Women’s Aid highlight changes needed for DV cases
22 January 2016 by Charlotte Knappett
The national domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid has published a report focusing on the stories of 19 children killed by a parent in 12 families. In each case, the guilty parent had contact arrangements in place which allowed them to spend time with their children despite a history of domestic abuse. The report claims that in seven out of the 12 cases, these arrangements were put in place by the courts.
The report, titled ‘Nineteen Child Homicides’, focuses on children, but in some of these cases women were also killed. The report concludes that, whilst the blame for these killings lies with the perpetrators, these cases demonstrate failings that need to be addressed to ensure that the family court, Children and Family Court Advisory Service (Cafcass), children’s social work and other bodies actively minimise the potential of further harm to women and children. This study reviewed relevant Serious Case Reviews for England and Wales, published between January 2005 and August 2015. All of the perpetrators were fathers to the children that they killed and had access to their children through formal or informal child contact arrangements. As well as the 19 children killed, the perpetrators also attempted to kill two other children at the time of these homicides, and killed two mothers.
Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said “There is a misguided belief within the family courts and among judges that, because a relationship has ended, so has the domestic abuse. Survivors frequently report to us that they and their children are re-victimised and traumatised by their abusers, even after separation, through the family court process. This trauma makes it extremely difficult for the non-abusive parent to advocate clearly and effectively for the safety of their child. In the criminal courts, there are protection measures in place to give victims fair access to justice. This is not the case in the family courts. For example, it is common for victims of domestic abuse to be cross-examined by the perpetrator. This must end.
“The desire by the family courts to treat parents in exactly the same way, and get cases over with quickly, blinds them to the consequences of unsafe child contact. As the report Nineteen Child Homicides shows, these consequences can be fatal. The culture of, ‘contact with the child, no matter what’, must end. Less than 1% of child contact applications are refused , but we know that domestic abuse features in around 70% of CAFCASS caseloads, and in 70-90% of cases going to the family courts . Clearly, the system is failing. The best interests of children should be the overriding principle of the family courts, but far too often this is simply not the case.”
The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby responded to the report stating “I welcome the publication of the Nineteen Child Homicides’ report by Women’s Aid. This is a valuable report on an important issue which I take very seriously. I will consider the report with the care it deserves and identify the lessons that the judiciary can learn from it. I believe that other agencies in the family justice system may also benefit from the report and I look forward to discussing its conclusions with them and to taking joint action to address the findings of the report.”
The report has been released alongside the launch of a major new campaign, ‘Child First’. The campaign calls on the family courts and the Government to put the safety of children back at the heart of all decisions made by the family court. Women’s Aid recommended two steps the Family Court could take to fix the “failing” system. Firstly, an even greater emphasis on putting a child’s interests first in family law proceedings. The second proposed step was the introduction of protection measures for victims of domestic abuse. For example, when a victim is in court, they should always have access to a separate waiting room or area and that family judges must ensure there is time for the non-abusive parent to leave court safely before releasing the perpetrator.
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