The latest series of Behind Closed Doors, called ‘Contact’, aired recently on Radio 4 and focused on a High Court case where a sperm donor was seeking regular contact with his biological daughter. The girl’s mother is in a same sex relationship and insists she doesn’t want Harry, the donor, to be directly involved in her daughter’s life. We advised on this series and also on the Archers recently, in which coercive control by one parent against the other led to a violent and family fracturing outcome. Both programmes had a good balance between factual accuracy and storytelling with a dramatic licence.
Supporting programmes like this and being open about our work, makes a significant contribution to increasing public awareness of the work of the family courts. Along with access to an increasing number of published judgments on Bailii, anybody who is interested in what the family courts do and how they reach decisions, can get a pretty good idea.
Harry’s application raises an important issue. A child of a sperm donor is likely in this day and age to be interested in who their biological father is and how many brothers and sisters they have – which could be a large number indeed. With children often seeking this information later in life, professionals and families should give thought to how children are supported to understand their family background as they grow up in a way that meets their needs and understanding. When people make arrangements they should be absolutely clear about their expectations before they start and be completely focused on the child.
Turning to the Archers’ plot, the devastating impact of coercive control inside a household is clear. This storyline helps to shine a light on it, especially the fact that it is now a criminal offence. New and quite shocking criminal offences are being committed inside families every day. Victims only sometimes want a prosecution; they mostly want to escape but often can’t, even if the door is wide open.
Working with the media, production companies and scriptwriters, could highlight issues as diverse as radicalisation, female genital mutilation, special guardianship, parental alienation and the invisible emotional harm children suffer living in families turned toxic by problems like high conflict between the adults, family violence or significant drug and alcohol misuse. These programmes are hard to put together, hard to get funding for and hard to get to screen, but once there, they are accessible forever and play an important role in public awareness, education and prevention.
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