Letter to Shadow Secretary for Education and Children and Families

Dear Mrs Lewell-Buck
RE: Family Justice
I am writing to you in your capacity of Shadow Secretary for Education and Children and
Families and specifically to provide you with some information around your written reply from
the Secretary of State for Justice that you received on 20th July.

I have copied in my own MP who, like you, takes a keen interest in the best interests and welfare of children and who I’ve written to previously about the Ministry of Justice and Cafcass.

Your question to the Secretary of State for Justice was to ask “what guidance his
Department has issued to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service on
interviewing children in family court cases.”

The Secretary of State replied to say “The Ministry of Justice has not provided any such
guidance to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass). Cafcass
has produced guidance to its social work practitioners on this as part of its Operating
Framework on which it is currently consulting.”

Thank you for raising this important issue with the Ministry of Justice. It has long been an
issue that Cafcass and the MoJ have ignored. Indeed Cafcass almost always interview
children in the home of the Resident Parent, often in front of the Resident Parent, and
conduct a number of exercises with them including encouraging children to write a “Letter to
the Judge” in that same environment.

I am sure you will agree that this is not an acceptable way for Cafcass to ascertain a child’s
true wishes and feelings in accordance with the paramountcy of the Welfare of the Child
checklist where it is clear that wishes and feelings of children can undoubtedly be influenced
by the presence of a parent.

I note in the new draft Cafcass Operating Framework (published in draft July 2017 and
inviting comments by the 31st July) that they have now included a section on “Children as
witnesses”.
Page 15, section 2.18 of:
https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/media/318393/operating_framework_for_comment_july_2017.pdf
This has never appeared in any of their documentation or training previously.

I do not believe that Cafcass are best placed to conduct these interviews at their current
level of training, and I have confirmed with them that they currently have no plans to
introduce any additional training on this OR on their proposed replacement for the existing
section7 reports: the new Child Impact Report being trialed in various parts of the country.
I have written to my own MP previously (see attached correspondence) on Cafcass training
materials and completion rates. They have no formal training modules that relate to any of
this. What they do have is 3 PDFs that they refer to as “Knowledge Bites”. The 3 PDFs are
as follows:

– Coached Children – Understanding the impact of parental alienation
– Emotional Harm – understanding the possible implications of sustained parental
conflict upon children
– Post-Separation Control: the impact on the child

The Coached Children knowledge bite is a 2 page PDF, authored in 2013 by the Cafcass
librarian Jo Wood.
The Emotional Harm knowledge bite is a 3 page PDF and is undated and the author is not
acknowledged.
The Post-separation control knowledge bite is also a 3 page PDF (but only just over 2
pages), authored in 2013 by Jo Wood again.

Here are the completion rates for these 3 knowledge bites (correct as 16-06-2017):
– Coached Children (Knowledge Bite) – 28 total completions
– Emotional Harm (Knowledge Bite) – 30 total completions
– Post-Separation Control: the impact on the child (Knowledge Bite) – 9 total completions

That’s from a workforce of over 1,700 employees. Contrast that with the 1,300 that have
completed their “how to complete your expenses form” training. These statistics are all
compiled from Cafcass own reported data obtained under FOI requests by me and others.
One of the reasons that the issue of coached children and influenced wishes and feelings of
children is so very important is that it forms a key rebuttal by Cafcass to the enforcement of
contact orders, an issue that is especially prevalent in cases featuring Hostile Parenting,
Implacable Hostility by a parent, and ultimately Parental Alienation.

Cafcass and the Ministry of Justice have responded to all requests for information on their
understanding of Hostile Parenting, Implacable Hostility by a parent, and Parental Alienation
by referring to a tool that they call “Impact of Parental Conflict Tool” that their officers have
access to and should use in cases. I have attached a copy of that tool for you to see. It is a
single page word document with 10 questions on it.

I have also attached a professional analysis of that tool published this week by the
world-renowned psychological expert on hostile parents and parental alienation.
FOI requests show that Cafcass provide no training on the use of that tool, that they fail to
record its use in their multi-million pound Electronic Case Management System, and that
they do not track outcomes from incredibly hostile cases.

Indeed, in their latest draft Operating Framework which I provided the link to earlier, they
refer, at last, to Parental Alienation, but go on to refer to the use of this tool in assessments
and reporting. Page 61 of that framework pdf.

Frankly, this isn’t good enough, and as I believe you have spotted too, it is incumbent on the
Ministry of Justice to ensure that Cafcass provide the correct tools and training to their
employees, most especially in cases involving the potential for the emotional and
psychological harm and damage of children – an offence already enshrined in criminal law
under Section 66 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 where it amends Section 1 of the Children &
Young Persons Act 1933 to specifically include psychological and emotional abuse of
children.

Thank you for your time and I hope that you have found this interesting and more informative
than the reply that you received from the Secretary of State for Justice in response to your
question.

In a Family Law system designed for combative parents there is no real allowance for the views of children and any understanding of how Family Law ultimately impacts on children most of all.

We speak for the children in Family Law so that, finally, the children have a voice.

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