Putting children and young people first in the family courts

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Children affected by domestic abuse

 

Colleagues from Cafcass and the family justice sector attended Cafcass’ Open Board meeting, looking at the impact of domestic abuse on children and how we assess this.

 

Baroness Claire Tyler opened the meeting, held at the Cafcass National Office on 27th January, highlighting the increased awareness of domestic abuse (DA) among policy makers and within parliament. She mentioned how Cafcass has developed an approach to cases featuring DA, touching on our new DA pathway. Some local authorities have adopted the tool, showing its value in practice.

 

Speaking on the complexities of the cases we work with and how many feature DA allegations, Anthony Douglas, Chief Executive, took to the floor next. He discussed how cases are often not clear cut and how it’s important we build up an evidence base. To do this, Anthony said, “the starting point is to understand the impact on individual children.” He reflected that children who have experienced DA are three times more likely to develop conduct and learning disorders, anxiety and depression. Children can continue to feel vulnerable after the DA incident has happened, and lifelong relationships can be distorted.

 

“We hold the responsibility to bring each child’s daily lived experience to life. We need to understand it and make recommendations to make their lives better,” Anthony said. “We can’t do that unless we know what the child is going through. How children are expressing themselves and behaving is our main evidence base.”

 

Building a closer picture of our practice Cafcass’ Alice Smith, Service Manager and Emma Mays, Family Court Adviser, talked the group through how we work with cases where DA is alleged. Emma gave a case study example, discussing the tools she would use throughout the case to support her professional judgement. Alice outlined the four steps of our framework for safe, consistent and high quality DA practice:

 

1. Where DA is alleged practitioners consider practice direction 12J, ensuring there is no risk of harm before contact is considered.

2. Core training – now including the DA pathway

3. On recruitment and induction, all practitioners are screened on their knowledge of DA risk assessments.

4. The Quality Assurance and Impact process is applied, meaning reports are quality assured and learning needs are fed into practitioner performance reviews. The new QAI framework has a focus on the impact of our work on outcomes for children.

 

The second half of the meeting invited open discussion, chaired by Baroness Tyler. Areas discussed included:

 

1. Cafcass clarified the role of Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programmes (DVPPs) and the circumstances in which the programme is suitable. The Family Justice Observatory’s plans to analyse whether there has been a positive impact from the course in the long term were cited.
2. the joint research project with Women’s Aid, to better understand what is happening where DA is alleged in family court cases about child contact.
3. the disclosure of DA and the challenges around this. Cafcass covered the various routes whereby DA may be disclosed.

 

To round up, Baroness Tyler closed with a story of a young father in prison who, after watching a video, realised he had never been taught what a healthy relationship looked like. She reflected on the importance of educating people so they know better than what they have experienced, which is critical to the wellbeing of the next generation.

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