Three experienced family separation professionals, including FNF patron Dr Hamish Cameron, make recommendations for reform.
Retired Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and FNF patron, Dr Hamish Cameron, along with experienced family barrister and judge Caroline Willbourne and Glynis Wright have written the article below, powerfully advocating early intervention reforms for separating families to improve outcomes for children. This article was first published in Family Law and is reproduced with permission.
The key conclusions drawn by these three highly experienced professionals are:
- Post-separation parenting is a major child-welfare issue.
- The court system adjudicates too little too late, long after problems become entrenched (we'd add that in fact, it contributes to the problems in spades).
- Neither Cafcass nor any other agency offers guidance on suitable arrangements, thus causing unintended consequences - dragging people into court and actually undermining children's well-being.
- A well designed 'Early Intervention' (EI) pathway would mean most cases would not even require a first hearing.
- It would also mean that allegations of abuse could be resolved much earlier, sparing re-traumatisation to victims, whilst protecting healthy relationships and protecting children from conflict.
This EI article was conceived prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but it could hardly be more timely. Following a dip in Children Act applications to court in March/April, applications are back at their previous all-time-high levels, involving over 65,000 children a year in England and Wales. Meanwhile, family courts are operating at much reduced capacity (some reports suggest half of normal). The time taken to resolve cases was over six months before Covid-19 struck. The situation is wholly unacceptable and Ministry of Justice and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) must use the current pressures on the system to drive new creative solutions that will not over-burden the system, but rather will be fairer to taxpayers, focusing resources on those cases that genuinely need it and, most importantly, might lead to healthier outcomes for children and their families.
ACTION - If you are affected - please write to your Member of Parliament and ask them to make representation to the relevant Minister(s) using your own case as an example. We suggest this should be between one and two pages long. You might also request a chance to meet your MP (probably remotely currently) as such meetings will be more memorable and meaningful to them. You may also wish to include a copy of this EI Family Law article and the flow-chart here showing how an EI Pilot might work, which may also be of interest to them. MPs (and judges) are often presented with problems - this is a chance to use your experience and combine it with a solution - a picture of how it might have been, how much it might have saved the taxpayer (in court costs), the difference it might have made to family finances for you, your children and your ex, how it might have protected your children and led to better outcomes. Please feel free to forward your story and any response you receive with us at email@example.com. Please put 'EI' in the subject heading. We will not share your details without your permission, and any general stories, if used, will be anonymised so parties cannot be identified. You can find details of your MP from the parliamentary website.
Meanwhile, FNF will aslo be writing to relevant minsters and Cafcass to make these represenations on behalf of our Members and of our Charity.
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