Well, there was certainly plenty to talk about…
Thousands of mothers over the past seven years have had successive children removed by family courts in England, according to research carried out by the Universities of Brunel and Manchester and funded by the Nuffield Foundation. Court records for that period show 7,143 mothers were involved in repeat care cases – affecting 22,790 children. Researchers found children were taken away from their parents by local authorities in more than 90 per cent of cases. This data, the first of its kind to be produced, backs up what judges have observed in their own courts for many years – that many mothers are stuck in a destructive cycle of pregnancies and care proceedings.
Figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) indicate that stay-at-home mothers and those working part-time have been hit hardest by the legal aid reforms last year, with the number of mothers having to represent themselves in children disputes having risen sharply since the reforms were implemented in April 2013. Nearly 60 per cent of the mothers who went to court for proceedings involving children between April and December last year had no solicitor, a total of 27,017 women. This figure represents an increase of more than 10,000 since the same period in 2012.
Meanwhile, the MoJ has published its annual report presenting the key statistics on activity in the legal aid system for England and Wales. The report shows that in the last four years the number of legally aided family law cases has been decreasing. However, in the last year there was a 60 per cent drop compared to the previous year, obviously due to the abolition of legal aid for most private law family matters in April 2013.
An analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) of the 2001 and 2011 Census data has found an increase in cohabitating couples, from 14 per cent to 17 per cent of households in the UK. By comparison, the number of households with married couples fell from 70 per cent to 65 per cent. The full report of the ONS can be found here.
Over £2 million of new funding is being made available by the government to help adopted children settle into their new families by accessing crucial support services. The Department for Education says: “Some adopted children will have suffered from severe cases of neglect and abuse and experience a range of difficulties as a direct result. They may have behavioural issues, eating disorders, several mental health needs, trust and attachment issues, substance abuse issues, and sadly in some cases, attempted suicide. Vital services such as behavioural therapy, play and music therapy and family support sessions can help children come to terms with their issues, bond with their family and settle into their new lives.”
National Family Mediation (NFM), the largest provider of family mediation in England and Wales, has called for Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings to be free, as the latest government figures show a collapse in the number of people using mediation in the past 12 months. New Ministry of Justice Figures show falls from 2012/13 to 2013/14 of 56 per cent for mediation assessments, 38 per cent for mediation ‘starts’ and 27 per cent in final agreements. NFM says that “ministers must ensure nothing is off limits as they consider how to reverse the trend”.
Justice minister Simon Hughes has revealed that free DNA tests are being provided to speed up resolution of disputes over the paternity of children. Pilot programmes launched in Taunton and Bristol are part of an initiative aimed at tackling problems in family courts, which have been inundated with unrepresented litigants following the cuts to legal aid. Speaking at a Westminster Legal Policy Forum debate in London, Hughes also called for all children over the age of ten to be allowed to participate in separation cases so that their views might be considered and he suggested that family courts should become advice centres to avoid excessive recourse to lawyers.
And finally, the Government has announced that the first date couples already in civil partnerships can convert to marriage will be the 10th of December 2014. However, it was also announced that civil partnerships will not be extended to include straight couples.
Have a good weekend.
Photo by Jack via Flickr