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Children's charity Barnardo's has commented on the recent ONS publication that shows there was an increase in the number of adoptions in 2011 compared to 2010.

The statistics show that nearly two-thirds (62%) of children adopted in England & Wales last year were aged between one and four. The 2011 figure was an increase on the previous year, when one to four-year-olds made up 58% of adoptions in England and Wales. There was also a 6% increase in the overall level of adoptions, with 4,734 in 2011 compared with 4,481 in 2010.

Barnardo’s UK Director of Strategy, Janet Grauberg, said:

“The fact that more children are being adopted and at a younger age, is very good news.

“But the increase, although heartening, is still small. We need to strive to move these children to a permanent, stable and secure family as quickly as possible, as the longer a child waits the more they suffer emotionally and the less likely they are to be adopted.

“Children who wait longest for families are siblings, disabled children, older children, and those from black or minority ethnic backgrounds. We desperately need more people to come forward to adopt children – especially for these groups.”

Domestic violence charity, Refuge, has claimed that proposed changes to benefit rules will lead to the closure of all of its refuge centres, reports the BBC. As a result, warns Refuge, thousands of victims of domestic violence will be at increased risk.

According to the BBC, the charity claims that two women a week die as a result of domestic violence, and this figures will rise if support services are forced to close. Similar concerns have also been raised by charity Women's Aid.

The charities are concerned about how Housing Benefit will be calculated when it it is incorporated within the new, combined benefit, Universal Credit, which is due to come into force next year.

According to the BBC, the Government has denied the claims and said that funding for refuges will continue to be available under the new benefit system.

The Family Rights Group has issued a statement in response to the publication of Mr Justice Ryder’s report into the modernisation of Family Justice.

Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group said:

"There is the danger that the unintended consequence of the Government’s proposal to limit care cases to six months will be that children are less likely to be placed with their wider family.

"We are therefore pleased that Mr Justice Ryder has identified that local authorities should explore the potential for a child to return home and the feasibility of children living with their wider family prior to the start of care proceedings. We very much welcome his statement that this is “much more likely to occur where family group conferencing or similar early engagement with family have occurred to identify alternative placements for the child." 

“Family group conferences have the advantage of identifying early on all those who may be important in the child’s life, including paternal relatives, and allow contingency planning so that relatives can put themselves forward and be assessed as potential carers should a child not be able to live with their parents. Unfortunately, at the moment only a small minority of families are offered a family group conference prior to proceedings and three in ten local authorities in England and Wales have no family group conference service at all.

"Mr Justice Ryder’s report however, does not address the increase in relatives who, due to the legal aid reforms, will have to represent themselves in court in order to secure a residence or special guardianship order that could provide a child at risk with a safe, permanent home. It is urgent that the courts are geared up to addressing this.

"We are therefore keen to discuss with Mr Justice Ryder how the Family Court Guide that he is developing will best address family and friends care."

Posted by on in Divorce

Recent research has revealed that 21.6 million Brits have held onto photographs of former partners following a break-up.

The research, from Friends Reunited, also found that women are more sentimental than men, with 61% claiming they keep the photos as they highlight a part of their life they don't want to forget, versus 56% of men.

However, men may be hiding more from their partners than their other halves realise. One in five men (20%) in a current relationship who have photos of their ex-partners say they have hidden photos of an ex fearing disapproval from their new partner, compared to only 9% of women.

Corinne Sweet, behavioral psychologist said:

"The point at which people are able to put an ex-partner's photo away (after a split, divorce or death) is usually the time they are emotionally ready to move on. Yet, it is totally understandable for people to keep photos to remind them of previous loves, as, indeed, these images do form part of our life stories - whether for better or for worse."

A new research report commissioned by the Crown Prosecution Service suggests that domestic abuse victims who are supported by Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs) and who report abuse to the police, are more likely to experience a cessation of abuse if a decision to charge the alleged offender is made.

The research was undertaken by the national domestic abuse charity Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse (CAADA) as part of its Insights outcomes measurement service.

The report shows that the proportion of victims experiencing a cessation of abuse increases at each stage of the criminal justice process. The most significant cessation of abuse occurs when a decision to prosecute an alleged offender has been made, with 72% of victims in this category reporting no further abuse once a charge is recorded.

The report demonstrates that:

  • In cases where there was a decision to prosecute, 62% of victims were suffering severe levels of violence at the point of intake to the IDVA service.
  • Whilst continuing to court did not have a further significant impact on cessation of abuse, a greater proportion of victims did report improvements in their feelings of safety, quality of life and confidence to access support following the continuation of a case to court.
  • In almost half (42%) of prosecutions, there was also a restraining order applied for and granted. At exit, those victims who were granted a restraining order were less likely to report severe physical abuse or jealous and controlling behaviours, and were more likely to experience a complete cessation of all abuse types.
  • The research also showed that Specialist Domestic Violence Courts (SDVC) achieved better outcomes than other courts, and that cases heard in an SDVC were more likely to result in a conviction.

 

The Government has published discussion papers seeking views – the first reviewing contact arrangements for children with their birth parents and the second looking at placing sibling groups for adoption.

The papers are based on proposals from the Government’s Advisor on Adoption Martin Narey, and call for views from professionals, charities, foster carers, children in care, adopted children and adoptive parents.

Martin Narey said:

“Today the Government is asking for views on two issues which are central to the long term welfare of such children. The first is about contact between children in care and their birth families. This follows advice from me to Ministers in which I have expressed anxiety about the amount of contact we allow and the potential of that to harm children. The second issue, on which I have also expressed concern, is about the extent to which we try to keep brothers and sisters together in planning for their adoption.

“On contact, many of the practitioners I have spoken to during the past year, and in numerous visits to local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies, have convinced me that too often we allow contact when it is not in the best interests of the child. Sometimes, even when contact is appropriate, we allow too much of it. It is not uncommon for infants in care to be shuttled, sometimes long distances, and every day, for meetings with their birth mother of two or more hours. The distress that causes to infants gravely troubles both their foster carers and their social workers.

“I have not suggested to Ministers that contact between birth families and children in care should not continue to be the norm. But I have urged them to consider whether the current legislative presumption in favour of contact is appropriate and whether, instead, policy should make clear that contact must always be in the interests of the child.

“On siblings, I have concluded that while we should and must do more to recruit adopters willing to take on the challenge of adopting two or more children simultaneously, we need to ensure that local authority and court decisions are informed by the research evidence which tells us - much as it might surprise us – that keeping siblings together may not always be in the interests of individual children. For example where, through a period of neglect, an older child has been effectively parenting a younger child, it can be vital for them to be separated so that each child can develop a positive attachment with their new parents.

“And the adopter challenge of successfully compensating for an early life of neglect, where a child has often suffered significant harm, will often be more manageable when adopters are coping with just one child, not two, three or four.”

 

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme is being piloted by police in Gwent and Wiltshire.

The scheme gives women the right to ask the police whether a new or existing partner has a violent past. If police checks show that a person may be at risk of domestic violence from their partner, the police will consider disclosing the information.

Under the scheme women will have the right to ask the police whether a new or existing partner has a violent past. If police checks show that a person may be at risk of domestic violence from their partner, the police will consider disclosing the information.

The pilot will also look at how the police can proactively release information to protect a person from domestic violence where it is lawful, necessary and proportionate to do so.

Calls for the introduction of a national disclosure scheme gained momentum following the tragic case of Clare Wood, who was murdered by her former partner in Greater Manchester in 2009.  Her partner had three previous convictions under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

The pilot scheme follows a successful public consultation which received more than 250 responses from a wide range of high profile statutory and voluntary organisations.

The Association of Chief Police Officers' lead on domestic abuse, Chief Constable Carmel Napier, said: 'A key part of policing is to protect people from harm.  The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme is intended to empower people to make informed decisions to protect themselves and their children when getting involved with a new partner.

'It will also allow the police to act in the best interests of people they believe could be at risk of violence by sharing information of a partners' violent past.'

Think tank Policy Exchange has published a paper examining the case for equal marriage.

The report takes a detailed looked at the pros and cons of same sex marriage, and claims that the balance of argument favours equal marriage.

The report recommends that:

  • Same sex couples should be allowed to marry and given the same benefits of marriage as heterosexual couples.
  • Religious bodies or institutions should not be forced to carry out same sex marriages on their premises.
  • Religious bodies or institutions should be allowed to ‘opt in’ if they wish to carry out a same sex marriage on their premises.
  • A fast track should be provided for existing civil partners who wish to transfer to full marriage.
  • Once equal marriage has been introduced, no new civil partnerships should be created.

David Skelton, co-author of the paper, said: “Marriage brings with it hundreds of years of history and a long record of providing stability. It is understandable that some religious bodies do not want to marry same sex couples and the state should respect their choice. Likewise, other religious bodies might wish to carry out gay marriage ceremonies on their premises and they should be able to opt in if they so wish.

“Gay people do not want to change the nature of marriage as some have argued. They just want to be part of an institution that transcends communities, promotes commitment and fidelity, as well as providing stability and a valuable social support structure.”

People accused of seriously abusing children or vulnerable adults, who try to escape justice by staying silent or blaming someone else, face up to 10 years in prison now that the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims (Amendment) Act 2012 has come into force.

The Act extends the offence of causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult to causing or allowing serious physical harm, like inflicting brain damage or broken bones.

Crown Prosecution Service data on cases where children were seriously harmed but no successful prosecution could be brought include a five-month-old baby who suffered a brain hemorrhage and fractured skull and a two-week-old with a broken collar bone, ribs and leg.

The Act is the result of a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Sir Paul Beresford MP, which the Government backed to ensure it became law.

“By making sure this Bill became law we have taken the opportunity to close a terrible loophole which has, until now, allowed people accused of seriously harming a child or vulnerable adult to escape unpunished,” said Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke. “We want to do everything possible to ensure that the most vulnerable members of our society are kept safe in their homes, and those that abuse their power do not evade justice.”

A recent report from charity Adoption UK has found that adopted children and their families are being sold short when it comes to the provision of support services that could help ensure the success of more adoptions from care.

Around 4,000 children were adopted from the UK system in the year ending March 31, 2011; more than 70% were removed from their birth families due to abuse or neglect. Their early childhood experiences mean that adopted children may have challenging emotional, behavioural, or physical challenges.

Results indicated that at any one time, around half of adoptive families are in need of some sort of adoption support service but that accessing support services is difficult for many adopters. Many felt their agency did not provide the services that would most help their family and also believed that the lack of understanding among professionals – from social workers to school staff - around the needs of adopted children was a significant problem. Finance is also an issue with many families having to fund their own support services because local authorities are underfunded.

Jonathan Pearce, Adoption UK Chief Executive, said: “What adopters are saying they need is a process and system that better equips them for the joys and challenges of adoptive parenting.

“They need continuing education and training on child development and how this is affected by the trauma of abuse and neglect, attachment issues and how to be therapeutic parents to abused and neglected children.

“They also need joined-up, adoption-aware services across not just the social care sector, but also in education and mental health. When considering that they are taking on some of the most vulnerable children in our society, it seems senseless that they are not automatically supported.”

The Government has announced the establishment of a new fund, worth up to £14 million over two years, to develop effective and innovative support services for separated and separating families.

The new services will help parents to foster collaborative relationships with each other after separation, including agreeing child maintenance.

Work and Pensions Minister Maria Miller said:

“If separation is unavoidable then having both parents actively involved in their lives is the best way for children to develop. So this is a challenge for organisations and individuals to suggest how we can make this important investment in families really count.”

The announcement reaffirms the Coalition Government’s commitment to shared parenting which also includes changes to the family justice system and an overhaul of the child maintenance system to see parents supported to make their own, family-based, child maintenance arrangements whenever possible.

The Child Support Agency currently costs the taxpayer approximately £0.5 billion per annum. Department for Work and Pensions research has suggested that the majority of separated parents currently using the CSA believe they would be likely to make their own maintenance arrangements with the right help and support.

Families Need Fathers has welcomed the release of the Government’s consultation on proposed legislation on the involvement of both parents in a child’s life. The recognition that the full involvement of both parents is a crucial component of child welfare, and not a challenge to it, is a simple, yet hugely significant, development in family law.

Ken Sanderson, CEO of Families Need Fathers, commented, “By making explicit the importance of both parents being fully involved in their child’s upbringing following divorce or separation, the Government will be making a crucial and long overdue amendment to the law. It will support and strengthen the overwhelming social change over the past 40 years whereby both parents are expected to contribute fully to their child’s wellbeing, both emotionally and materially.”

“These proposals are not just about those families who end up in court; the law provides the context in which those who come to private arrangements approach post-separation parenting, and it is crucial that an expectation is set that all parents should continue to maintain a meaningful relationship with their children. This will help to ensure minimum disruption to the children’s family life, and in doing so promote their social and emotional wellbeing.”

Kent County Council has called on councils to do more to ensure that children in care are placed as close to home as possible to minimise disruption to their lives.

According to the Council, there are currently 1,267 children in care that have been placed in Kent by other local authorities.

The leader of Kent County Council, Paul Carter, said: "Being taken into care is probably the most traumatic thing that can happen to a child. Children in care deserve a better deal and all councils must work much harder to provide placements that enable them to remain in their schools and with their friends, unless there is a threat to their safety. This will minimise disruption in their lives and protect the wellbeing of some of our most vulnerable children."

He went on to say that: "There are very good reasons why authorities place some children far away from home – with prospective adopters, with relatives, in specialist residential provision, catering for acute need or disability, that is not available closer. However, there are far too many vulnerable children and young people placed in children's homes and with non-related foster carers miles away from home. It is extremely difficult to be an effective ‘corporate parent’ and look after children placed so far away from home.”

The Council has called on the Government to legislate to:

  • require local authorities to place children within 15 miles of their home or school, unless by exception,
  • ensure all local authorities report annually on how many children have been placed more than 15 miles away or in another local authority area, and
  • require London councils to work together to commission care placements in London to enable children to stay close to home, and reduce pressure placed on Kent's public services by supporting children from other council areas.

Shared parenting legislation, aimed at strengthening relationships between parents and children after separation, could detract from children’s wellbeing, the Law Society is warning.

Responding to a Government consultation in which ministers are proposing different ways to establish the notion of “shared parenting” after separation, Law Society President John Wotton said: “Introducing a legislative presumption of shared parenting could lead to unrealistic expectations from fathers, with a huge rise in fathers asking the courts for ‘equal time’.

"This could undermine the Government’s drive towards mediation and out of court settlements. The Government should avoid any implication in the statute of any right to equal time with a child, or any prescription of appropriate amounts of time.

The primary focus should be on the rights and welfare of the children, not those of parents. The principle that the welfare of the child is the court’s paramount consideration should be maintained.”

Children's charity, the NSPCC, has warned that reports to its helpline about neglect have doubled over the past two years to reach record levels, and that this increase is placing additional pressure on already stretched children's services.

The rise in reports of neglect to the NSPCC comes as local children's services face unprecedented pressures, with more children being taken into care, and more families needing help at a time of significant funding cuts.

Last year over 21,000 children in the UK were subject to child protection plans because they were at risk of harm from neglect - up 7.5% on the previous year. And recent statistics from CAFCASS, the organisation that represents children in care cases, revealed that in 2011/12 the total number of care applications for all reasons topped 10,000 for the first time.

Dr Ruth Gardner, head of the NSPCC's neglect programme, said: "More people than ever are contacting the NSPCC about child neglect. Some of this will be down to the public being more willing to speak out - and this can only be a positive thing - but there is clearly a worrying trend, not just in our figures, but from a range of agencies and bodies. More research is needed on why this sharp increase has occurred.

"Professor Eileen Munro highlighted in her review of social work the importance of acting quickly to tackle neglect, before problems spiral out of control. But social workers tell us they need better tools and training to help them identify and tackle neglect earlier. And parents need access to support to help them to change their neglectful behaviour. If we are to tackle this growing problem, these two issues must be addressed."

A recent survey from America has found that financial arrangements are the main cause of arguments, with couples who are married or living together averaging three arguments a month over money.

According to the survey, which was conducted for the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) by Harris Interactive, 27% of those who are married or cohabiting said disagreements over money are most likely to prompt a spat. That made it the most volatile topic, ahead of arguments about children, chores, work or friends.

Since 2007, the AICPA has conducted an annual survey of Americans to determine their top financial concerns and assess their financial well-being. Additional findings include:

  • Three in ten adults who are married or living with a partner have engaged in at least one potentially deceitful behaviour related to their finances. The most common such behaviours include hiding purchases and making major purchases without consulting their significant other.
  • Among married adults, 36% of those aged 55 to 64 say financial matters cause arguments, which is notably higher than the percentage of 18- to 34-year-olds (15%), or seniors (20%), who say the same.
  • The average number of arguments prompted by financial matters rises with age. While among all married adults the average number of disagreement is three per month, among those aged 45 to 54, the average number of arguments rises to four per month.
  • More than half of those whose financial status has declined in the past year, 53%, report that financial matters are most likely to prompt arguments with their spouse.

 

The Chair of Resolution, Liz Edwards, has spoken at the fourth European Collaborative Conference in Edinburgh.

Collaborative law is a dispute resolution mechanism that allows both partners to be represented by lawyers, while meeting to receive advice and discuss solutions in the interests of the family. The process involves two clients and their lawyers attending a series of face to face meetings. Other professionals are brought into negotiations where needed.

The process can be very effective, as it allows separating couples to talk through their difficulties with the support of their lawyers, but having agreed that they will not instruct the lawyers to go to court. It can allow disputes to be resolved outside of the court room, even when mediation is not suitable.

During her speech, Liz Edwards talked the effectiveness of this method of dispute resolution and highlighted it as one of the options available for separating couples wanting to resolve their issues outside of the courtroom.

She explained that Resolution is also exploring the use of other dispute resolution methods and techniques for family disputes, including early neutral evaluation; other mediation techniques such as directive mediation; and family arbitration.

Commenting on new research from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) that claims that local authorities are acting more quickly to process care applications, Sue Kent, professional officer, British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said:

“It is welcome that Guardians feel local authorities are making more timely and appropriate interventions, and the fact that more serious neglect cases are being picked up is clearly vitally important for improving the life chances of vulnerable children. The rise in neglect cases reaching court perhaps could be seen as the impact of the ever worsening economic climate on many families who are struggling to cope.

“However, increasing demand must be matched by resources on the ground, to protect the integrity and professionalism of all children’s social workers, regardless of the field they work in. Although the child’s main professional relationship is with their local authority social worker, BASW members within Cafcass have previously reported that as children’s guardians, the restricted timescale, coupled with ever increasing workloads, often compromises their ability to practice ethically, as they have less time to develop relationships with children to represent their best interests in court cases, and ensure the local authority care plan is the right one for them.

“It is notable that the Cafcass report emphasises that family court work ‘does not detract from the importance of family support services to parents, aimed at preventing, as far as is possible, family breakdown and neglect’, since this area of work  – offering a genuine alternative to care proceedings is currently stretched beyond what is acceptable.

“This has to be a concern for the future, how are these families going be supported, and how will social workers cope with this ever increasing rise in their work while cuts to resources continue.”

To mark International Missing Children’s Day on May 25th, the charity PACT (Parents and Abducted Children Together) has announced the launch of a brand-new Missingkids website, redesigned in collaboration with the police agency, CEOP, which will take operational control of the site.

This brings into being an effective UK national system for tackling the ever-growing problem of missing and abducted children. It is something for which PACT has campaigned for almost ten years.

PACT is an international, non-profit organisation, registered in the UK and the US. PACT’s initial mission was to fight parental child abduction across frontiers by raising awareness of a growing, but little-known, problem and by advocating solutions. Today, PACT has broadened its mission to include all missing children.

The Founder and Chief Executive of PACT, Lady Catherine Meyer, said:

“With over 140,000 children going missing in the UK each year – more than one every five minutes – I am delighted to announce this major breakthrough in PACT’s decade-long campaign to reform the way we tackle this tragic issue.

“With the re-launch of the Missingkids website, and CEOP’s taking responsibility for missing and abducted children, we finally have the tools to bring hope to those whose children have gone missing or been abducted."

The care system is facing major challenges as the number of looked after children rises and retiring foster carers are not replaced fast enough, Children’s Minister Tim Loughton has warned.

He has urged fostering services not to be blinkered when considering who has the capacity to foster and to reach out to a wider pool of potential carers – able to help the increasingly challenging needs of children coming in care.

The Minister has argued that there will be a rising turnover of foster carers over coming years, caused in part by an aging workforce – the vast majority are already in their late forties to mid-50s. He said without younger and skilled foster carers coming forward, the current shortfall of carers will only grow.

Announcing measures to strengthen foster carers’ recruitment and retention, he has called on more fostering services to target those in caring professions, like nursing, teaching and social work, as potential foster carers.

Three quarters of the 65,000 children in care at any one time are in foster care – with as many as 91,000 spending some time in the care system over the course of a year.