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.

Cafcass responds to a DfE report on safeguarding and radicalisation

The Department for Education’s recent report on safeguarding and radicalisation paints a picture that is familiar to Cafcass in our work representing children in family court cases. The number of radicalisation cases is growing and there is an increasing expectation of a confident and informed response from professionals.
Written by Neville Hall at 15:00

How do we better understand the cues and clues to assess emotional harm and ensure children’s recovery?

The prevalence of emotional harm is rising faster than any other type of abuse*. This is as much about greater recognition and an understanding that emotional scarring takes the longest to heal.
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

Shining a light on issues impacting children and families

Anthony DouglasThe latest series of Behind Closed Doors, called ‘Contact’, aired recently on Radio 4 and focused on a High Court case where a sperm donor was seeking regular contact with his biological daughter. The girl’s mother is in a same sex relationship and insists she doesn’t want Harry, the donor, to be directly involved in her daughter’s life. We advised on this series and also on the Archers recently, in which coercive control by one parent against the other led to a violent and family fracturing outcome. Both programmes had a good balance between factual accuracy and storytelling with a dramatic licence.

Supporting programmes like this and being open about our work, makes a significant contribution to increasing public awareness of the work of the family courts. Along with access to an increasing number of published judgments on Bailii, anybody who is interested in what the family courts do and how they reach decisions, can get a pretty good idea.

Harry’s application raises an important issue. A child of a sperm donor is likely in this day and age to be interested in who their biological father is and how many brothers and sisters they have – which could be a large number indeed. With children often seeking this information later in life, professionals and families should give thought to how children are supported to understand their family background as they grow up in a way that meets their needs and understanding. When people make arrangements they should be absolutely clear about their expectations before they start and be completely focused on the child.

Turning to the Archers’ plot, the devastating impact of coercive control inside a household is clear. This storyline helps to shine a light on it, especially the fact that it is now a criminal offence. New and quite shocking criminal offences are being committed inside families every day. Victims only sometimes want a prosecution; they mostly want to escape but often can’t, even if the door is wide open.

Working with the media, production companies and scriptwriters, could highlight issues as diverse as radicalisation, female genital mutilation, special guardianship, parental alienation and the invisible emotional harm children suffer living in families turned toxic by problems like high conflict between the adults, family violence or significant drug and alcohol misuse. These programmes are hard to put together, hard to get funding for and hard to get to screen, but once there, they are accessible forever and play an important role in public awareness, education and prevention.

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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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