Social workers should get specialist training after 19 children killed during contact visits

The Women's Aid report said known domestic violence perpetrators were being given contact with their children without proper consideration of their safety and wellbeing

child drawing of domestic violence
Photo: Chameleons Eye/REX Shutterstock

Social workers should receive specialist training and continuing professional development on domestic abuse, Women’s Aid has said, in a report into 19 children killed by their fathers during contact visits.

The charity said there was an urgent need for independent national oversight of the implementation of a practice direction introduced in 2014, which required courts to ensure that, where domestic abuse has occurred, any child arrangements order protects the safety and wellbeing of the child.

Pro-contact approach

Women’s Aid said that despite progress being made, particularly with the introduction of the practice direction, it was not always adhered to because of a “pro-contact” approach in the family courts.

Cafcass workers and members of the family court judiciary should therefore have specialist training to understand the dynamics of domestic abuse and coercive control, and recognise these harm children as well as the direct victim, Women’s Aid said.

The report recommended statutory agencies make sure they enquire about any children affected when they receive a disclosure or evidence of domestic abuse and pass on information to the relevant child and adult services.

‘Good enough’ parent

It said there was a paradox where a parent can be seen as a violent perpetrator of domestic abuse and, at the same time, a “good enough” parent. The Children and Families Act 2014 enshrined in law a presumption children should have ongoing involvement with both parents following separation so long as this does not put the children at risk of harm.

The presumption that contact is always beneficial for children unless explicitly proven otherwise is harmful and contributed to 19 child homicides over the past 10 years, the report said.

This is compounded by a cultural assumption, contrary to evidence, that the family courts are biased against fathers applying for contact.

Known perpetrators

Women’s Aid uncovered 19 child deaths directly related to contact arrangements by analysing serious case reviews. The researchers included cases where: a child had been killed, the perpetrator was both the child’ parent and a known perpetrator of domestic abuse against the other parent and the parents were separated and child contact had been arranged formally or informally.

Cases were not excluded based on the gender of the perpetrator but in all of the relevant cases the perpetrator was the father.

All 12 fathers were known to statutory agencies as perpetrators of domestic abuse, and 11 were known to the police. In at least 12 of the 19 cases, contract was arranged in court.

Two of the fathers had been granted overnight contact and two had been granted residence orders.

One of the fathers granted a residence order by the court had made violent threats over the phone to the mother while in prison for offences including violence against her.


11 Responses to Social workers should get specialist training after 19 children killed during contact visits

  1. Tina January 22, 2016 at 1:20 pm #

    We usually have some idea why the child is in care. If domestic violence is in that report then at least proper security should be in place when a contact is on

  2. MS. C. January 22, 2016 at 7:23 pm #

    It baffles me that DV perpetrators are not monitored in the presence, or in a facility, of of Law Enforcement.

  3. Steph January 24, 2016 at 12:12 pm #

    What sort of example to a child is a perpetrator of domestic abuse on that child’s mother…?

  4. Ingrid Defoe January 26, 2016 at 9:12 am #

    Better training for those who supervise contacts. They should be security checks before and during the contact. Supervisee’s needed to be more vigilant during the contact sessions. Risk assessments and risk managements should be undertaken when it is known to professionals that the contact person is known to be aggressive, drugs and alcohol abusers.

  5. wiseacre January 27, 2016 at 3:52 pm #

    Never mind specialist training – a bit of sensible basic training of social workers might be a good idea, which on the basis of the evidence is sadly lacking. Perhaps the Department for Education which now seems to have sprung into life with a few sensible policy overviews (eg paper to Select Committee) might at long last be getting to grips with this failure.

  6. loiner January 27, 2016 at 5:41 pm #

    l work in social care on the front line, and we have to go for training before working on the floor……… shocked that professionals who are making major changes in people’s don’t have this training……..very dangerous for everyone involved

  7. Debbie January 27, 2016 at 9:17 pm #

    Wiseacre, the social worker will be court led, if courts order unsupervised contact you follow court orders, we have no say in the matter and definately nothing to do with our training. We work with survivors of domestic violence everyday, we see and feel the pain of the mother’s and their children who have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of their abusers, but if the courts say jump we have no choice but to ask how high.

    Unsure why everyone thinks the social worker have the power/control over this, we don’t, and should you require any further information on this subject matter please do not hesitate to contact your local family courts.

  8. Ms E January 28, 2016 at 6:35 am #

    I agree that more training is needed. I am a specialist domestic abuse social worker, and routinely have to try and support mothers anxiety around contact. An abusive fathers can never be a good fathers. Also often child contact is just another way to continue to be abusive and controlling of the mother. Courts really need to think about this when deciding on whether contact arrangements.

  9. maria February 1, 2016 at 4:46 pm #

    a court granted contact for a father who is currently on bail for rape & assault on this ex-partner, we have to go back to court now to try to obtain a “no contact” order!

  10. Damian February 6, 2016 at 12:18 pm #

    It is not really good enough for social workers to say they have no control and must follow court orders. If you strongly disagree with the court’s decision and you feel the child is at risk, appeal, or apply to vary contact orders as soon as issues arise.

    Stick to your guns in court and don’t back down. Social workers would benefit from training in drafting statements and giving evidence under cross-examination. The quality of reports produced by LA social workers is extremely variable, as too the ability to give evidence in the witness box, and to survive cross-examination.

    Court skills should be one of the standards of proficiency, if it is not already, as giving evidence and attending court hearings is an intrinsic party of social work these days, both in children services and now adults given the MCA.

  11. colsie February 12, 2016 at 11:30 am #

    I see all replies refer to DV by fathers. Some is by mothers. It is the court who take responsibility and makes the decision. They should be held accountable where there is a bad outcome.