Putting children and young people first in the family courts

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Welcome to the blog of Anthony Douglas, Chief Executive of Cafcass. Anthony will be blogging each month, sharing news from Cafcass and talking about the family justice system at large.

Why you must see me

FJYPB member Shanti Sud discusses the risks of professionals making assumptions about children in family proceedings
Written by FJYPB at 00:00

“We are family”: considering the importance of sibling relationships in family proceedings

With more families re-constituting and blending, brothers and sisters might not live with each other but may still feel part of the same family or families. Anthony discuss the significance of siblings relationships to the children we work with.
Written by Chief Executive Anthony Douglas at 00:00

The needs of children in cases featuring radicalisation

Anthony DouglasEarlier this year, Cafcass published findings from the 54 cases featuring an element of concern about radicalisation we were involved with during a six month period, from July to December 2015. So far this year, we have worked with a similar number of cases. Some of these have involved children being at risk of harm by exposure to extreme online material, and a new and sophisticated form of online grooming of teenagers has been identified.

 

Our cases cover a wide yet still mostly urban geography across England. Radicalisation concerns feature in as many cases in private law and public law. In some private law cases, allegations of radicalising by one parent against the other are forming part of the separation weaponry. These claims are often proving just as hard to substantiate as other more customary types of allegation. In most cases, we find that such allegations are dropped by the parties or are subsequently discounted by the court.

 

Where the concerns are about a child – rather than an adult – being radicalised, these children and their families are generally not previously known to the local authority. This sets them apart from most other cases that feature within Cafcass’ exploitation strategy, which also covers child trafficking and child sexual exploitation (CSE). To assist in understanding the needs of children in these cases we use our CSE assessment tool – because of the grooming element of radicalisation – and standard risk assessment. Risks are assessed in the round as part of an overall balancing exercise and welfare evaluation.

 

Very few children have needed to be removed from their parents as a result of concerns. Where they have been removed, they have either returned home with concerns receding or been placed with relatives who have kept them safe. A small number of teenagers have come into the care system and stayed there. Most children have been supported or monitored in the community. This is sometimes as children in need but more frequently as children falling within the local authority’s Channel Statutory duty or under the Statutory Prevent Duty Guidance.

 

These statutory duties need to be set alongside children’s legislation which emphasises the welfare of the child. Each case requires a balancing exercise to be carried out before taking action, unless the risk is immediate. Primarily this is when there is a duty to take action to prevent parents removing their children to war zones. In some ways, the balancing exercise is the same as we have to carry out in other areas where family and civil law intersect, such as a decision about deportation. We are building up our knowledge of these cases as more come to light and as the forms radicalisation evolve. We will be producing specific materials for staff in the New Year in light of recent cases and of events around the world which have an impact on vulnerable children in the UK.

 

There has not been a case which has attracted the attention of the media since July this year. It shows how a huge issue at a point in time can fade from public view without a new angle. All the while, professional work is ongoing in the background to gain better understanding of the issues.

 

Written by Chief Executive Anthony Douglas at 00:00

By reducing the need for expert witnesses we have saved money without compromising our service

Anthony Douglas

The global reduction in most budgets means that it is urgent to save all costs that can be avoided, without undermining service levels. Inevitably, we spend a lot of time in Cafcass focusing on this. A good example is the way our small team of five lawyers and four sessional psychologists are improving our practitioners’ confidence in their own expertise, in areas that might traditionally have routinely gone to expensive expert witnesses.

 

For five lawyers and four sessional psychologists to be able to advise and support over 1700 Cafcass practitioners across England does make you sit up and think. But they do it through focused  phone conversations (up to one hour) about either legal or psychological issues for a child, parent, family or for case management.

 

For example, our psychologists focus mostly on concerns about the psychology or personality of a parent. By looking at the behaviours which cause the practitioner concern and discussing strategies to respond to these perceived or real problem behaviours, it enables practitioners to worry less about a diagnosis than what can be done to either reduce problem behaviours or to give others strategies to manage them. We use a child psychology perspective so that parental behaviours can be viewed through the eyes of the child in question. This has given practitioners more confidence in their risk assessment and their child impact analyses.

 

Using sessional specialist expertise to increase the confidence and skill base of mainstream staff has wider applications, which we are carrying out further work on so as to increase the skill base of our practitioners, business support staff, our own specialist staff and managers, including myself. We are open to ideas. Sometimes, that injection of specialist expertise to think and work differently can lead to large-scale savings. We do not just need to talk about the use of behavioural insight strategies and ‘nudge’ for people using services. It can work for staff too.

 

 

 

 

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Written by Chief Executive Anthony Douglas at 00:00

Making the court process safer for vulnerable people

How courts deal with vulnerable applicants and witnesses is coming under increasing scrutiny, after justifiably negative publicity about cases of alleged perpetrators interviewing their own potential victims in open court with insufficient practical and emotional protection for the potential victims.
Written by Chief Executive Anthony Douglas at 00:00

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