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.

The needs of children in cases featuring radicalisation

Anthony DouglasEarlier this year, Cafcass published findings from the 54 cases featuring an element of concern about radicalisation we were involved with during a six month period, from July to December 2015. So far this year, we have worked with a similar number of cases. Some of these have involved children being at risk of harm by exposure to extreme online material, and a new and sophisticated form of online grooming of teenagers has been identified.

 

Our cases cover a wide yet still mostly urban geography across England. Radicalisation concerns feature in as many cases in private law and public law. In some private law cases, allegations of radicalising by one parent against the other are forming part of the separation weaponry. These claims are often proving just as hard to substantiate as other more customary types of allegation. In most cases, we find that such allegations are dropped by the parties or are subsequently discounted by the court.

 

Where the concerns are about a child – rather than an adult – being radicalised, these children and their families are generally not previously known to the local authority. This sets them apart from most other cases that feature within Cafcass’ exploitation strategy, which also covers child trafficking and child sexual exploitation (CSE). To assist in understanding the needs of children in these cases we use our CSE assessment tool – because of the grooming element of radicalisation – and standard risk assessment. Risks are assessed in the round as part of an overall balancing exercise and welfare evaluation.

 

Very few children have needed to be removed from their parents as a result of concerns. Where they have been removed, they have either returned home with concerns receding or been placed with relatives who have kept them safe. A small number of teenagers have come into the care system and stayed there. Most children have been supported or monitored in the community. This is sometimes as children in need but more frequently as children falling within the local authority’s Channel Statutory duty or under the Statutory Prevent Duty Guidance.

 

These statutory duties need to be set alongside children’s legislation which emphasises the welfare of the child. Each case requires a balancing exercise to be carried out before taking action, unless the risk is immediate. Primarily this is when there is a duty to take action to prevent parents removing their children to war zones. In some ways, the balancing exercise is the same as we have to carry out in other areas where family and civil law intersect, such as a decision about deportation. We are building up our knowledge of these cases as more come to light and as the forms radicalisation evolve. We will be producing specific materials for staff in the New Year in light of recent cases and of events around the world which have an impact on vulnerable children in the UK.

 

There has not been a case which has attracted the attention of the media since July this year. It shows how a huge issue at a point in time can fade from public view without a new angle. All the while, professional work is ongoing in the background to gain better understanding of the issues.

 

Written by Chief Executive Anthony Douglas at 00:00

Making the court process safer for vulnerable people

How courts deal with vulnerable applicants and witnesses is coming under increasing scrutiny, after justifiably negative publicity about cases of alleged perpetrators interviewing their own potential victims in open court with insufficient practical and emotional protection for the potential victims.
Written by Chief Executive Anthony Douglas at 00:00

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Children will often tell those in authority of their fears and concerns, but professionals may only get one chance to act on what they hear.
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Why definitions matter for children

The new Ministerial Task Force on Child Protection, and the other stocktakes and reviews of the care system and family justice system underway or about to be announced, give us an opportunity to re-think and further develop our services for children.
Written by Chief Executive Anthony Douglas at 00:00

The case for low-cost community based alternatives to court

Over the last few months, trends in the family justice system and the wider public sector have become increasingly erratic. Our role in Cafcass is to understand the impact on vulnerable children and young people of these changes.
Written by Chief Executive Anthony Douglas at 10:00

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