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A week in family law: Children’s mental health, Isis, legal aid and more

Family Law|Industry News | 6 May 2016 0

With the interruption of the Bank Holiday it has been a slightly quieter week for family law news, but I still found these stories:

A report by the House of Commons Education Committee says that children in care are too often denied mental health treatment, despite being four times more likely to experience mental health problems. The report also said that children fostered in England are sometimes denied treatment simply because they move placement too often. The Committee also found that provision for children in care with mental health problems is poor in many parts of England, with a significant number of local authorities failing to identify mental health issues when children enter care. Further, in some areas children in care can be turned away because their conditions are not deemed severe enough to qualify for treatment, and some child and adolescent mental health services were unwilling to begin treatment if a child moved into a new foster placement, even if this was within the same local authority. Chair of the Education Committee Neil Carmichael said: “Given children in care may have unstable family lives and are frequently moving foster or residential placement, this inflexibility puts vulnerable children in care at serious disadvantage in getting the support they deserve. This must change – we recommend children in care be given priority access to mental health assessments and never refused care based on their placement or severity of their condition.” I agree – surely we must do all we can to ensure good outcomes for children in care.

A mother who was believed to be intending to take her three children to Isis-controlled territory has had them removed from her care. A mobile phone belonging to the woman seized after her arrest last summer at Birmingham Airport contained images of children carrying firearms and wearing balaclavas bearing the Isis emblem. The children were immediately removed from the care of their mother under a Police Protection Order. Following this, Leicester City Council the issued care proceedings and the children were taken into temporary foster care. At a hearing at Leicester County Court in January Mr Justice Keehan decided that it would not be in the children’s best interests to return to their mother’s care, and therefore ruled that they should live with their maternal grandparents. We must not forget that, whilst this may look like the family court taking part in the war against terror, it is of course a child protection issue.

In another interesting decision the Court of Protection has ruled that doctors may proceed with surgery on schizophrenic woman suffering from cancer. The woman had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and her doctors thought she would die before the year ended if she did not have a hysterectomy. The woman declined surgery, expressing a wish to have a child. The NHS Trust therefore applied to the court for a ruling on the matter. Mr Justice MacDonald was satisfied that the woman lacked the capacity to make her own decisions, and that the surgery was in her best interests. Accordingly, he declared that it should proceed. Another in the long line of difficult decisions by the Court of Protection.

Family lawyers’ association Resolution has submitted evidence to the Bach Commission on Access to Justice as part of its continued campaigning work on legal aid in the aftermath of LASPO. The submission provides an overview of the impact of the cuts to legal aid on separating families, and on vulnerable people in particular. It also provides a series of short- and long-term recommendations for reforms which could be made by current and future governments in order to improve access to justice for people facing separation and divorce. Short-term recommendations include raising awareness of the availability of legal aid among those who remain eligible, and widening the private family law gateway to ensure those who need and are eligible for legal aid are able to receive it. Long-term recommendations include extending the availability of legal aid to include all out of court dispute resolution methods, in addition to mediation, and a review of the recent increase in divorce fees, supported by a simple, transparent and fair remissions policy. One can but hope…

And finally, the saddest story of the week must be the surge in child marriages around the town of Gurmatkal in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, apparently due to an extended drought, which may be encouraging many locals to try and marry off daughters in order to ensure their ‘safety’. It would be easy to be critical: child marriage is, of course, a scourge. But then so are drought and poverty.

Have a good weekend.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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