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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