Judges “Should Talk to Children” Before They Make Decisions on Care

(Guest post from family lawyers in England) MPs have started to call for a change in how the courts decide about which children should be going into care, the Observer has reported. Various Members of Parliament have warned that judges tend to have little experience in matters regarding family law, and instead rely almost solely on the evidence given to them by social workers.

According to the report from the Child Protection All Party Parliamentary Group (CPAPPG) – a group made up of child protection experts as well as MPs – the majority of the children who do end up in care never speak to the judge who decides to take them from their families.

A Call for Reform

The group has suggested that the recently introduced Children and Families Bill will not do enough to ease the problems in the child protection system, a system which is currently already faltering under its massive workload.

The CPAPPG want judges to ask children whether or not they would like to talk to them, to voice any concerns or to make known any information which might be left out or overlooked by a social worker, before they make their final decision on care.

The group has also called for a greater number of judges who have more experience in family law, as a large number of those involved in care decisions have little to no knowledge of the workings of the system, instead relying entirely on the evidence produced by overworked social workers, who have themselves said they felt “under huge pressure” in such cases, as well as feeling “intimidated by judges”.

Expressed Concerns

The CPAPPG expressed its concerns that the voices of those children who end up being taken into care are not being taken into consideration nearly enough and that these children felt let down by the legal system or their court rulings.

They expressed a desire for all judges presiding over care order cases to ensure that they speak to the children involved before making a ruling, in order to understand the wishes of said children and to make a better, more informed decision in the long run.

There are a large number of family law solicitors, such as those featured on www.switalskisfamilylaw.co.uk, but not enough family law judges, claimed the group. They want the government to make sure that any judge to preside over family court cases is a specialist in the area of family law, especially since the recent increase in workload.

Baby P

Since the shocking case of Baby P, in which the social care system failed drastically, more and more experts in child protection have taken a more proactive, interventionist approach to their work, and this has led to further strain on the system.

Last year, the number of children in care was up 13% on the previous 12 month period, and it was reported that some independent review officers had worked on around 200 cases in that year – much higher than the recommended 50-70! It is for these reasons as well that the CPAPPG are crying out for change.

What rights do grandparents have in divorce?

Parents’ rights in a divorce are discussed widely and regularly in family law, as you would expect. Grandparents rights, however, are talked about much less frequently. This is despite the fact that grandparents are often just as eager to see their grandchildren as parents are to see their children.

When parents separate grandparents can go from being part of a solid family unit in which they can see their grandchildren regularly, to people on the periphery of a broken family where there are no guarantees of visitation. Grandparents can find themselves out in the cold, even denied access to their grandchildren.

So what rights do grandparents have in divorce?

The truth is that, unfortunately, grandparents have very few rights when it comes to seeing their grandchildren. This sad truth is often very upsetting for people who want to see their beloved grandkids, but can’t, perhaps after an acrimonious divorce or separation.

What can you do if you are an estranged grandparent?

Don’t play the blame game You may naturally want to side with your son or daughter when they separate, but maintaining a civil relationship with their ex is wise so that they are less likely to deny you access to your grandchildren.

Talk it through The most successful post-separation relationships occur when families make a plan for visitation that everyone is happy with. Remind the ex-in-law that you are willing to take on childcare duties and that your grandchildren enjoy spending time with you. Remain calm as much as possible in these discussions as emotions are sure to be fraught.

Avoid the courts – Court action is usually expensive and cases can become drawn out, prolonging stresses within the family and making relationships worse.

Be realistic – You have to accept that your grandchildren’s time will be split between parents, other grandparents and extended family after a divorce or separation. You may therefore not see them quite as often as before the split, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t still have a great and meaningful relationship with them as they grow up.

Seek help if necessary – If you have done everything you reasonably can and you are still being denied access to your grandchildren, you can seek legal advice from a family lawyer. The aim should be to find an amicable solution outside of the courts.

Author bio: Sam Butterworth writes for Stowe Family Law, the UK’s largest specialist law firm, run by senior partner and TV legal expert Marilyn Stowe.

Child maintenance payments still in arrears

The collection of outstanding child maintenance payments is still a major problem for families, with more single parents struggling to obtain the necessary support for their children from absentee parents.

Child maintenance arrears

According to recent figures from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), outstanding child maintenance arrears have increased from £3.802 billion in June 2012 to £3.814 billion in September 20121.

The figures also show that:

  • In the quarter to September 2012, the CSA collected or arranged £305.6 million in child maintenance (regular and arrears), of which £28.1 million was arrears.
  • In the year to September 2012, the CSA collected or arranged £1,204.5 million in child maintenance (regular and arrears), of which £113.2 million was arrears.

The Child Support Agency

The DWP took over responsibility for the work of the Child Support Agency (CSA) on 1st August 2012. Before this, the CSA was managed by the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission.

As well as changing the child maintenance organisational structure, the Government is also proposing a number of controversial changes to its operation, designed to encourage parents to make their own maintenance arrangements without resorting to a statutory collection scheme.

This new Child Maintenance Service will handle cases where parents cannot make their own arrangements – but it will charge for the service.

As well as a £20 application fee, the parent paying maintenance will pay an additional collection fee of 20% on top of each assessed payment. The parent receiving maintenance will have 7% deducted from each assessed payment.

These proposals have attracted a great deal of criticism, with single parent charity Gingerbread claiming that they will penalise  thousands of families who have no choice but to use the statutory scheme.

Current child maintenance figures

The latest figures from DWP regarding child maintenance also show that, in the quarter ending September 2012:

  • the CSA live and assessed caseload stood at 1.11 million,
  • 80% of all cases in which maintenance was due had either received maintenance via the CSA collection service, or had a maintenance direct arrangement in place,
  • maintenance had been collected or arranged by the CSA via the statutory maintenance service on behalf of 899,400 children,
  • At the end of September 2012, the average maintenance calculation was £23.60 per week (including zero calculations).

About the author

Guest post courtesy of Austin Lafferty, family law solicitors in Glasgow, East Kilbride & Hamilton in Scotland offering expert legal advice to people and businesses. They have particular expertise with adoption and child cases. Contact Austin Lafferty for free initial advice.