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Children & Child Custody

Government consults on child access after separation

Ministers have put forward proposals to strengthen the law to ensure that children can continue to see both parents if they separate or divorce where it is safe and in the child’s best interest.

Grandparents risk poverty raising grandchildren

A new study by charity Grandparents Plus has revealed that lack of support from Government and local authorities means that many grandparents face poverty after dropping out of the labour market to raise their grandchildren.

Quicker action to keep children safe

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) has published new research which shows that local authorities are acting more quickly to keep vulnerable children safe.

Commission's cost reduction report published

The Commons Public Accounts Committee has published a report of its review of the the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission's (the Commission) cost reduction plans.

Adoption delays revealed

The Government has recently published the first local authority adoption scorecards, which have revealed widespread delays throughout the adoption system in England.

Government pledges to tackle child maintenance arrears

The Minister in charge of the child maintenance system has pledged the Government will take greater action to tackle parents who avoid their child maintenance responsibilities.

Children missing from care

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults and the APPG for Looked after Children and Care Leavers has taken oral evidence from witnesses as part of its inquiry into the care and support provided for the thousands of children who go missing from care every year.Children who go missing from care are in great danger of being physically or sexually abused. Research from The Children’s Society reveals that a quarter of the 100,000 children who run away from care or home each year have been the victims of significant harm or abuse.The opening session, led by Ann Coffey MP, focuses on trafficked children who are disappearing from local authority care.Children as young as three are trafficked in the UK for purposes of exploitation. This can include forced labour such as cannabis cultivation and domestic servitude, as well as forced begging, forced marriage and sexual exploitation.Frontline practitioners are very concerned by the numbers of child victims of trafficking going missing from care and never being found.

Study into the role of Children’s Guardians

A pilot study by researchers at Lancaster University and the University of Bradford has found that involving children’s guardians in vulnerable families may avoid the need for care proceedings.  The pilot study, listed in the Family Justice Review and Government response to that review, examined whether earlier involvement of the Children’s Guardian might ensure more cases are prevented from going to court, or where cases go to court, that they are resolved more quickly.The research team found that the Guardian’s independence of the local authority was seen as particularly advantageous in terms of enabling parents to engage with concerns for children.One lawyer for parents involved in a case said: “...the Guardian can put it in layman's terms - make it easier to understand - the parent will listen and open the parents' eyes. At this point the parents are very vulnerable, but if the Guardian can advocate for the child and get the parent to listen ... that's good .. the Guardian can be the voice of calm when the parents are very upset with the local authority. “Dr Karen Broadhurst, from Lancaster University’s Department of Applied Social Science, said: “The courts are dealing with a huge number of cases and it’s better if the Guardian can divert cases and reduce that volume of applications. In cases where diversion plans unfortunately fail, we found that the Children’s Guardians were very positive about being involved earlier as this enabled them to provide a stronger steer  for the courts, reducing the likelihood of time wasting, duplicate assessments.”The report from the pilot project will go to the Ministry of Justice and the project will now be extended to Liverpool.

Figures show rise in care applications

Barnardos has issued a statement following the release of figures by Cafcass, the children's court advisory service, which show that the number of applications from local councils to take children into care in England has exceeded 10,000 for the first time.Barnardo's Deputy Chief Executive, Jane Stacey, says:“While the increase in the number of children being referred into care might seem alarming, I am pleased that decisions are being made more quickly to remove children from damaging situations.“We must intervene early to support families but where parenting is still not good enough, urgent action must be taken to protect children from damaging situations. Care can and does improve the lives of vulnerable children. This is why it is essential that we ensure that there are more foster or adoptive parents available to provide them with a stable and loving home.”The figures from Cafcass also reveal that there were a total of 886 applications in March 2012. Applications received between May 2011 to February 2012 this year have been the highest ever recorded by Cafcass for these individual months.

Kinship carers not adequately supported

The charity Family Rights Group has warned that family and friends carers are not receiving adequate support from local authorities to help them raise some of the country's most vulnerable children. When children are unable to live with either of their parents, official guidance stipulates they should be enabled to live with a member of their extended family or social network, provided this is feasible and in the child’s best interests. Yet one of the largest series of studies to date, by Family Rights Group, in partnership with Oxford University’s Centre for Family Law and Policy, has uncovered a major lack of support for family and friends carers or ‘kinship carers’ and the estimated 250,000 children living with them.The study found that 45% of English local authorities had not published a family and friends care policy, despite being required by the government to do so by the end of September 2011. The study also found that 76% of carers surveyed felt they did not have enough understanding of the legal options and the implications for the level of support they would receive to make informed decisions. These options include:

ECHR rules on same-sex adoption case

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in the case of Gas and Dubois v. France that the refusal to allow a woman to adopt her same-sex partner’s child was not discriminatory.The applicants, Valérie Gas and Nathalie Dubois, are French nationals who have been cohabiting since 1989. In September 2000 Nathalie Dubois gave birth in France to a daughter, A, who had been conceived in Belgium by means of medically-assisted procreation with an anonymous donor. The child does not have an established parental tie with the father, in accordance with Belgian law. She has lived all her life in the applicants’ shared home. In April 2002 Ms Gas and Ms Dubois entered into a civil partnership agreement, and then, in March 2006, Ms Gas applied to the Nanterre tribunal de grande instance for a simple adoption order in respect of her partner’s daughter; her partner had given her express consent before a notary. In July 2006 the court observed that the statutory requirements for the adoption had been met and that it had been demonstrated that Ms Gas and Ms Dubois were actively and jointly involved in the child’s upbringing, caring for and showing affection to her. However, it refused the application on the grounds that the adoption would have legal implications which ran counter to the applicants’ intentions and the child’s best interests. This finding was upheld by the Versailles Court of Appeal, which considered that, since the applicants would be unable to share parental responsibility as permitted by the Civil Code in the case of adoption by the spouse of the child’s biological mother or father, the adoption would deprive Ms Dubois of all rights in relation to her child.The applicants complained of the refusal of Ms Gas’s application to adopt Ms Dubois’s child. They maintained that this decision had infringed their right to private and family life in a discriminatory manner, in breach of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) taken in conjunction with Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life).In a Chamber judgment, which is not final, the European Court of Human Rights held that there had been no violation of these convention rights. The Court saw notably no evidence of a difference in treatment based on the applicants’ sexual orientation, as opposite-sex couples who had entered into a civil partnership were likewise prohibited from obtaining a simple adoption order.

Fathers should be made to meet child maintenance responsibilities

A new report by think tank Policy Exchange has claimed that non-resident fathers on benefits should be made to work if they refuse to take financial responsibility for their children.

Charities voice concerns that legal changes will harm children

Six major children’s charities have joined together to voice concerns that children will be denied access to justice in proposed changes to legal aid.

Authorities must tackle delays in adoption

Ofsted has warned local authorities that, under new adoption inspection arrangements, they will only be able to achieve an ‘outstanding’ judgement if they ensure all children identified for adoption are placed within twelve months. These new arrangements will be implemented in April this year.

Concerns over government response to the Family Justice Review

Nagalro, the professional association for court guardians, has welcomed the government’s commitment to reducing delay in the family justice system, but has raised concerns that the proposals may harm children’s interests.

Where do children live when international relationships breakdown?

An article by Richard Gregorian, principal of Gregorian Emerson Family Law Solicitors (www.gelaw.co.uk) and Gavin Emerson, Brief Strategic Therapist.

Family Law - Why be an expert only part of the time?

Following his article in Family Law Week (1) in which he argued for the greater use of non-legal skills in the family justice system, Richard Gregorian, family law solicitor, explains in more detail the practice model which enables psychiatrists, psychological strategists and other mental health care experts to have a far greater influence in determining the outcome of disputes involving children following marital or relationship breakdown whilst broadening their practice.

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