In this article a parent of an autistic child (who is not an adoptive parent), considers why change is needed; she reflects on what changes might be beneficial, and asks you to sign and share our petition. It is also posted on her website, which is a fantastic resource for parents of autistic children
One of the most important reasons to sign our petition is that the ‘child protection juggernaught’ runs down all in its path, erodes trust, crushes hope, and costs so much money – £1 million is so easily spent once a child goes into care, instead of just a few thousand, spent at the right time, to support the family – read Sam’s story
Munby warns against ‘adversarial and punitive’ care proceedings
The president of the family division recently advised local authorities to think long and hard before embarking on care proceedings against ‘otherwise unimpeachable’ parents. Sir James Munby, in the matter of AB (A Child), granted a local authority permission to withdraw a care order application in relation to a four-year-old boy, who is profoundly neurologically disabled with a life-limiting condition.
When considering care proceedings to remove a child from the parents, Munby said local authorities must consider ‘not merely about the practicalities of finding an appropriate placement, whether institutional or in a specialised foster placement, but also about the practicalities of ensuring that the parents have proper contact with their child during what may be its last few months or weeks of life. And by proper contact I do not mean contact two or three times a week for a couple of hours a time if the parents reasonably want more, even much more’.
I think most people who have no contact with Children’s Social Care would find it alarming that a senior judge has to spell out in simple language that the local authority should not seek to put itself between parents in need of help and their profoundly sick child. Sadly, I believe that many with families with experience of children’s social care will not be surprised that the Local Authority attempted to.
From the LA’s perspective I can only imagine that children’s services had practical arrangements to make in regard to the child and meeting the needs of someone not directly involved in these practical arrangements, came very low down the list of priorities.
Families, who may be very desperate by the time the local authority become involved, often have little choice but to accept this. Legal teams want arrangements ‘sewn up’ so the LA has authority to make decisions as it deems necessary without protracted challenges from a third party (the family) – it is almost inevitable that they will seek a Court Order and for this to succeed the parents have to be presented in a bad light – overwrought, argumentative, incompetent and dangerous for their child to be around.
The Children’s Act 1989, is the primary piece of legislation to promote the welfare of children and it is generally accepted that it was intended to promote collaborative working between families and Agencies in the best interests of children.
The Main Principles of the Act are:
- the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration
- wherever possible, children should be brought up and cared for within their own families
- parents with children in need should be helped to bring up their children themselves; this help would be provided as a service to the child and his family.
In practice it gives no rights to families and sets out how rights can be taken away. In the case above, the judge was highly critical of the Local Authority’s approach but I believe this case sheds light on a system of support for families that has gone badly off track. There is simply no culture of working with families in many local authorities and where there should be a culture of collaboration there are adversarial and punitive cultures instead.
So what changes would be beneficial to the Children’s Act 1989 to give it some ‘teeth’?
I’m a parent not a lawyer and I’m a parent with no court experience to boot but here is my suggestion
- The courts should not allow themselves to be used to ‘rubberstamp’ failures in social policy. Attempting to prevent maltreatment of children at the hands of caregivers, in an environment where child protection, rather than child welfare is the goal of all, is unachievable and unjust to many, including children.
- Unless the court process becomes truly collaborative then there needs to be much higher evidential standards required of all professionals involved with an acceptance that the court system, first and foremost, must be fair and seen to be so. The court and decision-making process needs to become transparent so that the expectation is that bad practice in all forms will be exposed and challenged and consequences will flow from this for agencies, local authorities and individual practitioners.
- Higher evidential standards must include as examples, recordings of key interactions as evidence to ‘back up’ claims by either side, agencies must produce evidence that parents understand choices open to them and consequences of their decisions particularly where parents have communication needs, agencies must produce evidence that appropriate (not just whatever is available irrespective of needs) support has been provided etc.
A failing system, will by and large deliver failure. Reform of the Children’s Act 1989 to redress the current massive imbalances of power between agencies and families is fundamental to ensuring the State can deliver an environment where families and children can thrive. Aspirations are well and good but enforceable rights deliver.
Petition to Government
Changes to Children Act 1989
Urgent action is required to give more rights & protection to parents/carers & also vulnerable children in care
Sections 20 & 31 of Children Act are currently unworkable, resulting in a care crisis. We call on government to take urgent action to make changes to legislation & guidance to protect the parenting/caring role from a distance by:
A more humane ethical family centred approach where birth & adoptive parents & special guardians can be seen as part of the solution & not part of the problem, in striving to do their best caring for their children.
Safeguarding vulnerable children with new legislation & legal frameworks that also supports parents/carers when children are ‘beyond parental control’ which may be related to poor mental health, disabilities, early life trauma, abuse or neglect.