I didn’t mention anything last week about the compensation that former Haringey council children’s services director Sharon Shoesmith is reported to have agreed in settlement of her unfair dismissal claim, or the vitriol that this attracted. The story attracted heaps of damnation, from both politicians and the media. There were, however, a couple of calmer voices, as mentioned in The Observer last Sunday. For example, in The Times Jenni Russell wrote:
“Protecting vulnerable children is expensive, complex and challenging, but that’s a fact we’d rather not hear. It’s so much more satisfying to go for the simple solution: turning those who try and fail on our behalf into public enemy number one.”
I’d like to second that.
The former Director of Public Prosecutions Kier Starmer has said that teachers, doctors, social workers and other professionals who do not report child abuse suspicions should face prosecution. The idea is to try to prevent the sort of thing that has happened in the past, where abusers have ‘got away with it’ because professionals have failed to report their suspicions to the authorities. I’m not convinced that any such “mandatory reporting” law is the right way to go. It could easily result in a huge number of wrongful allegations, with professionals reporting even the slightest suspicion, fearful that if they do not they will face prosecution. This could seriously stretch the limited resources of the authorities.
District Judge Nicholas Crichton has described as ‘tyranny’ the government’s demand for rigid adherence to a 26-week time limit for child care cases. He told the Law Society Gazette that ‘process is taking over outcomes’ and warned: “We know parties who have successfully had their children returned home, but who would have had them adopted under the 26-week timetable – it’s as tough as that.” He acknowledged the need to speed up care cases, but said that the pendulum had swung too far. Not having done any child care work for many years, I am unqualified to comment (although I have seen some expert commentators agree with him), but it’s hard to think of a more serious warning from such a well-respected judge. Let us hope that it is given the attention it deserves.
It has been announced that the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) will transfer to the Ministry of Justice in April 2014, in accordance with a recommendation in the Family Justice Review. The idea, according to Cafcass Chief Executive Anthony Douglas, is “to accelerate the pace of family justice reform, as all court-based agencies will be in the same team”. Quite how ‘being on the same team’ will make any difference is not clear to me, and I’m sure that the service’s many detractors will not be impressed, but one can only hope that it will lead to improvements.
The government has published its response to last year’s consultation on regulations governing the new child support scheme. The good news is that the Department for Work and Pensions has decided to reduce the fee payable by the parent with care of the children for maintenance collected by the new Child Maintenance Service from a proposed 7 per cent to 4 per. The bad news, so far as many are concerned, is that the government did not agree to the charge being removed altogether. I realise that we live in tough economic times and that services have to be paid for. However, I tend to agree with critics who argue that a fee that essentially penalises the child for the non-resident parent’s non-paying behaviour is wrong in principle and at odds with the aim of benefitting children.
Finally, the Young v Young financial remedies hearing continues to attract the media and legal profession alike. Lurid headlines this week have included references to a hand-written post-it note suggesting that Scot Young made $4.5 billion profit in Facebook, and an allegation that he bribed a paparazzo to delete a photograph of him walking into an exclusive London restaurant three years after he claims to have lost all his money. Alas, some experts think this may be the last such high-profile divorce case played out in public, as in future couples are likely to resolve their differences through arbitration. Shame.
Have a good weekend.