In whose best interests? Transgender Children: Choices and Consequences

This is a post by Sarah Phillimore. I am concerned that the decisions by Mr Justice Hayden in Re J [2016] are being overlooked in the ongoing debate about children who want to ‘change genders’, and in particular the role played by the Mermaids organisation. I discuss my unease about what would have happened in Re J if it was decided this year in a talk at the Make More Noise event on July 27th 2019 

First disclaimer. I am not a bigot.

It has, and has always been my view from when I was very young, that if consenting adults wished to dress in a particular way, have sex in a particular way or get married to someone they loved who loved them back, that was absolutely their business and no concern of mine, other than to be happy for them that they had the chance to live their best life. As a disabled person I am well aware of those times in my life when I have been denied opportunities, been insulted or attacked for a physical characteristic that I did not ask for and was completely out of my control. I would never knowingly inflict that kind of harm upon another.

But I am also a lawyer. So by training and by temperament I am not interested in what people ‘feel’ about any particular issue. I am interested about what they can prove. What evidence do they bring to the table to support their fears or worries?

Some advice; if you find what I say ‘hateful’ and wish to have me removed from social media or my employment then of course you must take what ever steps you think are appropriate. But please remember I don’t have an employer; I am a self employed sole trader. If you think my words mean I am not fit to be a lawyer, please refer the matter to the Bar Standards Board. 

Please also note that I will not agree with you and will use my best efforts to challenge and reject any complaints made.

Second comment. We cannot sacrifice facts for feelings.

In the on-going and harmful ‘debate’ about trans women with intact male bodies in female spaces (such as sports or prisons) we find very clear and horrible illustrations of what happens when people bring feelings to a fact fight; when both sides of the ‘debate’ appear to believe that they are supported by facts and reasons and the other by unreasoning hysteria and bigotry. 

While adults may insult others as they wish, provided they don’t step over the line dividing freedom of speech from criminal harassment, I am concerned here about what is being argued on behalf of children. The need for clear and honest debate is particularly important when talking about the ‘rights’ of children to transition and to be supported/encouraged in accessing surgery or medication to do so.

i have no interest in controlling what consenting adults do to other consenting adults and think such attempts to control is a moral wrong, unless and until of course their activities impinge on my ability to live my life. However, as a lawyer who has worked in many years in child protection law, I do have a very keen interest in what adults do to children, often purporting to act in ‘their best interests’ when, to the objective outsider, it seems anything but.

Much of the increasingly anguished ‘debate’ about transitioning is now very clearly focused on children and at what age they could or should be supported to make the ‘decision’ to transition from ‘male’ to ‘female’ or vice versa. This ‘transition’ is often required to be supported by medication or pretty serious surgical intervention. The impact on the child’s body as he/she grows will be serious, often leading to infertility or loss of sexual function.

I have become increasingly concerned about the role played in all of this by the Mermaids organisation. 

They describe themselves in this way:

Mermaids is passionate about supporting children, young people, and their families to achieve a happier life in the face of great adversity. We work to raise awareness about gender nonconformity in children and young people amongst professionals and the general public. We campaign for the recognition of gender dysphoria in young people and lobby for improvements in professional services.

The decisions in Re J [2016]

I am worried that the continuing debate and discussion over the role of the Mermaids organisation has overlooked a very important judgment from Mr Justice Hayden in July 2016 – 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.

A later judgment in October 2016 dealt with the aftermath of the boy’s removal and how he had settled with his father and to what extent these matters should be in the public domain. That judgment is here: J (A Minor), Re [2016] EWHC 2595 (Fam) (21 October 2016)

What happened after 2016?

Mermaids at the time were highly critical of these judgments and said they would be supporting the mother in a appeal. No application was made to appeal. They showed no humility or understanding in their press release of October 2016, insisting that the courts simply had not understood issues of gender identity. I assert that no one can in good faith make such argument if they had bothered to read the lengthy and careful judgments of Mr Justice Hayden.

Since 2016 Mermaids have continued – in my view – to show no understanding or humility. The current controversy is around a grant to their organisation of £500K by the Lottery Fund which is currently under review and has been the subject of some critical press attention. 

Children are – quite rightly in my view – protected as a vulnerable class of people in our legal system. Children below the age of 12 are highly unlikely to be considered to have the requisite maturity and understanding to make significant decisions about their lives that will impact well into adulthood. Even those older children who are ‘Gillick competent‘ may find that their wishes and feelings are not allowed to determine issues of significance; such as the right to refuse surgery.

The accepted wisdom of the majority of child psychologists is that a child under the age of 6 years is probably unable to express any view that does not align with his or her primary care giver. This is a relatively simple matter of stages of cognitive development and pure survival. The older a child gets the more their wishes and feelings carry weight, but they remain unlikely to be ‘determinative’ unless and until they age out of the protected class of ‘child’.

So why are we even entertaining any discussion that a 4 year old is in possession of all the facts and their consequences needed to make a serious decision about whether or not to keep or ‘disdain’ his penis? Particularly when organisations such as Mermaids and their supporters appear to wish to push for wholly regressive and offensive gender stereotyping such as little girls like pink and sparkly things and little boys want to play rough and get dirty. If a little boy wants to play with dolls and wear a dress, why does he have to ‘disdain his penis’ to do that?

What do we know about the implications of medical and surgical intervention for children?

Not only is a young child likely to be unable to grasp the necessary information to make an informed decision about transition, it seems that the adults around him or her do not yet even possess sufficient information to make a safe, informed decision on the child’s behalf. We appear to know more about the impact of puberty blockers on sheep than we do on children. Note comments from the Science Symposium on 18-19 October 2018 at The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, cited below in Further Reading. Grateful thanks to @bettytastic to alerting me to this.

We do know something of the effect of puberty blockers on the brain development of adolescent sheep however. Professor Neil Evans of the Institute of biodiversity in Glasgow reported impairments to several functions, including a sheep’s capacity to find its way through a maze, which persist after stopping puberty blockers. This raises questions about the possible neurological effects of puberty blockers on children’s psychological, social, sexual and cognitive development. Some of Professor Evans’s references are listed below (Robinson et al 2014, Hough et al 2017 a & b).

The consequences of a pathway of surgical and medical intervention are not merely physical of course. Stephen B Levine wrote in 2018  in the journal of Sex and Marital Therapy ‘Informed consent for transgender patients’ reminds us that risk needs to be identified across three categories – the biological, social and psychological. Four specific risks arise in each category.

Biological risks include loss of reproductive capacity, impaired sexual response, shortened life expectancy, Insistence that biological sex can be changed cannot alter the possibility of sex based illness – such as prostate cancer arising.  Social risks include emotional distancing from family members, and ‘a greatly diminished pool of people who are willing to sustain an intimate and loving relationship’. Significant psychological risks involve deflection of necessary personal development challenges, inauthenticity and demoralisation – when changing your body does not bring about the desired changes to the way you ‘feel’.

Of course, the existence of risk does not mean that one should never embark upon a risky endeavour. It may well be that the benefits outweigh the possible disbenefits to a significant degree and the risk is well worth taking. But that conclusion cannot be reached without clear eyed and dispassionate unpicking of the risks AND benefits.

How can the ‘no debate’ platform and unquestioning acceptance of any child’s expressed wish to ‘transition’  ever reflect the serious ethical duty of medical professionals to be sure their child patient has offered informed consent?

To what extent are adult influences driving children?

Julian Vigo independent scholar, filmmaker and activist who specializes in anthropology, technology, and political philosophy, wrote for Forbes in December 2018 about discussions with Mermaids in 2013 and the concern noted then about what might lie behind adult desires for their chid to ‘transition’ – to help the adult ‘fit in’.

I spoke to Linda at Mermaids, a support group in London formed in 1995 by parents of transgendered children.  She told me that this group supports parents who have children who do not ‘fit in’ with ‘gender roles.’  I ask what she meant exactly by ‘fitting in’ and Linda explains, ‘If you are a little girl who behaves like a boy, you will want to have your hair short, to play with the boys.  Even at play group they will be different…they will be picked on and those are the problems.’  I tell Linda that many little girls will have short hair and play with boys—I was one of those little girls.  She says, ‘I have known a lot of girls in my time and they don’t like rough and tumble..they don’t like playing with boys.  They like to play with dolls, dressing up, playing in the Wendy House, to grow their hair…’  Linda emphasises that it is important that these children ‘fit in,’ a phrase she often repeats in our discussion.  Is this what transitioning for some trans adults is about?  Is this the ‘support’ that parents are receiving in order to understand ‘gender roles’?

Professor Michele Moore makes some similar points and her talk is linked to below.

Conclusions

I will never make any apology for raising and discussing these issues. As a disabled child who could not be ‘fixed’ it became clear to me in my teens that I had a choice; to kill myself or to try and live the best life I could in the body I had. I had virtually no support from the adults around me in this process; the 1970s and 1980s, when I grew up, were much less enlightened times than now and I am glad these issues can be more freely raised.

I wish for all the chance to the live their best life and to live it freely, with love and respect from their fellow humans. We should all do what we can to allow this to happen. If we can’t support it, we should step back and keep quiet.

However, we need to tread very carefully when it comes to little children, who are wholly at the mercy of the decisions made on their behalf by the adults caring for them. Any decision which has the consequence of setting their bodies and hence their lives on a particular path is one that must be taken carefully, honestly and in possession of all the facts. It should never be about a way of assuaging the pain or mental distress of any adult.

None of this means it is impossible for a four year old to have clear and decided views about what he or she wants to do with his or her body, or that it would be automatically wrong to act on those views. But it is – by simple matter of that child’s very young age and compromised cognition – highly unlikely that the vast majority of four year olds can make informed decisions about something serious – such as surgery. We need to be very, very careful about the extent to which adult hopes and dreams are pinned on children.

If anyone in the Mermaids organisation cannot read the judgments of Hayden J and feel appropriate remorse for their role in contributing to the significant harm caused to a 4 year old child, they are not fit to receive even 50 pence of public money, let alone £500K.

Edit 26th December 3.40pm

I am really grateful for the mostly courteous expressions of interest in this post. In particular, the comments from the parent of a trans child. I agree with her that this was not a case where anyone (so far as I know) was advocating for immediate surgery on a 4 year old. I remain very concerned about what the logical outcome for the child would have been if no one had intervened to disrupt the ‘disdain the penis’ narrative. But I accept that surgery and/or  medication are not usually on the horizon until the child approaches puberty.  I also accept – as did Hayden J – that there are children who will need the kind of support and intervention advocated by Mermaids. But to force ‘transition’ on a child who didn’t want it is as every much a horrible tragedy as it is to deny a child help and support they desperately need. The only way – I think – out and through these difficult and emotional questions is by adherence to facts and rational debate about them.

Second Edit 26th December 5.55pm

A reader comments that it is ‘absurd’ to say that re J highlights anything about Mermaids. I refer to this article in the Guardian which confirms that Mermaids supported the mother in court. I stand by my assertion that the judgment in Re J reveals very worrying things about Mermaids’ operation and assumptions. ‘To the man with a hammer – everything is a nail’.

Third Edit 1st January 2019

I have further edited this article to include references to some interesting papers and online talks which I have discovered in conversation with others on line. i remain profoundly grateful for the opportunity to take part in these kind of discussions.

Further reading

Articles/Research

A New Way To be Mad The Atlantic 2000

How common is intersex? Journal of Sex Research Dr Sax August 1 2002

Autopedophilia: Erotic-Target Identity Inversions in Men Sexually Attracted to Children November 2016 Psychological Science Journal

Mum of ‘gender non conforming child’ sells fake ‘extra small’ penises for transgender children under five – The Mirror December 2017

But nobody is encouraging kids to be trans! Lily Maynard March 2018

Emperor’s new clothes. Gender ideology and rebranding the privileged as the marginalised –  Liberals for Sanity June 2018

,No, you don’t have a disorder. You have feelings – Lisa Marchiano July 2018

Those of us in the mental health profession ought to be in the business of helping people to see themselves as having the potential to be well and whole. We should help them understand themselves as resilient, rather than infirm and frail. We ought to help people imagine larger, richer, more complex stories for themselves, rather than simplistic narratives of illness and victimhood.

The Science of Gender: what influences gender development and gender dysphoria – summary of the 2018 European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology (ESPE) Science Symposium on 18-19 October 2018 at The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. By Bob Withers and posted by Miranda Yardley in November 2018

Trans groups under fire for huge rise in child referrals – Andrew Gilligan November 2018

Young children, reality, sex and gender Katie Alcock May 2019

Politicised trans groups put children at risk, says expert – The Observer July 27th 2019

The Tavistock’s Experiment with Puberty Blockers* Michael Biggs Department of Sociology and St Cross College, University of Oxford (version 1.0.1, 29 July 2019)

Deficiencies in Scientific Evidence for Medical Management of Gender Dysphoria Paul W. Hruz 20th September 2019

Talks/television

Rene Jax, a male to female transsexual, calls for caution and further research over use of medication for children who express gender dysphoria  – Calfornia Family Council July 2018

Professor Michele Moore speaks in October 2018, discusses her concerns about the lack of debate about the impact on children of a medical and surgical pathway; that gender dysphoria does not reside in the body. Encouraging self identification in children is a tool of adult self interests. She is expert in Inclusive Education and Disability Studies

The Man who Lost his Body BBC 1997

Case law

Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority and another [1986]

Jay v Secretary of State for Justice [2018] EWHC 2620 (Fam) (08 October 2018) and note the evidence of Dr Barrett quoted at para 29 of the judgment:

“Separately, and recently, she reports gender identity problems. Her history, if taken at face value, is reasonably consistent with this diagnosis but the difficulty is that other aspects of that history are rather directly at odds with the documentary records leading me to have doubts about the veracity of her whole history – which would include a reasonably consistent history of gender identity problems. This aspect might be made clearer if a source other than [Ms Jay] could be interviewed …. If collateral collaboration is elicited I would reach an additional diagnosis of some sort of gender identity disorder. Whether the intensity of gender dysphoria caused by that disorder is great enough to merit or require a change of gender role might be explored in the setting of a gender identity clinic; it might be sufficiently intense in a prison but not so outside one and in civilian life, for example. 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.”

Lancashire County Council v TP & Ors (Permission to Withdraw Care Proceedings) [2019] EWFC 30

TT, R (On the Application Of) v The Registrar General for England and Wales [2019] EWHC 2384 (Fam) (25 – transman applied to be registered on child’s birth certificate as ‘father’ – refused as he remained ‘mother’ according to common law .

32 thoughts on “In whose best interests? Transgender Children: Choices and Consequences

  1. MDJ

    Brilliantly written – thank you for highlighting in such precise language why the child’s best interests need to be upheld and must be at the heart of any decision taken about their welfare. I appreciate that this has become an incredibly charged topic politically, but we risk doing a huge disservice to children if our work becomes about appeasing the parents, or whichever agency is flavour of the month when it comes to identity politics.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Thanks very much for your kind words. I think it is always worth bringing children back into the centre of this. Too often mere lip service is paid to the whole concept of ‘best interests’ which often (to me at any rate) seems to translate as ‘what is most convenient for me, the adult caring for the child?’.

      I listened to a great podcast today with poet David Whyte who said it is an Irish saying ‘the past is not the past’. What we do or fail to do as children can often reverberate down the ages and have a profound impact on our whole lives. Children, like all vulnerable people, need to trust that those who are making decisions for them, are making them for the right reasons and with the right intentions. I am not sure at all that those pushing for ‘transition’ for young children have either the right reasons or the right intentions.

      Reply
  2. John

    Could it be that far from this being a transgender issue per se, it is in fact simply a case of munchausen syndrome by proxy and this case it’s present as a trans issue as opposed to the many other conditions?

    Concentrating only on facts, such as the recent research on supporting children to explore their identity, doesn’t this case simply highlight that knowledgeable support for the family is vital.

    The NHS simply can’t provide the required support, but does, highly effectively, gatekeeper. Medication isn’t given unless they are convinced it’s right. I think that might be 10-20% of those they see, is there any evidence that even with influence from one or both parents, this should would have been at risk of being misdiagnosed by the NHS?

    So, is it a reasonable assumption that in fact rather than alienate an organisation like Mermaids who work to prevent the proven self harm issues of trans kids, that in fact ensuring they learn and develop ways to better support them and to identify such problems in the future is a far better course of action?

    After all, you appear to understand being trans is a thing, that offers little or no choice to the person (as did the judge), and so recognise the need and benefit of these children obtaining help and support. If not Mermaids, then who?

    What will be fascinating will be the outcome for the child. Being trans is something the person can try to deny too, but it rarely gives up and almost always wins, you only need to read the biographies of trans people like Kellie Malone or Jennifer Finney Bolan – or indeed almost any to show that. And the fact they all knew at an early age.

    The big issue with kids is the fact they are exploring their own identity, we know many who do that feel like they might be transgender but are not. If you tell a kid they can’t have, or do something, they will want it more. If you get it wrong, either way, the effects are devistating. My FEELING is that demonising those who try to do the best won’t help either. No one is perfect, and we all make mistakes.

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/political-minds/201901/do-early-social-transitions-influence-gender-identity

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I agree with you. My view is that a small percentage of people who claim to be trans, or parents who think their children are trans, have some kind of serious personality disorder or other form of mental ill health. They have simply decided that trans issues are the peg on which they will hang their unwellness. I also think there is a small but very dangerous group of predatory men who are very interested in using transgender issues to provide them with easier access to women and girls to sexually exploit.

      I am equally sure that there are people who do wish to change their bodies to make them happy or even simply to make them feel at peace. That is their preogrative, their life and I wish them well.

      However the problem seems to be that a sadly large majority of people cannot accept the existence of first two groups and – which is worse – appear to think that even acknowledging that they exist, is some kind of bigoted hate crime. This is simple madness as there is another large group, made up of people like me, who will reject very firmly the label of ‘bigot’ and will push back.

      I do see your point here So is it a reasonable assumption that in fact rather than alienate an organisation like Mermaids who work to prevent the proven self harm issues of trans kids, that in fact ensuring they learn and develop ways to better support them and to identify such problems in the future is a far better course of action?

      And of course it is always a risk that by raising criticism one loses the chance to engage and bring about positive change because criticism can be challenging and alienating. But my position is simply this. Mermaids behaved appallingly in 2016. They helped to put a very young child at risk of significant harm – or even actual significant harm. I am not aware that they have EVER accepted that. So at some point the balance tips. Do I tip toe around issues of such significance, do I close my eyes to the suffering of such children as mere collateral damage, and I don’t engage with these issues in case I harm prospects of debate?

      If I thought there WERE a prospect of debate I might be more circumspect. However, I do not see there is, sadly, any such chance.

      Reply
  3. Angelo Granda

    I know little about these transgender issues and remain open-minded . I have to say ,however, that in the name of justice and human rights , it is to be hoped that where concerns and disputes arise the LA Social Services and our broken Family Courts will not be involved ,rather the NHS should lead investigations and take them to a medical tribunal to be considered by true specialists not pretend ones. God forbid that SW’s shall be allowed to ‘ remove’ children involved from parents unlawfully without real evidence and traumatise them, grab the chance to get them talking in the absence of parents,concoct evidence and invent it etc. etc.
    These matters should be sorted out by honest professionals who actually know what they are talking about.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      This child went to live with his father, who allowed him to live peacefully as a little boy with no talk of ‘disdaining’ his penis. This case had nothing to do with trans issues as this was NOT a ‘trans child’. This was a child of a delusional mother who was assisted in her delusions very enthusiastically by a charity who was going to get a grant of about £500K before people objected. This case was not at all about the evil social workers stealing children etc, etc but about a child who very much needed protection from his mother, being so protected.

      Reply
  4. Angelo Granda

    Thanks for telling us a little more about this one particular case regarding one crazy mother and Mermaids,Sarah.
    Nevertheless,if these sort of parents and children are referred to the LA child-protection system we now have , i can only predict further failure. As with other ‘troubles’ we have in society,for example,autism, i expect scores if not hundreds of innocent children will be removed from parents after summary,inexpert court hearings and that many will end up in secure placements meant for the mentally ill.That is my fear.
    Whilst we should ,of course , be suspicious of any organisation ( and its evidence) which gives false opinion or spreads false information deliberately to obtain grants and funds,for budgetary purposes of its own , to further its own interests ,for its own benefit etc., we should never be paranoid about them. Never should SW’s ,Mermaids ,LA’s or the private care industry be described as evil , in my opinion. i have explained before to readers that quite often they act without malice , have belief in themselves and think they are doing the right thing. They aim to persuade the general Public or its own particular interest groups ( in many cases) around to their own beliefs and value systems ;this is usually to their own benefit not in the best interests of anyone else.
    I guess this is why the various groups become so polarised in outlooks. These various interest groups are not necessarily evil neither should the LA’s or CS regard criticism as allegations of evil. Let us not use that word about Mermaids, the CS or anyone else without real evidence. The former supported a delusional mother apparently yet i doubt if they did so with malice.Very often the latter support the delusions spread by local government and managers.
    It is only when they twist statements, misrepresent evidence ,distort it and bend procedure in Court under oath that they cross the line.
    Outside Court , misinformation and political persuasion is regularly used by all to justify their actions especially by Governments .It’s called propaganda. Everyone is at it .
    How do we identify false propaganda? It is spread by the authorities to persuade us that its public actions are carried out in our ‘best interests’. For example, they will claim that families are liquidated for their own good. They may claim that a war is justified to get our backing. Yet their official policies ,whilst benefiting themselves and the various commercial interests involved, continually fail to show fruit. The situation never gets any better, the numbers going into care increase year after year as do profits,the children become traumatised by their treatment, mental illness rockets and the Public lose trust in the system. Wars proliferate and arms sales flourish.
    So ,whilst we should always be wary of interest groups and test their opinions in court if we must, surely Mermaids can not be written off or misjudged just because they differ from us or lose one case.Transgender issues are complex and Mermaids should be given a chance as expert advocates. Leaving these matters in the hands of non-experts with an agenda is unwise.
    I remain neutral on this particular issue as i have no experience of it and the judiciary should take the same attitude. If the problem escalates and the situation gets worse , we shall see.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      The child ended up with his father. What is your problem with that? He certainly couldn’t have stayed with his mother; she wasn’t a fit parent.

      Reply
  5. Angelo Granda

    I have no problem with the outcome of the particular case per se because the Public aren’t allowed access to Court and I’ve no idea what happened .I can’t comment on the strength of a mere Family Court Judgment . Judgments are the direct products of the evidence ( right or wrong) .I hope the case was conducted fairly and honestly etc. and the decision was a right one. If the boy is now improving then it probably was .Let’s hope all the progress reports are honest ones.
    My concerns are general ones related to the suitability of the Family Courts to hear specialist cases like that one and other complex ones e.g. ASD children.
    In Public Law cases we don’t want LA’s to take transgender kids into care needlessly without specialised advice and advocacy.do we?

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      The judgment is lengthy and very careful and sets out the evidence heard. You cannot dismiss it as a ‘mere’ judgment.
      Transgender children are NOT taken into care for being ‘transgender’. This WAS NOT a case about a ‘transgender child’. This was a case about a child being caused significant harm by his mother. The state was very right to intervene and I am glad this child is now safe.

      Reply
  6. Angelo Granda

    I did not say it was about a transgender child. I outlined my concerns that transgender children might be removed from parents into care wrongly to be caused significant harm by the Authorities as happens when they target autistic children about whom they also have little specialist knowledge .
    We have all seen the reams and reams of research and information provided by looked after child which go into very great detail about how those children are failed by this dysfunctional system .
    No matter how lengthily and carefully the Judgment is, it can only rely on the evidence heard and if that is all shoddy,inexpert ,unvouched for ‘intelligence’ and other hearsay which the Court has not granted the time to be double-checked thoroughly for truth and when court procedures have not been upheld scrupulously AS HAPPENS REGULARLY in the Family Courts ,we are bound to be concerned.
    Don’t forget ,the system is unfit for purpose ,we have to face facts.
    Obviously, i hope you are right ,Sarah and that the child will be quite safe with his Dad. Yet i cannot but express concerns about court judgments given all the drawbacks of the system. Had there been no father involved, would the child now be in care ? Possibly! Will the system start to target other families with problems and set them up as they do with ASD and other special needs children?
    Who will come next? Lesbians and homosexual boys and girls , the crippled or those with other handicaps ,deafness, downs syndrome etc.?
    Whoever it is, they will need expert advocates and the system will have to work with them not treat them as deluded.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      you are surely able to read the judgment, consider the wealth of evidence that was heard and considered and decided upon by the Judge and decide for yourself if that represented a ‘shoddy’ or ‘inexpert’ provision of evidence. This is a very odd case for you to chose to make that comment. The judgment speaks for itself.

      Reply
  7. Angelo Granda

    Please read carefully. I have no problem with the outcome of the particular case per se ,I hope the case was conducted fairly and honestly etc. and the decision was a right one. If the boy is now improving then it probably was .Let’s hope all the progress reports are honest,objective ones.

    I repeat my concerns are general ones as to future developments not about this particular case and and other readers might be worried too . My concerns are apparently shared by Judge Hayden who made observations at para 20 of the July judgment as reported by you above. QUOTE: 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: UNQUOTE.

    However,because the Public aren’t allowed access to Court (justice in the case was not seen to be done in the full public gaze), I’ve no idea what happened .I can’t comment on the strength of a mere Family Court Judgment because they are the direct products of the evidence ( right or wrong) . Systems that manipulate data to produce likely outcomes, are only as good as the data they are fed. What happens if someone makes a false allegation about a parent? That ‘data’ that will be recorded and disguised as fact to inform a court as to his or her future risk? The Family Courts quite happily accept hearsay evidence ; they haven’t the time to make thorough checks.
    Sarah,thanks for the post and thanks for your response to comments but please remember that parents know what they are talking about. They can’t be fooled easily by judgments as you and other professionals can because most of them have been in Court themselves ,have seen how the Courts operate and have seen injustices for themselves. Even when evidence is proven wrong, the Court often sweeps it aside and carries on regardless. Garbage in,garbage out!

    Reply
  8. Angelo Granda

    QUOTE: 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: UNQUOTE.

    Quite incidentally, this part of the ‘careful’ judgment and defamation of M rings bells with me. One respondent followed the advice of the barrister and made official complaints through various procedures and returned to Court as also advised and made an application with new evidence.. Both the complaints were upheld; the LA apologised for being dishonest under oath and apologised; the forensic psychologist admitted he had not been thorough in his assessment. The Judge ignored both complaints reports ( never even mentioned the contents and swept the malpractice under the carpet. The respondent was heavily criticised equally ‘carefully’ for being unable to accept the outcome, for being argumentative and for making the complaints and getting professionals into trouble. At the Judge’s discretion ,of course !

    Also QUOTE: 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:UNQUOTE.

    Yes ,incredulous but true, respondents will even be criticised by Judges for following procedure and responding to the litigation as is expected of them .They are ordered by the Court to reply to the authorities but castigated when they do so. Maybe because they cannot hide their emotions as well as lawyers and SW’s.Complain afterwards and prove one’s arguments and be slated for doing so.
    Carefully and in the best possible taste and traditions of Family Courts.

    Reply
  9. Angelo Granda

    At the risk of boring readers, i agree that the judgment speaks for itself and would add that opinion such as the personal attack on M quoted above are not included in it objectively.
    It is Family Court protocol laid down in the Children Act that when the Judges exercise their discretion and make a decision about the credibility of conflicting evidence ,they must explain why it is they accept one set over another. In all contested cases, obviously, this means the respective credibility of the litigant and the respondent should be examined fairly which means without bias .
    So when the Judge chooses to grant an order in favour of an LA ,for example, he or she must come up with plausible and apparently carefully considered reasons for discounting the evidence of the respondent.
    Most rational human beings will see that it is usual for any Mum in Court facing the loss of a child to be frightened,upset and quite human and natural for her to try to assert herself and dispute the professional evidence against her ( especially when her lawyers are passive).Indeed it is ,i think, normal for lawyers to perceive themselves correct and that the other party is wrong. Surely it is inhumanity to write off a woman’s evidence on such grounds.
    Conversely, the Judges always APPARENTLY fail to spot the many malpractices,breaches of procedure, false representations and outright dishonest and biased reports of the LA . In other words they follow the noble principles of ‘comity’ towards the Authorities slavishly. They cover -up for abuse ,unlawful actions and so on when LA’s are the culprit. This happens even when the respondent’s lawyers do protest. They will be told to pipe down and cut it short ,warned about court schedules,time limits etc.
    As i remarked above,parents have sat in court themselves and seen what goes on there.

    Reply
    1. Angelo Granda

      If one considers the first quote about M exercising her civil rights to use official channels of complaint e.g. official procedures and the ECHR, and the second one which appears to ostracise her for perceiving professionals wrong , then surely the Judge’s attitude nis fundamentally irrational if only in those two respects.
      FUNDAMENTALLY, surely it is an attempt to legitimise LA authoriatarianism. I agree citizens would be wrong to disobey any Court orders but the Court should not discriminate against them simply because they disagree with schoolteachers or social workers professional or not.

      Reply
      1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

        This mother was clearly both irrational and delusional. Her claims about – for example – what was happening at school, were not supported by ANYONE at the school.

        I know that you are keen to see official incompetence and wickedness everywhere and as you know I agree that sometimes there are serious failings in the State’s case.

        But equally you have to accept that on occasion, parents can behave appallingly and really hurt their children. Their children then deserve protection from them. That is what happened here. The child is safe with his father, not ‘languishing’ in care. I am unsure why you are so determined to argue that this mother was unfairly treated.

        Reply
  10. Angelo Granda

    I reiterate again! I have no problem with the outcome of this particular case also that I am talking about cases in general and ljudgments in general.Please note that I specifically remarked that we should not regard or refer to LA’s,SW’s or the care system as evil .I don’t always think it is wicked.
    Can you not see why it is ( GENERALLY) that parent respondents almost always complain that professional evidence is always preferred to theirs in the Family Court?
    The two quotes prove it .

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Yes, I don’t think this is a good case however on the back of which you make these points as I honestly don’t think there was any doubt that this mother was abusive. But please don’t feel that you shouldn’t comment, as long as you are polite, which you generally are, then I have no problem. It is right to always be open to challenge and reminders from those with a different perspective.

      Reply
  11. Angelo Granda

    Sarah, I am sorry my comments irritate you so much , i understand professionals will find criticism uncomfortable but you are wrong again about my attitude.
    I have never ever denied that sometimes parents behave appallingly and really hurt their children and I recognise that the children deserve public protection . I have said i favour the Children Act and that all the guidelines of the statute and the ECHR should be implemented.I have also suggested more powers be handed to the Family Courts and proportionate sanctions.
    I abhor neglect and child abuse just as much as anyone does. In my view ,though, even those who are criminally guilty of serious neglect and abuse have civil and human rights to a fair and proportionate hearing. Their children have rights to.

    Reply
  12. Pingback: When should a child’s trans identity be permitted to be a material issue in a family case? | Child Protection Resource

  13. Pingback: You Had Better Make Some Noise – Abusers will exploit bad laws and poor safeguarding | Child Protection Resource

  14. charles lewis

    Sarah, I wager you are related to Lord Justice Phillimore. Sir Henry was active during my time at the Bar, bless him.
    Two points:
    1. This case of the Munchhausen mother is very much sui generis, a rara avis.
    2. Generally as to Mermaids: they proceed on a number of false beliefs, and like all good fanatics they are not prepared to discuss them, only to scream ‘transphobic’ at any opposition.
    The only gender or sex that exists is the timeless and essential dichotomy between male and female. No one can “change” gender/sex. They can only, to varying extent according to their desire, manufacture a semblance of the opposite sex. As for “gender fluidity”, gender in this sense is no more than one’s fantasy about oneself.
    No one is born into the wrong body. They merely think they are. Thinking something does not make it real. I could identify as a rhinoceros, but I doubt anyone would accept me as such. Someone who cannot accept or “identify with” her natural body has a mental health issue. To have to choose between suicide and wrecking that body with drugs and surgery is an unenviable position to be in, but such a person needs to be treated with compassion and proper understanding and not be subjected to someone else’s ideology.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Sadly I do not appear to be able to claim close kinship with Phillimore LJ but I have always read his (minority) judgments with great interest.

      I agree with all your other points.

      Reply
  15. Angelo Granda

    I believe we have to ‘get to grips’ with human rights on these issues and issues like them. If we are to be a free country which permits citizens to hold ,choose and live by all manners of different doctrines then we are bound to get schisms. It is extremely dangerous for those holding to one particular doctrine or ‘norm’ to diagnose mental illness and interfere in the family life of fellow citizens who adopt a different code or way of living especially any which break no laws. That is in no-ones best interests particularly those of any children involved.
    Otherwise where do we go next. Are we to throw transgender folk into Reading jail?
    I know little about the thought systems of transgender individuals but i don’t suppose there is a great difference between homophobia and transphobia or any other phobia . Most phobias arise due to rational fears and ‘concerns’ and screaming of those who adhere to other belief systems but are we to say phobia is a mental health issue?
    Male and female is not an essential dichotomy. Some men develop feminine traits and vice-versa. They can change their way of life gender-wise . Castration is not new to this world!
    Jesus Christ was neither male nor female and is said to be an example to us all.
    The essential dichotomy is between fathers and mothers. Men can only become one with a woman to reproduce.
    However, enough of opinions, let us stick to human rights law and reforming the cp system.

    Reply
  16. Sarah Haworth

    Thank you for your insightful article. It is a great shame that LA’s etc do not take note of Hydens judgement however LA’s and Children’s Services are notorious for not implementing judgement etc. There is a list!

    What is happening is very very worrying.

    Reply
  17. Kay Warner

    Angelo Granda I take issue with your comment: “So, whilst we should always be wary of interest groups and test their opinions in court if we must, surely Mermaids can not be written off or misjudged just because they differ from us or lose one case.Transgender issues are complex and Mermaids should be given a chance as expert advocates. Leaving these matters in the hands of non-experts with an agenda is unwise.” Yes, we should test the opinions of interest groups, whether in court or in informed debate. Mermaids is an interest group, indeed a lobbying group for transgender ideology. It is necessary to remind ourselves that whilst being the parent of a child with an illness, disability or a problem such as anorexia or gender dysphoria is an experience that not all parents will have, it does not make one an expert in that subject. Mermaids are not experts. As for leaving these matters in the hands of non-experts with an agenda – that definition fits Mermaids, Stonewall and other transgender lobbying organisations perfectly. Transgender issues are indeed complex and there are many well qualified experts from many disciplines working with, treating and researching into this whose efforts are being thwarted by the transgender lobby because of refusal to enter into debate and examine facts and opinions.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I agree. I think the difficulty here is that Angelo approaches all decisions of the family court with great caution and finds it difficult to accept that decisions are ever properly made on the right evidence. I think Re J is a clear example of the right decision, thoughtfully made. The response of Mermaids to the judgment is really troubling.

      Reply
  18. Angelo Granda

    Kay Warner,
    I take your point and i agree with you that any input to assessments made by any organisation with a biased agenda based on promoting its own ideology rather than expert medical knowledge signed by doctor/s should be tested thoroughly beforehand. We must be wary of any assessments or opinion which are not impartial. That includes Mermaids or any other such interest group.
    We should never accept without great caution any evidence based on opinions and selected facts. A good way to test it is to read it thoroughly and if it is all one-way , it is biased!
    When any party to a case twists , misrepresents evidence and distorts the truth in Court under oath for its own motives or ulterior ones ,it crosses the line.

    Reply
  19. Pingback: No one, no issue is off the table when it comes to safeguarding | Child Protection Resource

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