LEGAL EAGLE: New campaign puts children first

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At 1pm on January 21, Women’s Aid England and Wales launched its new campaign and report aimed at putting children first.

The report – Nineteen Child Homicides – revisits its 2004 report about the danger to children of allowing contact with a parent who is a perpetrator of violence with his/her children and the horrific consequences when professionals get it wrong.

The new report focuses on 12 families where 19 children were murdered by the perpetrator of violence against the parent who they live with and who has tried to keep them safe. It is a grim and depressing read.

If the recommendations made in the 2004 report had been followed by the professionals (they cite police, social workers, family court advisors and judges) these 19 children might be alive today.

Clearly the blame for these needless deaths lies squarely with the perpetrator but there are serious concerns about the professional failures which placed children with that perpetrator for contact.

The report notes the pressure placed on victims of violence to allow their ex-partner contact during the court process seemingly at all costs. It states professionals starting with judges need to be trained in the effects and impact of violence, including coercive control, and there is a need for training in identifying risk for the appointment of an expert to do this where appropriate.

Cris McCurley is a member of the expert advisory board of Women’s Aid for this report and campaign.

She and colleagues with direct experience of the family court system have warned that the situation has worsened in recent time due to costs pressures on the family court advisory service and legal aid.

Also the pressure on judges to speed cases through the court process combined with lack of legal aid for experts and for parents and the fact that in many cases both parties having to represent themselves all are factors putting children and the victims of the violence at significant risk of harm.

The campaign seeks to address this.

For anyone wishing to know more or get involved, the new report is available to read on the Ben Hoare Bell website.