About the Family Law Week blog

The Family Law Week Blog is a companion site to Family Law Week. It complements the news, cases and articles published on Family Law Week with additional comment and coverage of the wider aspects of family law.

The Blog is edited by Jacqui Gilliatt, of 4 Brick Court and Lucy Reed, of St Johns Chambers.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Grandparents or gay adopters continued

The Daily Mail follows up on the grandparents vs gay adopters story with a piece suggesting that the price the family will have to pay is that they will not be able to have contact. This is apparently denied by social services.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Every Child Matters

The Guardian has interviewed social workers who have given the Every Child Matters initiative a cautious thumbs up - though the ICS gets a much less cautious thumbs down.

And rather to my amazement apparently social workers are broadly happy in their job , though frustrated by some aspects of it

Grandparents or gay adopters?

The Telegraph is not sure whether to be more outraged about the anti-grandparent angle in this story (child removed from grandparents of 59 & 46 said to be ruled out becauuse they are too old) or about the the fact that the children are to be placed with a homosexual couple. The Telegraph quotes an unnamed spokesman for the Catholic Church who refers to a growing body of evidence showing that same sex relationships are inherently unstable and reduce the life expectancy of those involved. Strangely no specifics about this growing body of evidence. Really? Same sex relationships less stable than marriage?

I have had cause in the past to research this issue thoroughly and do not recall any such research holding up to scrutiny.

The Christian Right & Homophobic Discourse: A Response to Evidence that Gay & Lesbian Parenting Damages Children by Stephen Hicks is an interesting and well researched piece that debunks this sort of myth. Stephen Hicks is a Senior Lecturer at Salford University and something of an expert on the topic, should you need one and has written a number of other thoroughly compelling articles and a book or two on the subject.

I have somewhat more sympathy with the grandparents' own expressed concern that the children may suffer from not having a 'mother' figure (I do think that lay people could be afforded some time to catch up with the thinking behind with what is still a relatively uncommon placement proposition (for which, as one expert extremely sympathetic to the possibility, has pointed out we do not even as a society yet have the words to cover the parenting roles)) and their feeling that if they did not embrace the placement with enthusiasm the local authority would not support them having contact. The idea of adoption at all has always seemed to me to be a very difficult pill for family members to swallow with very little work seeming to be done to help them to adjust to the idea of it let alone the reality. Is it really necessary for the family to say the words - I think the children are better off adopted by X than looked after by me - before contact can be supported? Is it not more important to examine whether the family are capable of putting their private feelings on the matter to one side so that the children are not affected by it? There are clearly some cases where the natural family's attitude and behaviour makes it clear that ongoing contact is not a risk worth taking. I just wonder whether in other more subtle scenarios enough is done to explore the viability of greater openness in adoption situations, particularly with children who have a well established relationship with carers that will remain a live memory. It is my understanding the research on the benefits of post-adoption contact is not conclusive in either direction, no doubt because of the huge number of variables which need to be analysed, but does this have to mean we should take the line of least resistance? I am more than usually aware that I am treading on an area of expertise outside my own and would be grateful for pointers towards any useful materials.

CMEC's new powers

Read Polly Toynbee's comments on the child maintenance enforcement proposals (broadly favourable) as compared to the Resolution (broadly unfavourable).

Celebrity treatment on ContactPoint

The Telegraph reports that people will be able to request a curtailed entry on the database to protect certain information leaking out. It notes too that the Conservative and Liberal Democrats have already pledged to scrap the system.

A bit more baby p

Whilst I have been pleased to report on something other than post baby p stories they have not yet entirely gone away.

In Community Care a story about the Sun's editor, Rebekah Wade, justifying her paper's stance on the subject, following the news of the Sun's agony aunt to the Social Work Taskforce.

The Guardian and the BBC report on Oliver Letwin's critique of Labour's 'failed rule-based regulation' which he claims led to the tragedy, with a lack of emphasis on evaluating outcomes.

Not quite on topic but I doubt it would have made the headlines in other circumstances, the BBC covers the Welsh Care Council's disqualification of a social worker from practice because of her failure to follow child protection procedures. She did not follow up two anonymous referrals raising concerns about a child who was later killed.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

A friend to play with ....

Just as I was feeling a bit lonely along has come a great fellow blogger to the Family Law Week blog. Welcome to Lucy Reed, Barrister at St John's Chambers in Bristol and author of the Pink Tape blog who will be a regular contributor to the Family Law Week blog from now on. Enjoy!

Anyone else who would like to join our (so far rather small) party is welcome.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Revised Practice Direction - Domestic Violence

The President of the Family Division has reissued the Practic Direction on Domestic Violence in the light of Re B (Children) [2008] UKHL 35, to clarify that a fact-finding hearing is part of the process of trying a case and is not a separate exercise.

The amendments serve to emphasise existing best practice rather than to radically change anything: where a case is adjourned following a fact find for further hearing it remains part heard. The PD confirms that this principle applies equally in private law and public law family cases.

Where the court has made findings of fact on disputed allegations, any subsequent hearing in the proceedings should be conducted by the same judge or, in the magistrates’ court, by at least the same chairperson of the justices. Exceptions may be made only where observing this requirement would result in delay to the planned timetable and the judge or chairperson is satisfied, for reasons recorded in writing, that the detriment to the welfare of the child would outweigh the detriment to the fair trial of the proceedings.

The designation of a matter as 'part heard' of course has implications for continuity of advocates as well as the judiciary, as issues of professional conduct apply when managing diaries and prioritising part-heard diary bookings.

Overseas adoption

The issue of wealthy celebrities shipping in children from abroad to adopt turns out to have a fine pedigree according to the Times which reports that Sir Walter Raleigh may have adopted a boy from Guyana. Good job he did not have to go through the intercountry adoption procedures as he would no doubt have been failed for his contribution to the twin vices of obesity and smoking.

Husbands are winners all round: headline news?

More bad news for women divorcing in the UK. Not only is marriage good for men's health , divorce is good for men's wealth. The Independent and the Observer report that the incomes of ex-husbands rose by 25 per cent immediately after the split, but women saw a sharp fall in their finances, which rarely regained pre-divorce levels. Some 27 per cent of women ended up living in poverty as a result – three times the rate of men – and only 31 per cent received maintenance payments from ex-husbands for their children.

The articles are based on research carried out by Professor Stephen Jenkins, a director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research - Marital Splits & Income Changes .

Forum shopping? When the door to the shop should be shut?

Great post from Marilyn Stowe as she comments on the case of Agbaje in the Court of Appeal in which the parties have been litigating for some time over whether or not their matrimonial litigation should proceed in Nigeria or London. The court's conclusion seems to be that the fact that one jurisdiction is more generous to one of the parties is not enough to determine jurisdiction. I notice that the Court of Appeal also decried the procedural management of the case, suggesting that the JR / permission to appeal approach should be adopted by the Family Division in dealing with applications under the Matrimonial & Family Proceedings Act 1984.

Not so complete agreement

Those acting for Madonna & Guy Richie may be relieved that early press reports that their services would not be needed may have been wide of the mark as the Times suggests that they have stumbled over the issue of schooling.

New child maintenance enforcement proposals

The Times reports on proposed legislative reform which would allow CMEC to confiscate driving licenses if parents do not pay maintenance. The Welfare Reform Bill is going through the Commons now and has its second reading tomorrow.

News in Community Care

A number of interesting stories are covered in Community Care .

Unison is concerned about the effect of high social work vacancies etc, following a survey of members.

LB Haringey appeals for staff to other London councils, but the cavalry is not arriving.

The ContactPoint Database goes live in 17 pilot authorities today, with a view to national takeup in the summer. See also the DCSF press release .

Local authority's housing duties to children

Interesting post on Nearly Legal about some recent case law on the s 17 /s 20 duties (does the child need accommodation or help with accommodation) of local authorities. An issue to watch, apparently, as the House of Lords will be tackling it soon.

Sentencing for Shannon Matthews kidnap

Following Karen Matthews & Michael Donovan being jailed for 8 years ( Telegraph , Times , Sun , you can read the Judge's sentencing remarks online, a model of judicialness if there is such a word! His remarks that "it must be doubtful whether they could have conceived or continued these offences without the assistance or connivance of others. The pre-sentence report in Matthews’ case comments that neither defendant seems to have the cognitive ability to devise and orchestrate such an elaborate offence with any degree of likelihood of success" have immediately led to speculation in the Independent .

Her family meanwhile think the sentence should have been longer according to the BBC .

The Daily Star has already begun to speculate about the new life Karen will seek in Australia on her release, with the bill being footed by the taxpayer.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Paternity fraud case stopped in its tracks

The Court of Appeal has refused him permission to a man appeal against a Bournemouth County Court judge's dismissal of his damages claim. Mr Webb was claiming damages in relation to a child who he had raised to adulthood as his own when she was not his biological daughter as he claimed his wife well knew.

Lord Justice Thorpe said the case involved 'interesting socio-legal arguments' but would 'visit upon the litigants huge burdens, both financial and emotional, which are disproportionate to any prospects of success'.

See the Mirror .

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

HL Judgment re Care workers

The BBC reports on an interesting House of Lords judgment published today in which Baroness Hale in the lead judgment described the system of blacklisting care workers from working with vulnerable adults and children is unfair.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Timetable for asking about the timetable for the child

I have just been to court for a case management conference. For the very first time in my experience since the PLO was introduced in April 2008 a Judge actually asked the advocates about the timetable for the child. Is this a record? The child is now less than a month old. We could think of no special features which might drive any timetabling considerations and ended up with a view that ideally the child should be placed with permanent carers, be they family or otherwise, by the time it is a year old. This meant heading towards a final hearing by the time the child is 9 months old, based on an assumption that it is likely to take 3 months or less should the child need to be placed outside the family (not an issue at all if the child stays with the parents). What I was left wondering was what was the point of the enquiry? The case will not be listed for final hearing for a goodly while yet (PRFD is mainly not listing final hearings though it does sometimes and it also sometimes gives a window listing ie a target month - gives my clerks a right headache putting that in the diary. Does anyone have experience of the timetable for the child actually being properly considered and making a difference to case management or is it just a consideration which is being trotted out as if it actually means something when it does not seem to like 'the welfare of the child is paramount'?

Child protection ....

Community Care follows up on the Doncaster story with a piece about the climate of secrecy & turmoil whilst the Social Work blog comments on the response of councillors and refreshing honesty on the part of the interim Director, Dr Paul Gray. The BBC quotes an anonymous insider who claims that 60 children may be at risk because referrals are not being followed up.

Community Care also covers the response of the LGA to the proposal to make greater use of the private sector in delivering social services . Guess what? They're not keen.

Child Protection tries to continue

The Guardian reports that the Head of Doncaster is refusing to resign and that intervention teams are being sent into children's services departments at Haringey, Reading, Wokingham, Essex, and West Sussex councils which – like Birmingham, and Doncaster - were judged "inadequate" by Ofsted in December.

The Birmingham intervention is covered in more detail by the BBC & the Birmingham Post .

To add to their burdens, the Times reports that the number of care proceedings being issued was 66% higher in December 2008 compared with December 2007. Sally Gillen in Community Care also picks up this story, with a Cafcass slant.

The Mirror reports on Action for Children's concern that children between 6 & 13 are being forgotten.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

The Investigation
22 Jan 2009, 20:00 on BBC Radio 4

Synopsis: Simon Cox investigates how local authorities react when people ask to have their children taken away. While attention might normally focus on social services failing to protect children from abusive parents, he talks to some parents who, conversely, say that they cannot cope or do not want the responsibility.

Child Protection roundup

More on Doncaster with a full scale analysis in Community Care again here and here .

Ray Jones, Professor of Social Work, comments on the initiatives to improve the management of social workers.

In a Waltham Forest SCR it is the Health Visiting Service which comes in for criticism.

Camilla Cavendish argues against blind faith in experts in family cases.

The Telegraph comments on the absence of a definition of significant harm & calls on Ed Balls to propose one.

Sally Gillen in Community Care examines the reasons for the drop in the issuing of care proceedings.

Sharon Shoesmith has lost her appeal to a panel of Haringey Councillors but apparently intends to go to an employment tribunal.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Doncaster SSD

The pace of press interest in child protection shows no sign of letting up. 7 suspicious deaths since 2004 (& 7 SCRs) in Doncaster has led toa crack team being sent into children's services reports the Times .

Saturday, 10 January 2009

New Year New Care Cases

Happy New Year to you all! I am sorry that the first few days of the New Year have passed without any posts on this blog but this has been due to a quite astonishing workload having been thrown my way including in the traditionally dead time between Christmas and New Year. Myself and my colleagues in chambers have been rushed off our feet and the Clerks are complaining about the quantities of work they are having to turn away. There are, of course, natural peaks and flows in our workload. But the current upsurge is not due to the predicted post Christmas divorce peak which, if it in fact happens which I doubt, would not filter down to the Bar until much later in the Year, but in my opinion, to a post baby P anxiety on the part of local authorities. It is one of the reasons I felt the need to refresh my article on removing children on an interim basis . I have been pleased and flattered to be turning up to court quite regularly to find people thrusting copies of it in my direction and cutting and pasting it into their submissions! I am glad to see it is of use. It does seem that local authorities are more frequently wanting the oversight of the court on their decisions to remove or not to remove, nervous no doubt about making or being accused of making the wrong judgment calls.

The point of my article is to emphasise just how difficult it can be to justify removal on an interim basis. That does not mean to say that it cannot ever be justified. Or that it is wrong for local authorities to continue to ask if parents will agree to children being removed on a s 20 basis. I would encourage all social workers to consult their legal departments when considering their proposed interim care plans and for legal departments in turn to seek advice from Counsel if they are to be instructed. I would also advise that local authorities should have much clearer policies about how to go about conversations with parents when seeking removal. For example, it would be prudent always to ensure that the parent is advised to seek legal advice (particularly if proceedings have already been issued and removal is a change in the care plan). Parents often report that they feel under pressure to agree to removal because of the threat of an EPO or proceedings. Lawyers and social workers may know that this has to receive the sanction of the court and it is difficult to strike the right balance between threatening and being realistic. It would perhaps be sensible to say that if the parent does not agree the social worker will consult with her managers and take legal advice about whether to ask the court to sanction removal and the timescale in which that would be done. It would be equally sensible, in a case where urgency dictates that the PLO approach cannot be pursued, to hand over a document along the lines of the letter before action so that the parent knows the essential case against them and particularly the reasons why the local authority think the time for removal has come.

It is never easy to say what cases will justify removal and it is important to analyse the evidence in each case carefully, but it may be easier to see the potential for justification in cases such as when a parent has a mental health problem or a drug or alcohol addiction that means their behaviour and cooperation level is unpredictable or when there is a serious unexplained injury and the provisional view is that it is not accidental or when a parent repeatedly declines to allow access and does not cooperate with the child protection plan. Other less frequently encountered cases might be where the child is out of control or is expressing a clear wish not to remain in the home or there has been a prolonged period of failure to thrive.