Saturday, May 3, 2014

GIrl, 8, taken from loving mother to live in one room with father (UK)

Kudos for Christopher Booker for an excellent piece.

Girl, 8, taken from loving mother to live in one room with father

Judges seem intent on moving children from one parent to another - even against their will

By Christopher Booker
4:00PM BST 03 May 2014

Anyone trying to penetrate the murky underworld of our “child protection” system may be struck by how the same curious patterns of behaviour continually recur, so that one can build up a picture of the more obvious ways in which this system has gone off the rails. One of the most disturbing is how often judges seem determined to remove children from a mother they have happily lived with all their lives, only to hand them over to a dysfunctional or even abusive father whom they do not wish to live with at all.

I have now followed many such baffling cases, like the one I reported a few months ago, where two boys, aged 14 and 11, were dragged from their beds by six police officers at 7.45 on Christmas morning, to be handed over at the other end of London to a father who had walked out on them years earlier. This resulted in such chaos, with the police being several times called to attend violent incidents between the boys and their father, that when the boys eventually managed to escape back to their mother, the social workers sensibly agreed that, despite the judge’s orders, they should remain with her.

Last week, another such case came my way, involving a girl of nearly nine, who has always lived with her mother and was bright, engaging and doing well at school. Her father, who left them years ago, has a long criminal record, was a drug addict, is currently unemployed and lives in a single room. The mother had not stood in the way of contact between the girl and her father, but when this eventually caused problems due to his behaviour, the courts became involved, along with a “guardian” from Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (“making sure that children’s voices are heard”), and a psychologist hired by the local authority.

Last month, as I gather from someone present in court, the judge, Mrs Justice Williscroft, quite unexpectedly seemed to have changed her mind. She ruled that the girl must leave her comfortable home and be given over to the permanent care of her father, in his single room. For the time being, the child and her mother could have no contact. Unsurprisingly, the girl ran back to her mother, but had to be returned, in accordance with the judge’s wishes, to the father.

Not the least disturbing way in which this parallels other cases I have followed is that, although the girl was desperate to appear in court to say that she did not wish to live with her father, the judge, I am told, ruled that this could not be allowed, because it would be “emotionally abusive”. Repeatedly I have come across this happening, even though Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, passed into British law in 1992, clearly states that one of those rights is for the child’s voice “to be heard in any judicial proceedings”, and if appropriate, “directly”. Yet in every case where I have heard of an articulate child demanding this statutory right, the judge has denied it, preferring to listen to a Cafcass guardian who wished to express a view flatly opposed to the child’s wishes.

In this case, I am told by the mother’s legal advisers, there are so many question marks over the way the judge handled the case that she is seeking permission from another judge to appeal. But the more general question that arises is: why do so many judges think it right to remove children from a mother who is their chief centre of love and security, and expect them to live with a long-absent father who cannot possibly give them the same?

As with so much else that goes on in our “child protection” system, it seems to make a total mockery of that constantly intoned mantra derived from the 1989 Children Act: “The child’s interests are paramount.” This is a very strange business, to which I shall return.