John Hemming: We must change the way family courts are run ~ Birmingham Post.
Family law, particularly when it involves more than one country, is a complex issue involving a number of very sensitive issues. However, the machinery has been hidden away and is only now partially coming to the surface.
The story of the woman who was sectioned on a visit to Essex, subjected to a forced caesarean and then had her baby put up for adoption had a lot of publicity last year. As a result of this we can see some of the detail behind this.
I always think it is a good idea to look at things from the perspective of the children. Her baby daughter is now one. She has two sisters. Families are important to people and sibling relationships are important to children and adults.
When she gets to be a teenager she will find out more about what has happened in her life. Her question will be why was she not brought up with her sisters?
If she meets her sisters she will find they are fluent in a language she cannot speak and she won’t know anyone in her wider family.
It is true that the grandmother does not feel she can deal with all three children.
However, the aunt of the baby’s step-sister offered to look after the two sisters and the baby in the same household.
Essex County Council, however, refused this. Their argument was that the aunt was not a blood relative of the baby. That is a silly argument.
I know, however, that Essex have an adoption target. In their corporate plan of 2012/3 it was 12 per cent of the children in care and they were below target. Previously they were paid £2,469,200 by the Blair government for increasing adoptions.
Hence when it comes to the care plan it is clear that the local authority employees are under a lot of pressure to propose a care plan for adoption.
It is in fact only the younger children that can be adopted. Nationally a very high proportion of the children that leave care under five do so through adoption.
So we are saying to that baby in 12 years time that she was kept away from her family for no good reason and that the local authority had a bureaucratic target to divide families.
My view is that this target lies behind the decision to refuse to allow the aunt to care for the children.
Many foreign governments have complained about what is done in the English family courts.
However, they are not properly subject to scrutiny in England.
Successive governments have been pressing for children to be taken into care earlier and then adopted quickly. Not only does this lead to more miscarriages of justice, but it also makes it harder to protect children from harm.
It is nigh on impossible to predict that a child will starve to death at the age of seven when that child is born. The low threshold for intervention with babies also drives a higher threshold for intervention for older children.
When I say “the wrong children are taken into care”, I mean both that children are taken into care who shouldn’t be, but also that older children are abandoned by the system and end up dying from child abuse and neglect when they need not.
There is very little scrutiny of how the system operates. It does not actually require people to be identified to have more scrutiny.
We also should not imprison people whose only offence is complaining about problems with the system.
I proposed a system of academic scrutiny of family proceedings, but the children’s services directors rejected this.
I could write a lot more about this. I believe a lot of human misery is being created unnecessarily.
We need a change in approach urgently.
John Hemming is Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley
• In response to this article, a spokesperson for Essex County Council said: “The suggestion that Essex County Council, or any other Local Authority, treats adoption targets as more important than the welfare of vulnerable children and their families whose welfare is our paramount concern is utterly baseless and we would refute it in the strongest possible terms.
“As we have previously stated the long term safety and wellbeing of children is always Essex County Council’s priority.
“Adoption is never considered until we have exhausted all other options and is never pursued lightly.”