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Who Cares? An interactive play by What Next Theatre Group

On December 4th I travelled to see the production of the ‘What Next Theatre Group’ who describe themselves as ‘a new and exciting company working with Gloucestershire County Council and the Nelson Trust to present a new play in three scenes called ‘Who Cares?’ The play deals with the difficult issues surrounding adoption and the real consequences for the family and professionals involved’.

it was clear that the intent went beyond the mere presentation of a piece of theatre – after the play the actors and real life professionals gathered on stage to take questions from the audience – the actors remaining in character.

As the Theatre Group says:

We think that there is a rapidly increasing interest in the work of the family court and in the social issues with which it deals. We want to work together to show what may be done to help people through the most difficult ties of their lives – times when they experience extreme loss and degradation. We hope that by combining legal knowledge, theatre experience and the important work of the Nelson Trust, we can help the audience to consider new ideas and practice changes and understand some of the social issues that arise in this difficult area

So what follows are my impressions about how this enterprise met its stated goals.

It was certainly a bold idea. I do not wish to criticise its staging as that would clearly be unfair – this is a group which was set up about 8 weeks ago and presenting its work in a brightly lit lecture theatre with a very difficult and small stage on which to work. I would like to see it performed in a more sympathetic environment – the actors alone cannot do all the work of enabling us to suspend disbelief and even a punchy script and talented performers will struggle against these surroundings.

I am also entirely unclear what the random ‘trans’ character Ella/Ed bought to the narrative, other than to enable some members of the audience to signal their deep understanding around issues of inclusivity and identity by putting questions to Ed about how his (fictitious) family coped with his search to know who he was.

One of the most powerful strands of the script was the fact that the mother was herself adopted at the age of four, and how her adoptive parents had struggled with apparently little support with her behaviour as she grew. This is worthy of more exploration.

I also felt that the way in which the scenes were ordered detracted from rather than powered up the narrative – the court scene came second, after a very powerful opening in the hospital where the social worker was assaulted by an angry and terrified young mother, facing the removal of her second child.

I would have liked to have seen the court judgment as the final scene – it was well done, and an uncomfortable experience to be forced as a member of an audience to consider how the legal language and dry rejection of the birth family as ‘suitable’ to care for a child, must feel to those who have to sit and listen and struggle to understand.

I suspect that a more accommodating stage would have allowed for the court scene to have more power, regardless of where in the time line it came.

However, I can see that the drive of the production was to explore how after these proceedings the mother was simply left behind – the circus packed up and moved on, her only option to find temporary hostel accommodation once her mother and baby foster placement came to and end. The court is not the ‘end’ for parents.

‘Show not tell’

Leaving the limitations of staging aside, how did this production succeed on its aim to ‘show, not tell’ and to educate people about the work of the family justice system?

Without interviewing the entire audience its hard to say for sure. But I think I picked up enough information to reach some tentative conclusions. I was able to interview two of the audience who had no choice but to answer my questions as I was driving them home. This was interesting. One was a teenager who claimed to have only come because I bribed her with steak. However, she was able to provide an animated response and the evening had clearly piqued her interest. She found that language used by the mother challenging – she appreciated that this was no doubt realistic but it put up a barrier for her being able to feel compassion and sympathy.

The other was a newly qualified social worker who was very enthusiastic and said it had been a ‘great learning experience’ for her. She felt frustrated that she hadn’t been able to ask questions of the cast and wanted to know much more about why the baby’s grandparents could not have cared for him and what underpinned the social worker’s relationship with the mother in the first scene.

She asked – and I thought this very interesting – why no one had commented on the fact that the social worker was physically assaulted in the very first scene. Why this is something that is just seen as ‘what happens’ to social workers,

During the question and answer session with audience and cast, I was struck by how many in the audience appeared to be social workers, given the laughter or angry murmuring that followed some comments. One of the biggest laughs followed a question to the social worker about why she wanted to do the job. When asked how she coped she replied ‘I have supervision’ which bought another cynical chuckle from many.

The assertions of the Nelson Trust that social workers were ignorant about ‘trans’ and addiction issues caused a definite ripple and some passionate responses that it was simply wrong to expect social workers to know everything about everything – they work in multi agency teams and part of their job is knowing when they DON’T know and where to send people to for help.

So I asked if the audience would give me a show of hands as to how many were social workers. It was about half the 150 strong audience.

And that is interesting. Because its part of why I am concerned that these efforts to help people understand will not bear the fruit that is hoped. Its part of the reason that I abandoned active campaigning earlier this year – as I was so depressed by the refusal of many to challenge their own narratives, how they used every attempt to widen conversations as simply support for that narrative, rather than a challenge to it that ought to be accepted.

HHJ Wildblood was asked by the audience why he had become involved. His answers were interesting – I paraphrase here:

People don’t see how the family court works, just don’t understand the system, so I put this on stage … feel don’t think, make up your own minds…really wanted to make the point for after care, parents matter too. The main work must surely be done before court.

The whole purpose of our lives in one word – compassion. There is no ‘them’ there is only ‘us’ – want to try and send out that message.

It is powerful to hear these words spoken by a serving and senior member of the judiciary. I do not disagree at all with his distillation of the central message into one word – compassion.

But what the audience reaction showed to me is that efforts to make people ‘feel’ rather than ‘think’ may do nothing else but cement their already strong ‘feelings’ about why the system doesn’t work or who is to blame. It was clear where the Nelson Trust thought the blame should lie – parents aren’t given ‘enough time’ to make changes. In one uncomfortable exchange with the birth mother the social workers were referred to as ‘fuckers’ – this made the newly qualified social worker very uneasy, coupled with the complete lack of reaction from anyone to the fact that the social worker faced a physical attack on meeting the mother.

Nor do I think the ‘enough time’ argument has any weight. When I started out, 20 years ago, care proceedings routinely took one or even two years to drag to conclusion. This helped no one, least of all the child. ‘Time’ alone cannot turn around a person’s life. ‘Time’ plus ‘effective intervention’ may well do so. But this we do not have, for a variety of reasons – none of which say anything good about us as a species.

The reasons the system is failing are many. But as a species we cling to simple narratives to try and make sense of chaos and pain. It was clear that some in the audience (and cast!) clung to that narrative that its the ‘fault’ of the social workers – their arrogant language that they made the ‘decisions’ rather than recommendations to the court. And social workers don’t help themselves by this constant refrain that ‘we are child focused’. A child doesn’t exist in isolation from his family. A system that leaves the parents behind is cruel and ineffective. As the parents go on having children.

But. As the real life Team Manager said ‘We have to make the decisions that no one else wants to make’.

I think there is a real risk that social workers are being blamed for each and every social ill that has led us here. The saddest comment of all, for me, was to here the Team Manager talk about the difficulties of working with people from other agencies – the lack of time, the lack of trust.

And this chimes with my fundamental concern. Most people, most of the time appear to be on broadcast mode only. To open up space in their heads for real thought, to challenge their dearly held narratives is hard. Not many people seem able or willing to do it. I hope that events such as these do push at the door for some. Without a willingness from all concerned to be honest about what is happening, the situation can only get worse. But already it is quite beyond the efforts of any one group to change.

However, whatever my fears and cynicism – which certainly I also have to be open to challenge – at least 150 people traveled on a cold winters evening to participate with enthusiasm in a pretty unique piece of theatre. It is no small thing that a serving member of the judiciary has taken this step and is trying to do something to make us remember – there is no ‘them’. There is only ‘us’.

When will violent men be prevented from taking part in care proceedings?

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

I was recently asked to write a summary of a case called LA v XYZ (Restriction on Father’s Role in Proceedings) [2019] EWHC 2166 (Fam) (18 February 2019). I thought this was a useful case to discuss the legal framework about how you can stop a child’s father being involved in care proceedings.

This issue was subject to wide public discussion in November 2018 when Sammy Woodhouse asserted that her child’s father (in prison at the time of the application by the local authority for a care order) had been ‘offered contact’ with their son in care proceedings. A number of politicians took this up and there was manufactured outrage about this so called ‘rapist’s charter. The reality – as ever – was more complicated than that. The child’s father retains a right to know about care proceedings unless application is made to the court to expressly disallow this.

I think this is a useful illustration of why its so difficult to present issues around the family courts in a way that reflects reality. Deciding whether or not to allow adults to continue to have a role in a child’s life requires careful analysis about competing ECHR rights. There is no ‘rapists charter’, there is no demand that violent men have contact at ‘any price’ – but you would not know this from the various ‘campaigns’ now on going which seek to change a law that doesn’t actually exist.

So how is it that we can’t just ignore the existence of fathers who are violent or abusive? And if we do want to restrict their access or remove them entirely from care cases, what are the requirements we have to fulfil to make this lawful?

This case involves the child Z, who was in the home when her mother was murdered by her father. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, to serve a minimum term of 22 years. The Local Authority applied for a care order and did not want the father to be a party to those proceedings. The LA didn’t want the father to have any contact with Z and made an application under section 34(4) of the Children Act 1989 to stop this.

Finally, the LA asked to be released from its statutory duty under section 22 CA 1989 to consult the father about or give him notice of any future decisions relating to Z. This would mean the court needed to use its ‘inherent jurisdiction’.

The Guardian supported the LA position and reported that Z had said she wanted no further indirect or direct contact with her father and did not want him to know anything about her.

The father argued that he did not wish to cause harm to Z, but simply wanted to participate in proceedings. He could not interfere in his daughter’s life as he did not know where and with whom she now lived. He would accept continued redaction of documents to maintain that position.

The court decided to grant the LA’s applications. It is clear that such orders are ‘exceptional’ but in this case were necessary; having conducted an analysis of the various considerations the court was clear that Y’s continued involvement in these proceedings was ‘deeply harmful to Z.’

It is important to consider such issues as early as possible. If such an exceptional application is made, it should set out the terms of order sought and evidence must then be provided to set out the evidential foundation for why such an order is necessary. It may be necessary to re-allocate the case to the High Court.

General legal framework

The court considered the general legal framework if you want to stop a party to proceedings seeing some or all of the documents – or if you want to stop someone being a party at all.

Part 12 Family Procedure Rules [FPR] 2010 sets out who should be an automatic party to proceedings and who should be given notice of any application. A father with parental responsibility is an automatic respondent to care proceedings while Practice Direction 12A sets out that the LA should inform fathers who do not have parental responsibility about the application for a care order. See further the discussion in CD (Notice of care proceedings to father without parental responsibility) [2017] EWFC 34

The court has case management powers under rule 4.1 and 12.2 FPR 2010 to restrict a party’s access to material filed within proceedings. But this is an ‘exceptional’ course of action.

As the former President of the Family Division Sir James Munby commented in Re B (Disclosure to Other Parties) [2001] 2 FLR 1017. such cases will remain very much the exception and not the rule. It remains the fact that all such cases require the most anxious, rigorous and vigilant scrutiny.

With regard to exercise of the inherent jurisdiction, the court referred to the ‘extremely helpful analysis’ by Knowles J in Re X and Y (Children) [2018].

The LA required permission to make the application and needed to satisfy the requirements of section 100(4) CA 1989. The court was satisfied the relevant grounds were made out; the declaration sought can only be made under the inherent jurisdiction, and the welfare of Z was clearly engaged.It is clearly a serious matter to permit the LA to be released from its duty to inform and consult with parents pursuant to section 22 CA 1989.

Hayden J stated in Re O (A Child) [2015] EWCA Civ 1169 (paragraph 27)

The objective of the process here is to ensure not only that there is proper planning but the plan for the child continues to be the correct one, developing and evolving as the child’s needs change. It is to fortify the rigour of review that the section imposes a wide-ranging duty to consult, not least with the parents. Even a parent who has behaved egregiously may nonetheless have some important contribution to make in the future. The requirement to solicit the views of a parent is not contingent upon a moral judgment of parental behaviour; it is there to promote the paramount objective of the statue as a whole, i.e. the welfare of the child. These duties are a statutory recognition of the need appropriately to fetter the corporate parent.

Of particular relevance in this case was the evidence that the father had continually attempted to breach an order of 2015 which set out the limited parameters of his involvement in Z’s life. In January 2018 it was suggested that the father’s associates tried to force their way into Z’s new address, causing her significant distress. The court commented on the father’s inability in any of his written documents to recognise or understand the impact of this on Z.

The court therefore accepted the submissions of the LA – Article 6 would, all other matters being equal, favour disclosure to the father of information about Z, but when looking at the competing rights, in particular the Article 8 rights in relation to Z, there was ‘weighty justification’ for compromise of the father’s rights.

Human Rights and Adoption

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

It’s what we don’t know we don’t know that gets us every time

I was asked to speak at the recent Open Nest Collaborative Conference on Monday 14th October in York – just five minutes on human rights. O easy I thought, just a quick chat about Article 8, job done.

But then Amanda Boorman, founder of the Open Nest Charity showed me what she had written down as important to get across to the audience.

Protocol 1 Article 1 of the ECHR provides

Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.

Amanda, rightly, thought this was very important from the perspective of the child in the care system, who finds their treasured possessions lost or thrown away as they are moved about from placement to placement.

She also wanted to talk about Article 14 

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this European Convention on Human Rights shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.

This was clearly very important in light of the growing concern about the impact of poverty on how likely it was to find yourself referred for a child protection concern.

I was shocked to consider that it had simply not occurred to me – the lawyer – to discuss either of those two issues. I was content to trot out our old favourite Article 8 – the right to a family and private life, to psychological integrity – but the right that cuts both ways for the child in the care system; their ‘right’ to retain some kind of link with their birth family, considered of less or even no importance when balanced against their need for a ‘warm, loving forever family’.

So I had to confess my embarrassment that it had not even occurred to me to examine either of these rights, despite the impact both had on children and families in care and adoption proceedings.

I recalled earlier unease when I discussed  the ECHR with social workers on Twitter and found that they did not seem aware of the importance of such rights- I wrote about that here. 

This concern had also been stated by Brid Featherstone that day, in her talk about the BASW Inquiry into the role of the social worker in adoption

She asked the audience what do YOU think we need in this framework? At every stage of process, to ask – what should social workers be doing?

Andy Bilson then raised the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child -this has has 54 articles setting out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all children everywhere are entitled to.  It is ‘the most complete statement of children’s rights ever produced and is the most widely-ratified international human rights treaty in history’ . The Social Services and Well Being (Wales) Act 2014 makes specific reference to the UN Convention in its ‘overriding duties’ at Part 7 –   a person exercising functions under this Act in relation to a child falling within section 6(1)(a), (b) or (c) must have due regard to Part 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 44/25 of 20 November 1989 (“the Convention”).

However I don’t think I have ever made reference to the UN Convention in any English case in my now 20 years of practice.  Hopefully the consideration by BASW of a new framework for social work education about human rights can bring the UN Convention more sharply into focus.

 

Why are Human Rights important?

But if I , the lawyer, couldn’t see the importance of Protocol 1 and Article 14 in the context of adoption,  without it being pointed out to me – how can I criticise social workers for not being as alive to the ECHR and its implications as I would wish?

So I thought it worth a reminder of why the human rights framework is so important when looking at State intervention in family life – particularly when the State intervenes to remove children permanently from their family of origin on a low standard of proof.

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) protects the human rights of people in countries that belong to the Council of Europe – this is separate from the European Union and is larger, it has 47 members as opposed to the EU’s 28 (or shortly 27). Therefore it will NOT disappear if  Brexit actually happens.  This may be a disappointment to those who scoff at human rights as some kind of namby pamby pandering to snowflakes, but anyone who takes that view is revealing a disturbing ignorance about events still in living memory – when a European nation, home to great literature, music and scientific discovery, decided that it would categorise a number of its own citizens as ‘untermensch’, round them up, send them to concentration camps and kill them.

The ECHR was the response to the horrors of the German ‘Final Solution’ to eradicate the Jewish  people. It was largely drafted by British lawyers and came into force in 1953.

The Convention guarantees specific rights and freedoms and prohibits unfair and harmful practices.

  • the right to life (Article 2)
  • freedom from torture (Article 3)
  • freedom from slavery (Article 4)
  • the right to liberty (Article 5)
  • the right to a fair trial (Article 6)
  • the right not to be punished for something that wasn’t against the law at the time (Article 7)
  • the right to respect for family and private life (Article 8)
  • freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 9)
  • freedom of expression (Article 10)
  • freedom of assembly (Article 11)
  • the right to marry and start a family (Article 12)
  • the right not to be discriminated against in respect of these rights (Article 14)
  • the right to protection of property (Protocol 1, Article 1)
  • the right to education (Protocol 1, Article 2)
  • the right to participate in free elections (Protocol 1, Article 3)
  • the abolition of the death penalty (Protocol 13)

Although Article 6 and Article 8 will continue to be the rights of overarching importance in care and adoption proceedings, all of us who work in this field have an obligation to become familiar with ALL the rights and freedoms protected.  I note for example the right to education and the negative impact that care proceedings often bring to a child’s continuing education, ending up in a foster placement far from a much loved school.

As Elie Wiesel said, having survived the Holocaust – it is by denying our essential humanity that makes it easy to destroy another.   Taking someone’s child away is an act that strikes against the psychological integrity of both parent and child. That child may urgently need taking away, the sooner the better; but if we persist in mechanisms of removal that deny both parents and child their fundamental human dignity, then we do great harm.

We don’t fight to preserve the human rights of others simply for their sake – it is also for our own.

 

Further reading/listening

An interesting roundup of the day from the Adoption and Fostering Podcast. 

What’s in a name? Complainant versus victim.

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore. 

The verdict in the Carl Beech case has only just been delivered and the recriminations have begun. If anyone was in any doubt about the dangers inherent in identifying a complainant as a ‘victim’ at the outset of any investigation or court hearing, then here you have it.

An allegation which is not accepted or not proven is not a fact. Someone may identify themselves readily as a victim when in fact they are mistaken – or worse, a fantasist or a liar. Proceedings in either a civil or criminal case hear evidence and make determinations. There is no presumption of guilt in a criminal court. Those making assertions in civil courts must prove them on the balance of probabilities.

I have had cause to be critical of the Ministry of Justice and its recently set up 3 month Inquiry into how the family courts deal with allegations of domestic abuse. My unease stems largely from the fact that the MoJ appear to be operating from the presumption that men are perpetrators of violence and women their victims, even before any evidence has been heard.

My unease has now increased when I learned today of a ‘new service’ set up and funded by the MoJ to deliver support to ‘victims of domestic abuse in family courts’. I queried use of word ‘victim’ and was told the MoJ have set the terms of the service, including its terminology.

I have had long standing concerns about the use of the word ‘victim’ to describe a complainant. In summary:

  • setting up a complainant as a ‘victim’ at the inception of the court process gives that person a wholly unrealistic view of how their evidence may be treated in an adversarial court process.
  • Treating one party as a victim prior to any findings made about the factual basis for that status, risks undermining the fairness of the proceedings and casting the respondent as a ‘villain’ at the outset.

This raises so many questions

  • Who benefits from this dangerous muddying of the forensic waters?
  • Why isn’t it possible to offer support to anyone going through the court process without first deeming them a ‘victim’ on possibly nothing other than their wish to identify as such?
  • Is this seen as an ‘easier’ response than improving the woeful physical nature of many court buildings or cheaper than providing legal representation to both sides of a private law dispute?

 

I have therefore made a FOI request on 8th August 2019 and will update on 29th August.

I would be grateful for the following information, relating to the project which the Ministry of Justice has asked the Citizens Witness Service to run ‘delivering support to victims of domestic abuse in family courts’.

I am told that this service has already launched in Worcester Family Court in July and is about to launch In Swindon. I can find no information about this service on line but was told that the MoJ ‘as funder’ has set the definition and scope of this service, including the terminology of ‘victim’ . Either applicant or respondent – or presumably both – are apparently ‘deemed’ to be victims if they declare themselves to be. The service is offered prior to any determination of any contested allegation by the family court.

I have raised concern that this practice of identifying a complainant as a ‘victim’ prior to such determination of what actually happened, is fraught with difficulty; there is a clear tension between a forensic process that may end in rejecting a complainant’s account and a service that supports someone as a ‘victim’ at the very inception of the court process.

I am told that this service is being offered after ‘wide ranging consultation with victims of domestic abuse’.

I would like to know therefore

1. The time period over which this consultation took place
2. The identities of those individuals or organisations who were consulted.
3. The cost of this consultation
4. The cost of the service to date
5. The anticipated running costs of this service over the first 12 months of its inception.
6. The number and location of those Family Courts who will be running the service

Further Reading

My response to the Inquiry Assessing risk of harm to children and parents in private law children cases

 

Feelings and Dogma cannot set the agenda in Family Justice

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






You Had Better Make Some Noise – Abusers will exploit bad laws and poor safeguarding

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

I was delighted to be asked to speak on July 27th 2019 by Make More Noise

As the organisers say:

There has been a surge of Feminist activism across the UK in the past year. Women are agitated and organised. We are finding our voice and our voice is saying NO.

Make More Noise are one such group, created to provide a space for women to talk freely and address uncomfortable truths.

 

Why am I interested in this?

I am a woman. I am a disabled woman. The delusion of self ID as a cure for unhappiness is shown to me, and every other disabled person in the world, every single day. We cannot identify out of ourselves. Every day the people around us and the hostile environments we have to navigate tell us what our reality is. To claim another’s identify is a choice for the privileged – a black woman cannot self Identify as white but Rachel Dolezal can claim to be a black woman and take a Nigerian name.

But I am also a lawyer. Who has worked in child protection for 20 years. I have been campaigning since 2014 for greater openness and honesty in our debate about the family justice system.

So it would seem that my experiences both personal and professional have led me to this moment. There is so much to worry about when we face the erasure of biological sex as a category of identification that I have decided to focus my concerns on the implications for children.

 

My central hypothesis this: people would rather cause pain than feel it.

We have a lack of mature discussion in our society about issues of grave importance to us all. I am quite sure that social media is partly behind this.  I see the law being increasingly used as a weapon to silence people who step out of line, the rights of a few achieving dominance over the rights of many others. I see the efforts of some groups and individuals to push back against this – such as Fair Cop and Maya Forstater – but the fact that such groups have felt compelled to take action is an indication of what a strange place our public discourse has reached. People are sacked for expressing ‘wrong think’, the police are used to enforce one person’s feelings against another person’s Article 10 rights to freedom of expression.

And who suffers most in such a scenario where a legal system is used to prioritise the rights of one minority above others? Those at the very bottom of any pyramid power structure – children.

So what supports my hypothesis?

  • High court decisions only 3 years apart about transitioning pre schoolers
  • The NSPCC debacle and the intervention of Prostasia

The shifting position of the High Court

The case of Re J in 2016 involved a 4 year old, who his mother claimed ‘disdained his penis’ and wished to be a girl. The High Court did not agree and ordered that the child lived with his father. Mermaids supported the mother and issued an angry press release after the judgment saying they would appeal – they did not.  I wrote about this case here which contains links to the judgment and press release.

However, only three years later came the case of Lancashire County Council v TP & Ors (Permission to Withdraw Care Proceedings) [2019] EWFC 30. This involved foster carers who had two unrelated children in their care who decided they wanted to transition – the youngest aged 3 years old. [EDIT apologies – youngest was transitioned at FOUR YEARS OLD. Doesn’t make any difference to my argument] The LA were applying to withdraw care proceedings, so it was a different situation from re J. But even so, its interesting to see how the Judge framed this issue of transitioning pre schoolers:

Notwithstanding even the Guardian’s caution in respect of the openness of [the foster carers] to the possibility of an alteration in the children’s attitude to their gender identity I conclude that Dr Pasterski’s evidence demonstrates that it is obvious that neither of these grounds would meet threshold. Taken together with the panoramic evidence of the child focused approach of [the foster carers] it is overwhelmingly obvious that neither H nor R have suffered or are at risk of suffering significant emotional harm arising from their complete social transition into females occurring at a very young age. The evidence demonstrates to the contrary, this was likely to minimise any harm or risk of harm. The evidence does not support the contention that it was actively encouraged rather than appropriately supported.

How on earth is it ‘overwhelmingly obvious’ that a 3 year old will experience no harm from a decision to transition from male to female? I have a difficulty here with such an uncritical acceptance of the evidence of Dr Pasterski. Not merely because I find it extremely hard to accept that any 3 year old has the understanding or the language to communicate a desire to change sex, but I note the approach of Dr Paterski in an earlier case.

Jay v Secretary of State for Justice [2018] EWHC 2620 (Fam) (08 October 2018) considered a man in his 40s who wished to become a woman. While Dr Paterski opined without any reservation that this was a genuine case of gender dysphoria, Dr Barrett struck a more cautious note, given that some of Ms Jay’s reported history was ‘directly at odds’ with documentary records.

“… If collateral corroboration is not convincingly elicited I would have grave doubts and wonder whether [Ms Jay]’s somewhat dependent personality had caused her to unwisely latch onto a change of gender role as a seemingly universal solution to both why her life had gone wrong and how it might be rectified.”

It is worth contemplating, with considerable unease, just what would happen if Re J was being heard and decided this week. Would the High Court have been able to protect a little boy from the mother who was telling everyone he ‘disdained’ his penis? Or would he have been sacrificed to what appears to be compulsive drive to be seen as ‘woke’ and ‘inclusive’ ?

The NSPCC debacle and the intervention of Prostasia

All of you I am sure are familiar with the NSPCC’s public response to people who raised concerns about one of their employees who allegedly filmed himself masturbating at work and published a video online. I am pleased that, belatedly, they had the sense to realise that telling people who raised concerns that they were bigots who should be reported was not an appropriate response and they have referred themselves to the Charity Commission. I await with interest the outcome of that.

What happened to me on Twitter after that was also interesting.

I was discussing that people should consider not making further charitable donations to the NSPCC but consider smaller local charities. An organisation called Prostasia popped up and suggested they might be a worthwhile beneficiary. Which was odd as a quick google showed them to be based in California and advocating ‘sex positive’ child protection, whatever that means.

What I suspect it means is support for men who want to have sex with children. This suspicion was confirmed when another Twitter user found a copy of a mug shot of a man who was active in the conversation and on the Prostasia website. This stated he had been arrested in 2012 for sexual conduct with a child under 13. Prostasia then blocked us all and then tried to blackmail me, which is a whole other story I don’t have time for now – but is a clear indication of the murky ethical waters in which this organisation swims.

 

What does this show me?

The inability or unwillingness of both pro-trans activists and pro-paedophile groups to distinguish teenagers from pre-schoolers.

Because what Prostasia has in common with the views of the legal adviser for Mermaids is a persistent refusal to identify what they mean by ‘a child’.

  • A child is defined as a person aged 0-18.
  • The majority of children under 12 are unlikely to be considered ‘Gillick competent’ to make important decisions about their own lives.
  • We have a difficult and grey area around 13-16 where children may well as individuals have greater capacity than the law allows them. But we have to draw a line somewhere.
  • And for children, sex and the criminal law, that line is firmly set at 13 years.  See the Sexual Offences Act 2003. A child under 13 cannot consent to sex. It is rape.

I therefore consider myself on firm ground to say that the vast majority of children under 12 neither want nor need exposure to adult sexuality. It is important that they are allowed the time and space to develop their own identities and their own sexual preferences; free of the coercion or manipulation of an adult. And once they cross that threshold into adulthood they should be free to live and love as they wish, according to the boundaries of the existing laws. Sexual activities between consenting adults is none of my business or concern.

What I have witnessed developing over the last year or so has caused me increasing concern about the extent to which some men wish to re-frame the discussion about the sexuality of children. They wish to push back the boundaries regarding age and consent. This seems clear to me because of the extent to which they are often coy about stating exactly how they define ‘a child’. The difference between – for example –  a typical 9 year old and a typical 16 year old is vast and in every domain; physical, sexual, social.

And what is the problem with this?

I was alerted to a blog post in March of this year by the Mermaids legal adviser. The author remained anonymous but was arguing that

….someone’s gender identity, at any age, must be respected. A child identifying as trans, whether it has been submitted this is as a result of harm or not, is identifying as trans and that must be respected throughout proceedings…More often than not, if a child says they are trans, they will be trans.

I commented at the time

As I hope I have made clear, any such assertion made without attempting even the barest of analysis of the vast gulf in understanding and capacity between a 6 year old and a 16 year old is an assertion of no value. Worse than that, it is an assertion which attempts to pave the way to leave young children entirely unprotected from their parents.

Most parents love their children and want to do what is in their best interests. A small minority of parents fail to do that. The courts absolutely must be ready, willing and able to step in and to protect such children.

Anyone who is unwilling or unable to see the difference between a child of 6 and a child of 16 is someone who wishes to blur the boundaries around child protection and safeguarding. Why would anyone wish to do this? I can only assume it is to make it easier to secure the eradication of the rights of children to be protected from the imposition of men’s sexual will.  And what is worse, their rights will be eradicated at the same time we are told WE are the villans, WE are the bigots.

The facts are always friendly. That was and will remain my rallying cry. Lets have proper discussion . Not all who wish to transition do so out of realistaion of their ‘essential self’ – a self that no one apparently can define. Some will do so because they are predators. Predators predate. That is what they do. For example, the recent trial of convicted paedophile Carl Beech revealed that he had volunteered at the NSPCC between 2012 and 2015 .

The wolf is no longer at the door. The wolf Is in the kitchen and claiming a legal right to be there.  And I am now too old and too fed up to do anything other than speak up. This will not be done in my name.

 

FURTHER READING

In whose best interests? Transgender Children: Choices and Consequences.

When should a child’s trans identity be permitted to be a material issue in a family case?

Video of talk now on YouTube






My response to the Inquiry Assessing risk of harm to children and parents in private law children cases

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore

Good practice’ would be to commission serious and proper research into the actual nature of the problem, rather than inviting personal anecdote to take the place of robust data. I am very concerned about the nature of this Inquiry; the manner of its inception and the choice of its Panel. Why are there no representatives of any father’s charities? Why has the Inquiry proceeded on entirely partial assumptions about Judges simply ignoring evidence? Is evidence going to be gathered about the rate of false or exaggerated allegations of violence? About the impact of LASPO on encouraging such in order to qualify for legal aid?

Take the survey here

Response ID ANON-CNG1-5F53-C
Submitted to Assessing risk of harm to children and parents in private law children cases
Submitted on 2019-07-19 20:27:16

Your experience of private law children proceedings

1 Please tell us in your own words about how the family court responded to allegations of domestic abuse or other serious offences in
your case, and/or the effects on you and/or your children.

I have represented mothers, fathers and children in contested private law cases for 20 years now. In my experience, the family courts respond as appropriately as they can, taking into account the serious difficulties caused by lack of availability of legal aid and judges. The failings in the law, in my view, has been a reluctance to hold early findings of fact and allowing intractably hostile parents to drag out proceedings over many years, by which time the children have ‘aged out’. I have not experienced any judge being ‘ignorant’ of issues around abuse and violence. I do not think Judges need ‘training’ about violence – they need space and time
to adjudicate properly upon cases. I am extremely concerned that many calling for ‘training’ appear to have a financial interest in such training becoming widespread.

2 Was your experience in the family court:
In 2018-2019, In 2014-2017, Before 2014

Raising allegations of domestic abuse or other serious offences in private law children proceedings

Are there any difficulties in raising the issue of domestic abuse or other serious offences against a parent or child, in private law children proceedings?
Yes

The difficulties in raising issues of domestic violence, in my view, clearly do NOT arise from misunderstanding or ignorance of the law. The difficulties arise from the lack of available court time and the increasing number of litigants in person. There is clearly a lack of understanding about the forensic process and the requirements of proof amongst those who are not legally trained. Better education about this might help. I suspect the ‘I believe’ policy has done enormous harm here. Women come to court expecting to be ‘believed’ and it is a shock to find out that the court process demands proof.

Children’s voices

4 How are children’s voices taken into account in private law children proceedings where there are allegations of domestic abuse or other
serious offences? Do children feel heard in these cases? What helps or obstructs children being heard?
It is my experience over 20 years of representing children that the vast majority do NOT wish to participate in court proceedings. They want a decision to be made about their future by an adult who cares about what happens to them. They generally cannot and do not wish to engage with the evidence. My experience of guardians is generally positive; they appear to be committed and produce thoughtful and helpful reports. I have also noticed an increased willingness amongst judges to see and speak to children outside the actual proceedings, which I think is very positive.

The procedure where domestic abuse is raised

5 Are fact-finding hearings held when they should be?
No
There appears to be a reluctance to hold findings of fact on the basis that ‘it won’t help’ if there is a perception that the allegations are not ‘serious’ enough to mean that direct contact would not be ordered. This seems to offer only a short term gain; my experience is that allegations which are not ‘put to bed’ continue to cause considerable difficulty for the proper resolution of contested private law cases.

6 Where domestic abuse is found to have occurred, how is future risk assessed and by whom? Is risk assessed only in relation to
children, or also in relation to the non-abusive parent?
In my experience risk is assessed by CAFCASS, a social worker or the judge. Risk is generally seen ‘in the round’. I am not aware of any Judge who would say that a person who is violent to a parent but not the child could still be a ‘good parent’.

7 How effective is Practice Direction 12J in protecting children and victims of domestic abuse from harm?
It does what it can. But it clearly cannot assist in those cases – sadly frequent – where women will continue or resume a relationship with a violent man. Nor can it mitigate against structural problems such as lack of alternative housing.

8 What are the challenges for courts in implementing PD12J? Is it implemented consistently? If not, how and why do judges vary in their
implementation of the Practice Direction.
In my experience in London and and on the South Western Circuit I have not noticed any worrying inconsistencies in implementation of the PD.

9 What has been the impact of the presumption of parental involvement in cases where domestic abuse is alleged? How is the
presumption applied or disapplied in these cases?

The presumption is a joke. It is meaningless. It has no impact.

10 Where domestic abuse is found to have occurred, to what extent do the child arrangement orders made by the court differ from orders made in cases not involving domestic abuse?

Depending on the level of severity of abuse, the distinction is in the nature and degree of contact ordered. When serious allegations are found proved, the order is
invariably for indirect contact only.

Safety and protection at court for victims of domestic abuse and other serious offences
11 What is the experience of victims of domestic abuse or other serious offences in requesting arrangements to protect their safety at
court?
Over 20 years I have found the courts become much more responsive to issues around safety at court. However, much of this depends on the physical resources of the court building itself. Some are simply not fit for purpose and it is very difficult in those buildings to ensure that the parties are kept separate.

12 Do family courts make the right decisions about whether an alleged victim of domestic abuse or other serious offences is vulnerable?
Yes
Vulnerable people clearly need appropriate help and representation at court. There appears to be good and widespread understanding amongst lawyers about what is needed.

13 What is the experience of victims of domestic abuse and other serious offences of being directly cross-examined by their alleged
abuser/alleged perpetrator? What is their experience of having to ask questions of their alleged abuser/perpetrator?
I have never known this to happen. When my client was facing XX by a former partner she alleged was abusive, the Judge asked questions. But this is clearly a dreadful situation and should not be tolerated. Both alleged victim and alleged perpetrator ought to have legal representation. It is not fair to ask that the Judge undertake this role.

14 What are the challenges for courts in implementing FPR Part 3A and PD3AA? Are they implemented consistently? If not, how and why
are they inconsistent?
Resources and time.
My experience is that they are implemented consistently.

15 How effective are these provisions in protecting victims of domestic abuse or other serious offences from harm in private law children
proceedings?
I have no idea. The proceedings themselves are very difficult for vulnerable parties, regardless of the efforts made. I do not know what is meant by ‘effective’ in this question.

Repeated applications to the family court in the context of domestic abuse

16 What evidence is there of repeated applications in relation to children being used as a form of abuse, harassment or control of the
other parent?

I do not think this happens very often. Such applications may well be interpreted by one party as an attempt at control. But people are entitled to make applications to the court to secure their legal rights. I have found Judge’s willing to make section 91(14) directions in the appropriate circumstances.

17 Under what circumstances do family courts make orders under s.91(14)?
add text in box:
They are mindful of the guidance of the Court of Appeal and consider it a serious application.

18 How do courts deal with applications for leave to apply following a s.91(14) order?
add text in box:
i have very little experience of this, which suggests to me it is not a common occurrence

19 What are the challenges for courts in applying s.91(14), including applications for leave to apply? Is there consistency in
decision-making? If not, how and why do inconsistencies arise?
I have found the majority of tribunals to consistently apply the Court of Appeal guidance. One judge did not; I appealed her decision and succeeded on that point. She wrongly stated that section 91(14) was not draconian and made an order against my male client.

20 How effective are s.91(14) orders in protecting children and non-abusive parents from harm?
add text in box: I have no idea. They appear to be an effective safeguard against unmeritorious applications.

Outcomes for children

21 What evidence is there of children and parents suffering harm as a result of orders made in private law children proceedings, where
there has been domestic abuse or other serious offences against a parent or child? (This can include harm to a parent caused by a child arrangements order which requires them to interact with the other parent in order to facilitate contact).

This is the problem. There is no ‘evidence’. There is a wealth of anecdote and complaint. But I am aware of no robust evidence. I do not consider the Women’s Aid reporting to be robust. This inquiry is going to invite a great deal of personal anecdote which may or may not have a firm factual foundation. I do not consider this is the way for a mature democracy to proceed to make decisions about any kind of justice system and I am frankly alarmed by this venture and the questions I have just attempted to answer.

22 What evidence is there about the risk of harm to children in continuing to have a relationship – or in not having a relationship – with a
domestically abusive parent (including a parent who has exercised coercive control over the family)?
I REPEAT ANSWER ABOVE

23 What evidence is there about the risk of harm to children in continuing to have a relationship – or in not having a relationship – with a
parent who has committed other serious offences against the other parent or a child such as child abuse, rape, sexual assault or murder?
I REPEAT ANSWER ABOVE

Any other comments or suggestions

24 Are there any examples of good practices in the family courts or which the family courts could adopt (perhaps from other areas of law)
in relation to the matters being considered by the panel?
‘Good practice’ would be to commission serious and proper research into the actual nature of the problem, rather than inviting personal anecdote to take the place of robust data. I am very concerned about the nature of this Inquiry; the manner of its inception and the choice of its Panel. Why are there no representatives of any father’s charities? Why has the Inquiry proceeded on entirely partial assumptions about Judges simply ignoring evidence? Is evidence going to be gathered about the rate of false or exaggerated allegations of violence? About the impact of LASPO on encouraging such in order to qualify for legal aid?

25 Do you wish to make any other comments on the matters being considered by the panel?
write text in box:
I think I have said enough. I hope my cynicism and alarm at this exercise prove unfounded

EDIT 

Have a look at this.  The aim is to protect against ‘perpetrators’. But tricky thing is this – who is deciding they are perpetrators? Is mere assertion now enough?

 






The NSPCC and child protection – what I learned this month about speaking up

I started this website with the help of Mumsnet users in 2014. I thought it would be a good way to address some of the misinformation on offer about care proceedings and child protection in England and Wales.  The website analytics seem to bear that out – so far in 2019 (from Jan 1st until June 23rd 2019) the site has 202,170 users, about 34,000 every month.

Child protection seems to be an ever green topic of difficulty for many. I will restate it in the simplest terms I can.

  • A child is defined as a person aged 0-18.
  • The majority of children under 12 are unlikely to be considered ‘Gillick competent’ to make important decisions about their own lives.
  • We have a difficult and grey area around 13-16 where children may well as individuals have greater capacity than the law allows them. But we have to draw a line somewhere.
  • And for children, sex and the criminal law, that line is firmly set at 13 years.  See the Sexual Offences Act 2003. A child under 13 cannot consent to sex. It is rape.

I therefore consider myself on firm ground to say that the vast majority of children under 12 neither want nor need exposure to adult sexuality. It is important that they are allowed the time and space to develop their own identities and their own sexual preferences; free of the coercion or manipulation of an adult. And once they cross that threshold into adulthood they should be free to live and love as they wish, according to the boundaries of the existing laws. Sexual activities between consenting adults is none of my business or concern.

What I have witnessed developing over the last year or so has caused me increasing concern about the extent to which groups of adult men wish to re-frame the discussion about the sexuality of children. And the extent to which they are often coy about stating exactly how they define ‘a child’. The difference between a 9 year old and a 16 year old is vast and in every domain; physical, sexual, social.

Their scripts should not be written for them by adults who have a particular drum to beat – I have already written, for example, at my deep unease about how a High Court Judge dealt with a 3 year old ‘transitioning’.

(as an interesting aside I found myself subject to a recent actual blackmail attempt by the pro-paedophile organisation Prostasia after querying why they had a man involved in their organisation who had been arrested in 2012 for sexual contact with a child under 13. The rage of thwarted male entitlement is strong indeed.)

My concerns finally reached their zenith on June 12th 2019. Idly scrolling through my Twitter feed I noted that a number of people had raised concerns with the NSPCC over allegations that one of their employees had come to work dressed in his rubber fetish gear, masturbated in the toilets at work, filmed it and published on the world wide web. The response of the NSPCC was – via their public twitter feed – to call those who raised concerns ‘bullies’ and asked people to report them. Various high profile Twitter users followed suit, calling them ‘homophobes’ – as apparently the employee in question is a gay man.

I wrote the following email to the NSPCC

The text of the email is here:

I write using my Chambers email address so that you are able to reassure yourself as to my identity and my interest in/knowledge of child protection law and safeguarding policies. I have been a specialist family law barrister since 1999. I have copied my MP Michelle Donelan into this email given the level of my concerns.

On the evening of 12th June 2019 I became aware via the social media site ‘Twitter’ of an allegation that a member of your staff had engaged in sexual activity on NSPCC premises, had filmed himself engaged in this activity and published that recording to the internet, making it clear that he was filming himself on NSPCC premises. I then further noted that when members of the public attempted to alert you to this via Twitter, your response via your public Twitter feed was to describe this as ‘homophobia’, and to suggest any such tweets should be reported as in breach of the Twitter terms of service as ‘bullying’.

On the morning of June 13th 2019 I therefore published a tweet, including the Twitter handle of your organisation, asking your organisation to make it clear what investigations you proposed into this allegation. I am well aware that social media is frequently used irresponsibly by some to make malicious and false allegations and I certainly want to play no part in dissemination of false information. However, I assume that if the allegation about your member of staff was in fact malicious or otherwise false, you would be able to respond quickly to reassure the public. That you have not done so, causes me considerable concern.

This allegation, if true, represents unboundaried and actively dangerous behaviour. It would be unacceptable in any workplace, but is even more alarming in the context of your charitable status and significant statutory powers in the field of child protection. The public is entitled to know what your response is to such a serious allegation.

I asked for a reply by 4pm today and have heard nothing.

Please therefore would you respond to me by 4pm on Friday 14th June. If you are unable by then to reassure me that either this allegation is false or that you are taking urgent steps to investigate, I will refer this matter on to the Charities Commission without further reference to you.

Regards
SP

I received no response to this email other than some cut and paste job sent at 16.05 on 14th June, by which time I had already made a referral to the Charities Commission. [EDIT – this should read ‘Charity Commission’]

I was then contacted by the Sunday Times and a news agency, neither of which reported on this – I was told by the news agency that ‘no paper would touch this’. I expressed frustration and concern about this – why? why would no paper report on this? It is a clear and obvious matter of public interest that a charity set up to safeguard children would attempt publicly to shame people who had attempted to bring serious allegations to their attention.

A week after that, I offer grateful thanks to Roll on Friday, The Sunday Mirror and Mumsnet users who seemed to be the only ones prepared to recognise and report upon a matter of public interest.

I note with increasing concern that matters appear to be continuing along the same path of seriousness; that the NSPCC appears to see itself as an organisation geared to the promotion and protection of the sexuality of adult men. On every metric of which I am aware, adult men are those who pose the biggest risk of sexual harm to children.  The most recent news is that the NSPCC are apparently subject to a variety of ‘conditions’ before they will be ‘allowed’ to take part in London Pride.

 

Where now?

Imagine if I said as a disabled woman – you may not criticise my behaviour. If you do I will call you ‘disablist’ – I will try and get you sacked etc, etc. That would obviously be ridiculous. Disabled people are people after all; we aren’t saints. Exactly the same argument applies to those who identify as gay or trans or any thing else. No one is above scrutiny. No one can use their identify as part of a minority, persecuted or not, to shut down legitimate concern about their activities. To allow this will be to put children at serious risk of harm from those predatory adults who will claim membership of particular groups to evade scrutiny. We must speak up against this.

The Charities Commission request 30 days for a response. On 15th July I will consider that response, or lack thereof.  If I am not satisfied that they and the NSPCC understand the seriousness of this situation I will raise money via the Crowdjustice web site to investigate what legal action is possible.

I hope very much that the response I get will reassure me – and the many others who complained – that the NSPCC does understand its charitable objectives and guiding principles and it will never, ever, again attempt to shame or dissuade people from raising concerns if it appears to be acting in breach of those.

IIf you are or if you know of a lawyer with specialist knowledge in charities, regulatory law or judicial review, do please get in touch. My next steps must be to identify specialist lawyers who would be willing to take on a legal action via funding from Crowd Justice.

I will update this post on July 15th 2019.

 

 

EDIT JULY 27th

I am pleased to note that the NSPCC did contact me on July 15th to say that they had referred themselves to the Charity Commission, recognising that this was a serious incident. I have yet to hear back from the Charity Commission itself and will chase them for information in September.






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

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what does this mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helpful issues to analyse are likely to be:

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

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

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

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






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naming your child – an issue of fundamental significance

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

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

 

Facts of C Children [2016]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 






Why does everyone hate the Family Court ? Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why do people hate family court?

Emma Sutcliffe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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