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
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
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.
- The committee’s report is available at www.parliament.uk