A pretty mixed bag, actually…
The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has accused the government of washing its hands of the problem it has created by failing to provide legal aid for vulnerable parents in cases involving their children. In D (A Child) the parents faced having their son taken away from them by the local authority but were unable to get legal aid, despite both suffering from learning disabilities. Hearing the case, the President considered that it would be unthinkable that the parents should have to face the local authority’s application without proper representation. He said: “Thus far the State has simply washed its hands of the problem, leaving the solution to the problem which the State itself has created – for the State has brought the proceedings but declined all responsibility for ensuring that the parents are able to participate effectively in the proceedings it has brought – to the goodwill, the charity, of the legal profession. This is, it might be thought, both unprincipled and unconscionable.” Quite.
A new initiative to provide free family mediation began on the 3rd of November. From that date the first mediation session will be funded for both parties, provided at least one of them is already legally aided. The initiative follows the introduction on the 22nd of April of compulsory Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (‘MIAMs’) when separating couples apply to court over children and financial matters. From the 1st of January 2015 there will be a third stage in the government’s work to improve mediation and encourage separating couples to use it to resolve disputes. From then, the Family Mediation Council (‘FMC’) is introducing a compulsory accreditation scheme and new professional standards which all mediators must work toward. All mediators and those working towards becoming a family mediator will be required to be registered with the FMC. Whether this will lead to an improvement in standards, we will have to wait and see.
Adoptive parents across the country have received a personal letter of thanks from the Children and Families Minister, Edward Timpson, ‘for their love and commitment in caring for some of the country’s most vulnerable children’. Writing to adopters during National Adoption Week, the minister paid tribute to ‘the endless dedication and compassion shown by adoptive parents in caring for their children, while setting out the support available to them every step of the way’. In their press release about this, the Department for Education eagerly pointed out that the minister’s letter “follows a record high in the number of adoptions over the last 12 months, resulting in more than 5,000 children placed in new homes – an increase of 25 per cent on the previous year”. If I sound cynical about the government trumpeting the success of its adoption policies, please don’t think that I do not admire the amazing work done by all those who adopt children.
The Department for Work and Pensions has announced that, subject to Parliamentary approval, from March 2015 the Child Maintenance Service and Child Support Agency will begin sharing certain information about the payment records of their clients with credit reference agencies. This means that arrears built up in maintenance payments will have the same effect on people’s credit score as other debts. Principally, information will be shared about an individual when a liability order is made against them, but it is also expected that the introduction of the new measure will have a deterrent effect on those who may otherwise choose to evade maintenance payments. I can’t say that I have any problem with this measure.
Lastly, it has been reported that a court has allowed a mother to change her sons’ surname because the father was blogging about the case. This was the decision of His Honour Judge Duggan in F (Children; Contact, Name, Parental Responsibility). There was, of course, a little more to it than that, as Judge Duggan explained in his judgment, and as I mentioned here myself in this post. As I suggested, the case contains lessons for any parent seeking contact with their children.
On that note I will end. Have a good weekend.