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Every year more than 50,000 children in England and Wales have their fates decided by the family courts. When divorcing parents cannot agree on how the children they produced together should be looked after, a judge from the family courts will adjudicate and enforce a particular way of dividing those children’s time between their two parents. Equally, when officers of the state (usually social workers) believe that children’s interests would be better served by being taken away from their biological parents and given either to a new couple to adopt, or handed over to the care of a state-run institution, it again requires a decision from a judge from the family courts, a decision which will be irrevocable.

The family courts therefore wield enormous power. Their capacity to make or break lives is far greater than that possessed by the ordinary criminal courts. People can recover from prison. But most children who are forced by a decision from a family-court judge to lose contact with one or both parents, or who are made to enter the nightmare that many state-run care homes have become, are permanently damaged by the experience. For a parent, there is prob­ably no greater catastrophe than to be forced to relinquish care of and contact with your child. For children, the long-term consequences can be psychologically disfiguring to a degree which it is difficult for anyone who has not gone through the experience to understand.

Deciding the fate of more than 50,000 children is also a critical area of social policy. Children who are placed in state-run care homes, for example, are much more likely to end up as criminals, as drug addicts and without jobs. Every year about 20,000 children are placed in such care homes; most of them will end up in prison or dependent on state hand-outs.

Given the colossal consequences of the decisions that they make, you would expect that the operation of the family courts would be matched by a determination to see that the power they wield is wisely, or at least properly, exercised — as the Government correctly insists: “the interests of the child are paramount”.

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Anonymous
November 14th, 2008
7:11 PM
Kent County Council uk has a mandatory policy 'all children aged under 10 must have aFGC(family group conference) prior to care proceedings - so why is this not happening and why are children of adoptable ages not being placed with family members first ? because they do not support gtandparents or family members with the same allowances as their fostercarers and want the children for adoption - 21 million pounds in ONE YEAR!!!

carol
July 7th, 2008
10:07 PM
i have just read your article which is sounding earily familiar i am a recovering alcoholic with 2 children 11 and 5 and am presently fighting an ongoing battle with social services whom despite stating i am a wonderful mother confirmed by their school, gp, health visitor and other proffesionals etc my children are suffering emotional abuse because i have been truthful and cannot say i will not touch another drink ever again.because of this they want my children to remain on the at risk register for ever and the only stress or emotional abuse that myself and my children have in our lives is them intruding into every aspect of our lives any advice would greatly received

Lady Portia
June 6th, 2008
10:06 AM
Best Interest of the Child was Hitler's slogan. Some social workers steal babies to order. Druggie babies are not wanted but cute healthy ones are.

Lady Portia
June 6th, 2008
10:06 AM
I was in similar situation in Ireland- and UK trained social worker announced he could find no reason to remove children- but that he had to prove to me - HE HAD THE POWER- so he would make me homeless, remove children and arrange electric shock therapy - as children were too strong willed and too intelligent. That is how crazy the system is. I now deal with many cases- some children removed with NO care order, some removed even when Justice Judge said NO. The judges have no power and SS are a law onto themselves. If you check them psychologically- you will find many have unresolvd inner issues of their own. 55% of social workers were abused as children- so cognitive projection is rife. I called Strasbourg today and there are sack fulls of cases sent there from UK recently. The one case I was dealing with was held up because the judge refused to give judgement on paper - so case was delayed. It is only when the press help us out that we bring justice to innocent people. Justice has to be seen, to be done

Shaun O'Connell
June 6th, 2008
7:06 AM
Whilst agreeing with the article generally, what the author fails t mention or may not be aware of are the follwoing issues; 1. Decisions in the High Court (sometimes) and very often in the Court of Appeal are made by case lawyers before the hearing in a document called a bench memorandum. Every case a case lawyer in the Court of Appeal and the bench memorandum is an advisory opnion for permission to Appeal. The Judges refuse to disclose it when requested and it means many Judges do not veen look at the case papers. 2. Whilst the occasional injustice may get reported (with the permission of the Judges) we have seen many cases of injustice rubber stamped by the same Judges who like t make themsleves seen as being fair by giving out one high profile case and then secretly stuffing further 500 cases. 3. If one tries to question or challenge methodlogy of Social workers, Court reporters, and experts often the Judge will protect the person concerned even intervening and answering the question themsleves! 4. Men and women can be victims of injustices but the children always suffer. For more information see www.familieslink.co.uk, www.elc.org.uk and www.aliance4justice.eu

Bill
June 2nd, 2008
9:06 PM
Good article. We don't want the situation as described by Tina in her comment, but the current situation cannot be allowed to continue. That social services and the courts do plenty of good work is not in doubt, but the issues raised in this article are real. This is sometime the government should be addressing urgently. This is not a party political issue, just a matter of needing good government to act in the best interests of children, parents and justice.

ThomasR
June 2nd, 2008
5:06 PM
Splendid article, thank you. Lifting that veil is vital. I don't think it is feasible to determine any person's best interests. Only the child in question could hope to do that. So this business will only be resolved when we decide instead to determine what a child's _wishes_ are. Although difficult, advice and assistance could be given, and opportunities created for him to change his mind later on. Of course this implies that we have to take children seriously, which is fundamental shift from where we are now.

Tina Trent
May 30th, 2008
4:05 PM
I cannot speak to the British system. However, in the States, every parent, no matter how despicably abusive (with some exceptions involving criminal incarceration), is given numerous chances to appeal every step in the process of determining "fitness." Money is no object because taxpayers must provide these negligent and abusive parents with representation. Consequently, children and the foster parents who wish to adopt them are routinely subjected to years of uncertainty and fear, no matter how severe or chronic or obvious the abuse delivered by the biological parent(s). I wonder that the author here has left out even passing acknowledgment that children are removed from homes because they are, in fact, endangered and abused. Operating from the viewpoint that all cases of removal are equally suspect and eliding custody cases arising from divorce with abuse cases doesn't create a compelling critique. But even in the case that the British system is indeed as skewed as the author suggests here, be very careful what you wish for.

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