Rosemary Hunter FAcSS, University of Kent
Mandy Burton, University of Leicester
Liz Trinder, University of Exeter
This article highlights the key findings and recommendations of the Ministry of Justice report, Assessing risk of harm to children and parents in private law children cases (June 2020), with a particular focus on the recommendations for reform of the Child Arrangements Programme. It summarises the evidence received by the panel and outlines the four structural barriers to identifying and addressing domestic abuse which emerged from the evidence: the family court’s pro-contact culture, resource constraints, the adversarial process and silo working. It explains how these barriers have operated systematically to minimise domestic abuse and to limit the effectiveness of previous reform efforts. As a consequence, the panel found that court orders – whether agreed or determined by the court – often fail to protect children and adult victims from continuing abuse. It is therefore necessary that these barriers are tackled directly. The proposed reform of the Child Arrangements programme forms part of this effort, in particular in shifting from an adversarial to an investigative and problem-solving process. Features of this process would include active investigation by the court to gain a comprehensive understanding of what is happening for the child, consultation with children, judicial continuity, joined-up working, and follow-up by the court to ensure orders are safe and workable, and to avoid returns to court and the use of proceedings to continue abuse and control.
The full article will be published in the November issue of Family Law.