Abusive or violent parents must be prevented
from having unsupervised contact with their children, according to
a coalition of children’s charities.
The coalition, led by the NSPCC and the
Women’s Aid Federation for England, is calling on the government
urgently to amend the Children Act 1989 to give greater protection
The move came as MP Margaret Moran tabled an
amendment last week to the Adoption and Children Bill currently
before parliament, which provides an opportunity to implement the
Moran, who is chairperson of the All Party
Parliamentary Group on Domestic Violence and a children’s
campaigner, described it as “totally unacceptable” that children
should be endangered by court orders for contact and residence
She said it was “essential” that government
accepted responsibility for ensuring the Children Act provided
adequate protection for children, especially as family courts were
not subject to media scrutiny and judges were immune from
The charities believe that in many cases
family courts are putting the parents’ interests above those of the
child, although the purpose of the Children Act is to make the
child’s interest paramount.
Amending the act would mean that when violent
parents apply for a contact or residence order, the family courts
would have to examine all the relevant evidence before assessing
the risk and taking all reasonable steps to protect the child.
“A man who has been convicted of a schedule 1
offence [a serious sexual or violent offence against a child] would
not be allowed to drive a school bus but could be granted
unsupervised contact with the children he has abused,” said NSPCC
policy adviser Chris Atkinson.
Since 1998 nine children have been killed by
their fathers during contact visits, said the charities. And
according to a 1999 survey of 130 parents by the government’s
Advisory Board on Family Law, three-quarters of children who were
ordered by the courts to have contact with abusive or violent
parents suffered either sexual or physical abuse, emotional harm,
neglect, or were abducted or involved in an abduction attempt.
Hilary Saunders, Women’s Aid national
children’s policy officer, added that more facilities for
supervised contact in England and Wales were needed because
currently only 12 per cent of contact centres are able to offer the
sort of high vigilance supervision required in cases of child abuse
or domestic violence.