Putting children and young people first in the family courts

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Welcome to the blog of Anthony Douglas, Chief Executive of Cafcass. Anthony will be blogging each month, sharing news from Cafcass and talking about the family justice system at large.

Older foster carers and adoptive parents – the role they can play

Anthony writes about the rising number of children in care in England and the implications for future service provision.
Written by Chief Executive Anthony Douglas at 00:00

The complexities of accurately reporting family proceedings

Anthony Douglas

Recent reporting of a Tower Hamlets case involving a child who was supposedly placed in a family in a way which breached guidelines about cultural matching, was soon shown to be largely untrue. However, the subsequent clarifications and rebuttals did not cancel out the initial negative impact of the front page story. This is not the first time that a damaging front page story in a national newspaper has turned out to be inaccurate.

In family cases, everyone holds strong views but often very different views. Everyone’s behaviour makes sense to themselves even if it doesn’t to anyone else. Courts are charged with carrying out a balancing exercise between differing and often opposing perspectives, including the child’s. There are court rules in place around disclosure to prevent the reporting of detail which would lead to the identification of the family and to preserve the confidentiality of the case. But these rules often cannot prevent distortion and half-truths. They mean that it can be difficult to access the full story, in all its complexity. The real story is usually less interesting and more layered than the fake news.

The children we work with view the transparency agenda with suspicion, partly for this reason. Children naturally shy away from publicity. There is also the issue of how that child might feel later in life seeing a misrepresentation of their case. While our policy on transparency is to be as open about our work as we can be, as the organisation charged with speaking up for children in the family courts, Cafcass is duty bound to reflect their caution. We welcome responsible and balanced journalism that gets to the truth of the issues that matter to children and families. The journalists we value, of who there are many, are not afraid to pursue the truth of a situation, even if it is uncomfortable for us. Their work isn’t guided by agendas, hearsay, perception or prejudice, and so the end product is evidence based.

We are often challenged. Given what is at stake for the children and families involved in our work, challenges should be expected. We will continue to say as much as we can within the court rules we have to live by and taking account of the views of the children we work with, which must be respected.

This year, we are extending the way we capture service user feedback to add a small number of in-depth qualitative interviews with parents whose experience of our own service and that of the family courts is something we can learn from. We will then see where we can apply that learning to our everyday practice in future.

Transparency matters but caution is inevitable given the way in which a distorted and one-sided view of a complex family system may be broadcast loudly in the press and media, including social media.

Written by Chief Executive Anthony Douglas at 00:00

Handling social media information in family court cases

Michelle Hulme

We hear the words “social media” and everyone has very mixed responses. Some fully embrace it, some are cautiously curious, while others give it a wide berth. But I think we would all agree that it is all around us. To reflect this, as social workers we need to have some understanding of what it means for our practice.

Our practitioners are increasingly provided with Facebook posts, instant messaging and screenshots as ‘evidence’ within proceedings. When information is presented in the form of social media, many can be unsure as to how to manage this, and it can often create moments of uncertainty. But as social workers we consider all types of information on a daily basis. We seek to validate it and confirm its relevance for the issues of the case and for the children. Ultimately we are asking ‘what does this information mean for the child?’ If we begin to consider social media information in the same way, it will appear less scary and less overwhelming for all involved.

We recently updated our Social Media Policy to reflect this. We wanted to make sure the policy enabled practitioners to feel confident in their work. It also provides clarity that the methods of communication they use with children and their families, are safe and within appropriate boundaries.

We don’t want children to feel that the level of service they received depended on how savvy their practitioner was with technology. Neither did we want to introduce communication methods that were not achievable for all practitioners and blurred the boundaries of work and home life. So our policy and practice is grounded in professionalism and sets out clear expectations around all aspects of social media.  It is vitally important that we do embrace and understand the world of young people; it’s their world and we need to train ourselves in it, the same as we would train in any other subject about which we were unsure. We’ve also updated our online training modules on social media and this is a vital resource for practitioners to draw on.

We’re also aware of a small number of cases where the court has suggested using social media to locate relevant individuals and to communicate with parents. It was important that any updated policy and practice addressed both the current climate and future direction. We’ve introduced a corporate Facebook page to support practitioners with individual requests and this is managed by our Communications Team. 

Written by Michelle Hulme at 00:00

Cafcass responds to a DfE report on safeguarding and radicalisation

The Department for Education’s recent report on safeguarding and radicalisation paints a picture that is familiar to Cafcass in our work representing children in family court cases. The number of radicalisation cases is growing and there is an increasing expectation of a confident and informed response from professionals.
Written by Neville Hall at 15:00

Why you must see me

FJYPB member Shanti Sud discusses the risks of professionals making assumptions about children in family proceedings
Written by FJYPB at 00:00

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