Times july 2013 opening the family courts


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Times july 2013 opening the family courts

  1. 1. Both your front page lead yesterday: Landmark ruling ends secrecy of family law and your leader: Shine a Lightwelcome the decision by the President of the Family Division to require courts to publish judgements about children in the public care system. I too welcome this reform and am pleased that, in the very small minority of cases where children might be taken into care inappropriately, the deliberations and determination of the courts will be open to greater scrutiny. But, and this is a far greater problem, I hope this new openness will reveal the reality of child abuse and neglect and help the public better to understand why children do, sometimes,need to be removed from their parents. There remains a frequently expressed belief that local authorities remove children too often and that, as a consequence, we now have record numbers of children in care. It’s simply not true. We have seen a modest rise in the use of care in England since the death of Peter Connolly but even after that increase the number of children in care is still a third lower than the number thirty years ago. It would be nice to pretend that the quality of parenting in England has increased so markedly during this period that we no longer need to remove children from neglect and abuse in the same numbers. Sadly, that is not the explanation. The reality is that for the last couple of decades, we have been reluctant to respond effectively to child neglect. There have been a number of reasons for this. Sometimes it is the belief on the part of some social workers that, in the spirit of the Human Rights Act, we have to balance the interests of children with the interests of parents. And sometimes we have avoided taking children into care because of the notion that care is likely to make things worse (on the contrary, it’s likely to make things better). The main reason however has been a well intentioned but misconceived optimism on the part of social work professionalsin the capacity of neglectful parents to improve their parenting capacity.This means that intervention in removing a child, if it comes at all, often comes too late. Extended neglect causes long term damage to children, revealing itself in difficult behaviour and condemning such children to a life ricocheting between foster placements. That is not to say that parents should not be given a second or even a third chance to demonstrate that they can care properly for their children, just not a fourth or fifth. But those chances continue even after a child reaches the relative safety of public care. The same over optimism about parents being willing or able to care for children, encourages us to return children home from carewhere, tragically, two thirds are neglected once again within two years. So, I want openness in the Family Courts to allow the reporting of neglect and abuse cases. When that happens I am confident that the press and the public will understand that, far from being cavalier whenseeking to take children
  2. 2. away from neglectful and abusive parents, local authorities are, overwhelmingly, right to do so.