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Penny Booth: So much to do and so little time...

Date:6 JUL 2010

So much to do and so little time...

Penny BoothThere's a call for evidence from the Family Justice Panel so that anyone can contribute their views on how it is to be improved. Very worthy, but such a wide invitation will extend to all sorts of groups, practitioners, representative lobbies etc and will not extend to me because I just poke a very small stick and I am not part of any organised group. However, if you want my views all you have to do is read my opinion column (see Related Articles tab above) and there is plenty of comment on there.

It is rather good to see that the review is extended to cover grandparents' access to children, a topic that has not had the attention it needs, along with the access of parents with whom the child does not live. We need, as a society, to be encouraging active engagement by parents with their children, whether they live with them or not, and mediation could be extremely helpful here. I also like to read that the situation of grandparents will be examined as I know that for many their offspring's divorce frequently leads to their own ‘divorce' from the grandchildren. We need generational support wherever this is going to be supportive - and families need all the support they can get.

I see that the number of cohabiting couples is projected to rise to 3.8 million by 2033.  However you count them, cohabitation is on the rise. That really is not a problem as I do not want to interfere in how people arrange their personal lives. Fewer divorces will result, of course, where there are fewer marriages. However, I would just say that it seems to suggest we should be looking at financial arrangements for cohabiting couples and their families, if only because we/the state/the taxpayer may end up making up the difference if we don't. So, I wonder how far down the agenda cohabitation reform is for our cohabiting government?

I just love the idea that Facebook is being used by divorce lawyers to gather evidence in America (of course). There may be heightened levels of personal security required when one goes to law, but the stories of estranged partners forgetting to ‘de-friend' each other before putting up pictures of incriminating new friends and opportunities was funny. However, Facebook is cited in almost one in five of UK divorces, so it isn't just the Americans, whose own problems over security with sleeper spy families brought more questions of typical American life this week. For goodness' sake!

There are calls to take children in to care earlier - on 28 June a new study seems to say that intervening earlier would save time, money and suffering. Who can argue against that? The costs of state child care are phenomenal - the difference between earlier intervention and a later ‘riding in with the cavalry' is around £40,000, aside from the suffering inflicted if you don't. Looked after children do less well in virtually every area of their lives and for some the ‘less well' leads to poorer job prospects, dysfunctional families of their own and further expenditure on state care for their children. Not a happy prospect in the circle of despond. Barnardos is right - we need pro-activity here with an unashamed promotion of proper care (preferably) by parents. Alas, along that continuum lies the potential for massive state intervention in everyone's lives.

Talking of intervention - how about that story in the Sunday Times about the cycling to school family? I read (Sunday Times, page 5 on 4 July 2010) that two parents allowed their eight and five year old children to ride just over a mile to school in Dulwich. Now the school is threatening to report  them (to Social Services) if they do not make other arrangements to accompany their children to school - presumably by having one parent take them in a car, or walk them to school. Some other parents will not allow their children to play with the cyclists. What a shame it has come to this. The children have, according to their parents, benefitted from having responsibility and trust, use the pavement (OK, we none of us like it when a cyclist takes over the pavement, but really, children?) and so far all has been positive. Yes, of course schools have responsibilities, and guidance from the department of Children, Schools and Families in March this year states that if a school believes or suspects that a child may be likely to suffer significant harm they must refer the case to social services. Do Social Services not have enough to do?

This is rather disturbing - the story before the wild cyclists (on page four) refers to ‘smart meters' that are able to permit officials to snoop on people's lives by clocking their use of electricity - filling the kettle, having a bath, cooking and cleaning etc and thereby getting a picture of the lifestyle of the registered household through information on the timing and use of the electrical power. The compulsory installation of these meters was apparently halted in The Netherlands last year because of fears of possible breaches of privacy under the protection of human rights.

Goodness me. I must go and have a shower now, before lunch.

Penny Booth is running the Great North Run for Age UK on 19 September, 2010. This is a half marathon and should she manage to complete the 13.1 miles then please coinsider giving a donation to Age Uk via www.justgiving.com/PennyBooth

Penny Booth is an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law. Click here to follow Penny Booth on Twitter.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.