Campaigners concerned over proprosals in draft contact bill

    Campaigners against domestic violence are concerned about plans
    to help courts enforce parental contact orders – warning that they
    could place women and children at greater risk, writes
    Craig Kenny.

    Powers to force compulsory parenting classes on parents who
    breach parental contact orders were unveiled in a new draft bill
    this week.

    New Asset  

    The Children (Contact) and Adoption Bill will enable courts to
    refer parents who default on contact orders to parenting classes or
    counselling, or force them to do unpaid community work.

    Non-resident parents who have been violent could also be subject
    to compulsory parenting lessons.

    Also, where a parent has suffered financial loss because of
    their ex-partner’s breach of a contact order – for
    instance on a holiday booking – they will be able to claim
    compensation.

    Enforceable

    Ministers hope the new powers will make parental contact orders
    more enforceable.

    ‘At present contact orders can be enforced only through
    contempt of court proceedings, leading to fine or
    imprisonment,’ said education secretary Ruth Kelly.
    ‘Courts have quite rightly been reluctant to use these
    measures because of the potential negative impact on the children
    involved.’

    The government estimates that the new powers will reduce
    repeated applications for enforcement of contact orders by 60 per
    cent.

    Ministers suggest that children are losing out because they are
    deprived of contact with their fathers.

    ‘There are too many cases where the children suffer
    because they don’t maintain a relationship with their fathers
    after parental separation,’ said constitutional affairs
    secretary Lord Falconer. ‘This bill will reduce the number of
    such cases.’

    Domestic violence

     

    But Hilary Saunders, children’s policy officer for the
    charity Women’s Aid, said there are often good reasons why
    women refuse to allow children to see their father.

    ‘Domestic violence is the major reason why women are not
    complying with contact orders, yet the courts are continuing to
    grant contact to violent parents,’ she said.

    ‘Our concern is that most emphasis is being put on
    processing cases through the courts as soon as possible, and
    pushing parents into consensual agreements in cases of domestic
    violence. That puts women and children in danger.’

    In its recent study of 29 children killed by a parent under
    contact arrangements, Women’s Aid found that in five cases,
    the contact had been ordered by a court. ‘In three of those
    cases unsupervised contact was granted, either against professional
    advice or without asking for it, and no court professionals were
    held accountable’ Saunders added.

    Contact centres

    However, the group welcomes government plans to expand contact
    centres – providing supervised contact in domestic violence cases –
    with an additional £7.5 million over the next two years to
    site them in extended schools and children’s centres.

    Plans for the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support
    Service (CAFCASS) to deliver more in-court conciliation services
    for separated parents were also outlined last month in the
    Department for Education and Skills report Parental Separation:
    Children’s Needs and Parents’ Responsibilities.

    Moderate fathers’ groups are broadly supportive of the
    Government’s aims. ‘In really hard cases it’s
    obviously better to have a range of measures for improving
    contact,’ says Jack O’Sullivan, co-founder of the
    information service Fathers Direct.

    ‘But the key to the vast majority of cases is effective
    early intervention so that both parents agree plentiful contact
    between themselves and work in partnership.’

    Trafficking

    New Asset  

    The draft bill also contains new powers to clamp down on child
    trafficking via inter-country adoptions. The secretary of state
    will be able to publish a blacklist of countries whose adoption
    practices give cause for concern.

    Chris Beddoe of the pressure group End Child Prostitution in
    Asian Tourism UK said: ‘I would be concerned if this was a
    knee-jerk reaction to the tsunami. It has to go with a broader
    basket of measures looking at what’s happening at airports
    and ports.’

    Draft Children (Contact) and Adoption Bill: http://www.dfes.gov.uk/childrensneeds/

    Women’s Aid research at:
    http://www.womensaid.org.uk/policy&consultations/briefings/children/childhomicides_execsumm.htm

     

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