A week in family law: Domestic abuse and abused children

Children|Family Law|Industry News|October 4th 2019

There has not been an awful lot of family law-related news to report this week, so I decided to concentrate on just three stories.

It is a sad and depressing feature of family law that a good proportion of it deals with the issue of abuse of one human being by another, as demonstrated by the three stories I mention here. The stories also demonstrate that abuse can take many different forms.

Children forced to see abusive parents

A survey, carried out by the Centre of Excellence in Child Trauma (‘CoECT’), leading UK experts in the field of therapeutic parenting strategies, has shown that parents caring for children who have experienced trauma have been forced to take their children to see the parent that abused them, with nearly all asserting this should be illegal. The survey received 1,125 responses from parents who have adopted, fostered, or cared for children who have experienced trauma. Over half (53%) of the parents surveyed have had to take their child to see a parent that has abused them. With 85% of parents believing it should be illegal for abusive parents to be guaranteed contact time. The CoECT say that the current legal position is that children’s wishes should be taken into account, but will not ultimately determine what happens – the courts view contact as being in the best interests of the child and see both parents’ involvement as a benefit to the child’s welfare. Sarah Naish, CEO and Founder of the CoECT said this: “You would not expect to meet your rapist once a month for a cup of tea, so why do we force children to keep seeing their abusers? Looking at the poll alone, this is evidence that over 500 children have been marched back to visit their abusers, which is an absolute disgrace. From the stories I hear on a daily basis this is the tip of the iceberg and something needs to be done. This should be regarded as one of the biggest scandals that still exists in the British legal system today. The legal view that contact with parents is beneficial to a child’s welfare becomes absolutely ridiculous when that parent is the one that abused them. The parents I speak to dedicate their entire beings to try and heal the children they have to care for, only for them to be the adult that has to march their child back to the person that abused them. The government needs to take action on this and ban parents that have abused their children from having contact with them.” Strong stuff.

Domestic abuse

Age UK, the UK’s largest charity for older people, is calling on the Government to make sure the voices of older people are heard, their rights are protected, and their needs included in future legislation addressing domestic abuse. The call follows the publication of a report by the charity which says that in 2017 over 200,000 people aged 60 to 74 experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales, and one in four victims of domestic homicides are over the age of 60. The figures come from the National Crime Survey, which does not record data for people over the age of 74. The charity says that reluctance or inability to report abuse by loved ones or carers means that the true figure is likely to be much higher. Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director, commented: “There’s a widespread misconception that domestic abuse only happens to younger people but sadly hundreds of thousands of older people are affected, too. It’s high time that this was fully recognised by the law, policy and practice so that the needs of older survivors can be identified and properly met.”

And finally

The Domestic Abuse Bill, which includes important reforms aimed at dealing with the problem, was debated in the House of Commons this week. In the course of the debate Labour MP Rosie Duffield gave a harrowing account of her own personal experience of domestic abuse, describing the humiliating and controlling behaviour she suffered at the hands of her partner. The Speaker, John Bercow, said her speech had been “simultaneously horrifying and as moving a contribution” as he had heard in his 22 years in the Commons. You can watch the whole speech here.

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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