Extensive use of independent expert evidence and advice provided a guarantee that harm and risk had been assessed fully and decisions appropriately informed, once the case was in proceedings. However, the use of experts also caused duplication and delay. Current proposals for reform will need to ensure such evidence is deployed effectively within the sharper case management regime.
  • This study suggests that the enhancement and quality assurance of the expertise and effectiveness of social work within the inter-agency system should attract policy attention. Timely and proportionate decision making is undermined as much by lack of case management continuity and of grip in making a judgement about parents’ capacity to change in the local authority as it is in the court.
  • The reform process should be underpinned by a review of the philosophy, organisation and support of local authority case management in protection and care planning, to ensure reliability of compliance with current statutory guidance that a permanence perspective is employed as a matter of routine.
  • The reform process should also include a review of the availability and effectiveness of post-placement support for birth parents in all forms of permanent placement, including placement at home.

 

Censorship and the protection of commercial interests – the woeful state of our debate about protecting children.

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore
On the morning of Friday August 21st I posted a comment on the Marilyn Stowe blog after the former MP John Hemming had written a guest post about adoption statistics. The biography attached to his post described him simply as a highly educated and respectable former MP and councillor. It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, silent as to any of his other activities which have caused me and many others serious concern over the years.

My comment on this piece, about the need to be aware of and alert to these activities of Mr Hemming, led to an invitation from that site’s owner to contribute a guest post. I was happy to do so as the issues I wished to raise are, in my view, serious and significant.

Later that day I received an edited version of my post and was asked to accept the revisions made. I did not receive that email until fairly late on Friday evening. It was not until sometime later that I was able to sit down and give these revisions my full attention. When I did, I was unpleasantly surprised by what I found.

Of course, it is entirely up to Ms Stowe what she permits on her blog. I cannot dictate to her what she publishes. But I am very unhappy to note that significant portions of what I wrote have been removed, despite everything that I had written being

  • true
  • highly relevant to my argument and
  • already published elsewhere and well and truly in the public domain.

Most concerningly, a sentence from the judgment of Wall LJ in RP v Nottingham had been removed.

 

Search Engine Optimisation versus open and honest debate

I queried this via email and was told that the site would be penalised in its google rankings by relying on links to other sites in the way that I had done and the commercial interests of the site must be protected.

As I pointed out in reply, it is difficult to see how including the final sentence of a paragraph from a judgment from Wall LJ would have negative implications for any Google rankings. Ms Stowe was also happy to include a link to my own site when discussing an article about other European countries, but would not include a link to a post setting out the connections between Hemming, Josephs and Booker.

I commented further:

I think this is a very important issue – either you are unable to post relevant information because it may damage the site’s commercial interests OR there is some other reason, as yet undisclosed to me, as to why this information can’t be published by you.
I am pretty ignorant of SEO issues and how Google issues penalties, so I will take your word about that. But I will remain very puzzled why the words of a former President of the Family Division in any way are relevant to issues of Google ranking and protecting your site’s commercial viability.
And it does of course raise a wider and even more important issue about how the necessary debate about the child protection system is best served if such an important and well respected source such as yourself, finds itself unwilling to discuss certain issues because they may impact on the commercial interests of the site.
Are your readership aware of these potential constraints? I certainly wasn’t.
[EDIT I have just received an email from Marilyn Stowe to say that they are going to ‘call it a day’ and will not publish my post. I have received no further clarification about why the edits to my post were required or necessary, other than that it is the policy of the blog to be ‘non confrontational’]

I am left in this rather uncomfortable position. If the reason given for the editing is correct, then information which is a) true b) relevant and c) in the public domain is being excluded from the debate on the site, to protect its google rankings and its commercial interests. However, I am unable to accept that as a reason for censoring a quotation from a judgment of a High Court Judge.

So what was I trying to say that wasn’t fit to publish?

I will set out my original post below and the edits and you can make your own minds up about the reasons for editing. But whatever the reasons, this cannot be the way to conduct the necessary open and honest debate about the child protection system that is needed now, more than ever.

I of course am happy to provide a right to reply to anyone I discuss in my posts. I am happy to be educated further about the impact of Search Engine Optimisation tactics on internet debate. I would also be delighted to know that Mr Hemming is prepared to renounce his links with Ian Josephs and Christopher Booker and to put his obvious drive and intelligence to better use.

But unless and until he does that, if he wishes to position himself as a credible and reliable voice in this crucial debate, others are entitled to have the fullest possible information about what he actually believes, with whom he associates and the risks they pose.

I set out my original piece below and will indicate in the text in bold what has been removed or altered. I have not included the minor edits regarding a choice of word or phrasing. It is the wholesale removal of pertinent facts to which I very strongly object.

 

Open and honest debate about the child protection system is needed now more than ever.

I am a family law barrister of 15 years experience and the site administrator of www.childprotectionresource.org.uk which was set up on 2014 in an attempt to provide accurate information to all those involved in the child protection system.

This guest post arises out of another guest post published on this site by John Hemming. 

On the face of it, this post looks like a respectable attempt to analyse statistics around the number of children adopted in the UK. I accept now, and have accepted for years, that we urgently need an open and honest debate about what is really going on in our child protection system.

Although Mostyn J (and many others) are simply wrong to opine that there are ‘only’ 3 (or even no other) systems in Europe that permit forced adoption – see this post from Claire Fenton Glynn – it is true that England and Wales are by far the most enthusiastic proponents of ‘forced adoption’ of all Council of Europe member states and we are entitled – even morally obligated – to discuss this and to understand why.

However, just because the debate is necessary and important, does not mean we should not take care about who is contributing to it and what they are saying.

I have been concerned for many years about the motivations of many of those prominent figures in the debate and the impact they are having. Mr Hemming is described in this guest post as a highly educated and respectable former city councillor and MP.

But there is another side I think it is important to share. Disclaimer: My run ins with Mr Hemming now extend to four years of internet debate. He has made formal complaint about me to the Bar Council (not upheld) and gave an interview to the Daily Mail following his expulsion from the mumsnet website in 2014, which curiously felt it appropriate to publish both my real name and my mumsnet user name side by side. It is entirely possible that my dislike for what I perceive as Mr Hemming’s tactics of intimidation, [this has been edited to read: ‘it is entirely possible that my dislike for Mr Hemming’s tactics…] means I am not able to take a dispassionate view about his activities.

Therefore I present to others the facts so that they may make up their own minds.

The family law system as ‘evil’.

A good starting point to understand why Mr Hemming has nominated himself as a crusader against the ‘evil’ family justice system can be found in Jonathan Gornall’s article in 2007. Mr Hemming then repeated his allegations about the ‘evil’ and corruption of the family justice system to Wall LJ in the case of RP v Nottingham in 2008

It is plain to me from these documents, that in addition to the allegations set out above, Mr. Hemming believes that HJ was in the pay of the local authority and thus was “the local authority’s expert”. For good measure, he asserts that the system is “evil” and that “there does seem to be little concern in the legal profession about the reliability of opinion offered in court.”. The clear implication behind the “witch findings” items on the website set out at paragraph 95 above is that “experts” like HJ are in it for the money; that they are happy to “manufacture ‘evidence’”; and that they are in receipt of “phoney” letters of instruction. The result, Mr Hemming asserts is a “disaster”.
98. In my judgment, these comments are not only wrong and ill-informed; the simple fact remains that they have no foundation in the evidence presented either to the Nottingham County Court or to this court. That they are made publicly by Mr Hemming once again strikes me as an abuse of his position.[This sentence has been entirely removed with no warning or indication to the reader that Wall JL’s paragraph has actually been cut short]

This remains Mr Hemming’s position in 2015

Mr Hemming repeated again in a comment on my blog in August 2015 that the system is ‘evil’ and then opined that children are taken into care just because their parents smoke. He made no response to my challenge that this was clearly a nonsense assertion.

But it is not simply comments like that which raise concerns. Mr Hemming unfortunately does not restrict himself to comments. He takes action – and he has clear and active current links with others who, in my view, pose a significant danger to vulnerable children. [This has been edited to say simply ‘pose a risk’]

One such person is Ian Josephs. I provide a full discussion of his activities on this post, together with links to support my assertions.  [This has been entirely removed and replaced by ‘who assists mothers facing care proceedings to leave the UK]
In brief, it has now come to light that Marie Black, convicted of a number of serious child sex abuse offences in July 2015, was assisted by Ian Josephs to leave the UK rather than face probable care proceedings. [this sentence has been removed entirely]When challenged, Mr Josephs asserts that he is doing ‘nothing’ wrong, he would help ‘any’ mother facing the evil of forced adoption and he undertakes no prior risk assessment before handing out money, and undertakes no follow up once the parents leave the country. He estimates he has spent at least £30,000 and ‘assisted’ 200 families to date.

This network supporting ‘mums on the run’ is clearly supported by Mr Hemming, who writes about it on his own blog and appears on a video on Youtube with Mr Joseph. The links between Hemming, Joseph and Christopher Booker are also depressingly clear.

I have to give Mr Hemming recognition for bringing to light some important issues which were over looked. It is right, for example, to be concerned that recent cases involving children from other countries showed a widespread ignorance of our obligations under the Vienna convention. He is right to be concerned that the apparent promotion of adoption over other options for children in care, may have had a distorting impact on the practice of various professionals.

 

The impact of assertions that the system is ‘evil’

But why must he have this debate in the context that the family justice system is ‘evil’? How is this helping anyone? I am dealing with an increasing number of parent clients who are unable to engage with the system due to their massive amounts of distrust and fear which such irresponsible hyperbole promotes. It is beyond depressing and irritating to be constantly told I am a ‘legal aid loser’ with my ‘snout in the trough’. I have faced these and similar comments over many years from both Mr Hemming and Mr Josephs.

I remain concerned that positive outcomes from Mr Hemming’s campaigning were thus no more than a fortunate by-product and do not reflect his dedicated aim. That aim would appear rather to be to encourage partial and misinformed debate about the family justice system, including an appearance on national television in 2014 to tell parents to leave the country as they won’t get a fair trial.

This kind of comment coming from a serving MP – as he was at the time – can only have had massive impact on some very desperate and vulnerable people.

Desperate need for open and honest debate

We urgently need open, honest debate about what on earth is going on in child protection system. And I don’t think we will get that from Mr Hemming given his current associations and clearly expressed views about the ‘evil’ of the system – presumably that evil extending to all who work in it, including me.
But as ever, I am delighted to be proved wrong.

An open letter to Ian Josephs

Is there anyway we can bridge this gulf between us? Or are we simply doomed to shout at each other from our opposite sides of the gulf, whilst the parents and children continue to slide into it?

This post is sparked by comments on a recent post Helping Parents Leave the Jurisdiction where I set out my concerns about the activities of John Hemming, Christopher Booker and Ian Josephs.

Sarah Phillimore

 

From Ian Josephs

On 5th August 2015 at 1.51pm

Mother on the run
Katie Lee Jones, 24 year old British mother and her children captured in West Cork.

I got sent this video today and it speaks for itself !
Sarah, the mother you describe who beats and starves her children has indeed committed a crime and probably the children should be removed.

Screaming and shouting on the other hand can be a way of life in some countries like Italy but in any case the children can still love their parents and suffer far more by adoption and separation from everyone they know than by staying where they are.

Many cases that come my way concern women who have found new non violent non shouting partners because of the risk that history might repeat itself and forced adoption in those cases is indeed a crime.

Lastly I have never once been reproached by a parent for giving bad advice, but I do have many letters of thanks from parents who folowed my” infamous” golden rules and got their kids back. Quite a few are on my site.

I do not believe in punishment without crime and before you say taking babies is not punishing anybody just tell that to non criminal mothers who have had their babies snatched at birth to be given to complete strangers for life. Strangers who can never love like a real mother; but then love is a dirty word rarely used in social service circles where they prefer to talk of new adoptive parents “bonding” with other peoples children; bonding is what the players do in football teams like Arsenal and Chelsea but they rarely “love” each other !

 

From Sam

Sam August 6, 2015 at 9:27 pm
I speak as a parent who has suffered from domestic violence. The man who abused me saw his mother abused, in fact she readily admitted to being thrown down the stairs, a number of times and having all her teeth knocked out. Her own mother was an alcoholic. My ex’s father was a drinker, I cannot say he was an alcoholic for certain but certainly the signs are all there. The next man she lived with who beat her was also a drinker, once again I didn’t meet him so cannot say he was an alcoholic, but he had the personality and behaviour. My ex’s brother had another addiction and a similar personality.

I and of course my children lived with a shouter, though it felt more like orders and it is harmful. I tried to get away before but was greatly failed by the authorities.

With respect Mr Josephs, it is rare to get out of one dysfunctional relationship without falling back straight into another one and it goes on for generations. The way to break the circle is self awareness. It is vitally important for children, unless they are to repeat their families dysfunction for the parents to become aware and work on themselves with whatever help they can find. That may be the Freedom Programme, counselling or an voluntary sector organisation such as Al Anon Family Groups. The mother needs to get skills to stop her falling down the same hole again.Where the courts fail is insisting on the 2-3 years of therapy that doesn’t actually exist.

You said you had a racehorse. He or she would have been very carefully bred , through many generations to maximise speed and minimise the faults of their sire or dam. They would have received the best of care throughout their formative years in order to grow into their potential. Hopefully at the end of their racing career you consider their options, whether to put them out to grass or stud if applicable or have them rehabilitated as a leisure horse. If so much care and attention is paid to a horse, and I am a horse lover so would never say mere horse, should it also not be applicable to children.

I did watch the You Tube clip and I saw a vulnerable young woman, that concerned me. I was also worried when I worked alongside a young woman in a voluntary project, who had already had three children removed and had got pregnant for the forth time ,it was a relationship of a few months, the father was an alcoholic. She thought everything would be all right and would not contact a solicitor even though I urged her to.

I do understand that the system is broken, if you read my other posts I have had plenty to moan about. I also think outcomes from care are appalling . I just wish there was more middle ground, that you would swing some of your resources to working here in the UK . Perhaps you would say you are already. There are partnership projects that are working in other countries and I believe there have to be more here, complete with making Children’s Services as more accountable through recording etc.

 

From Me – will Ian Josephs use his time, energy and money to do something constructive?

Sarah Phillimore Post author August 7, 2015 at 7:40 am

A very constructive and helpful comment Sam.

You are right about the loss of the middle ground. I have been saying for years that my frustration with the activities of Hemming, Josephs et al is not simply because they are wrong in most of what they say, but that they divert the energies and attention of all of us into dealing with their wrongness, instead of focusing on what we could do to make it right.

So I will put it out there – Mr Josephs. You clearly have a lot of time, energy, commitment and most importantly money.

Would you use any of those positive attributes to help projects that might actually achieve some necessary change for the better? Would you, for example support the Transparency Project with a small monthly donation so we can continue our work in pressing for greater understanding and accountability?

Would you meet with Sam and discuss with her a project for mentoring parents or peer support? I can join you and discuss what I learned in Finland about co-working with parents and children.

Is there anyway we can bridge this gulf between us? Or are we simply doomed to shout at each other from our opposite sides of the gulf, whilst the parents and children continue to slide into it?

 

Helping parents leave the jurisdiction

What happens if you don’t know the whole story… or you don’t care? The links between Hemming, Booker and Josephs.

“Any person who embraces one party’s version of events and treats it as the whole truth is making a serious mistake. In most family cases the version given by one side is partial and tendentious; on any view it does not give the other side. The only sensible course is to see what the court says in a judgment on all the evidence”.  Sir Nicholas Wall

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

On the 27th July 2015 the BBC reported that Marie Black had been found guilty of child sex abuse charges. EDIT – and on May 13th 2016 her application to appeal against her conviction was dismissed. 

Marie Black, 34, of Norwich, stood trial with nine others, including five women, at Norwich Crown Court. Black denied 26 charges. A jury found her guilty of all but three counts.
She was convicted of offences including rape and inciting a child to engage in sexual activity. Two men were found guilty of child sex abuse and another woman was found guilty of assault.
Michael Rogers, 53, from Romford, was found guilty of 14 counts including cruelty, rape and inciting a child to engage in sexual activity. Jason Adams, 43, from Norwich, was convicted of 13 similar counts. Carol Stadler, 60, from Atkinson Close, Bowthorpe, Norwich, was found guilty of assault causing actual bodily harm but cleared of nine other charges, including serious sexual assaults.

Six other defendants were cleared of all charges.

Allegations were first made about Marie Black in 2010. Further evidence was available in 2012 and she was arrested in 2013.

Christopher Booker and Marie Black

But this is not the first time Marie Black’s name has appeared in the media. On 7th July 2012 Christopher Booker wrote about her in an article in the Telegraph. Marie Black and her partner had ‘fled’ to France to give birth to their daughter after being under investigation by Norfolk Social Services. Norfolk wanted to apply for a care order for their child but the court ruled that the child was habitually resident in France and therefore the Norfolk LA had no jurisdiction. Christopher Booker commented:

This is a landmark case which should give cheer to those scores of parents who flee abroad for the birth of children threatened with seizure by our social workers. For this reason, perhaps the British taxpayer’s expenditure on this episode – estimated at £250,000 or more – was not entirely wasted.

He wrote about her again in 2013 – ‘Another couple flee to France only to have their baby taken away’. This was to report on another parent who had successfully left the jurisdiction to escape care proceedings and relied on the Marie Black case as precedent.  Christopher Booker referred to the ‘happy ending’ for Marie Black and her child and applauded the help she had been able to give another parent in the same position:

The mother had already been in touch with Marie Black and Brendan Fleming (although there is still no order from a British court to authorise all that has happened). When the couple appeared in a French court to contest the demand that their baby be deported, the judge was shown a statement citing the Marie Black judgment, making clear that, since Britain had no jurisdiction over the child, deporting her would be illegal. The judge, seemingly out of her depth, adjourned the case, suggesting that it should be heard by a more senior judge in three weeks’ time. We may hope that the new judge can recognise that the law is clear, and that the British authorities had no legal right to arrange what amounted to an act of kidnapping.

But the ending for Marie Black (and presumably her child) we now know was very far from happy. She has been convicted on 23 charges of serious child sexual abuse, including rape.

 

Encouraging and supporting parents to leave the jurisdiction

Christopher Booker is sadly not alone in simply accepting uncritically any complaint made by parents about the child protection system. He is often supported by the former MP John Hemming and Ian Josephs.

John Hemming has also been subject to serious judicial criticism . Of interest is also this article by Jonathan Gornall in 2007 which explains why Hemming first became interested in ‘waging a war’ on children’s services. 

Booker goes rather further than simple uncritical acceptance but instead often ignores published judgments and established facts when writing his articles.

And its not just Christopher Booker’s reporting about the family justice system which is criticised. As George Monbiot commented in the Guardian in May 2011

I have begun to wonder whether there’s a single subject Booker has tackled in recent years which he has not distorted out of all recognition. For how much longer can this go on?

Sadly for all of us, its still going on.

Its one matter to simply write things that are stupid and wrong. It is another, and more dangerous matter, to encourage and even pay for parents to leave the UK, rather than face investigation into the quality of their parenting. I don’t know if Christopher Booker has ever given a parent money to fund leaving the jurisdiction – but he certainly associates with and is sympathetic to those who do.

He has apparently commented on the criminal trial of Marie Black in May 2015 – making his disdain for the criminal process clear and likening this case to  ‘crazy’ allegations of ritual abuse in previous cases which were like an ‘epidemic of collective hysteria’. 

 

The ‘mums on the run’ network – giving money to parents

It is clear that there is a network of people who act to help these parents ‘flee’ the UK.  This website describes it in these terms (and then goes on to discuss articles written by Christopher Booker):

The situation can be stated in a very simple manner. There is now a network of Good Samaritans spanning six countries. The countries are the UK, Ireland, Belgium, France, Spain and Cyprus. Parents, mainly mothers, are fleeing with children and heavily pregnant women and teenaged girls are fleeing to have their children born in a foreign country where their citizenship will make it difficult if not impossible for the British authorities to bring them back for forced adoption.

Now for the very simple bit. The hard-pressed volunteers in the network are seeing no Irish or continental European parents and none from Cyprus. All the fleeing parents are British, desperate to escape from UK Social Services, now commonly referred to as the ‘SS’.

We also know that some in the network put their money where their mouth is. One who openly admits giving cash to parents to help them leave the country, is Ian Josephs. He is based in Monaco and is the author of the infamous ‘ten Golden Rules’ which advises parents not to co-operate with social workers and to think very carefully before reporting even sexual abuse of your children.

BBC Radio 4’s Face the Facts programme in January 2014 ‘Forced Adoption and the Mums on the Run’ examined the network of people helping parents leave the UK rather than face investigation.

Mr Josephs was interviewed and confirmed that he has spent about £30,000 helping parents and he did not conduct any kind of risk assessment about the danger these parents might pose to their children. An article in the Daily Mirror in July 2014 confirmed this figure and said it involved 200 families.

Ian Josephs helped Marie Black leave the UK. She wrote to him from France. 

Hi Ian,

We hope you are well.

Attached is a recent photo for you of L, she will be 10 months old this thursday and is trying to walk already! She is so happy and laughs so much. We feel lucky everyday to have L home with us and we are looking forward to her 1st Christmas.

We get on well with the social worker here and she took us swimming last week and this week will be a baby group. She is also looking into if she knows anyone who can help us with French lessons too.

She commented on how happy L is! We have even been to see Mr Mondin the manager of social services who helped us in Court with a shining report and he has a photo of L on his desk, he was so happy to see us all together last week.

Thank you again in our rescue operation!

Best wishes

Marie, Joe & L

No risk assessment before they leave, no follow up after they’ve gone.

In the interview with the Mirror,  Josephs claims he ‘ploughs through’ ‘piles of documents’ before agreeing to help but other than that he is silent on what criteria he uses to judge whether or not it is safe to send these parents out of the country. He is reported as saying:

I know what I do is controversial. People ask how I know the people I’ve helped don’t go on to do something wicked, but my reply is that even killers are entitled to lawyers. These woman are entitled to a fair chance to keep their children if they have not been convicted of any crime of cruelty and aren’t on drink or drugs.

Not only is no or no adequate risk assessment conducted before giving these parents money, there is no formal follow up or investigation as to how their children fare once they leave the jurisdiction. Sadly, the poll conducted by the Daily Mirror attached to its interview with Ian Josephs, shows 66% of those responding agreed it was right to help ‘pregnant mums’ leave the UK. So its not only Christopher Booker who is willing to uncritically accept reports of a ‘happy ending’.

Ian Josephs later said he does ‘not care’ if the parents have done anything to justify intervention. Because forced adoption is wrong and that justifies his actions. ‘ I don’t care who it is. They have every right to escape’. See this video from 6 mins 50 seconds.

 

Connections between Booker, Josephs and Hemming

Ian Josephs has close connections with both Christopher Booker and the former MP John Hemming, in their self appointed roles as critics of the child protection system and champions of its many alleged victims.

For example:

  • both Booker and Josephs appeared at a ‘Stop Forced Adoption Conference‘ in Birmingham in December 2012, together with Brendan Fleming, the solicitor who represented Marie Black with regard her daughter.
  • There is cross fertilisation from Josephs’ website to Booker’s articles.
  • Also see this article.
  • See this post from Head of Legal in 2013, discussing the joint activities of Booker and Hemming around the ‘forced C-section case’.
  • John Hemming was interviewed for the January 2014 Panorama documentary ‘I want my baby back’ and there advised parents to leave the jurisdiction as they wouldn’t get a fair hearing in the UK. He continues to promote ‘mums on the run’ on his blog – see this post from July 2015. [EDIT – JH now appears to have removed this blog post]
  • See the Justice For Families e-conference with John Hemming and Ian Josephs on 3rd September 2014, ‘Refugees from the UK’. Brian Rothery claims one family arrives in Ireland every week.

 

It’s not always a ‘happy ending’

However, as the Marie Black case demonstrates, it is naive and dangerous to simply take at face value a parent’s assertions that they are nothing but the ‘victims’ of the corrupt family courts. Marie Black has been tried and convicted in a criminal court, on the criminal standard of proof and found guilty by a jury of her peers  – this is just what Ian Josephs has been campaigning for, that no parent should lose their child without a criminal conviction. He said to the Daily Mail in March 2012 

 ‘It’s time the criminal rules of justice applied in the family courts. We need parents to be considered innocent until proven guilty and also be free to talk about what is happening in those courts without being thrown into jail.

So presumably Marie Black would not now qualify for his help to leave the country.

Just how many more ‘unhappy endings’ are out there? If Josephs has paid 200 parents to leave the UK, just how many dangerous parents have been helped to escape scrutiny in this way? We don’t know, because he doesn’t care to find out.

How much longer are Booker, Hemming and Josephs going to be permitted to carry on like this? Just what kind of tragedy will it take to shine a light on their activities?

Apparently Christopher Booker will be writing about the Marie Black case in tomorrow’s Sunday Telegraph. It will be interesting to see what he says and how – if at all – he will try to  justify his role in these events.

If he isn’t actually handing over cash to parents to get them out of the country, with every dangerously false and inaccurate article he writes he is certainly encouraging and supporting those who do.

 

EDIT Sunday 2nd August – there is no article from Christopher Booker in today’s Sunday Telegraph. Further speculation is probably unhelpful given that I am not clear if Marie Black intends to appeal against her conviction. I hope it is a safe conviction. If its not safe I hope it is overturned speedily.

BUT whether the conviction stands or falls, the activities of Booker, Hemming and Josephs remain open to serious criticism. If Marie Black is not a child sex offender, the risk remains that other parents might be. And they are being supported to leave the country with their children – not merely with encouraging words in a newspaper, but with cold, hard cash.

I hope I am not alone in finding this both appalling and dangerous.

EDIT Sunday 9th August 2015 Christopher Booker has now commented in more general terms.

EDIT September 28th 2015. Marie Black is sentenced to a minimum term of 24 years.

EDIT December 4th 2015 – for the latest wilfully misreported case, see this blog post by suesspiciousminds about the Latvian family ‘helped to flee’. Christopher Booker reports the child’s injuries as a ‘slight mark’ whereas in fact they were more akin to a rope burn, the child said his father did it. It’s ironic that Josephs continually asserts that only parents who are convicted in a criminal court should lose their children; but he helps them leave the country before they can be charged with any criminal offence.