Cinderella Law

April 12 2014

The English amongst us will have heard of a new facet of child protection. It's nickname is 'Cinderella Law'. If it comes in how will this affect our work with divorcing parents?

"The intention is to create a law that makes adults who emotionally abuse children in their care, face prosecution. What needs to be in place to help make appropriate assessments? Is there space for parenting training and what could be called supervised care for the least damaging behaviours?" Adriana Galimberti-Rennie - Conflict Manager & Mediator: Work, Divorce, Family. Psychologist, Lecturer, Writer, BBC Expert

At face value this Law seems like the right thing to do – but one important question to ask is, who will be making these assessments?

The largest employer of social workers is CAFCASS. Yet, current processes are at best inadequate with staff ill-informed, and a long history of children being needlessly severed from parents, and even put at risk of harm, often for no good reason. Misleading reports in many cases reward an abusive parent by failing to understand parental alienation. Guidelines and training are resisted seemingly on the basis that it would make staff accountable for the quality and content of their reports.

Latterly, in this vein it is refreshing to hear of Judges, such as Mrs Justice Pauffley and Mr Justice Treacy, to name a few, making a stand against shabby procedure and less than satisfactory evidence. Surely, in order to protect the worthy spirit of the law and the welfare of children, it is not too soon for the Court system to introduce enforceable penalties for those who lay untrue, inaccurate or misleading reports before the Courts?

Such shoddy reports in Children Act proceedings serve no useful purpose, in fact cause more harm than good. Having the right people with the right training matters. But, hopefully, this may not include those already doing it now.

"When you look at some CAFCASS 'reports' you have to ask yourself would you feel confident your children would receive an educated, informed, and impartial professional opinion. I've seen some very well informed, well argued recommendations, I've seen others where a parent's name and age had clearly not been changed from the template of a previous report, putting into question how much of the rather short letter (I wouldn't have called it a report) actually related to the family in question. I've even seen a court report from a private (non CAFCASS) social worker where the person interviewing different family members presented a drawing in their report claiming the 10 year old told them where to position family members in relation to themselves. Methodologically, this couldn't be justified, as the norm is to let children from around 5 years of age to do their own drawings of their family. It took a psychologist to point that out as other people in the court room weren't trained, so wouldn't have realised the importance of this in relation to the whole report, particularly as there were other missed dynamics! I've also seen report examples where there has been no interpretation of the original family backgrounds of the parents which were instrumental in the dynamic being played out regarding the children. Therefore nothing was suggested to help remove the parents current conflicts around their children's upbringing!

CAFCASS is being taken over by a government department I believe, maybe now we will see an upping of the education needed to perform these tasks and better quality control systems in place. If not, future Governments may well find, that they get the quality of service they pay for. It may take an adult to sue the Government of the day for not having a good enough service in place to protect them as previously vulnerable children before we see a real review, but now I'm sounding strident and that would never do!" Adriana Galimberti-Rennie - Conflict Manager & Mediator: Work, Divorce, Family. Psychologist, Lecturer, Writer, BBC Expert

I totally agree with Adriana. And as more members of the Judiciary come to question the substance and quality of evidence laid before them, perhaps CAFCASS will be left with no option but to 'up its game' and train its staff in what its supposed to do - and also be held accountable for its reports and their contents. Of course there are good report writers - but it shouldn't be a lottery; its about children's futures.

Stated concerns today are almost identical to those voiced by SFLA over a decade ago regarding the beleaguered FCWS, as quoted in an article published in 'THE LAWYER: (03 Mar 1998)' titled, "Govt to shake up the Family Court Welfare Service". However, Govt action amounted to a hurried disbandment, many months before CAFCASS even opened its doors in 2001. Thus, in the main, the change amounted to little other than a new sign over the same door. Over a decade hereon, children fare no better and inconsistency of service prevails.

These systemic failings are not only compounded by measures it needs being already at hand; but also by the fact that CAFCASS leadership already knows where they can be found. Unfortunately CAFCASS, in the main, appears to consider it of no great import whether children see their parents.

Kenneth Lane
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