Behind the headlines

Our regular panel comments on a topic in the

Since 1998 nine children have been killed by
their fathers during contact visits, according to a coalition of
children’s charities. The coalition also points to a 1999 survey
which highlighted the high levels of abuse, violence, emotional
harm, neglect and abduction suffered by children who are exposed to
unsupervised contact with abusive or violent parents. The Adoption
and Children Bill currently before parliament is a potential
vehicle for amending the Children Act 1989 to give greater
protection to children in contact proceedings, and MP Ann Moran has
taken the opportunity to table an amendment. The coalition believes
the courts are currently putting the parents’ interests above those
of the child, undermining the act’s principle that the child’s
interests are paramount. Were the amendment successful, the family
courts would have to undertake greater scrutiny of relevant
evidence and any potential risk in granting contact or residence
orders. But balancing competing interests is always a difficult
task. Just where should the courts draw the line in deciding who
has access to their children and who does not?

Karen Warwick, senior practitioner,
“Working in partnership with three local authorities, I
notice a great deal of disparity in how abusive parents are granted
unsupervised contact. In my experience, when unsupervised contact
arrangements have been made, it is about which parent shouted the
loudest. In addition, the voice of the child is often
misunderstood. Unsupervised contact with violent or abusive parents
should be carefully assessed and decision-making should not be
based on resource availability, as I feel is sometimes the

Felicity Collier, chief executive,
British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering
“The safety and well-being of children when they have
contact with parents must obviously be the highest priority. There
is increasing evidence of the harmful effects on infants’ brain
development of growing up in a violent and abusive home. When there
is a pattern of domestic violence before parental separation, it is
essential that children can have a peaceful and secure environment
to help them recover. Contact decisions in such circumstances are
never easy, but robust, supervised contact centres can combine
safety and a continuing relationship with separated parents if in
the child’s interests.”

Martin Green, chief executive, Counsel
and Care for the Elderly
“The protection of vulnerable people should be the
priority for both the legal and care systems, and abusive or
violent parents should not be given access to their children.
Clearly with nine children having been killed during contact visits
since 1998, there is an urgent need for reforms that could prevent
another tragedy.”

Phil Frampton, national chairperson,
Care Leavers Association
“The move to protect children from abusive and violent
parents is welcome. However, the children must be given a say via
independent advocates as to whether they wish to see their abusive
parents or not. With this proviso, the government should make sure
that the funds are put behind the ruling. Otherwise it will break
down, as many good government initiatives have done regarding
children in care.”

Bill Badham, programme manager,
Children’s Society
“Should EastEnders character Lisa let Phil see Louise? If
so, should Lisa, Mark, Peggy or Pauline be with him? Phil is
undoubtedly a violent man. But would he ever harm his own daughter?
Does his intimidation of pretty much everyone in Albert Square mean
he should not have contact with her? EastEnders fans are grappling
with these dilemmas. But so far we have heard little about Louise’s
rights: her right to protection and to know who her dad is. And
what about a campaign for her to have independent representation in
the likely private law dispute between her parents?”

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