Tighten the safety net

Domestic violence will be one of the major debates at Community
LIVE in London this week, coinciding as it does with the
passage of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill through
parliament. The bill, designed to strengthen the position of
victims, witnesses and communities, is certainly a step in the
right direction. But will it go far enough?

Judging by the feedback we have had prior to our debate, the answer
is unequivocally no. We asked front-line social care workers
whether they had witnessed a rise in domestic violence and nearly
two-thirds said they had. A staggering 99 per cent agreed at least
to some extent that the law on contact visits should be reviewed if
children were to be protected from violent parents, while more than
four-fifths believed the domestic violence bill did not go far
enough in safeguarding victims.

In the family courts there continues to be a presumption in favour
of contact between children and their parents, for the simple
reason that this is deemed to be in the best interests of the
child. Sometimes the judge or magistrate will take this line even
when one of the parents, usually the father, has a history of

Some acknowledgement by the courts of domestic violence and its
effect on children is long overdue. The government is already
compelling family courts at least to consider the harm children
might suffer as a result of violence in the home, but much more is

Children should be given a far better opportunity to express their
views about what should happen to them and those views should be
given a fair hearing in court. And there should be far more
investment in supervised contact where child and parent can meet in
conditions of guaranteed safety.

The Adoption and Children Act 2002 has opened the way for more
supervised contact and the government has promised 14 new centres
where it can take place. However, existing contact centres, many of
which are faced with closure, will receive a derisory £34,000
in total. This government deserves credit for having put the
problem of domestic violence back on the agenda. But if ministers
are as serious as they claim to be, they must pay for the solution.

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