It’s been a thought-provoking week in family law with some sobering statistics about childhood vulnerability in England and the failure to prosecute cases of FGM. John Bolch joins us on the blog to discuss these and more in his weekly family law review.
Over 2 million children living in families with substantial complex needs
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, has published her second annual report into childhood vulnerability in England. The report details the numbers of children who are growing up in England with vulnerability and risks that could affect their lives, well-being and life chances. It reveals that there are over 2 million children in England living in families with substantial complex needs, and that of these 1.6 million children have no established, recognised form of additional support. The report estimates that 825,000 children are living in a family with domestic violence and that over 100,000 children are living in a family with the so-called ‘toxic trio’ of domestic violence, mental health and alcohol or substance abuse.
Commenting on the report the Commissioner said: “Supporting vulnerable children should be the biggest social justice challenge of our time. Every day we see the huge pressures on the family courts, schools and the care systems of failing to take long-term action. The cost to the state is ultimately greater than it should be, and the cost to those vulnerable children missing out on the support can last a lifetime.” Clearly, failing to put resources into supporting these children is a false economy, as the huge current number of child care cases shows.
Failure to prosecute cases of FGM
There is a newly recorded case of Female Genital Mutilation (‘FGM’) every two hours in the UK, according to the latest NHS statistics on the subject. The statistics revealed that there were 6,195 women and girls treated for FGM in the past financial year, and that of those 4,495 were newly recorded cases. Of the 6,195 women and girls, 85 cases of FGM took place in the UK. I agree with the comments of Leethen Bartholomew, head of the National FGM Centre, who said: “Shockingly, the figures confirm that dozens of women and girls born in the UK have undergone FGM, despite the practice being illegal for over 30 years. Yet there still hasn’t been a single successful prosecution to hold perpetrators to account. FGM is child abuse and it’s vital that we work with affected communities to change hearts and minds about the practice. Agencies must also work better together to prosecute those who fail to protect girls from this type of abuse.” Quite.
Father gets a total of £50,000 in a compensation case against the Home Office
The Home Office has agreed to pay a total of £50,000 compensation after a three-year-old girl was left in care while her father was unlawfully detained for three months under immigration powers. In June 2017, after the father had served a prison sentence for wounding, the Home Office ordered him to be detained pending his deportation, despite a local authority recommending that he be reunited with his daughter so that he could care for her.
In July 2017, a family court judge endorsed the local authority’s plan for the father to look after his daughter, saying that if he was not released within four months an application would be made for the girl to be placed for adoption. Despite this, the Home Office moved the father to an immigration centre in Dorset, hundreds of miles from the place where his daughter was in care. He was released after three months in immigration detention, just days before his daughter was due to be placed for adoption. The Home Office admitted at the High Court that the detention of the father was unlawful, as it breached both the department’s own policies and the father and daughter’s right to family life.
The Home Office will pay £40,000 damages to the father for “false imprisonment” and “disruption” to contact with the child and £10,000 damages to the child.
The DWP publishes its response to the consultation on a new child maintenance strategy
And finally, the Department for Work and Pensions (‘DWP’) has published its response to its consultation seeking views on a new child maintenance compliance and arrears strategy. The new strategy will include the introduction of a new power to allow the Child Maintenance Service to calculate a notional income from assets held by a paying parent, so that wealthy parents do not avoid their responsibilities by reducing their income from which child maintenance is usually calculated. New powers will also be introduced to allow deduction of maintenance from joint and business accounts, and to remove passports from parents who fail to pay what they owe.
Clearly, these new powers will be welcome and should help ensure that parents pay what they should, although how far they will go to alleviate the problem of non-payment is not so clear.
I note also that the response confirms that the DWP expects to write off nearly £2 billion in historic Child Support Agency arrears owed to parents.
Have a good weekend.