Other thoughts

If you tolerate this – then your children will be next

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore.

The end of safeguarding for children?

Young children do not have capacity to make decisions

A child is a person between the ages of 0-18. Older children may be considered ‘Gillick competent’ and able to make serious decisions about their welfare needs which may then override parental objections and give adult doctors etc the necessary lawful consent to treatment or other interventions etc.

A very broad approach is this. A child under 6 is vanishingly unlikely to have the capacity to make serious decisions. Children between 6-12 will vary in their ability to understand and weigh information. Children approaching their teenage years are likely to be ‘Gillick competent’ and able to give consent to medical treatment etc but even the wishes of a ‘Gillick competent child’ are not automatically held to be determinative of every case.

Parents have a legal obligation to protect the children in their care.

Parents have ‘parental responsibility’ for their children. This is set out at section 3 of the Children Act 1989

In this Act “parental responsibility” means all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.

In Christian Institute v Lord Advocate [2016] UKSC 512017 SC (UKSC) 29, paras 71 to 74, the Supreme Court recognised the responsibility of parents to bring up their children as they see fit, within limits, as an essential part of respect for family life in a western democracy.

A parent who fails to exercise parental responsibility for their child may find their children removed from their care by the State or even that they face criminal charges of cruelty or neglect. For example, The Children and Young Persons Act 1933 deals with ‘cruelty to a child under 16’

If any person who has attained the age of sixteen years and has responsibility for any child or young person under that age, wilfully assaults, ill-treats (whether physically or otherwise), neglects, abandons, or exposes him, or causes or procures him to be assaulted, ill-treated (whether physically or otherwise), neglected, abandoned, or exposed, in a manner likely to cause him unnecessary suffering or injury to health (whether the suffering or injury is of a physical or a psychological nature), that person shall be guilty of an offence, and shall be liable—

It therefore remains very surprising and alarming to see a constant stream of ‘advice’ and even court proceedings which appear to start from a very different basis entirely. That for one issue alone – that of ‘gender identity’ – a child of ANY AGE should be given the power to make decisions, this cannot be a safeguarding issue and any parent who stands in the way of this should find themselves the subject of legal censure.

If you are talking about children’s rights – which children do you mean?

The state of ‘childhood’ covers a very wide canvass. Children of 6 are not the same, on any level, as children of 16. I have written about this before. See:

No one, no issue is off the table when it comes to safeguarding – I discussed my alarm at a social worker suggesting that parents supporting a child around issues of gender identity was ‘not’ a safeguarding issue.

You had better make some noise; Abusers will eploit bad laws and poor safeguarding

So it was with enormous unease that I read about the latest comment on parental responsibility via issues of gender identity for children. Because this appears to be spearheaded by a major law firm, Dentons.

Roll on Friday reported on November 29th 2019 about the production of a document headed : ‘Only adults? Good practices in legal gender recognition for youth’. This purports to be a ‘report on the current state of laws and NGO advocacy in eight countries in Europe, with a focus on rights of young people’.

The authors of the report recognises with thanks whose who have contributed to it.

IGLYO and Thomson Reuters Foundation wish to extend their thanks and deep gratitude to the legal teams and activists who contributed their time and knowledge to create this report.

The report was prepared by Dentons Europe LLP with the assistance of Dentons UK and Middle East LLP, and the NextLaw Referral Network. Our special thanks to Dentons trainee lawyers Jennifer Sim, Anna Mackinnon and Madeleine Macphail and to the Dentons Europe Pro Bono Trainee, Margaux Merelle.

There is a disclaimer:

This report does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. Readers wishing to act upon any of the information contained in this report are urged to seek individual advice from qualified legal counsel in relation to their special circumstances.

This report does not necessarily reflect the personal views of any of the lawyers, staff or clients of Dentons, Thomson Reuters Foundation or other lawyers, law firms or organisations that contributed to the development of this report.

Regardless of such disclaimers. this report is clearly intended to be used as a significant lobbying tool with the aim of changing the law. That is the explicit aim of the report.

GLYO’s aim was to create user-friendly resource for itself, its members and the broader advocacy community for use in campaigning efforts for better gender recognition laws across countries in the Council of Europe.

The report wishes to eliminate protections for children based on their age and understanding.

I went through the report to see what mention was made of children by age. There is no attempt to distinguish between the preschool child or the teenager. This is not surprising when you come to page 15 which calls to end the legal minimum age requirement.

Eliminate the minimum age requirement.

Where legal recognition procedures require prior medical treatment or investigation, these are often only available at the legal age of maturity and thus discriminate based on the age of the applicant. In other cases, where there is no medical requirement, minors are barred from legal recognition unless they have parental authorization. This remains a huge hurdle for young trans people who are yet to reach the age of maturity.

See also Page 9: Children and teenagers need to be allowed to define themselves however it suits them, both in social and legal terms

Page 13: The best interests of the child should be a primary consideration in legal procedures, and the child’s view should be given proper weight, taking into account their individual maturity and development. A child’s best interests must include respect for the child’s right to express their views freely and due weight given to said views in all matters affecting the child. In practice this would mean, for example, that a statement from a public authority suggesting that children of a certain age are too young to be aware of their identity is contradictory to the “best interest” principle and the right to be heard. 

There is no doubt that the authors of this report see protections for children based on their age and understanding, do not apply when it comes to the issue of gender identity.

I can find no understanding or assessment of the impact this has on the legal and moral obligations of parents to protect their children, apart from a few vague references to the welfare of children. I can see no mention of the Article 8 rights to respect for family life.

The report wishes to punish parents who want to take responsibility to protect their children

Not only does this document appear to be ignorant of or uncaring about the young child’s lack of capacity to make serious decisions about their physical or mental health, there is even a call for parents to be punished if they do not accede to the demands made by their child – regardless of age or understanding – see page 14.

For example, states should take action against parents who are obstructing the free development of a young trans person’s identity in refusing to give parental authorization when required.

This is confusing, particularly when Norway – a country lauded for its progressive approach – sets out clearly the age restrictions considered important.

Norway is the most liberal, with legal gender recognition being available at any age, although with certain conditions for different age groups. For example, minors under the age of 6 can only have their legal gender altered if they are intersex. For minors between 6 and 16, it is available with parental consent, and for those over 16 a self-determination model operates. In contrast, in Belgium, legal gender recognition is unavailable for minors under the age 16, and for those between 16 and 18 years old parental consent is required.

Do the authors of this report agree there is a distinction between a 6 year old and a 16 year old? I am not sure they do. Rather, this distinction becomes irrelevant as their work is ‘to educate the public that legal gender recognition is a purely civil process’.

This is probably the most dangerous fudging of reality of all. The main reason many share my fears about removal of any age limits when considering transition is that the current model of engagement in the UK is ‘affirmation’ only – and a child set along a pathway of puberty blockers, cross sex hormones and surgery. These issues and the frightening lack of clear understanding about what is motivating every increasing numbers of children to want to change sex were recently investigated by Newsnight and File on Four, when looking at those who now wish to ‘detransition’.

What does it say when you want to keep your arguments hidden?

The report is clear that those campaigning must ‘fly under the radar’ to avoid uncomfortable scrutiny:

The most important lesson from the Irish experience is arguably that trans advocates can possibly be much more strategic by trying to pass legislation “under the radar” by latching trans rights legislation onto more popular legal reforms (e.g. marriage equality), rather taking more combative, public facing, approaches. 

Advice is given about activism ‘behind the scenes’:

Another technique which has been used to great effect is the limitation of press coverage and exposure. In certain countries, like the UK, information on legal gender recognition reforms has been misinterpreted in the mainstream media, and opposition has arisen as a result.

What of any benefit is done in the dark? This says to me loud and clear that the authors of this report know that what they are recommending cannot stand up to scrutiny. It says to me that they risk being motivated by something other than the welfare of the children they profess to be fighting for. When you bring in slick professionalism from law firms and others motivated by profit, it rings some very, very loud alarm bells for me.

Always ask yourself – who stands to benefit from from any change to the law? If the people pushing this are seeking professional or financial validation, always be wary. If the people pushing it wish to ‘fly under the radar’ – always ask yourself why.

There are clear parallels between the recommendations of this group and how cults and predators operate. Those who are to be successfully recruited into the cult must be isolated from friends and family who do not share the cults aims and beliefs.

Unless and until there is a significant body of evidence that the ‘affirmation’ model is one that operates in the best interests of children, we should all be extremely wary and worried about this.

And parents should continue to take responsibility for their children and protect them from making potentially harmful decisions with life long consequences – regardless of what is threatened by lobby groups who do not appear to know or care about the law.

Further reading

Working with young people questioning their gender? Ditch the label and understand the child’s world CAFCASS website March 2018 Anthony Douglas CEO – fails to distinguish between Gillick competent and non Gillick competent children and contains alarming phrase We have to understand whether we should support a fast track transition, which can for example mean we recommend immediate use of hormone blockers so that transitioning does not become more complicated biologically if there is delay.

NHS staff being advised to ignore parents’ wishes if children self-declare as different gender, guidance shows The Telegraph January 2019

Dentons campaigns for kids to switch gender identity without parental approval Roll on Friday 29th November 2019

The document that reveals the remarkable tactics of trans lobbyists The Spectator December 2nd 2019

A letter to the President of the Family Division: No unregulated expert shall be allowed to report in a family case

We, the undersigned have experience of experts in the family courts as either professionals or parents.

We are writing to request an amendment to Practice Direction 25 B so that no person may be permitted to submit an expert report involving the assessment of any child unless that person meets minimum standards of professional practice, which we assert are as follow. The expert must:

  • submit to an external regulatory or supervisory body which requires adherence to a Code of  Conduct
  • meet professional obligations as data controllers
  • provide clear and accessible formal complaints procedure

We are troubled by the number of experts involved in family proceedings who do not appear to meet some or all of these basic requirements.

Practice Direction 25B sets out the standards expected of expert witnesses  – see Annex paras 4 and 6.

The expert is up-to-date with Continuing Professional Development appropriate to their discipline and expertise, and is in continued engagement with accepted supervisory mechanisms relevant to their practice.

If the expert’s area of professional practice is not subject to statutory registration (e.g. child psychotherapy, systemic family therapy, mediation, and experts in exclusively academic appointments) the expert should demonstrate appropriate qualifications and/ or registration with a relevant professional body on a case by case basis.  Registering bodies usually provide a code of conduct and professional standards and should be accredited by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (See Appendix 2). If the expertise is academic in nature (e.g. regarding evidence of cultural influences) then no statutory registration is required (even if this includes direct contact or interviews with individuals) but consideration should be given to appropriate professional accountability.

We feel strongly that the requirement to consider such regulation on a ‘case by case basis’ is potentially unfair to parents who may be acting in person and who may not initially appreciate the potential significance of a failure by any professional to submit to external regulation.

We are very concerned that parents who wish to raise significant concerns about the conduct of an expert who is not subject to external regulation, have no where to go other than the appeal process, which is clearly not a suitable mechanism to deal with the majority of complaints against an expert’s conduct.

We would be grateful if you would give our letter consideration.

SIGNATORIES as of 17th October 2019

Sarah Phillimore, Barrister

Professor Lauren Devine

Stephen Parker Senior Lecturer

Dr Sue Whitcombe  CPsychol AFBPsS

rob@voiceofthechild.org.uk

Carine Moller

Vinice Cowell

Ruth Tweedale, family law solicitor and lecturer

Alison Bushell, expert

Nicky Sole, parent.

Alice Tew

Deborah Hope

Mike Flinn , Child and Family Therapist , MBACP ( accred)

Roy Mackay, Family Law Reform Campaigner

Belinda Jones, FMC Family Mediator, AFCC Parenting Co-ordinator, GDL, LPC.

Trish Barry-Ralph ISW, expert witness

Ruaidhri Magee, Parent

Helen Taylor Social Worker

Dr Nick Child, BSc MB ChB MRCPsych MPhil Retired Child Psychiatrist and Family Therapist

Debi Richens, parent and grandparent

Tracey McMahon – Housing and Welfare Rights Practitioner

Nick Burke Social Worker

Rosie Dixon Psychologist

Alicia Leal Parent

Jennifer Cole, Midwife

Charlotta Bolton – Parent

Emma Cleaver – Parent

Julia O’Connor – Parent

Rachel Barnes

Dave Gwilliams

Amanda Hewitt-Coleman

Andrea Brougham

Rachel Gough

Simon Cushing

Shelly Wieczorek

Zainab Hassan

Tracy Stapleton Childcare Professional

Doreen Langford

Carol Newton

Lisa Blakey

Sofia Nilsson

Helen Woodhouse NHS Nurse

Emma French

Moira McCann Registered Childminder

Harriet Hughes

Maria Denny

Therese Lindberg

Samra Soliman

Izy Soliman

Marie Howell

Helen Green NHS

Hazel Rhoades

Louise Edwards

Jurate Puodz

Caroline Howe

Becci McFadyen

Sarah Tolson

Nina Coulianos

Padmini Baker

Charlotta Bolton

Lynn Aicorn

Anna Bradshaw

Heather Murray

Ekaterina Crawford

Laura Brooks Deputy Headteacher

Leah Moyse

Zoe Elisabeth

Alexander McKee

Maria Rosberg

Amanda Fakeerah

Alison Elstone

Laura Low-Douse

Sue Roberts

Victoria Cushing

Mark Howell

Nina Ayalon

Christina Lamb, parent.

 

 

 

 






No one, no issue is off the table when it comes to safeguarding

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore.

I was sent a copy of an article this evening. It appears in the October edition of ‘Professional Social Work Magazine’ which I am told is a publication for those who belong to the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) a powerful and influential organisation which claims over 20,000 members, ‘committed to the highest standards of practice and ethics’.

The article was written by someone who did not want to reveal their identify, in order to protect that of their child, which I can quite understand. The article is titled ‘Listen to children on gender – what being the parent of a trans child has taught me’.

It is the account of a teenager who struggled with a ‘gender identity’ that did not ‘match the sex they were assigned at birth’ and how the parents supported the child to transition from female to male after the child made his wishes known at 12 – having spent ‘months, if not years’, ‘thinking about his body as wrong’.

It is a sensitive account from a parent about how they responded to their child who, on this account clearly did appear to be expressing strong views that had been held over time. I have absolutely no difficulty with this. It is clear that ‘gender dysphoria’ does exist and a small percentage of people will benefit from surgery to bring their physical body more into alignment with what they believe their body should be.

However, there will, I am equally sure, be those who profess a wish to ‘change sex’ who have other issues and difficulties that medication or surgery will not alleviate. Such intervention may have permanent and life long consequences and should not be entered into lightly. Enormous caution should be taken around ‘supporting’ a child who is not Gillick competent into making any serious decision about their lives.

And this is where the article began to make me feel very uneasy. Far from restricting it to an account of one child’s journey, it is clear that the author wishes to offer far more general guidance and does so on the basis of assertions that are – in my view – profoundly misguided and actively dangerous.

The author raises as a ‘myth’ that hormone treatments are given to children under the age of 16 or surgery is considered only at 18. Possibly she or he is unaware of the activities of Dr Helen Webberley and what appears to be a growing number of activists who demand that ‘puberty blockers’ should be available to children as young as 12. Ironic also is the fact that the CEO of Mermaids Susie Green took her child abroad for surgery when the child was only 16.

Offering up these age limits of 16 and 18 as some kind of inviolate barrier beyond which people cannot pass is simply naive – particularly given the inevitable ‘drive’ for increased intervention at a younger age as that will make it easier for a child to ‘pass’ – particularly a boy who wants to become a girl.

But my real fears are raised by the ‘bullet points’ at the end of the article

  • Just because a child is telling you they are transgender, does not mean they are too young to know this
  • Its not possible to force a child or young person to be trans
  • parents supporting their child in their gender identify is not a safeguarding issue

I wonder if the author of this article has read the judgement in Re J?  I wrote about this in more detail in this post – In whose best interests? Transgender children: choices and consequences – and the issues around bear repeating here.

This is an important case – J (A Minor), Re [2016] EWHC 2430 (Fam) (21 October 2016).

The Transparency Project wrote about the case and the media response here and summarised the court’s approach in this way:

Mr Justice Hayden heard the case over a number of days in the summer and, based upon the experts and professionals whose evidence he heard (along with that of the mother herself), the judge concluded that J was a little boy whose mother’s perception of his gender difference was suffocating his ability to develop independently – and was causing him significant emotional harm. He was placed with his father, where he quickly began to explore toys and interests that were stereotypically “boys”. The judgement is very clear that the father had brought “no pressure on J to pursue masculine interests” and that his interests and energy were “entirely self motivated” (pa 47). So, not forced to live “like a boy” (whatever that means) – but choosing (there is more detail in the judgment).

Importantly, Hayden J acknowledged that there are genuinely children who are transgender or gender dysphoric, and who present in this way from an early stage, but – and here is the crux of it – this child was not one of them. This was all about the mother’s position.

At para 63 of the July judgment, the judge commented on the expert opinion of the mother and how she presented:

When stressed and distressed, [M] becomes controlling, forceful and antagonistic. This reflects her underlying anxiety. She is actually very frightened and upset. She tries to sooth herself by taking control of situations but her interpersonal style is counter-productive. She does not negotiate well. She finds it difficult to compromise and situations become inflamed rather than de-escalated. In situations of interpersonal conflict, she protects herself from loss of confidence or face by unambiguously perceiving herself as correct which means that from her perspective, the other party is wrong. To acknowledge her flaws, even to herself, feels crushing and devastates her self-esteem so she avoids this possibility by locating responsibility and blame elsewhere. When she is unable to achieve the outcome that she wants, she resorts to formal processes and/or higher authorities: complaint procedures, The Protection of Human Rights in Public Law, the European Court of Human Rights, Stonewall and so on.”

It is clear that the mother was insistent with all agencies that J ‘disdained his penis’ and was being subjected to bullying at school etc. She could not provide any proof of this and the school denied it was happening. She was supported throughout by Mermaids who played a significant role in the development of a ‘prevailing orthodoxy’ that J – at 4 years old – wished to be a ‘girl’. That view was found by the court to have no bearing in reality and was a product of both ‘naivety and professional arrogance’

Mr Justice Hayden was highly critical of the local authority for getting swept up in this prevailing and false orthodoxy, commenting at paragraph 20 of the July judgment

This local authority has consistently failed to take appropriate intervention where there were strong grounds for believing that a child was at risk of serious emotional harm. I propose to invite the Director of Children’s Services to undertake a thorough review of the social work response to this case. Professional deficiencies to this extent cannot go unchecked, if confidence in this Local Authority’s safeguarding structures is to be maintained.

No one and no thing is exempt from safeguarding

I am profoundly worried by that last bullet point in the article – “parents supporting their child in their gender identify is not a safeguarding issue”.

The mother in re J was supported throughout by Mermaids, who issued an angry press release after the judgment and said there would be an appeal. There was not. The author of this article refers its readers to Mermaids as a useful resource.

It is surely the antithesis of any responsible social work or safeguarding policy to set up groups of people or particular issues that are immune from examination or critical regard. While the author’s 12 year old child may have thought long and hard about the issue and demonstrated his Gillick competence beyond doubt – I suggest the same certainly cannot be offered with regard to a 4 year old. But is the issue of ‘trans’ now off the table for social workers? Whatever the child’s age or level of understanding – if he or she declares they are trans, then that is that? No further investigation or assessment is required? How can this be right? How is this good social work?

I am really worried about this. I would be interested to hear from other social workers about what they think, and how they would approach a case involving a very young child who wished to embark upon a path of ‘changing sex.’

 

 






After 5 years as a ‘crusader’ I am admitting defeat – and this is why.

In 2014, with the support and encouragement of mumsnet users I set up the website Child Protection Resource online. We had considerable concerns about the lack of reliable information which was easily available for parents facing care proceedings and real fears about the way in which people in positions of authority and power seemed happy to promote false narratives to make people afraid.

I had such high hopes. Surely all people need is to see the facts set out before them, clearly and simply and all will be well! In pursuit of this dream I organised 3 multi-disciplinary conferences in 2015, 2016 and 2018.  It seemed to go well. The first conference was a genuinely energising and positive experience when for the first time parents, social workers, experts and lawyers gathered in one room to speak honestly about their experiences in a system of children protection that we all agreed was not working and was brutalising those within it.

But as the years went by, my naivety has been revealed for what it was and my enthusiasm has dimmed. It is clear to me now that professionals do not operate in isolated silos, failing to engage with others, because they are forced to – it is because they WANT to.  Stepping out of your comfort zone and facing some hard and uncomfortable choices about your profession and the choices you make within it is very difficult. I can see why many are simply unable to do it.

And that’s ok. I am not here to berate people for not being willing to risk their homes and their jobs on some crusade. I appreciate it is very difficult for many to speak out. Family cases are particularly difficult to engage with in public due to the many necessary rules that exist to protect identification of children.

So I get that. But I wasn’t asking people to be warriors. I was asking people to be authentic. To be honest. To connect. And it is sadly clear to me now that this is never going to happen. There are not merely the concerns about possibly being in contempt of court – which I quite understand – but there is something much darker going on. A lack of honest recognition of problems and difficulties because this might challenge a prevailing orthodoxy or a funding stream or a personal ‘brand’ – or simply be embarrassing.

And I will not be complicit with this. Because I think its really harmful. Not only to the possibility of driving forward any real change to a brutalising system, but because there are real people – real children – who get ignored if people are more concerned about embarrassment and saving public face than they are about engaging with what is going wrong.

As I have already indicated, I have withdraw support from any journalist who wishes to campaign to open up the family courts, as the last five years have shown me that journalists are either unwilling or unable to accept the harm they do to this area in particular, by click bait appeals to the lowest common denominator.  I will no long be willing to sit in conferences and talks by social workers that preach the importance of relationships when key members of that profession seem unable or unwilling to recognise that the fundamental building block of any relationship is honesty and trust. I will not sit by in silence when even the Ministry of Justice does not appear to understand its own system of laws and I will continue to object very loudly to those who push fake and partisan narratives at the expense of the rule of law.

I will keep my site going and updated. For the parents who may benefit from it. No parent is responsible for this system and its failings. No parent should be asked to care about this. They need a system that can operate fairly and efficiently, to either remove those children who need protection their parents cannot give in the least cruel way possible, or to step away from those families who have unfairly been the subject of state scrutiny. Better yet, not ever have to engage in punitive measures against families which may have been able to make it with some guidance and support.

I have been deeply disappointed by the last five years. But I don’t regret for one moment embarking on this experiment. It has opened my eyes and my mind and both before were, to a large extent, closed. It has enabled me to meet many people of great wisdom and courage that I would otherwise never have met. To all of them, I offer my thanks.






The Migrant Child with no Recourse to Public Funds

I am grateful for this guest post by Hal Fish who is a content writer for the Immigration Advice Service; an organisation of leading UK immigration solicitors that help migrant families regulate their immigration status.

Whilst there are numerous issues that affect and damage the many migrant families of the UK, the welfare of migrant children is a profoundly troubling matter which continues to be overlooked in mainstream media. Migrant children are being thrown into a state of vulnerability due to the immigration status of their parents. Street homelessness, poverty and other forms of dejection are rampant issues for these children as they grow up without access to the same public funding as those with British Citizenship.

The main reason causing this problem is the ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) condition. Coming from theImmigration and Asylum Act 1999, the clause states that if a person is ‘subject to immigration control’ they will have ‘no recourse to public funds’.Without standard routes to public funding, the only support left to the children of migrant families can be found in Section 17 of the 1989 Children Act. This act places a duty on local authorities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children ‘in need’ in their area. This one source of provision has become a safety net for underprivileged migrant families; sadly, however, the children keep slipping through the many gaps of that net.

It seems that the government’s commitment to creating a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants is being prioritised over the commitment to providing safe living conditions for children in need. The Home Office have shifted their responsibility to support these children onto local authorities. However, pressures of austerity and other budgetary restrictions have left such authorities reluctant to provide financial support. With these limitations in mind, tactics such as misinformation, intimidation and unfair judgements on credibility are being employed by local authorities as to withhold their funds from impoverished migrant families.

It was found by Project 17, an organisation working with migrants fixed in the NRPF condition, that 60 percent of its clients were wrongly refused assistance when they initially contacted their local authority. On top of this, 22 percent of families were wrongly refused support on the basis of their immigration status. Habitually the reasoning for these refusals are arbitrary and baseless, often decisions are made before assessment is even conducted. Many families have been incorrectly informed that by requesting support under section 17 they were trying to claim ‘public funds’, whilst others have been told they can only be supported if they have leave to remain in the UK. One of the main problems is that local authorities seem much more concerned with trying to catch parents out for fraud as opposed to actually assessing the considerable needs of the children.

And even when support is granted, there is no statutory guidance on the rates of financial support provided under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. This means that there is no set figure to determine exactly how much money families should be given. Different children have different needs, and therefore discretion should be used when judging just how much financial aid should be offered to each case – for instance, some children will have greater medical bills. But regardless, families with NRPF are overwhelmingly in need of basic level of financial support as to provide accommodation, food and other essentials for their children. Yet the Children’s Society found that some families received lower than the asylum support rate of £36.50 per person per week – a figure nowhere near the level required to alleviate destitution and one in breach of human rights law.

A report by Project 17, spoke to children living with NRPF and found that 41 percent of them felt unsafe as they were ‘homeless’, ‘moving around a lot’, ‘living with people they did not know’, ‘uncertain about their housing situation’, and ‘travelling long distances to school’. It’s clear that not enough is being done to keep these children safe and supported. Social worker and researcher Andy Jolly brought home this point when he recently said: ‘the death by starvation of Lillian Oluk and her daughter Lynne Mutumba in March 2016, while being supported by a local authority under section 17 of the Children Act (1989), illustrates the consequences of inadequate support for undocumented migrant families in the hostile environment.’

Worryingly, there is very little evidence to suggest a change in the Home Office’s or local authorities’ approach to families with the NRPF condition. Yet the number of families requiring support under section 17 has steadily been rising for years now: between 2012 and 2013 it rose by 19 percent. To exacerbate troubles, the Home Office have proposed cuts to asylum support contained in the Immigration Bill 2015. Which means, if passed, the number of children who rely on section 17 will increase as there will be even less financial support for them from other means. And rules such as those contained in the Immigration Act 2014, which limit rented accommodation to those migrants who have the ‘right to rent’, will lead to homelessness amongst migrant families; once more creating a greater need for section 17 support.

Ultimately, while section 17 support does provide a thin layer of protection for thousands of children in the UK, it does not offer enough. With minimal guidance given on how assessment should be made, and support administered, there is too much reliance on the discretion of local authorities; who often work with other (namely financial) concerns prioritised. There must be more done to fight against the harrowing circumstances and impoverished lifestyle that these vulnerable children are being exposed to. It is imperative that the government implements a consistent and adequate structure of support for migrant families living with the NRPF condition; one which is capable of offering the necessary level of provision for the children overwhelmingly in need.

 

Further Reading

Financial and Housing Advice.

Hackney Migrant Centre guide to section 17 – The guide contains information, advice and guidance gathered from those who have experience of seeking this kind of support. The guide covers an explanation of section 17 support, the child in need assessment, what support might look like, what happens if support is refused and a helpful evidence checklist. The guide also contains signposting to partner drop-in’s and immigration advice sources.

 

 






Can you challenge a finding of fact in a family court?

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

TLDR; yes  – but its difficult. Don’t rely on being able to challenge a finding after it is made – it is far, far better to challenge it at the time of your court case, if you have all the available evidence.  

However, if you discover evidence after the hearing that shows the findings have been made on an inaccurate basis, it is clear that there is a mechanism to challenge this. 

So anyone who asserts the the Judge ‘got it wrong’ at their hearing and they have the evidence to prove this – ask yourself (and them) why they haven’t asked the court to look at this. 

 

in cases involving children, it is clearly very important that decisions about their welfare are based on sound factual findings. See W (Children), Re [2009] EWCA Civ 59. But what does a parent do if they think the finding of fact was made on the wrong basis?

Section 31F(6) of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 was inserted by the Crime and Courts Act 2013, section 17(6), Schedule 10, paragraph 1 and came into force on 22nd April 2014.  It gives the Family Court the power to “vary, suspend, rescind or revive any order made by it”. it’s an interesting provision as that undermines the principle in relation to finality of judgments and orders – but which itself is in tension with the principle that decisions about children, which have such long lasting consequences, should be made on the soundest footing.

in the case of Re E (Children: Re-opening Findings of Fact) [2019] EWCA Civ 1447 the  Court of Appeal held that the Family Court had the statutory power under the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 s.31F(6) to review its findings of fact at any time.

In this case, the children were removed from the mother’s care, after the youngest was found to have cigarette burns on her arm. The mother said it was an accident but her accounts were inconsistent. In the criminal investigation, the police medical evidence supported the mother and said she offered a plausible explanation for accidental burns. The mother then got permission to appeal out of time on the basis of that report.

The Court of Appeal found that a finding of fact was not “an order” in the strict sense of s.31F(6), but it could be appealed if it was integral to the order on which it was based and therefore came within the scope of section 31F(6). A finding of fact that the mother deliberately hurt her child was clearly integral to the order made to remove them.

Nor did section 31F(6) express that it was limited to a particular time after the hearing, given that findings of fact often have longstanding consequences for children and their families.

The court refused to follow G (A Child), Re [2014] EWCA Civ 1365  where the judge commented that when a sealed order, after a fact finding hearing, is challenged then that challenge must be to the appeal court and the mother should not have been allowed to apply to the first court to re-open factual issues.

However, the Court of Appeal in Re E dismissed the mother’s appeal and found she should apply directly to the trial court – the trial court was more likely to be in a better position than any appeal court to assess the true significance of the further evidence and was likely to be able to deal with the application more quickly and cheaply.

 

Applying to the first court to look at its findings again.

So if a parent wants to review a finding of fact the approach is set out in Re ZZ, (Children) (Care Proceedings: Review of Findings) [2014] EWFC 9;[2015] 1WLR 95.This case adopted a three part test first set out by Charles J in Birmingham City Council v H and Others [2005] EWHC 2885 (Fam):

  • the court must consider whether it will permit any challenge to the earlier findings
  • it then has to decide the extent of the investigation and evidence heard by the review
  • then it hears the review and decides whether or not the earlier findings still stand.

The court will not get beyond the first stage unless there is some ‘real reason; to believe that the earlier findings can be challenged. ‘Mere speculation and hope’ are not enough. The over arching question for the court will be whether there was any reason to think that a rehearing would result in a different finding,

 

Appealing to another court to about the findings

Or a parent could appeal based on further evidence but this might need an application to extend time, as applications to appeal have strict time limits.  Pursuant to CPR r.52.21(3) an appeal to the Court of Appeal would be allowed where the lower court decision was either wrong or unjust because of a serious irregularity.

Under r.52.21(2) any evidence not before the lower court would not be admitted without permission, looking at criteria in in Ladd v Marshall [1954] 1 W.L.R. 1489

  •  that it hadn’t been possible to get the evidence for use at the first hearing
  • if heard, the evidence would have had an important impact on the case
  • and the evidence was credible.






Feelings and Dogma cannot set the agenda in Family Justice

Sarah Phillimore: I am grateful to FNF for this guest post. While I do not always agree with what this group says or how they frame it, they at least make the effort to explain and evidence their assertions, for which I am grateful. I certainly prefer their approach to the polarising and unevidenced assertions that this discussion appears to encourage from many on ‘both sides’. I remain convinced that the only respectable conclusion the Inquiry can reach is the urgent need for reliable data. Otherwise it seems we will be doomed to spin this wheel for many more years to come.

The Response of Families Need Fathers to the Family Inquiry Panel

Families Need Fathers @FNF_Media www.fnf.org.uk ‘Families need Fathers – because both parents matter’ is a UK charity founded in 1974 to support the welfare interests of children when families separate, with a focus on parents struggling to secure reasonable or indeed any parenting time, in the absence of good reasons. We believe that the best interests of children would be served if there were a rebuttable presumption of shared care. We aspire to a situation where most children enjoy joint care of their separated parents the benefits of which are supported by research where such arrangements are the norm.

Examples of conflict from our front row FNF speak to tens of thousands of parents a year who come to us for help. We also receive feedback from many lawyers, McKenzie Friends and litigants of their experiences. So here is a cross-section of the kinds of scenarios that we see.

  • After separation, all was working well. When mother got a new boyfriend, all contact stopped.
  • When father got a new girlfriend, mum first insisted that he could not have the children in her presence and stopped contact. When he took her to court, she alleged inappropriate, sexualised behaviour in front of the child.
  • When dad lost his job and reduced child maintenance, mum said “no money, no kids”.
  • When dad had a job and paid child maintenance, mum said “more money, or no kids”.
  • Mum refused to put dad on the birth certificate and threatens no contact, so dad applies for Parental Responsibility.
  • Mum beat dad regularly, when be plucked up the courage to tell the police, she alleged sexual abuse.
  • She found out he’d had an affair then phoned the police alleging abuse to get him out of the house.
  • She slapped him repeatedly in an intense argument. When he pushed her away she phoned the police.
  • He said he would leave, but she threatened him with not seeing the children.
  • Both parents were aggressive to each other when drinking.
  • Both smoked cannabis, but upon separation mum claimed he was the only one who did it in front of the child.
  • He was an alcoholic. There was a violent incident where he hit mum many years ago whilst drunk. He’s been dry since then and the main carer of the child, but now she has applied for legal aid on the basis of this incident.
  • Separated father reported the mother to social services when a drug dealer moved in with her and the children. She assaulted him when he came to collect the kids, called the police and claimed he’d carried out the assault.
  • Mum suffers from a mental health conditions that cause her difficulty in seeing things with clarity. Or, mum has been the victim of a horrendous abuse herself causing her to feel fearful in situations where she would not have otherwise.

All these of incidents could have happened with parents’ roles reversed of course. All form part of the varied situations that family court judges have to deal with. In each, there will be two sides to the story with varying degrees of supporting evidence. It is the role of the judge to (a) decide whether the facts of each of the claims being made are relevant to the safety of the child and (b) weigh-up the evidence and decide which is more credible when evaluating the risks.

The ‘paramountcy principle’ means that their decision has to be based on the best interests of the child taking into account identified risks from each parent. Charlotte Proudman, in her Guest Post of 3rd July 2019 for the Transparency Project makes a range of suggestions as to what is wrong with family justice (and there is much that is). However, her assertions appear to be based, at best on her experience of being a self-proclaimed ‘feminist barrister’ (and hence unlikely to see a typical cross-section of cases) and at worst on dogma.

Claims, for example, that the majority of cases stem from safeguarding concerns relating to family abuse are precisely what it is the judge’s job to decide based on evidence. Both sides are likely to make such assertions. Similarly, claims that Cafcass documenting of allegations of father’s controlling behaviour being discarded are also problematic. If a judge ignores a report in which there are concerns, that would be a basis for appeal. A judge may well dismiss the allegation because the evidence provided by the father was stronger than that offered by the mother, perhaps compelling. It could be that there was evidence of the mother or both parents exercising inappropriate controlling behaviour over the other, the nature of which (a) was unlikely to manifest itself now they don’t live together or (b) is insufficient to warrant placing the child into care.

The current move is to ‘ban abusers from having contact with their children’.

The definition of domestic abuse has been broadened recently. It includes shouting and

aggressive behaviour so the other parent is frightened. Such behaviour is fairly common by both parents who find reason to find fault in each other prior to or in the throes of separation. If that were the ‘abuse’ that has taken place, one would hope that nobody would suggest that neither, or either parent, should be stopped from parenting the child.

However, few studies have gone so far as far as to determine how many of these allegations were found to be irrelevant to the matter before the court, how many involved mutually inappropriate behaviour and how many had findings to support the allegation or that they were unfounded/fabricated. One relatively small-scale one by Professor Tommy Mackay at Strathclyde University concluded that as many as 70% of cases were found to be false or unfounded. Founder of Women’s Aid, Erin Pizzey, reported that more than half of women in the refuge she ran were in mutually abusive relationships and sometimes behaved worse than the men. We would hope that those who claim that false allegations are rare might support our call for truly independent research on a larger-scale into the prevalence and nature of false allegations and exaggerations in the context of Children Act disputes.

For now, one thing we do know is that Professor Liz Trinder, of Exeter University, carried our research that assisted the Government in its decision to table the ‘No-Fault Divorce’ Bill that is currently going through Parliament. The report quotes a range of authoritative sources e.g. The Law Commission saying that the ‘system still allows, even encourages, the parties to lie, or at least to exaggerate, in order to get what they want’. Does anyone suppose that when emotions are raw, people are angry, feel jealous and hurt, and stakes high (access and parenting time) that the propensity to lie and exaggerate might be any less?

If we then add to this cocktail that since 2013, when LASPO was introduced, a condition of qualification for Legal Aid in private family disputes was the making of allegations of domestic abuse. Whilst the majority of such claims are likely to be genuine, a significant proportion – that we estimate in thousands per year, are obtained on the basis of false allegations and exaggerations – on issues that do not then even feature in subsequent proceedings.

The statistics imply this. The growth of complaints of this amongst our service users supports this and we are now hearing of this increasingly from the judiciary too. The former President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, said “One of the greatest vices of our system… is the unfounded allegation which festers around and poisons the process”. He should know!

Parental Alienation

Interviewed on the Victoria Derbyshire Show on 15th May 2019, Charlotte Proudman spoke of a view that “women lie” and that Parental Alienation being a “new term” that “really turns my stomach”. In her article, she suggests there is ‘scant scientific research’ into it. Except, firstly, nobody is suggesting that only women lie. Men and women can and do and it is up to the court to determine whether and who is lying. Secondly, Parental Alienation has been recognised under those terms since the ‘80s (as well as studied earlier). Thirdly, bad-mouthing and the many other behaviours that form part of what is now known as parental alienation existed well before the term was coined and were every bit as damaging. Fourthly, there is a significant and growing body of research into it and the World Health Organisation, (WHO), who don’t take decisions lightly, has just recognised it too. Whatever the research, one hopes that it is not too contentious to say that parents who enmesh the children in their feelings and paint their other parent as a monster are not putting their children’s needs first. They are doing harm to their own children that is certainly equivalent to other forms of child abuse. That, and all forms of abuse, should be a concern for all of us to jointly develop solutions for. To deny parental alienation and alienating behaviours is a danger to children.

As we are not saying that all women lie any more than all men do, neither should it be surprising that parents who are accused of abuse might seek to use parental alienation as a form of defence. The role of the court, however, has to be to use evidence to distinguish between the different causes of a child’s rejection of a parent, including undue influence by the other. A dogmatic failure to consider this possibility would in fact leave the child at risk of ongoing abuse that will damage them for life.

The reality of some 6,000 applications being made each year for enforcement of Child Arrangement Orders that have not been complied with tells its own story. As does the fact that courts often give up in these situations and make orders for Indirect Contact only i.e. sending cards, letters and gifts (see article in Family Law).

Prevalence of Abuse and How to Make Progress

At FNF we note that there are men who are perpetrators of horrendous abuse, just as there are women who do so. Ministry of Justice data reports that around two-thirds of domestic abuse (65%) is against women and a third (35%) against men (695,000). We might also argue that there is evidence of more men under-reporting. The point is, whatever the precise figures, every victim who is being harmed deserves to be supported by the courts and other services. So does every victim of false allegations – the latter do tremendous harm too. We need to create a culture that drives out all forms of abuse against everyone. It will happen when we all seek to understand each other’s problems and reach out for balanced facts and research. That is less likely to happen if those whose voices dominate the discussions on domestic violence continue to seek to make this into a gendered debate. A divisive approach seems unlikely to succeed and real progress will happen when men support women who are victims and vice versa.

Review of Protection in Family Justice May 2019 saw the culmination of an organised, effective lobby from a number of women’s rights activists and organisations seeking a review of family justice based on a narrative suggesting that family courts are granting ‘contact at all costs’, resulting in dangerous men having unsupervised contact. This is patent rubbish. At that time 123 MPs were persuaded to sign a call for an independent inquiry into this frightful alleged occurrence. An entire one hour Victoria Derbyshire Show was dedicated to this ‘scandal’ and subsequent shows continued to address this narrative. The ‘research’ carried out by the show found four cases in the last four years where a father had killed a child whilst on contact. The problem was that it was selective and did not look at children killed by mothers – of which, sadly, there are many.

As if to highlight this point, only last week a Serious Case Review was published following the murder of a five-year-old boy, whilst on contact with his narcissistic mother on Father’s Day. She left a note to say ‘If I can’t have Leo then nobody is going to’. One of the recommendations of the report was:

‘That Kent Safeguarding Children Board and the Kent and Medway Domestic Abuse Executive Group develop an increased understanding of the needs of men as victims of domestic abuse and what this means about the nature of services that should be provided for them.’

If we are to make the world safer for children and adults alike, it will not be achieved by men and women working against each other, but in seeking to understand the underlying issues without being led by feelings, ideology and dogma. The Government rejected an independent inquiry, but did announce a more limited review. The need to create trust amongst both men and women remains. The current make-up of the review panel is 10 women and one man. It includes a representative of Women’s Aid and not one representative of men’s or fathers’ organisations or those with experience of false allegations. Consequent recommendations will affect fathers, mothers, and children including, in all probability, those where there are no domestic abuse considerations.

In summary – there is a desperate need for a review of family justice, but this narrow, gendered exercise with a very unrepresentative panel is not the right approach.






Judges don’t need ‘training’ about violence – they need evidence.

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

Response of the CPR to the Family Inquiry into the courts response to domestic violence

I have commented critically on the nature of the Inquiry and the response of some such as Charlotte Proudman to what necessitates such an Inquiry – making the reasonable point that serious allegations require some kind of evidence.

I confess that I missed the initial call by a group of family lawyers into an independent review of how domestic abuse is treated in the family courts – reported here in Family Law Week on 29th May 2019 and here in the Guardian. 

What happens when the starting point is ‘victim’?

The letter from the lawyers group is a detailed and clearly articulated statement of case that makes many good points.  They say

There is no data collected about the implementation of Practice Direction 12J but anecdotal evidence suggests, as remarked by Lord Justice Munby in 2016, that there are very real concerns about its application in practice at different levels of the judiciary and across the country.

This echoes the points made by Dr Proudman in her post for The Transparency Project. I commented that her experience did not reflect mine, nor that of the other family lawyers who commented via Twitter. We clearly see here the dangers of relying on one person’s subjective experience over anothers – as the tiresome but accurate cliche has it ‘anecdotes are not data’.

But there is something interesting going on. The group states:

We can say from our experience that Practice Direction 12J is often ignored or ‘nodded through’ without any proper risk assessment, leaving women and children vulnerable. Where a fact-finding hearing is listed, the victim is increasingly being told to limit the number of allegations that can be considered by the judge, meaning that there is not a full forensic and expert assessment of the risks. The impact of coercive control, emotional abuse, economic abuse and other forms of non- physical violence are routinely overlooked.

And its there in that use of the word ‘victim’. Clearly if your starting point is that anyone who makes an allegation of abuse is in fact a victim of that abuse then you are going to take a very different and probably negative view of a judge who takes another approach – as indeed every judge must. To deal with any family case on the basis that one party’s allegations are accepted as fact prior to any attempt to hear evidence about contested allegations is simply a denial of justice. It is wrong. Advising police, for example, that they must commence their investigations by ‘believing the victim’ has been rightly decried by the Henriques Report and caused much human misery and massive waste of public money.

The fact that anyone who alleges abuse is automatically a victim is embedded in the recommendations

A domestic abuse coordinator in each court appointed in order to specifically ensure that victims going through the court process are properly protected and all necessary measures are in place, to try to minimise the risk of further abuse through the court process.

And this is a real problem. It is my very clear experience, arising I accept from 20 years experience, not robust peer reviewed research, that while out and out lies made by women about abuse suffered are rare, exaggeration and re-stating history are very commonplace.  Unkindness, cruelty, blinkered thinking, denial etc etc are qualities that I am afraid are demonstrated equally by men and women. I do not doubt that violence in relationships is a real and serious problem and I do not doubt that the majority of physical violence is perpetrated by men against women. But emotional abuse, ‘gas lighting’, unreasonable behaviour are common to both sexes.

Many of my cases chart a drearily predictable course. I will represent a woman who makes a large number of allegations, often over many years. There will be nothing by way of corroboration from either the police or the medical profession. There will be nothing by way of statements from family or friends. The relationship with the father has utterly broken down; often he will contribute to this by behaviour which can be measured objectively as selfish and unkind. But when the allegations encompass drugging, rape, serious physical violence and there is literally nothing before the court but the assertion of the ‘victim’ that this is is so – what do the lawyers or indeed anyone expect the courts to be able to do with all this?

The group make the following suggestion for reform:

Training for the judiciary to better understand domestic abuse, particularly the nuances and subtleties of abuse such as gas lighting, coercive control, and financial abuse especially apparent when hidden by a polite, non-threatening perpetrator. Input from psychologists in this regard is key.

To which I make the following reply. Judges don’t need ‘training’ to know what violence is. They live in the world. They know what violence is. What they need is evidence on which to base decisions. The family justice system simply is not set up to offer inquisitorial tribunals to unpick relationships that may span decades and involve considerable amounts of ‘nuances and subtleties’.

 

Conclusions – we need the data

This polarisation of the debate into women = victim and men = perpetrator and everything must then stem from that, has done real harm. We can see this in the actiivities of such groups as Fathers 4 Justice. it is easy to dismiss them as posturing idiots but the anger they feel didn’t come from no where.  To simply remove men from the debate – as the Panel membership appears to do, Mr Justice Cobb as the lone exception – is to fuel this kind of anger and distrust to the detriment of us all.

It is a great shame as I agree with and think very sensible many of the recommendations made by the group of lawyers. Removal of legal aid has caused enormous problems. Findings of fact need to be held far more often and far earlier. But I don’t accept the problems in the system are due to ‘lack of understanding’ from judges about issues of violence. They stem more from the very clear understanding by judges of their duties to the Rule of Law and procedural fairness. These are concepts vital to any society worth living in.

The real problem for the FJS is that our judges do not have the infra structure to support them to make speedy and robust decisions.  I accept that cases drag on and there is little by way of support either during or after the court process.

However, without establishing a firm factual foundation for investigation, any proposed ‘three month’ inquiry into all of this is clearly doomed. Because we just do not have a consensus about what is really going on. Groups support women will say false allegations of abuse are very rare, groups supporting men say entirely the opposite. Just what is the evidence about the rate of false allegations and how do we find this data?

The group of lawyers say, rightly:

There is no data collected about the implementation of Practice Direction 12J but anecdotal evidence suggests, as remarked by Lord Justice Munby in 2016, that there are very real concerns about its application in practice at different levels of the judiciary and across the country.

What the group of lawyers recommend and I heartily endorse is this:

that robust recording of decision making is made by the Judge, and collated by an appointed court recording officer so that we can begin to assess the scale of the problem and so understand how we must deal with it.

This will be the only recommendation of the Family Inquiry that will make any sense at all.  In my view.  Nothing will change unless it can be identified and faced.

 






Why I no longer support opening up the family courts

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

Yesterday I was told that a published judgment in a family case had been the subject of an article in a tabloid newspaper. I am not going to link to either the case or the article for reasons which I hope will become very clear. But if anyone doubts the veracity of what I am saying, contact me and I will share the links with you privately.

The article was the usual tabloid fodder. No discussion of the wider issues examined by the judgment, no recognition of the work done by parents, the social workers, or the court. It read to me simply as an exercise in slut shaming. Given the level of detail about the services the parents had been offered it was apparently easy for people in their locality to know who they are. The parents, I am told and understandably – are distraught.

I had an email discussion with a journalist about this. I haven’t asked their permission to repeat their emails so I don’t. But you will get a flavour of the conversation from mine:

This is why transparency will stall as journalists are so irresponsible….

Really? You didn’t notice even a whiff of slut shaming in their approach? It is this kind of thing that will slam door shut on transparency. Journalists have to step up…

OK but the door to transparency remains firmly shut – this is why. Again the excuse that journalists only hold mirror up to society, rarely any recognition of or responsibility taken for how your profession feeds that. A great shame. The mother is distraught. That is a whole group of lawyers who won’t be supporting the next publication of a judgment and I too am wavering.

The damage done by journalists over the death of Peter Connelly is with us still. They continue to compound this damage as for example we see with the reporting of Andrew Norfolk over the ‘Muslim Foster carers’ case. Time and time again I see gleeful reporting of women who have had children removed as just some kind of shameful baby making machines. But these are real people – with real children.

It is just not good enough to say that journalists are ‘just giving the public what they want’. Journalists need to accept that they are also responsible for encouraging and feeding this – going to ever more lurid extremes in their reporting to secure readership and comment.

I have always been wary about whether or not we have the journalists we need to report on sensitive family matters. I have decided now that we do not. I remain very grateful for the efforts of Tortoise media to provide more detailed coverage of these important issues but my fear is that they will always be overshadowed and overwhelmed by the tsunami of nasty, prurient baiting that comes from the majority of the press.

I am still glad I played a small part in Louise Tickle’s victory in the Court of Appeal to challenge an unlawful Reporting Restrictions Order, and that it will lead to a greater discussion about transparency. What she revealed about the nature and extent to which lawyers either understood or applied the law was frightening – the expensive administrative labyrinth she entered into merely to make an appeal, even more so. I will continue to admire and pay tribute to the courage and tenacity she showed to do the right thing.

But should anyone care to ask for my views in the forthcoming Transparency Review then they will be as set out above. I sadly don’t think the majority of our journalists have the will or the ability to report on family matters in any other way than sensationalised click bait. And this hurts people. It doesn’t ‘shine a light’ on the system or increase public understanding. Its just the 2019 equivalent of the stocks or the ducking stool.

I will not support further opening up of the family courts. I will no longer support the pain and misery of my parent clients being offered up for public entertainment. I will no longer agree to the publication of any judgment in a case where I act, unless and until I can see some recognition from our Fourth Estate of the power they wield, and the harm they do.






What can we do to help parents understand and participate in care proceedings?

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore.

Imagine you have landed on an alien planet. The locals speak a completely different language. Their customs and culture are completely different to anything you know. There is no one available to translate for you. No one to explain. What happens?

Since starting this site in 2014 I have become more and more aware that many parents simply do not understand what is going on in care proceedings. Sadly, this group often comprises my own clients; after I have patted myself on the back about my great skills at establishing rapport and explaining things in simple terms, it becomes clear a few weeks or months later that they didn’t really understand at all. And by then it is often too late.

This was brought home to me with particular force recently. I was asked by a parent to look at the final judgment in her case and advise her if there was any way at all she could resist the making of an adoption order. With a terrible poignancy she sent me photographs of each page of the final judgment, laid out on her floor. The pages were in random order; some were missing. She clearly had no understanding at all of what had gone on.  She emailed me:

I wish I did right, from the beginning. But I guess it’s to late for me. My sw called me in today, to say they found a family for E, breaks my heart. To even hear her say that. I just dont know what I can do. I probably, will just have to accept it, and concentrate on my two kids who’s also placed in long-term care. Thank you so so much I appreciate your time. I’m sorry if somethings i wrote didnt make sense. English is not my first language and I do struggle with this.

In the narrative of many parents, often their lawyer is entirely absent. The social worker is afforded a God like power to make all decisions.

Quite rightly as a society we endorse non-means non-merits tested legal aid for parents in care proceedings – but without some kind of bridge between parents and their lawyers, is this a benefit that we are squandering? I do not think this lack of understanding comes about because parents are stupid – but mainly because they are afraid and confused. Language barriers of course, do not help but these problems of lack of understanding are not restricted to those who do not have English as a first language.

We know advocates for parents can help – David Tobis has shown how it works in the USA. There are also pockets of good work around the country  – see what New Beginnings are doing and individuals such as Surviving Safeguarding – but the lack of nationwide standards means that there are many dangerous people and organisations who purport to ‘help and advise’ very vulnerable parents.

I asked another parent for her views about the benefits of advocacy in child protection cases and her post is below.  It is clearly not only the relationships with lawyers that parents need help with.

Advocacy in Child Protection Interventions – guest post from a parent

Imagine you have landed on an alien planet. The locals speak a completely different language. Their customs and culture are completely different to anything you know. There is no one available to translate for you. No one to explain. What happens? You find yourself stumbling along, learning only by experience, by trial and error. Even if you do happen upon someone who does speak your language, they are incredibly busy and have little time to truly sit down with you. Time goes on and you do your best to muddle along but make mistakes in the form of misinterpreting or being unable to make your communication clear. You attempt to use their customs and communication styles but because you don’t have the cypher to the code they speak in your attempts are often misinterpreted, or even ignored because they simply don’t have the time to move at your pace. Wouldn’t it be incredibly useful if there was someone to act as a bridge and help you to understand better?

I am the mother of two children. One whom I have not seen and spoken to in nearly two years, the other who lives with me for a substantial amount of each week. There was a time when all three of us lived together, unfortunately that came to an end when I experienced a crisis. I had experienced domestic abuse, the result of which left my ex-partner with a conviction. I had experienced his wrath in the subsequent months leading from his arrest and conviction in the form of family court proceedings I weathered the storm, fought nearly 12 months through court, moved areas and tried my best to continue as a single mother of a child with a disability and a toddler. I had no family support. It would be wrong of me to say that I sailed through the whole process because things like this take its toll and with the best will in the world, co-parenting with someone who holds a grudge and who has made it very clear that they believe you are an incompetent parent is no easy task.

I asked for support, for a carer’s assessment so I could have a modicum of time to myself, to regroup and recharge, unfortunately that assessment was not forthcoming and a few short months later I reached crisis point. At that point social services became heavily involved and I was shoved onto what felt very much like a conveyer belt moving at great speed the controls for which were written in a foreign language.

My children’s case has been closed to my local authority now for a little over 6 months. I however am left with many questions, the result of which has led to an ongoing complaint. I am 18 months into that complaint with no resolution in sight. In an attempt to understand and find answers I have taken to Twitter and much online reading and have come to an understanding that there are many parents out there who simply do not understand the process they have gone through, have lingering doubts they were treated fairly and want answers. I count myself as one of those parents.

There seems to be a common theme amongst those of us who talk online, and also from many professionals (social workers, adopters, foster carers, barristers) who also spend their free time sharing their views, practices and experiences within the child protections system: parents are frequently not adequately supported.

This is where good advocacy could help. A good advocate tasked solely with the job of understanding you and your ‘planet’ whilst having plenty of knowledge of the ‘planet’ you find yourself on and finding a way to help you, and the ‘locals’ navigate your way through. Time would not be wasted. Misunderstandings may not happen, and if they did they could be cleared up. All the while keeping the goal at the centre of the process: safe and happy children. This is the position parents potentially find themselves in when they enter the planet of child protection. Parents and social workers often want the same things: for the children at the centre to be safe, to thrive, to be happy. A common goal. It was certainly my goal. Unfortunately somehow, and I take responsibility in this for I am not the best communicator when afraid and feeling very much alone, it was a goal that seemed to become lost amongst much alien talk of me being ‘disengaged’, ‘mentally unwell’, ‘abusive’, ‘neglectful’, ‘unaware’, ‘robotic’, ‘alcohol dependant ’etc etc etc.

From a purely personal point of view, I struggle to assimilate and understand lots of information at once unless I can refer back to it. I asked repeatedly if I could communicate via email (except in meetings of course). These requests were largely ignored. I took to initially politely emailing LA employees with questions or clarifications of my understanding. I sent information I had gathered over the years to refute some of the claims that were being made of me. I was also aware though that social workers have huge caseloads – I was frightened of annoying them, or of coming across as ‘unhinged’ – this is a left-over of years of dv.

It was only after a I had met someone now close to me who just happened to work within the system that I realised I should have continued to keep pressing my point home, I should have continued to ask questions – by that time the damage had already been done. I did manage to assert myself enough to now have a meaningful relationship with my youngest child, but my eldest is not lost not only to me but also to their sibling. Things could have been so different. A good advocate would have spoken up, would have helped me understand, would have helped point out the poor process that was taking place (and it was poor – that is becoming more evident). Very little of what I experienced could truly be seen as ‘child centred’ – and much of that, I now firmly believe, was because there was not someone who could help me to see into the culture of the alien planet I was on and could help the ‘locals’ see me rather than the preconceived ideas they had of me based on my inability (within the child protection arena, since, whether intended or not, the treatment I received was unfortunately quite similar to the tactics of my abusers, and probably unbeknownst to the social workers involved, only served to silence me) to advocate for myself and my children.