Women’s Aid has strongly welcomed the government and family court judiciary’s commitment to protecting children and survivors of domestic abuse.
The charity is marking the first anniversary of the launch of the Child First campaign and report Nineteen Child Homicides by handing the Child First petition into Number 10 Downing Street. The petition, hosted by 38 Degrees, has been signed by over 40,000 supporters.
In the last year since the charity published Nineteen Child Homicides, another case has been identified of a child killed due to unsafe contact. The child was ordered to live with their father, a known perpetrator of domestic abuse, by the family courts. Months later, the child was dead. This means 20 children have been killed in 11 years due to unsafe contact with an abusive parent.
Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said: “If we had launched the report this year, it would be called Twenty Child Homicides. The family courts simply must put children first. The deaths of these twenty children were all avoidable. Their fathers were all known as violent abusers to at least one statutory agency – yet still their desire for contact was put above any concern for the children.
“Less than 1% of child contact applications are refused, but domestic abuse features in 70-90% of cases going to the family courts. Yet, there is still a misguided belief among too many judges and other professionals that, because a relationship has ended, so has the domestic abuse. This, coupled with a toxic culture of ‘contact at all costs’, can prove fatal, as these homicides show.
“But the tide is turning. We are delighted by the revision of Practice Direction 12J, thanks to Sir James Munby and Mr Justice Cobb, as well as the Government’s recent commitment to ending cross-examination in the family courts – both key recommendations made in Nineteen Child Homicides, and key asks of Child First,” adds Ms Neate.
PD12J was published in its original form in 2008 in response to the first report of Women’s Aid into ‘Twenty-Nine Child Homicides’. It was substantially revised in April 2014, following the report of Professor Hunter and Adrienne Barnett for the Family Justice Council to include:
Women’s Aid has made a number of recommendations which it believes, if implemented, will render the Practice Direction and its implementation “more robust”. The APPG has also made a number of recommendations.
“I have considered the representations made by Women’s Aid, the APPG, and others with care and have concluded that revisions can usefully be made to the Practice Direction; I recommend these to the President,” said Mr Justice Cobb.
Among the key revisions are:
“We are marking the campaign’s first anniversary by taking our petition to 10 Downing Street – to celebrate our achievements this past year, and to highlight why these issues matter. There is much more work to be done, but we are making progress. Together we are making great progress on behalf of vulnerable children, and we must keep up the momentum,” concluded Ms Neate.
Find out more about the Child First campaign here
Review of Practice Direction 12J FPR 2010 - Child Arrangement and Contact Orders: Domestic Violence and Harm
Diane Wills is Consultant Social Worker at WillisPalmer, responsible for quality assuring the forensic risk assessment reports.
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