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
Powers to force compulsory parenting classes on parents who
breach parental contact orders were unveiled in a new draft bill
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
Ministers hope the new powers will make parental contact orders
‘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
The government estimates that the new powers will reduce
repeated applications for enforcement of contact orders by 60 per
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
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.
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.’
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
Draft Children (Contact) and Adoption Bill: http://www.dfes.gov.uk/childrensneeds/
Women’s Aid research at: