Monday, 23 December 2013


A powerful video from a young lady called Aimee.

For those who might think she's been coerced into saying what she does in the video, please accept my assurance that she hasn't, and for her, this is her 'reality' of the legal system which kept her apart from her father, and keeps her apart from her sister.

I don't agree with her that the situation has got worse. I think things are improving in the family courts... BUT... for many children, and often regionally, things haven't got any better, and other children's reality will be no different from hers. Improvements aren't universal.

Why? Simply because so much of court outcome is dependent on subjective interpretation of what is in a child's best interests and interpretation (or misinterpretation) of what a child or the parents say. Where decisions are subjective, opinions are informed by perceptions based on our own, personal and historic reality. These may lead people to believe that a child is 'better off' with one parent. It might make us view one gender as more honest and reliable than the other. The motives for someone entering social work or psychology as a profession might be their own bad experiences as a child (which continue to shape their perceptions). Another word for this is bias (but bias often isn't deliberate, but subconscious). Many professionals in the system maintain their objectivity BUT... you only need one to derail the outcome in a case. It may be a CAFCASS Officer, or a social worker, a judge or an expert witness. One opinion, in one report, which becomes evidence... and then may be treated as 'fact'.

Just one opinion... one misinterpretation of what a child has said... one misguided assumption as to motive or intention of a parent... just one opinion, to cause a child like Aimee to spend 11 years waiting to see their father, and harmed by a system which is intended to protect them.

I see cases where the father has successful contact with one child, with no concerns, but is stopped from seeing their other child due to the intransigence of the other child's parents or carers. One mother says they're a good parent. The other casts them as a demon. The courts fail to act. A circus develops of assessment after assessment... contact centres used to appease the hostility of the non-complying parent... and when the non-complying parent refuses to send the child to the contact centre, rather than enforcement, welfare services excuse themselves from recommending enforcement by saying they need to maintain the relationship with the non-complying parent. This causes more delay, and the status quo becomes imbedded. More hearings happen... more judges involved (rather than there being judicial continuity). Years pass. Two children harmed... one parent devastated... a family failed.

There is improvement... but the improvement is not universal, and voices such as Aimee's need to be heard in the family law debate. An example of the high standards which do exist in the family courts is set by Mrs Justice Parker... and an article about a case before her comes as no surprise either in the way she handled it, or that among the social workers involved, allegations of domestic violence had been taken as fact. It takes a judge of her calibre to take an inquisitorial stance to evidence of both parents AND professionals involved in proceedings. This is not a judge who takes things at face measure (but others do, and will be cautious of going against recommendations of welfare officers).

To those politicians who believe the Children and Families Bill, in its weakened form, protects the welfare of children like Aimee... and to those who think that the standards set by judges such as Mrs Justice Parker mean the system is fixed... you're so very wrong.

How often do we hear from children how their lives were affected by the decisions made in court? Rarely... so please listen to this rare voice (and if you think this 'experience' is unique, read this... it's not). Some, in the upper courts are starting to listen... a shame politicians haven't quite got it!