CAFCASS - the biggest child abuse scandal Britain has ever known {Author Paul Morris)

The Children Advisory and Family Court and Support Services (CAFCASS) was set up by the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 to replace the widely discredited Family Court Welfare Service. The role of this organisation is, amongst other things, to assist the court in deciding what is best for a child in, for example, matters of contact.

In 1997 and 1998, I had two meetings with Jack Straw, who was then Home Secretary, at which I described the serious shortcomings of that Service. Shortly afterwards, CAFCASS was set up. It is staffed by the same people who failed the Family Court Welfare Service (FCWS) and largely operates from the same premises. They brought with them their discredited methodologies and outdated theories. Effectively, the failed FCWS was merely re-badged. It was set up to fail. It has not disappointed. It fails the children of our Country. Not surprisingly, it continues to make the same mistakes. Nothing has changed. An opportunity was missed.

Damage to parent-child relationships has an enormous impact not only on the parent and the child concerned. These damaged children are more likely to grow into damaged adults with all the implications for society in, for example, increased crime rates, antisocial behaviour and drug addiction. Parents abused by the system are more likely to become alienated from society and the vicious circle continues over the generations. In most cases, a child loses contact with one half of his or her family. Children have one parent removed from their lives for no reason. They have no role models. What does this teach children about values? Many of society's ills stem from the work of CAFCASS.

Those who have not had contact with this organisation will usually assume the following:

The Myth

CAFCASS officers approach each case from an independent position. They examine all the evidence, they interview all the relevant parties and present a balanced report to the court which shows the advantages and disadvantages of taking different options. All information in the report is verified; there are no unfounded allegations or hearsay. Parents see the report well in advance of the court hearing and are given an opportunity to correct, controvert or comment upon the report as required by Administrative Law. The report will always recommend contact except in the most extreme and rare set of circumstances and will suggest a plan to achieve this. CAFCASS officers are well trained in their job and have a very clear idea of their objectives which are laid down in a training manual. Different CAFCASS officers working on the same case would come to almost identical recommendations. Research shows unequivocally that children benefit from contact with both parents. CAFCASS accepts this.

The Reality

CAFCASS Officers determine the status quo. For example, if the mother has taken the children on the breakdown of the relationship (the most usual scenario, though the reverse is becoming more common) and the father has failed through his own efforts to obtain contact, by the time the matter reaches court, the father may not have seen his children for six months or more. CAFCASS officers will be loath to disturb this situation relying on the excuse that it would be too traumatic for the child to see the parent without contact, and it would not be in the child's best interests. Of course, the implied assumption is that what they say must, by definition, be in the child's best interests. They never justify this. The officers take the line of least resistance and confirm the status quo. In fact, it is not a question of being in the child's best interests at all, but in the best interests of the CAFCASS officer. Bear in mind that the trade union of CAFCASS officers states that the role of the family court is to boost the role of the woman in the family.

They decide that whatever situation obtains, it should continue because this is the easiest route for them. Of course, this situation is almost always that the mother has taken the kids. Put another way, they make their decision and then select the facts to support it. Anyone could take the reverse position and equally find facts to support that position, again discarding those facts which do not fit their decision. CAFCASS officers (or any two people) can equally come to completely opposite decisions based on the same facts. This, in itself, discredits and invalidates the work of CAFCASS. A coin spinning machine would produce better decisions.

Using this methodology, CAFCASS can then dispose of cases quickly and meet targets. This means that the parent who has kidnapped the children is rewarded and the parent without the children is punished. The Law rewards the guilty and punishes the innocent. The Mad Hatter would approve.

The court orders CAFCASS to prepare reports which are considered to be expert reports. Parents have no right to have their own expert present a report and are routinely denied such an opportunity if they request it.

As the court appointed an expert, the court must routinely accept his or her recommendations. It is extremely rare for a court to reject the recommendations of their own expert for obvious reasons. The experts and the judges know each other well; they see each other regularly in court. It is a cosy relationship.

CAFCASS officers do not show their report to the parent who will be adversely affected by the decision until a few minutes before the hearing to ensure that they have little or no opportunity to absorb the contents of the report and prepare questions. They do not want to be grilled in court and have their work exposed to scrutiny. Once again, this is unlawful. Under Administrative Law, everyone has a right to be informed of anything adverse to their case in order to be given an opportunity to correct, controvert or comment upon it.

If a parent is denied this fundamental human right, then there is no reason why an adjournment cannot be requested. Don't be ambushed by CAFCASS and the Judiciary!

Once the report is prepared, it is a done deal. As parents are prevented from seeing the report or correcting errors, the court process is a sham. Judges almost never go against a CAFCASS report; it is invariably accepted in its entirety. Occasionally, judges may make some trivial change merely in order to demonstrate their authority. No official statistics are gathered on the number of times a CAFCASS report is accepted entirely or almost entirely.

No official statistics are gathered on the outcome of judges' decisions because if they were, they would likely be an embarrassment. Without data, no one knows what is happening and this is the way CAFCASS and the courts prefer it; it does not leave them open to criticism. It is clear from the widespread dissatisfaction with CAFCASS and from anecdotal evidence that this is precisely what happens.

CAFCASS and the Law

CAFCASS officers are poorly trained and receive virtually no guidance in what they are supposed to be doing. There are no guidelines concerning the fundamental purpose of their work regarding contact, residence, patterns of contact or amount of contact. Training manuals provide abundant help and advice on other matters such as the wearing of seat belts when transporting children, translation for non-English speakers and helping those with learning difficulties. But about the core issues, there is a total silence.

Different CAFCASS officers can reach opposite conclusions from the same set of facts. Not surprisingly, this inherent unfairness has generated enormous resentment. There are many fathers (and mothers) who have had their children taken away from them for absolutely no reason whatsoever. If a child is taken from a parent (and therefore a parent from a child) without reason, it can only be described as child abuse. By this definition, CAFCASS officers routinely commit child abuse. Given that CAFCASS is a State organisation, it is Government-funded, State-sponsored child abuse. It diminishes respect for the State and for Authority. Ordinary, middle-class, law-abiding parents are losing respect for the Law. It is that serious.

The Effect of the Current System

I am allowed to see any child in the country except my own. My child can see any man (or woman) in the country except me. The only two people who cannot see each other are father (or mother) and child. A friend who is a teacher, can teach any child except his own. Does this make sense at all? I have asked this question of everyone working in the field - judges, barristers, solicitors, CAFCASS, social workers etc. but have yet to receive a response except, 'yes, I know it's crazy, but that's how it is'. It has to stop.

The parent who has kidnapped the child - or a new partner of that parent - does not have to prove to anyone why he or she should see the child, but the parent who has had the child stolen has to show why he or she should see that child - his or her own child. How can one prove innocence? So, a stranger can live with your child without challenge, yet you are prevented from seeing him or her at all and for no reason other than the convenience of the CAFCASS officer.

If a couple live together, no one suggests that either needs a court order to see their own children - the very idea is ludicrous. But if one of the parents moves next door, the presence of a brick wall means the parent without the children has to apply for a court order.

Ordinary middle-class respectable people with not even a parking ticket to their names, find themselves steamrollered by CAFCASS. They have done nothing wrong, but CAFCASS positively rewards the guilty and punishes the innocent (in most cases, it is rewarding the woman and punishing the man - sperm and cheque dads). One parent may repeatedly ignore court orders for contact. CAFCASS and the courts do nothing. Court orders are meaningless in this context. Courts condone and encourage the breaking of court orders. The very courts which are supposed to uphold the Law encourage people to break the Law - indeed reward them for so doing.

If teenagers robbed banks and found that they only received a ticking off (if caught), they may very well continue to rob banks. If they robbed many banks and were caught but found that they were never sent to prison or punished at all, they may think that robbing banks was covertly approved of; on the surface, they were chastised but nothing serious happened. Robbing banks would be in their interests and if there was no downside, why not? Now, substitute banks for children. Stealing children is covertly approved of as long as it is the mother (very rarely is it the father).

The Courts and CAFCASS find themselves in this position because the system they operate has a fundamental flaw - and until this is removed, there is no way in which the difficulties with contact may be resolved. Tinkering with CAFCASS will have the same result as tinkering with the old discredited FCWS - nothing but continued chaos and misery. It's like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The Fundamental Flaw

I do not have to apply for a court order to carry out a legal activity. I may go to the pub or a football match or go shopping without recourse to the Law. Clearly, asking for a court order for these activities would be considered ludicrous. If I misbehave whilst involved in any of these activities, then I may be banned by court order. There is the presumption of innocence, that most people may enjoy a visit to the pub or football match without the need to ask for permission. Court orders prevent people from carrying out activities; they are not issued to allow people to carry out lawful activities. That is precisely why we have problems with contact and with CAFCASS.

There must always be a presumption of contact - unless there is a very good reason why there should not be and then the court may issue a non-contact order. Implementing this system would immediately remove the necessity for much of the work of CAFCASS. There would be no need for reports to see if a parent is fit to see a child. Indeed, why should the parent without the child have to do this but the parent with the child does not (or even the new partner)? Surely it is more important for the parent with a child to prove that they are fit to see that child but that never happens. Unless one parent could prove (and I mean prove, not allege) that the other parent is guilty of, say, persistent violence towards the child or of serious drug abuse, then contact must take place - the only issue to be considered should be how much and when.

Studies in the United States show that contact with both parents is always best for a child even if one parent is in prison (I found that part hard to believe myself).

However, the vast majority of parents are not violent or drug abusers or in prison. The vast majority of parents are just normal human beings who want to see their kids. Remove these cases from the system and the savings would be significant. 90% of cases would need only a programme to facilitate contact and if contact is linked to money, 70% of the CSA cases would disappear too.

By the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights a litigant has no right to put his case, to present evidence or to have a judge hear argument. The only right a litigant has is to be physically present in court. A judge may listen to one side and not the other; he may invent defences for a defendant; he may prevent a litigant from uttering a single word; he may ignore acts of Parliament with impunity and he may break the Civil Procedure Rules without sanction. The Department for Constitutional Affairs is aware of this but takes no action; by default, they condone it.

An innocent parent who has done absolutely nothing wrong, can lose all contact and even have his child adopted for no cogent reason.

Imagine that we did not have a system at all to deal with contact. Ask yourself, 'which is the better system - the one we have now or my proposal?'

Future generations will look back on this period with horror, just as we find it hard to believe that we exploited children in Dickensian times, that we had slave labour or the death penalty. These are the embarrassments of our recent past and few will not feel ashamed. We now have an opportunity to put right a dreadful wrong and lay the foundations of an enlightened system fitting of the 21st century.

It is no exaggeration to say that this is by far the biggest child abuse scandal that this country has ever seen or will see.

[ for your information I first saw the text above (including the credit of Mr. Morris as the author) in a page created by Mike Whiffen under the heading

Cafcass- the biggest child abuse scandal Britain has ever had...

./viewtopic.php?p=3798&sid=e88b1705262cf42dae0f047cba4b1a5e by Mike Wiffen on Wed 21 Feb, 2007 8:52 am

please note that the ntlworld page no longer exists, happily I was able to extract the content from a cached page ]