Child’s welfare ‘not paramount’ in considering breached contact order

    The government has rejected calls to enshrine children’s welfare
    as paramount throughout the contact process in the draft Children
    (Contact) and Adoption Bill.

    Children’s minister Margaret Hodge told the joint parliamentary
    committee scrutinising the draft bill last week that the welfare of
    the child was not the court’s primary consideration when dealing
    with parents who had breached contact orders.

    Currently, the bill’s clause one states that the welfare of the
    child is paramount when considering making a contact order in
    relation to a child whose parents have separated. However, clause
    three says a court must only “take into account” the welfare of a
    child when enforcing a breached contact order.

    Giving evidence to the committee, NSPCC head of policy Natalie
    Cronin said the clause should be amended to ensure the child’s
    welfare was always paramount. The children’s charity said it was
    concerned the bill was more interested in asserting parental rights
    than in the welfare of children and young people.

    The committee suggested to Hodge that the “paramountcy
    principle” could be used by the judge to determine what penalty was
    most appropriate when contact orders were breached.

    But the children’s minister insisted that any such amendment
    would mean the child’s welfare could be used as an excuse never to
    impose a penalty on a parent.

    “In making an initial order the interests of the child are
    paramount,” Hodge said. “But you can’t in breaches of those orders
    have the interests of the child somehow take precedence over the
    failure of the parent to comply.”

    The draft bill also came under fire last week from the
    constitutional affairs select committee. In a report on the family
    justice system, MPs warned that government plans to give the
    Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service a role in
    monitoring contact arrangements would fail without extra
    resources.

    The committee said the proposals would involve a “completely new
    approach” for the organisation and that, without extra resources,
    “this potentially revolutionary initiative is unlikely to
    succeed”.

    The draft bill gives Cafcass responsibility for monitoring
    parenting orders and community punishments. It also expects it to
    expand its role in mediating between separating parents, but has
    imposed a real terms freeze on Cafcass’ budget for 2005-6.

     

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