The much awaited Expert Panel Report of June 2020 – Assessing the Risk of Harm to Children & Parents in Private Law Children Cases– commissioned by the Ministry of Justice gives both practitioners and Domestic Abuse survivors a glimmer of hope that much needed change may well be on the horizon in private law children cases.
At present Practice Direction 12J (PD12J) FPR 2010 provides the Court with rules around how it should deal with allegations of Domestic Abuse that arise within private children proceedings. These rules have been revised and reviewed since they were first implemented but still concerns exist about how the rules are implemented and how fit for purpose they really are. The Harm Report has raised further concern and recommended that real change is now needed.
In preparing the Report evidence was provided by those working in the family justice system, parents and children who were the subjects of orders. The findings highlighted the problems with the current system and the feeling amongst many that abuse was being minimised, risk not being adequately assessed and the feeling that the abuser was still in control. Some of the common themes identified around these areas were:
- A culture that is pro-contact and pro-parental involvement
- Lack of coordination between different Courts and agencies working with a family
- Adversarial system
- Resource constraints – with more people coming to Court unrepresented
- Lack of follow up with families left with an order that doesn’t work
- Tools not fit for purpose – for example the Scott Schedule that is used to list a limited number of allegations is not the best way to show a pattern of coercive control
So what is the solution?
The Report recommended a reformed Child Arrangements Programme that would include:
- A review of the presumption of parental involvement
- The development of a problem solving approach – what is actually happening for this family?
- Work in conjunction with other systems and services rather than in silos.
- Keeping matters under review – how are these arrangements actually working for this family?
- Training for all of those involved in the implementation of family justice.
It is clear that change is needed. The Report has stated so loud and clear. In the meantime we must continue to use the current system and guide our client’s through the process with the intention of achieving the best possible outcome for the children and families involved.