June 26, 2011


Filed under: Secret family courts — Granarchist @ 11:56 pm
.                      NEW  APPROACHES  TO CONTACT

56 Perrers Road London W6 OEZ                                          020 8748 1081


Private Law Only: Section 8


The Interim Report (“IR”) of the Family Justice Review has miscarried.

The Review’s Effect

 In brief:  

the IR contains a  number of good ideas 

however, the IR’s main thrust is more-of-the-same, i.e., “churning” 

in addition, the IR will make things worse in important respects

  Further, the Review has overlooked the only viable reform proposal on the table.

The upshot is that the IR proposes: 

to spend time and money on making things worse

                as opposed to 

saving time and money by making things better  

      An Inconsequential Review
The deficiencies at Items 2 (ii) and 2 (iii) above are easily substantiated:

2 (ii):  the main thrust of the Review is to transfer management of the same defective legal system (which the IR acknowledges as defective) to a different administrative body. This is to tread water. 

           This bureaucratic exercise will cost millions, and take years (during which no progress will be possible) with no prospect of any particular improvement when concluded.    

2 (iii): the insistence on open-ended mediation, conducted without a framework, and without a time-scale, merely delays access to the Courts. 

This is to make problems worse. Both parties will attend mediation knowing that no solution can enforced upon them for the interim.  This favours the unreasonable parent. Problems will entrench. 

Similarly, Parent Information sessions cannot assist if (also as a result of there being no framework) they have no worthwhile information to impart. 

Aside from a transfer of management to a new quango, the main direction of the Review is to construct a new indeterminate ‘antechamber’ (or limbo) of mediation, education and good intentions – as a terrain to be traversed – before parents enter the same defective legal system. 

The Review’s thinking is not understood. 

     Missing the Wood for the Trees

The Review’s observable accomplishment - of taking action that is not useful - is matched by its decision not to take action that is useful. As outlined at Item 2 above:

the Family Justice Review is in receipt of fully-authorised proposals, agreed by leading professionals, to reform this sector

the Review overlooked these proposals

these proposals were sanctioned by the High Court judiciary in 2003

these proposals represent the solution to the problems of the family   
           law system identified by the Review

The Review’s primary achievement, at least in private law, is to prevent the useful proposals (which were and are agreed Conservative family policy) going forward to the Minister, in that the department and the Review insisted that:

  -  these useful proposals must first undergo the Review’s ‘robust methodology’

-  as a prelude to the Review declining to consider these same proposals 

on the basis that they are “outside the remit” of the Review 

This type of administration, at best inept and at worst mischievous, does not bode well. 


The Review has miscarried. No ground is made good: 

- the proposals to set up a new Family Justice Service should be shelved until a useful purpose can be identified for this project 

- the proposals for mediation and parent information classes should be put on hold until they have received commensurate thought

  - the actual proposals to reform the family law system in relation to children 
    (i.e., the NATC EI project) should carry forward to the Minister in the usual   


The main planks of the Review are as above: make parents go to mediation, and set up a Family Justice Board. 

There are many subsidiary proposals in the Review. These can be safely left on one side for the purposes of this paper, but they merit passing attention. The disparate offerings fall prey to the single dominating error that vitiates the Review. It gave no thought to first principles, and, in particular, to the sole issue in every contact dispute: what are the child’s best interests in terms of post-separation contact?   

if we do not know this, and are not concerned to know, then how can (e.g.) an “information hub” provide parents with useful information; and, how can parents know which parent is liable to penalised by costs for being “unreasonable”? 

And so on: there is little point in trying to find a way to do things better if we do not know what we are trying to do. 
in the alternative, if we do know this, the Review is otiose: it could and should have proceeded ‘Straight to Go’ by a proper restructuring of the legal system based around these principles - as set out in the reform project it overlooked.

Either way, the Review did not reach its starting point. It tried to run before it could walk. 

There is no joined-up thinking. 

These pages now turn to two inter-related topics:

        what went wrong 

the overlooked problems and their overlooked solution 


The Review was independent in name only. 

In practical terms, this Review was conducted by and on behalf of Whitehall and the  civil service -  in the context where the lead Whitehall department has an unbroken record of maladministration - to conceal - going back until at least the mid 1990s. 

The well-known results of this type of venture (Nothing are as anticipated .

These propositions are made good in the Appendix One, A Recipe for Failure.


An independent observer coming to this sector for the first time can hardly fail to be struck by two salient facts: 

(i)      recommendations in Section 8 cases (about how much contact should be introduced how quickly in what circumstances) are customarily made by an agency called “CAFCASS”

(ii)     CAFCASS’s recommendations are given great weight by the Court in each case; and, in the great majority of cases, the CAFCASS recommendation is ordered by the court

On these facts, it is self-evident both that the common determinant of contact orders are the recommendations of CAFCASS (which represent the way the law is interpreted and applied); and hence, that the recommendations of CAFCASS underpin the integrity of the private law Family Law system in relation to contact.

An independent observer, armed with this knowledge, would soon direct his attention towards CAFCASS.

The “bottleneck” through which family law cases pass is this: are CAFCASS officers appropriately trained?

The Review did not get this far. Eighteen months were spent on peripherals, while the primary issue went unaddressed. 

A little spadework, conducted below, will confirm the upshot: that neither the department nor the Review -

knows how the law is interpreted

knows what the law is

It follows that neither the department nor the Review are well-placed to make useful contributions. 

They have not reached first base.

This point is made good herewith, under these two headings in the Appendices:

   	(i)   Not Knowing How the Law is Interpreted

		(ii)  Not Knowing What the Law is


This brings us back to where we began: this Review, just like its departmentally-led predecessors, is a sterile exercise in churning; and, this Review was so-constituted that it did not and could not identify the problems it was supposed to address; and that, as a result, it overlooked the solution; with the end-effect that, to quote, the Review proposes: 

     “to spend time and money on making things worse

                as opposed to 

     saving time and money by making things better”

A reasonable working assumption, to be overturned on good evidence, is that the Review went just as wide of the mark in public law. 

That is outside the scope of this paper.

As far as private law is concerned, the Review has come to nothing. 

Perhaps we can now go back to where we were, before the Review was interposed by the department. 

As at the start of the review-process, there is still only one viable proposal on the table; and, there will still be no progress in the management of Section 8 applications until this proposal, or some equivalent variant, is adopted; because, until this proposal (or its equivalent) is adopted, the problem that has to be addressed will not have been addressed. 

The first three pages of the relevant proposal are re-submitted in the immediately ensuing pages for the Review’s first attention. Thereafter this document turns to the Appendices:

The Composition of the Review: A Recipe for Failure?

2.  Detailed Workings Showing that neither the Review nor the department:

- knows how the law is interpreted 

- knows what the law is

 3. Are CAFCASS officers trained in what sort of recommendations to make?
N.A.T.C.                      NEW  APPROACHES  TO CONTACT

56 Perrers Road London W6 OEZ                              020 8748 1081


Save where noted otherwise, the comments in this document 
apply only to private law Section 8 disputes

The 2010 submission to the Review – page 1

Re: The NATC “Early Interventions” Pilot Project

“This is the way forward … it would be incomprehensible if the Pilot Project did not receive official sanction from the DfES and the Department for Constitutional Affairs. 

The Pilot does not involve a huge investment; it would achieve savings in money and court time; it should produce much better outcomes for parents and children.”

The Honourable Mrs Justice Bracewell DBE,
       15 July 2003, Hardwicke Building, Lincoln's Inn

NATC 29.9.10

The 2010 submission to the Review – page 2

From Family Law 2004, quoting Family Law 2003:

 “The EI project, formally submitted to the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) on 8 October 2003, after 8 years’ development, was fully specified, properly designed and costed. It commanded across-the-board professional support. The position at that time was clear cut: 

‘The need was not so much for an open‑ended inquiry into what to do but the more proactive task of ensuring that an early interventions trial actually occurred. ([2003] Fam Law 455)’

It is now 2010.

The department has delayed the EI project for seven years
The 2010 submission to the Review – page 3


PART 1: Recommendations 								p 4

PART 2: Overlooking the Solution 							p 5

  The reforms the department hopes to frustrate						p 6
  Reasons why 							 			p 11

  Getting the Law Back to Front 								p 12		

PART 3: Problems: how, why, and what has gone wrong 			p 13

Credentials of the NATC and the EI reforms						p 14
The 2003 and the 2010 efforts to prevent the EI reforms 				p 15
The Benefits Foregone 									p 17
Family Law in Jeopardy 									p 19
The Project 										p 20
Getting Things Wrong									p 23
Getting Things Right									p 26
Chronology  										p 28
Getting the Legal Framework Right							p 29
EI: the Fruits of Reason 												p 29
Triage													p 30
Some Sample Papers 													p 33

PART 4: The Maladministration of Family Policy 					p 37

   CAFCASS Training													p  44

PART 5: A Note on Presumptions							p 46


Private Law Only: Section 8


The Composition of the Review: A Recipe for Failure?

2.  Detailed Workings Showing that neither the Review nor the department:

- knows how the law is interpreted and applied

- knows what the law is

 3. Are CAFCASS officers trained in what sort of recommendations to make? (No)


The Composition of the Review: A Recipe for Failure?

There is a close correspondence between:

     -  the unique and disabling oversights of the Review

     -  the unique and disabling oversights  of the lead Whitehall department 

What the department did not know, or did not want to know, the Review did not find out. The same striking errors-of-commission, and the same striking errors-of-omission, and the same striking lapses of logic, are evident in each. The fingerprints of one are the fingerprints of the other.  

The question arises of whether this was an independent Review. 

It is perhaps better considered as a Whitehall ‘self-assessment’ of the type commonly conducted by and for civil servants, with the common outcome of:

paving-over established error  and
providing a department with displacement activities

There were six panel members on the Review,  supported by three senior departmental officials, with some half-a-dozen in-house Whitehall staff assigned from the Ministry of Justice. 

The panel was intended to review a legal system: 

only one panel member was a lawyer 
the Chair was unfamiliar with this sector 
panel members were unpaid
some or most of the panel did not attend some or most of the time
some or most of the submissions to the Review were not read

With the exception of the single judge, we thus have:

an absentee, part-time panel of laymen
led by a family law novitiate and Whitehall insider
supported and organized by numerous full-time paid Whitehall staff
working to Whitehall’s direction and behest

The calibre and intent of the Whitehall staff is a question. 

Of the three senior departmental officials, the most knowledgeable was from the lead department in this area: the MOJ’s Director of Civil, Family and Legal Aid Policy.

This person, who has been employed in this sector for approaching twenty years,  remains unaware that CAFCASS are not trained in their job (1996). She was a long-standing consenting member of the policy unit for the period when the department based its activities (2000 and continuing?) on the fallacy that a presumption of reasonable contact was already in place. 

It is reasonable to rate this person as the most knowledgeable salaried Whitehall official on the Review; and to opine that she knows little or nothing of material import about this sector (see over). 
The part-time amateur panel was surrounded by its full-time professional civil service staff.  

The panel’s time was disbursed going down (or being led down) the wrong tramlines, talking to the wrong people about the wrong things - with the end-result that the department has been left free to re-repeat the same gross and obvious mistakes into their third decade. 

N.A.T.C.                      NEW  APPROACHES  TO CONTACT

56 Perrers Road London W6 OEZ                              020 8748 1081

Sarah Albon
Director of Civil, Family and Legal Aid Policy
The Ministry of Justice
102 Petty France
London SW1H 9AJ

27 September 2010

Dear Sarah Albon

The 2010 Obstruction of Family Policy (Private Law): An Abuse of Process ? 

I refer to our meeting of 24 September 2010:

you agreed that the law is the opposite of what the department says it is (in the Green Paper, Parental Separation)

it follows that the Ministry has conducted, and conducts, its policy on a delusional basis

for instance, you confirmed that actually there is no principle in law to prevent all material child-parent contact from being stopped for no material reason; but, you do not appreciate that, if this is the outcome one parent wants, this outcome will occur as a matter of routine       

in addition, you had yet to discover that CAFCASS, on whom the Courts place reliance, has no training in what recommendations to make; and, keeps no records of the recommendations they make: as drawn to the Ministry’s attention for 14 years

Insouciance on this scale (the above are mere samples) has a natural counterpart in institutional inutility and a prolific wastage of public funds. In this vein, you are playing an active role in stopping the Tory Minister from being briefed on the EI project, which:

 was and is “a key point” in Tory family policy
 saves hundreds of millions of pounds p.a. – by a simple change to procedure
delivers the legal framework the department says is, and should be, in place

Indeed, as you have not read the EI project papers, you cannot brief the Minister on this project, which (i) has a full implementation plan and (ii) the endorsement of the relevant senior professionals. Instead, you are embarking on a blank ‘review’ - open to all-comers - to find out what the problems are - which the EI project has already resolved.    

I rather think the Minister should now be told. On reflection, don’t you? Otherwise, we’ll waste bags of time and money. Can I please hear with a date in Jonathan Djanogly’s diary? 

Yours sincerely,

Oliver Cyriax

Detailed Workings Showing that neither the Review nor the department:

know how the law is interpreted and applied

know what the law is


An independent observer coming new to this sector can hardly fail to note: 

(i)     that recommendations in Section 8 cases (about how much contact should be introduced how quickly in what circumstances) are customarily made by an agency called “CAFCASS”

(ii)   that CAFCASS’s recommendations are given great weight by the Court in each case; and, in the great majority of cases, the CAFCASS recommendation is ordered by the court

On these facts, it is self-evident both that the common determinant of contact orders are the recommendations of CAFCASS (which represent the way the law is interpreted and applied); and, that the recommendations of CAFCASS  underpin the integrity of the private law Family Law system in relation to contact.

An independent observer, armed with this knowledge, would soon direct his attention towards CAFCASS.

The “bottleneck” through which family law cases pass is this: are CAFCASS officers appropriately trained?

The Review: Not Knowing How the Law is Interpreted
Cursory inquiry of CAFCASS will confirm that CAFCASS gives its officers no training on:

(a)    how much contact should be introduced 
(b)    how quickly  and 
(c)    in what circumstances 

Further inquiry will confirm that these three factors, taken together, are the issue in every contact dispute point and the point of every CAFCASS report.

The match is exact. In  every Section 8 report on contact, the agency’s task is to recommend:

(a)    how much contact should be introduced 
(b)    how quickly  and 
(c)    in what circumstances 

This is CAFCASS’s job. It is:

(a)    the job on which the court relies on CAFCASS as experts

(b)    a job for which CAFCASS is untrained

On this single point, and for this single reason (which is gross and obvious) the family law system is:

- running on empty

- built on sand

- suspect, tainted, mismanaged, inflammatory, dangerous and inchoate 

In addition, needless litigation may be fomented each year in its tens of thousands of cases.  

Persons of conservative temperament habitually agree that it is easier to put things right when you understand what is wrong.

If actual conduct is anything to go by, the department has adopted the nostrum that ignorance, including self-imposed ignorance, is bliss. This attitude appears to have  permeated the Review’s thinking. Fifteen years on, neither the Review, nor the department, have taken on board the fact that CAFCASS - whose job it is to make contact-recommendations that are “in the child’s best interest” - has no guidance on what the child’s best interests actually are - in respect of contact.  

Some or most case-outcomes are tainted at a stroke. 

This position, of the utmost gravity, has been fully known to, and unacted upon by, the department since the middle of the decade before last. Further enquiry, from those who know about these things, would establish that this same 
oversight :

(i)    has been in unbroken place since the creation of the FCWS in the 1970/80s

(ii)   first came to light on 10 June 1996, i.e., sixteen years ago
  (iii) has subsequently been drawn to the department’s attention many 
         thousands of  times in writing (documentation available)


                     (iv) the first remedial step remains untaken, by CAFCASS or the department

      The Extent of the Gaffe

The root of the problems in the family justice system is that CAFCASS is not trained. 

To put this oversight in a proper light, CAFCASS officers have yet to receive the first indication on whether, in a case involving the same two normal parents,  normal contact should be introduced: 

(a) in seven minutes 


(b) in seven years

However, this is merely the “how quickly should contact be introduced” point: just one of the four variable indices in assessing how much contact should be recommended. The second axis, on which CAFCASS  officers are equally at sea, is this: what constitutes normal contact anyway?  And the third, what might constitute a normal parent ? And fourth, what other factors should effect a case’s outcome ?

Taking these four variables together, all of which have escaped preliminary definition, it is apparent, first, that CAFCASS subsists in a “cloud of unknowing” that vitiates the  Section 8 sector as to its generality; and, that any recommendation  (including opposite recommendations on the same facts) can equally be put forward “in the child’s best interests”; and, that the discretion accorded to CAFCASS is in the order of thousandfolds; and, that no CAFCASS recommendation can be assessed (because  all are equally valid, whether molehills-into-mountains or mountains-into-molehills); and that, in this context, anything can be a matter for protracted litigation; and, that recommendations which happen to be in the wrong ballpark could have deleterious consequences of the first water - extending for decades - not excluding e.g. the unwarranted loss of a child and the unwarranted loss of a parent. 

There are, of course, more serious issues than the wrongful removal of a child. Nonetheless, for almost all time, and through almost all history, such an affront has rightly been ranked an injury of the first magnitude. But the obvious cause of such happenstances, routinely, on a national scale, by a distorted process of law, has been tolerated by the department with equanimity for decades.  

This oversight has serious administrative consequences: 

CAFCASS cannot resolve disputes in advance by telling parents what should happen (because it does not know) 

mediation cannot work to optimal effect (because no-one knows what should be ordered if the parents cannot agree)

training is impossible in any significant way

parent information classes are misdirected

All this has passed by the Review and the department, 1996-2011 and continuing. 

Every previous Review has likewise closed its eyes to these facts. 

It is self-evident that if CAFCASS is the prime determinant (or a prime determinant) of court orders made under the Act, the Act would work better if CAFCASS made the right sort of recommendations rather than the wrong sort of recommendations. 

It is likewise clear that if CAFCASS cannot say what is right or wrong in any given category of case (it has yet to recognize that there are categories of cases) it should not do so; and similarly, it is plain that if CAFCASS did know what it was doing, it would hardly have to do it.

Elementary logic of this type remains beyond the department and beyond CAFCASS, and beyond the reach of the Review. 

Ancillary consequences are that neither the department, nor CAFCASS, nor the Review, have thought it worthwhile to find out what case outcomes actually are.  All three agencies are oblivious to the output of the system of which they are part. The upshot is that none of these entities can know how the law is interpreted. CAFCASS does not know, because (i) its staff act to no definable template and (b) it keeps no records and (c) neither does anyone else. All we have is one Cloud of Self-imposed Unknowing - as envelope to the next Cloud of Self-imposed Unknowing – with these contiguous lacunae, impervious to thought, entered via a lapse of even greater proportions, detailed below - which similarly has passed the Review by.  

B. The Review: Not Knowing What the Law is

The department does not know what the law is. Unsurprisingly, this same oversight was inherited by the Review.

This means that the department (and the Review) were doubly unsighted: not only by not knowing what does happen in its caseload, but also by not knowing what should happen in its caseload - and, by definition, not knowing if there was a difference between the two. 

The department’s difficulties in this regard are historic. These difficulties constitute a further barrier to constructive thought: 

for many years, the department  was content to rely on the proposition that, whatever the law was, it was “in the child’s best interests”

by the early 2000s, a feeling arose that flesh might perhaps be put on these bones

in the early 2000s, the department duly made a guess at what the law was

the department guessed wrong, getting the law back to front  

The department now seems more to think that there is no such presumption, with occasional side-pronouncements that there should not be a presumption of contact at all, and the allied difficulties that, if every case is different, it would be wrong for there to be a presumption.

These difficulties are compounded by a departmental lack of knowledge on what the desired presumption might mean, and whether it might already exist, and (i) whether it can be defined and (ii) whether it should be defined and (iii) who might apply it if it was defined.

This means that the department and the Review face a further intellectual hurdle of formidable proportions. 

The problem is that, unbeknown to the department, invisible concepts (like the “presumptive framework” of Children Act litigation) actually have a meaning – and, this meaning takes form as institutional realities in the here-and-now.  This realization too lies in the department’s future – but, dependent on whether or not there is a presumption of meaningful contact, and dependent on whether it is desirable for there to be one, the various family law agencies within the department’s remit have for years: 

(a) either been doing the right thing, or 

(b) been doing the wrong thing 

Agencies produce results because they are “geared” to produce them. 

If this gearing is wrong, these agencies (one by one) have to re-geared. 

No-one knows this. No-one knows who or what has to re-geared, in what way, when, or how, or why. The concept is not yet on the horizon. 

Overlooking the Solution

To put this another way, the department does not know (and has no means of knowing) what has to be changed, or how, or why – both as to the law itself and as to the institutions that process the law. On all these issues the department (and the Review) are at sea, with decades of confused and circular deliberation in store, before the core problems are even approached. 

The four core steps the department has to take are: 

to arrive at a correct understanding on what the law is

to arrive at a correct understanding on what the law should be

to define what (ii) above means

to devise a way to apply the law as it should be 

However, before making the attempt, the department (and any successor Review) must first dispose of its preliminary Vestments of Illusion – for instance, by an appreciation that in CAFCASS an institutional unthinkability (an agency that does not know what it is meant to do) has been condoned; and, by an appreciation that the various checks-and-balances, and precepts and principles, relied on by the department and the Review are imaginary.  

To use a metaphor, before useful construction can commence, the site of operations has first to be identified and cleared of rubbish: 

(i)     persons of reasonable capacity, with professional knowledge of this area, could get round this course in an afternoon 

(ii)    the department, and Reviews of the present type, should be allowed anywhere up to half a century for the same task  

It is not clear that this is quite the way to proceed.

Attention reverts to the NATC submission to the Review of 30 September 2011 where the four core points overlooked by the department, which it cannot yet discern, are taken in hand:

      Point 34 (i)  	- resolved

      Point 34 (ii) 	- resolved

      Point 34 (iii) 	- resolved 

      Point 34 (iv)  - resolved

The choice before the Review is whether to waste more lives, and more public money, probably for decades, in a ruminative endeavour to reinvent the wheel. 

Q: Are CAFCASS officers trained in what sort of recommendations to make?
A: No
    There is no-one home:

-----Original Message-----
From: Oliver Cyriax []
Sent: 03 December 2010 14:37 To: Shearer, Eileen - Cafcass
Subject: CAFCASS Training: Section 8 disputes


We spoke this September.

You confirmed then that CAFCASS practitioners did not have written-down guidance on how much contact to recommend in what sort of circumstances, i.e., on how long the contact-sessions should be, and how fast (and if - and when) contact should progress to the next level.

Various members of your organisation have confirmed that there is, of course, no such guidance - for the simple reason that every case is different - and every recommendation is made in the child's best interests.

Could you confirm this is still the position - and that are no such guidelines?

If by any chance things have changed, I would be very grateful for sight of the documentation.

Many thanks

Oliver Cyriax


Begin forwarded message:
From: "Shearer, Eileen - Cafcass" <>
Date: 3 December 2010 17:33:29 GMT To: "''" <>
Subject: FW: CAFCASS Training: Section 8 disputes

Dear Oliver,
Thanks for your query. You are correct that the situation has not changed.
Best wishes
For good measure, the next page sets out the sum-total of available knowledge (zero) passed from the FCWS to CAFCASS in the year 2000 after a quarter of a century. As above, nothing has changed since. By now it is likely that almost the only thing CAFCASS has not considered is its job. The department has known of this deficit, and stood idly by, since 1996. 
(prepared by ACPO Peter Jeffries)

   No framework is set out. No method of assessment is outlined. Any recommendation 
   can flow from any facts. No indication is given if officers should think in terms of a 50/50 split or 12 hours a year in a ‘contact centre’.  Vague generalisations are followed by rhetorical questions without clarification on what to do or how to do it 

The Totality of Advice on The Service’s Job (73 words):

“HOW LONG: How long should contact last? If visits are very short parent and child may find it difficult to be relaxed with each other. The relationship which currently exists between non-resident parent and child is crucial as are the parenting skills and understanding he/she has of the child’s position and needs
HOW OFTEN: What should be the frequency of contact? The horizons of young children are much shorter than for adults or teenagers”

Any ideas conforming to this template (i.e. anything) will pass quality control
A Brief History of the Welfare Service

      1970s-1996    Officers with zero training write reports on, say, 500,000 children
      1996               Lack of training exposed
      1996-2000      Home Office and LCD obstruct introduction of training

Extent of Training Manual: 21 pages, some half empty; 18 months in preparation
Author: Criminal Probation Officer believed to lack experience of welfare work
Purpose: ‘spoiler’ to prevent implementation of useful guidelines prepared by the Service’s only professional association
Reason for obstructing training: to prevent exposure of (i) prior lack of training  (ii) consequences of prior lack of training

Family Courts without a Lawyer ( Litigant in Person )

Filed under: Secret family courts — Granarchist @ 11:17 pm


cover of family courts without a lawyer lucy reedThis website accompanies the bookFamily Courts without a Lawyer: A Handbook for Litigants in Person. The book and website help if you are involved in disputes with your ex over divorce, money or children and do not have a lawyer to represent you in court.

You will find here downloadable versions of all the useful documents, templates and suggested clauses presented in the book plus links to the core sources and agencies cited. Just click on the Resources tab above

Armed with the book and this website, you will be able toread a review on The Guardian present your own case effectively and confidently before the judge, increasing your chances of achieving a good outcome.

Or order your copy now – call 01202 712934 or order online from our distributors here

Find out more about

bar pro bono unit logoThe author and publisher are donating £1 to the Bar Pro Bono Unit for every copy of the book sold.

The Negative Affects of Foster Care

Filed under: Secret family courts — Granarchist @ 11:14 pm

The negative effects of foster care

Individuals who were in foster care experience higher rates of physical and psychiatric morbidity than the general population.[24] In a study of adults who were in foster care in Oregon and Washington state, they were found to have double the incidence ofdepression, 20% as compared to 10% and were found to have a higher rate of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than combat veterans with 25% of those studied having PTSD. Children in foster care have a higher probability of having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and deficits in executive functioninganxiety as well other developmental problems.[25][26][27][28] These children experience higher degrees of incarcerationpovertyhomelessness, and suicide. Recent studies in the U.S., suggests that, foster care placements are more detrimental to children than remaining in a troubled home.[29][30][31]


Foster care has been shown in various studies to have deleterious consequences on the physical health and mental wellbeing of those who were in foster care. Many children enter foster care at a very young age, a period where the development of mental and psychological processes are at one of their critical peaks. The human brain doesn’t fully develop until approximately the age of twenty, and one of the most critical periods of brain development occurs in the first 3–4 years. The processes that govern the development of personality traits, stress response and cognitive skills are formed during this period. The developing brain is directly influenced by negative environmental factors including lack of stimulation due to emotional neglect, poor nutrition, exposure to violence in the home environment and child abuse.[citation needed]

Negative environmental influences have a direct effect on all areas of neurodevelopment: neurogenesis (creation of new neurons),apoptosis (death and reabsorption of neurons), migration (of neurons to different regions of the brain), synaptogenesis (creation ofsynapses), synaptic sculpturing (determining the make-up of the synapse), arborization (the growth of dendritic connections ,myelinzation (protective covering of neurons), and an enlargement of the brain’s ventricles, which can cause corticalatrophy.[citation needed]

Most of the processes involved in healthy neurodevelopment are predicated upon the establishment of close nurturing relationships and environmental stimulation. Foster children have elevated levels of cortisol, a stress hormone in comparison to children raised by their biological parents. Elevated cortisol levels can compromise the immune system. (Harden BJ, 2004).[32]Negative environmental influences during this critical period of brain development can have lifelong consequences.[33][34][35][36]

[edit]Epigenetic effects of environment

Gene expression can be affected by the environment through epigenetic mechanisms. Negative environmental influences, such as maternal deprivation, child abuse and stress[37][38] have been shown to have a profound effect on gene expression, includingtransgenerational epigenetic effects in which physiological and behavioral (intellectual) transfer of information across generations-not-yet-conceived is effected. In the Överkalix study in Sweden, the effects of epigentic inheritance were shown to have a direct correlation to the environmental influences faced by the parents and grandparents.[39] Many physiological and behavioral characteristics ascribed to Mendelian inheritance are due in fact to transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. The implications in terms of foster care and the cost to society as a whole is that the stress, deprivation and other negative environmetal factors many foster children are subjected to has a detrimental effect not only their physical, emotional and cognitive well-being, but that the damage can transcend generations.[40][41][42]

In studies of the adult offspring of Holocaust survivors, parental PTSD was a risk factor for the development of PTSD in adult offspring in comparison to those whose parents went through the Holocaust without developing PTSD. The offspring of survivors with PTSD had lower levels of urinary cortisol excretion, salivary cortisol and enhanced plasma cortisol suppression in response to low dose dexamethasone administration than offspring of survivors without PTSD. Low cortisol levels are associated with parental, particularly maternal, PTSD. This is in contrast to the normal stress response in which cortisol levels are elevated after exposure to a stressor. The results of the study point to the involvement of epigenetic mechanisms.[43][44]

Epigenetic Effects of Abuse

“In addition, the effects of abuse may extend beyond the immediate victim into subsequent generations as a consequence of epigenetic effects transmitted directly to offspring and/or behavioral changes in affected individuals. (Neighh GN et al.2009)[45]

It has been suggested in various studies that the deleterious epigentic effects may be somewhat ameliorated through pharmacological manipulations in adulthood via the administration of nerve growth factor-inducible protein A,[46] and through the inhibition of a class of enzymes known as the histone deacetylases (HDACs). “HDAC inhibitors (HDACIs) such as Trichostatin A(TSA); “TSA can be used to alter gene expression by interfering with the removal of acetyl groups from histones”, and L-methionine an essential amino acid, have been developed for the treatment of a variety of malignancies and neurodegenerative disorders. Drug combination approaches have also shown promise for the treatment of mood disorders including bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression.”[47][48]

[edit]Post traumatic stress disorder

Regions of the brain associated with stress and post traumatic stress disorder[49]

Children in foster care have a higher incidence of Post traumatic stress disorder(PTSD).In one study (Dubner and Motta, 1999)[50] 60% of children in foster care who had experienced sexual abuse had PTSD, and 42% of those who had been physically abused fulfilled the PTSD criteria. PTSD was also found in 18% of the children who were not abused. These children may have developed PTSD due to witnessing violence in the home. (Marsenich, 2002).

In a study conducted in Oregon and Washington state, the rate of PTSD in adults who were in foster care for one year between the ages of 14-18 was found to be higher than that of combat veterans, with 25 percent of those in the study meeting the diagnostic criteria as compared to 12-13 percent of Iraq war veterans and 15 percent of Vietnam war veterans, and a rate of 4% in the general population. The recovery rate for foster home alumni was 28.2% as opposed to 47% in the general population.

“More than half the study participants reported clinical levels of mental illness, compared to less than a quarter of the general population”.[51][52]

[edit]Eating disorders

Foster children are at increased risk for a variety of eating disorders, in comparison to the general population.

Obesity children in foster care are more prone to becoming overweight and obese, and in a study done in the United Kingdom, 35% of foster children experienced an increase in Body Mass Index (BMI) once in care.[53]

Hyperphagic Short Stature syndrome (HSS) is a condition characterized by short stature due to insufficient growth hormone production, an excessive appetite (hyperphagia) and mild learning disabilities. While it is believed to have genetic component, HSS is triggered by being exposed to an environment of high psychosocial stress; it is not uncommon in children in foster homes or other stressful environments. HSS improves upon removal from the stressful environment.[54][55][56]

Food Maintenance Syndrome is characterized by a set of aberrant eating behaviors of children in foster care. It is “a pattern of excessive eating and food acquisition and maintenance behaviors without concurrent obesity”; it resembles “the behavioral correlates of Hyperphagic Short Stature”. It is hypothesised that this syndrome is triggered by the stress and maltreatment foster children are subjected to, it was prevalent amongst 25 percent of the study group in New Zealand.[26]

Bulimia Nervosa is seven times more prevalent among former foster children than in the general population.[57]

[edit]Disorganized attachment

A study by Dante Cicchetti found that 80% of abused and maltreated infants in his study exhibited symptoms of disorganized attachment.[58][59] Children with histories of maltreatment, such as physical and psychological neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse, are at risk of developing psychiatric problems.[60][61][62][63] These children may be described as experiencing trauma as the result of abuse or neglect, inflicted by a primary caregiver, which disrupts the normal development of secure attachment. Such children are at risk of developing a disorganized attachment.[62][64][65] Disorganized attachment is associated with a number of developmental problems, including dissociative symptoms,[66] as well as depressive, anxiety, and acting-out symptoms.[67][68]

[edit]Child abuse

Children in foster care experience high rates of child abuse, emotional deprivation, and physical neglect. In one study in theUnited Kingdom “foster children were 7-8 times, and children in residential care 6 times more likely to be assessed by a pediatrician for abuse than a child in the general population”.[69]

[edit]Poverty and homelessness

New York street children; 1890

Nearly half of foster kids in the U.S. become homeless when they turn 18.[70][71] “One of every 10 foster children stays in foster care longer than seven years, and each year about 15,000 reach the age of majority and leave foster care without a permanent family—many to join the ranks of the homeless or to commit crimes and be imprisoned.[72][73]

Three out of 10 of the United States homeless are former foster children.[74] According to the results of the Casey Family Study of Foster Care Alumni, up to 80 percent are doing poorly—with a quarter to a third of former foster children at or below the poverty line, three times the national poverty rate.[75] Very frequently, people who are homeless had multiple placements as children: some were in foster care, but others experienced “unofficial” placements in the homes of family or friends.

Individuals with a history foster care tend to become homeless at an earlier age than those who were not in foster care and Caucasians who become homeless are more likely to have a history of foster care than Hispanics or African Americans[citation needed]. The length of time a person remains homeless is prolonged in indiviuals who were in foster care.[76]

[edit]Suicide-death rate

Children in foster care are at a greater risk of suicide,[77] the increased risk of suicide is still prevalent after leaving foster care and occurs at a higher rate than the general population. In a study of Texas youths who aged out of the system 23 percent had a history of suicide attempts.[78]

Swedish study utilizing the data of almost one million people including 22,305 former foster children who had been in care prior to their teens, concluded:

Former child welfare clients were in year of birth and sex standardised risk ratios (RRs) four to five times more likely than peers in the general population to have been hospitalised for suicide attempts….Individuals who had been in long-term foster care tended to have the most dismal outcome…former child welfare/protection clients should be considered a high-risk group for suicide attempts and severe psychiatric morbidity.[79]

Death rate

Children in foster care have an overall higher mortality rate than children in the general population.[80] A study conducted inFinland among current and former foster children up to age 24 found a higher mortality rate due to substance abuse, accidents, suicide and illness. The deaths due to illness were attributed to an increased incidence of acute and chronic medical conditions and developmental delays among children in foster care.[81]

[edit]Poor academic prospects

Educational outcomes of ex-foster children in the Northwest Alumni Study;
  • 56% completed high school compared to 82% of the general population, although an additional 29% of former foster children received a G.E.D. compared to an additional 5% of the general population.
  • 42.7% completed some education beyond high school.
  • 20.6% completed any degree or certificate beyond high school
  • 16.1% completed a vocational degree; 21.9% for those over 25.
  • 1.8% complete a bachelors degree , 2.7% for over 25, the completion rate for the general population in the same age group is 24%, a sizable difference.

Foster care has been proven in innumerable studies to not be conducive to academic performance. In a study conducted inPhiladelphia by Johns Hopkins University it was found that; among high school students who are in foster care, have been abused and neglected, or receive out of home placement by the courts, the probability of dropping out of school is greater than 75%.[82]

[edit]State abuses in the United States

[edit]Drug testing

Throughout the 1990s, experimental HIV drugs were tested on HIV-positive foster children at Incarnation Children’s Center in Harlem. The agency has also been accused of racism, some comparing the trials to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, as 98 percent of children in foster care in New York City belong to ethnic minorities.[83]

[edit]Unnecessary/over medication

Studies”[84] have revealed that youth in foster care covered by Medicaid insurance receive psychotropic medication at a rate that was 3 times higher than that of Medicaid-insured youth who qualify by low family income. In a review (September 2003 to August 2004) of the medical records of 32,135 Texas foster care 0–19 years-old, 12,189 were prescribed psychotropic medication, resulting in an annual prevalence of 37.9% of these children being prescribed medication. 41.3% received 3 different classes of these drugs during July 2004, and 15.9% received 4 different classes. The most frequently used medications wereantidepressants (56.8%), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder drugs (55.9%), and antipsychotic agents (53.2%).

Concomitant psychotropic medication treatment is frequent for youth in foster care and lacks substantive evidence as to its effectiveness and safety”.[84]

– Psychotropic medication patterns among youth in foster care., Pediatrics 2008

Psychiatrists prescribed 93% of the psychotropic medication, and it was noted in the review of these cases that the use of expensive, brand name, patent protected medication was prevalent. In the case of SSRIs the use of the most expensive medications was noted to be 74%, in the general market only 28% are for brand name SSRI’s vs generics. The average out-of-pocket expense per prescription was $34.75 for generics and $90.17 for branded products, a $55.42, difference.[85]

[edit]Sexual abuse and negligence

One study by Johns Hopkins University found that the rate of sexual abuse within the foster-care system is more than four times as high as in the general population; in group homes, the rate of sexual abuse is more than 28 times that of the general population.[86][87] An Indiana study found three times more physical abuse and twice the rate of sexual abuse in foster homes than in the general population.[87] A study of foster children in Oregon and Washington State found that nearly one third reported being abused by a foster parent or another adult in a foster home.[88] These statistics do not speak to the situation these children are coming from, but it does show the very large problem of child-on-child sexual abuse within the system. There have been several notable lawsits concerning sexual abuse and negligence that caused review of the foster care system in some states:

In 2010, an ex-foster child was awarded $30 million by jury trial in California (Santa Clara County) for sexual abuse damages that happened to him in his foster home from 1995 to 1999.[89][90] The foster parent, John Jackson, was licensed by the state, despite the fact that he abused his own wife and son, overdosed on drugs and was arrested for drunken driving. In 2006, Jackson was convicted in Santa Clara County of nine counts of lewd or lascivious acts on a child by force, violence, duress, menace and fear, and seven counts of lewd or lascivious acts on a child under 14, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.[89]The sex acts he forced the children in his foster care to perform sent him to prison for 220 years. Later in 2010, Giarretto Institute, the private foster family agency responsible for licensing and monitoring Jackson’s foster home and others, also was found to be negligent and liable for 75 percent of the abuse that was inflicted on the victim, and Jackson himself was liable for the rest.[89]

In 2009, Oregon Department of Human Services agreed to pay $2 million into a fund for the future care of twins who were allegedly abused by their foster parents; this was the largest such settlement in the agency’s history.[91] According to the civil rights suit filed on request of twins’ adoptive mother in December 2007 in U.S. Federal Court, the children were kept in makeshift cages—cribs covered with chicken wire secured by duct tape—in a darkened bedroom known as “the dungeon.” The brother and sister often went without food, water or human touch. The boy, who had a shunt put into his head at birth to drain fluid, didn’t receive medical attention, so when police rescued the twins he was nearly comatose. The same foster family previously took into their care hundreds of other children over nearly four decades.[92] DHS said the foster parents deceived child welfare workers during the checkup visits.[91]

Several lawsuits were brought in 2008 against the Florida Department of Children & Families (DCF), accusing it of mishandling reports that Thomas Ferrara, 79, a foster parent, was molesting young girls.[93][94] The suits claimed that even though there were records of sexual misconduct allegations against Ferrara in 1992, 1996, and 1999, the DCF continued to place foster children with Ferrara and his then-wife until 2000.[93] Ferrara was arrested in 2001, after a 9-year-old girl told detectives he regularly molested her over two years and threatened to hurt her mother if she told anyone. Records show that Ferrara had as many as 400 children go through his home during his 16 years as a licensed foster parent (from 1984 to 2000).[93] Officials stated that the lawsuits over Ferrara ended up costing the DCF almost $2.26 million.[94] Similary, in 2007 Florida‘s DCF paid $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit that alleged DCF ignored complaints that another mentally disabled Immokalee girl was being raped by her foster father, Bonifacio Velazquez, until the 15-year-old gave birth to a child.[95][96][97]

In a class action lawsuit Charlie and Nadine H. v. McGreevey[98] was filed in federal court by “Children’s Rights” New York organization on behalf of children in the custody of the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS).[99][100] The complaint alleged violations of the childrens’ constitutional rights and their rights under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, theChild Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, Early Periodic Screening Diagnosis and Treatment, 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, theAmericans with Disabilities Act, and the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA).[101] In July 2002, the federal court granted plaintiffs’ experts access to 500 children’s case files, allowing plaintiffs to collect information concerning harm to children in foster care through a case record review.[99] These files revealed numerous cases in which foster children were abused, and DYFS failed to take proper action. On June 9, 2004, the child welfare panel appointed by the parties approved the NJ State’s Reform Plan. The court accepted the plan on June 17, 2004.[100] The same organization also filed similar lawsuits against several other states in recent years that caused some of the states to start child welfare reforms.[102]

[edit]The lost children (Australia)

Children of the United Kingdom’s Children’s Migrant Programme

An estimated 150,000 British children were sent to overseas colonies and countries in the commonwealth such as Australia. This practice was in effect from the beginning of the nineteenth century until 1967. Many of these children were sent to orphanages, foster homes and religious institutions, where they were used as a free source of labor and many were severely abused and neglected. These children were classified as orphans although most were not. In the period after World War II the policy was dubbed the “Child Migrants Programme”. The prime consideration was money as it was cheaper to care for children in commonwealth countries than it was in the United Kingdom. At least 10,000 children, some as young as 3, were shipped to Australia after the war,[103][104] most to join the ranks of the “Forgotten Australians“, the term given for those who experienced care in foster homes and institutions in the 20th century. Among these Forgotten Australians were members of the “Stolen Generation“, the children of Australian Aborigines, forcibly removed from their homes and raised in white institutions. In 2008 Australian Prime MinisterKevin Ruddapologised to the approximately 500,000 “forgotten Australians” and in 2010 British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a similar apology to those who were victimised by the Child Migrants Programme.[105][106][107]


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[edit]Further reading

  • Hurley, Kendra (2002). “Almost Home” Retrieved June 27, 2006.
  • Carlson, E.A. (1998). “A prospective longitudinal study of disorganized/disoriented attachment”. Child Development 69 (4): 1107–1128. PMID 9768489.
  • Knowlton, Paul E. (2001). “The Original Foster Care Survival Guide”; A first person account directed to successfully aging out of foster care.
  • McCutcheon, James, 2010. “Historical Analysis and Contemporary Assessment of Foster Care in Texas: Perceptions of Social Workers in a Private, Non-Profit Foster Care Agency”. Applied Research Projects. Texas State University Paper 332.

[edit]External links

MP aims to remove legal hurdles for ‘kinship carers’

Filed under: Secret family courts — Granarchist @ 9:39 pm

MP aims to remove legal hurdles for ‘kinship carers’ It should be easier for grandparents and siblings to take on parental responsibilities if a parent is unable to look after their child, Labour’s Kerry McCarthy has argued. Under legislation proposed by Ms McCarthy on 7 June 2011, a “kinship carer” would be able to assume responsibility for a child without a lengthy and expensive legal process if the child’s parents agree. She said up to 300,000 children in the UK were being raised by relatives or friends of a parent who could not look after their child. Introducing her Kinship Carers (Parental Responsibility Agreement) Bill she told MPs: “Often these children have experienced tragedy or trauma due to the death or imprisonment of a parent or due to a parent’s alcohol or drug misuse or mental health problems. “Sometimes their parent has simply walked out on them.” She said the carers stepped in when there was a crisis “without pausing to think about practical matters such as what the legal arrangement would be or what sort of support they might need”. The bill was given an unopposed first reading but stands little chance of becoming law without government support.

June 19, 2011

ELIZABETH Jackson was already known to both police and social services by the time she died on July 24 2008.

Filed under: Secret family courts — Granarchist @ 6:03 pm

Niece continued in her role despite being found lying down in road

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Profile image for The SentinelThe Sentinel


ELIZABETH Jackson was already known to both police and social services by the time she died on July 24 2008.

Both authorities had been contacted several times by neighbours worried about the frail pensioner’s unusual living arrangements.

But because the 87-year-old repeatedly refused offers of support and care, staff at social services said there was nothing they could do.

Mrs Jackson was being cared for by her niece, Susan Murray, who suffered from a history of anxiety and mental health problems.

People living near the pair in Ford Green Road, Norton, reported hearing Mrs Murray screaming during the night, slamming doors, wandering around outside in her nightgown and even repeatedly reversing her car into the house.

On one occasion, in October 2006, Mrs Murray was sectioned under the Mental Health Act after she had been spotted lying down on Ford Green Road, a busy route in and out of the city. But she was quickly released and resumed her duties as her aunt’s carer – a responsibility she had taken on after Mrs Jackson suffered from heart failure in February 2005.

When the authorities visited Mrs Jackson’s home, they described it as dirty and cluttered. But social workers deemed Mrs Jackson mentally capable so respected her choice to remain in the care of her niece, despite their concerns for her welfare.

Yesterday Mrs Murray and her husband Stanley, who was living at the couple’s home in Milton Road, Sneyd Green, while his wife stayed in Norton, refused to give evidence at an inquest into Mrs Jackson’s death. The law allows people to avoid answering any questions during a hearing which could lead to them incriminating themselves.

But in police interviews, the couple, who were deemed so mentally vulnerable they had to be accompanied by social workers while being quizzed by officers, denied ever assaulting Mrs Jackson.

But neither of them were able to explain how she had suffered from the injuries which led to her death.

The Murrays had called 999 at 7pm on July 23 2008 after they were unable to wake Mrs Jackson for six hours. They claimed they thought she was sleeping soundly on the sofa, but the pensioner had actually fallen unconscious due to a massive bleed in the brain, caused by some sort of blow to the head. She never regained consciousness and died from bronchial pneumonia caused by a severe haemorrhage.

Experts said it was impossible to tell if the head injury had been caused by deliberate violence or a fall.

A nurse caring for Mrs Jackson at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire discovered heavy make-up disguising several bruises on her face.

But Mrs Murray told police when she was interviewed under caution that her aunt had never worn make-up.

When DC Susan Wilson revealed that make-up had been discovered, Mrs Murray changed her story.

Ms Wilson told the inquest: “She said she put it on her face at about 11.30pm (on July 22) so she could sit in her wheelchair by the front door.”

Mrs Murray denied applying the concealer in a bid to hide her aunt’s bruises.

In a witness statement given to police the day after Mrs Jackson’s death, Mrs Murray said: “I tried to look after Betty as best I could. I mentioned to her whether she would be better off in a home but she said she didn’t want that.

“She said ‘promise you will never leave me’ and I never wanted to.”

She said Mrs Jackson, who had an extremely low Body Mass Index of 16 when she died, had lost her appetite and claimed it was a struggle to get her to eat and drink.

Detective Inspector Guy Titchener, from Staffordshire Police, said the force had exhausted all possible lines of inquiry.

He said: “We can’t establish with any degree of certainty exactly what happened to cause Mrs Jackson’s head injury.”

Councillor Olwen Hamer, pictured left, Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s cabinet member for adult social care, health and commissioning, said after the hearing a full internal investigation had been undertaken.

She said: “This is a tragic case. A full internal investigation was undertaken.

“The council acted within the law and acted appropriately. Staff had to make a judgment balancing the needs of the individual and their capabilities to make informed judgements and choices.

“Social services were repeatedly told by both Elizabeth Jackson and her niece that they did not want social care involvement.”

June 18, 2011

Staffordshire social worker pissed at work

Filed under: Secret family courts — Granarchist @ 11:24 pm

Social worker struck off over alcohol use

Kirsty McGregor
Friday 17 June 2011 16:16

A social worker who appeared to be under the influence of alcohol while at work has been struck off.

Deborah Stirling arrived at her workplace at Staffordshire Council while under the influence of alcohol on at least five occasions between April 2008 and August 2009, the General Social Care Council’s conduct committee heard.

A colleague giving evidence recalled how, at one particular resource allocation meeting in August 2008, Stirling “smelled like a brewery and was rambling”.

Another colleague described how Stirling had nearly crashed her car in the office car park after drinking.

Stirling did not attend the hearing, parts of which were heard in private under the GSCC’s health procedure.

Several Staffordshire employees praised Stirling’s social work practice.

However, the committee noted that the behaviour had extended over a lengthy period of time and had put Stirling and service users at risk, especially when she drank alcohol before driving.

There was a risk the behaviour would be repeated, the committee concluded, so removal from the register was the only way to protect the public.

June 4, 2011

How our judges deny human rights to children taken into care

Filed under: Secret family courts — Granarchist @ 9:35 pm

The right to family life – invoked to get a burglar out of prison, or a celebrity granted a super-injunction – is denied to many children, says Christopher Booker.

Torn apart: the system of child protection is a national scandal Photo: ALAMY
By Christopher Booker7:00PM BST 04 Jun 2011
At half past 10 one night, the week before last, several cars drew up outside a family home “somewhere in southern England”. A 12-year-old girl was asleep in bed upstairs. Earlier in the day, she had been fetched home from school because she was ill. Also in the house were her disabled father and her two brothers, in their twenties. One of them, I am told, recorded the events on video as the house filled with eight policemen, helping two social workers to drag the girl to a car. She was crying and protesting, “What have I done wrong?”
She had grabbed her mobile phone, but it was confiscated from her as she was handed over to a council foster-carer. Being a resourceful girl, she managed to smuggle two handwritten notes to her family over the next few days, saying that she was constantly crying at being “taken from my dad and my brothers, the only family I know and I love since I was born”. “I feel like I get punished for something I haven’t done, as I feel they are treating me like a prisoner.” She also briefly managed to get to a phone, to claim – her remarks were recorded – that she had been hit by her African foster-carer (the girl is white).
What made this truly bizarre was that it had never been alleged that the girl was in any danger at home. Social workers had only become involved with the family when she was maltreated by her mother, who left the house two years ago. Since then, social workers have maintained contact to confirm that she was being well cared for. They repeatedly told her, in her own words, that “my dad was a good dad, that my brothers looked after me properly and that I was not going to be removed from my family”.
Only a few days before she was snatched, the family had agreed to a care plan whereby the social workers would continue to keep an eye on her while she remained at home. But everything suddenly seemed to change after the father sent a confidential note to one of the social workers, making comments critical of the judge in the case. The note was apparently shown to the judge, and the following day the child was seized.
We have heard much recently, from judges and others, about human rights, notably Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, guaranteeing the right to privacy and to enjoy family life – free not least from interference by the state. It was under this right, for instance, that one judge released a burglar from prison to look after his family, while others granted super-injunctions to celebrities caught out in sexual misbehaviour.

The great black hole at the centre of the edifice of humbug built around Article 8 is the quite astonishing way in which judges and others involved in our peculiar “family protection” system too often manage wholly to disregard the human rights of children. No one can object where agents of the state intervene when children are genuinely in danger. But children may be snatched, far too readily, from loving homes, to be imprisoned in a “care system” where they are not only miserable and confused but are too often truly abused. The taking of children into care has soared in recent months to record levels. Meanwhile, ChildLine reports that the numbers – in their thousands – who annually complain of abuse in local authority care has risen in recent years by 32 per cent. In the dozens of cases I have been following, it is a story I have heard again and again.
The way such children are treated makes a mockery not just of the 1989 Children Act, which states that the interests of the child must be paramount, but also of the Human Rights Act. If the story told by this girl is as true as the evidence that I have seen and heard suggests it is, it might be argued that her rights have been infringed not just under Article 8, but Articles 3, 5, 6 and 7 as well. She ends one of her heart-rending letters pleading to be “represented in court by a solicitor of my choice”. “I strongly wish for the judge to respect my human rights, and to be present in court [for him] to hear my wishes.” But will the judge who placed her in this plight allow her that right (as enshrined in Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child)? And should this man alone have the right to decide whether her rights are to be respected?

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