[See Ill Eagle 20, p7, for Guardian 29nov01 article discussing Cheri Booths speech at this conference. Also, see www.ivorcatt.com/2201.htm ]
Mullender Regents Park Conference Nov 2001
The Effects of Domestic Violence on Children
Professor Audrey Mullender.
She is Professor of Social Work at the University of Warwick where she chairs the School of Health and Social Studies and directs the Centre for the Study of Safety and Wellbeing, marvellously known as SWELL. She has over twenty years experience of teaching social work and before that was involved in social services. She is the immediate past editor of the British Journal of Social Work and has published well over a hundred publications in the social work field, including more than a dozen books, particularly relevant to this conference, `Children Living With Domestic Violence', `Putting Men's Abuse of Women on the Child Care Agenda' and `Rethinking Domestic Violence for Social Work and Probation Response'.
As we are here to talk about children this morning it seems appropriate to begin with the words of a child, rather distressing words, but shared with a worker in a refuge. This child was saved because he and his mother and the other children had escaped to this refuge. He was six at the time, a little Asian boy.
"He says he loves my Mum but he lies, he tells Mum to do everything at home. He never gave Mum any money. He hit my Mum, I saw it. I tried to look happy but I wasn't inside. He never played with me, I felt lonely, I feel sad for my Dad, he is an idiot. I don't like my Dad. My Dad hit my sister with a plate and she started bleeding on her head, she was red everywhere. I feel happy now because I am away from my Dad. He can't find us now because he doesn't know the way. My Dad really wants to kill us and shoot us. He will lock us in a room and we will never get out and have nothing to eat. I must look after my Mum, my Dad is really bad. When I am big I could be Batman and go and kill my Dad and throw him in a dustbin. I like the refuge because if the children do something wrong you see the workers and then it is alright but I am scared when I have to see my Dad sometimes that he will hurt me and shoot me. He said lots of times that he would do that to all of us."
That is a moving and distressing account but also a very rich one that shows us that children do have their own perceptions and understandings of what is going on when they live with domestic violence. It shows us very graphically that, as Cherie Booth has already said, the danger doesn't end when the relationship does, because this child is experiencing contact and is frightened by it. It is an account too, that shows us that children are social actors in their lives, as the sociologists would have it, that they think about things, that they want to take action and sometimes of course that can be dangerous. It is about listening to children and understanding things from their perspective.
I am going to talk about what we understand by domestic violence, what impact it has on children and how they understand it. I am going to use the words of children, drawings by children and drawings that are used with children to illustrate the talk.
When we think about a definition of domestic violence we think of a whole range of things and the most obvious is the physical violence. We have a very graphic drawing by a child of violence by his father towards his mother. In the course of a number of research studies we have collected a wide range of quotes from children about what they have actually witnessed, and have observed, because children very often are in the home when the violence is going on, even when their parents don't think they are seeing it or don't think they are hearing it. The children are lying awake in bed upstairs or they are in the next room, and it often comes out in research when you talk to children.
It is interesting, if their mother is present when you are talking to them, that they will describe incidents that the mother has no idea they knew about. The children do know a lot of what is going on. A thirteen year old girl said to a researcher,
"I have seen him kick and punch and pull her hair. Once he threw petrol over her. I remember him cutting my Mum's lips",
and a sixteen year old,
"There have been lots of occasions when I have sat there and watched my Dad hurt my Mum. I have seen him strangle her, punch her and generally hurt her."
Of course once the violence has begun it does not have to be constantly repeated, though often it is a very much repeated pattern, but it does not have to be daily for the threat and the fear to be there. There is an atmosphere that builds up in the home that children are very frightened about. When that thirteen year old said, "I felt scared and worried, he said he was going to kill our Mum" and the other child who said, " I thought he was going to shoot me. He said lots of times that he would do that to all of us" then those threats, that intimidation, that atmosphere form part of the wider picture.
I remember a woman telling me that it got to the point where her husband only had to look at her and she knew that the threat of violence was there but, of course, you cannot very well go to the police and say, "He looked at me". For us, when we are trying to understand this pattern of domestic violence we do have to understand those other elements within it.
We use pictures to work with children. They explain physical abuse to children, and then they explain emotional abuse as another part of that pattern. There is some very good intervention work now, still patchy in Britain, though brilliant where it is happening, when talking to children who have lived with domestic violence. It is rather more widespread in North America. I find this fascinating, a way of talking, even to very young children, some as young as four and five years old and using these terms of `outside' hurting and `inside' hurting, so that it is possible to talk through with them what they have lived with. Another child's drawing shows some of this happening: it shows both the physical threat that is going on, there is a knife in the drawing, but also the verbal abuse.
Part of the emotional abuse is denigration of women, constant putting-down, telling them that they are bad mothers, that they are no good, killing women's self esteem as much as threatening their physical life. Another account from a twelve year old girl,
"He was just hitting her with his hands and shouting and swearing at her, saying that she is horrible, she is wicked, she is not a very good Mummy. Just saying all horrible things to her and really hurting her, making her cry and Mum couldn't do anything. I just called the police".
There was another example of a child wanting to get involved, wanting to do something and actually succeeding in calling the police on that occasion. [page 6 ]
One thing that is much more difficult for children to talk about, though it is raised in groups with them, is another element of domestic violence, and that is sexual abuse and marital rape. A Canadian group attempts to raise this with children. You will see the obvious link there, not only with bringing together the inside and outside hurting but also the private parts of the body that are talked about in prevention of child sexual abuse and talking to children about that. Although it is difficult to raise that awful and very frightening subject with children we know that children are often present when there is sexual abuse of their mothers.
One in ten of the mothers in the National Children's Homes `Action for Children Survey', published in 1994, said that their children had been present when they had been sexually abused or raped. In the most recent research I have been involved in with colleagues from Bristol, North London and Durham, a woman talked to us about having been raped with a seven year old daughter in bed with her at the time. It did not come out in the child's interview with us, but that may have been because she did not know what was happening or had blocked it out, or did not want to talk about it.
We need to understand that, not only is this very alarming, it is also very frightening for children. Interestingly, they did not just talk about fear but they also talked about being made very sad. One child said she had been miserable while all this was going on, and a few talked about being angry and lots of other mixtures of feelings towards their parents, and towards agencies for not helping them more effectively.
I also want to draw out this pattern of domestic violence in terms of a power and control wheel, that many of us who work in the field are most familiar with, and which came from the work in Deluth in America. The wheel with power and control at the centre of it, is kept in place by the physical violence and the threat of it and with all the portions between the spokes of the wheel being the many forms that violence can take. Often in work with survivors of violence, including children, and also with perpetrators of violence, groups do their own version of this wheel and the members of the group think about what forms the violence has taken for them in order to make sense of it and this can produce some very valuable work with children.
Children understand if you talk to them and the most recent research has heard children's voices directly. They understand about this pattern and they understand that it escalates over time and it gets more and more frightening. One child said that her awareness had grown between the ages of about eleven and thirteen,
"He used to take his shoes and beat my Mum but when he did that we always used to go to our rooms and lock ourselves in because it was just one of those things that happened with women and men but it got much worse. It just got more vicious and I think it is really life threatening now, that he is really serious and means to do real harm to us. I just thought before that it was that he really hated my mum, that they didn't get along but now it is just so much worse."
I think what she is talking about there is this power and control building up and is the escalation of that pattern of domestic violence over time.
One added problem for us as professionals is that if a woman or a child comes to us for help we do not know what stage in that pattern they have reached. So we need always to take what they say seriously, always to regard it as life threatening, always to regard confidentiality as a prime concern. We always need to be very clear in our analysis, very clear in our interviewing or in our discussions with people we are trying to help as to what [Page 7], exactly was going on, particularly who was doing what to whom. I was trained in an area when systems theory was very much in fashion and there was talk of dangerous families and dangerous couples and so on and family conflict and family violence, which isn't a great deal of help if you are trying to look at who is actually presenting the danger and who is actually at risk.
I now work unashamedly from a feminist perspective, valuing diversity and difference within that and recognising that domestic violence is widespread, across all classes, all ethnic groups and in all parts of the world. It also acknowledges that, statistically, by far the greatest danger is posed by men against women, that there are almost two women a week killed in England and Wales still, despite us taking domestic violence much more seriously in recent years, and that often when women are being violent towards men or when there is a killing of a man, it is a woman acting in self defence.
Now I am not here as an apologist for all women. I know that we can be nasty and vicious and horrid, and I do my bit, but I am talking about life threatening danger. I am talking about a pattern as I have said, of violence and abuse that builds up over time and I am talking about that within a social, historical and cultural context where, until very recently, violence and abuse was tolerated, indeed, sometimes expected, to keep women in line. It is still sometimes the butt of jokes; it still crops up in the media, in television programmes without always being seen as absolutely intolerable and it is only very recently that agencies have come together to work on it and try to move on. It is very recent, really only a decade, that we have been talking about domestic violence as a crime on a par with other forms of violence. We still have a long way to go but I think we can congratulate ourselves on progress. We have begun to recognise the issues, including for children, but we do have a long way to go still.
Having said all of that about what is happening, what can we say about what impact it has on children when they live with this phenomenon? There is not one syndrome, there is not one pattern that is happening to children that we could just look at and say, "Ah, yes, that's a child who is living with domestic violence." There are as many ways of children reacting almost as there are children: we know that children show their distress in a lot of different ways. We know, for example, that it would depend on their age.
The little ones cannot necessarily talk about what has happened so it might come out in physical symptoms, it might be wetting the bed, it might be sleep disturbances. Sleep disturbances, of course, are very common because often they are lying and hearing things happening in the night and perhaps are frightened to go back to sleep.
From our most recent research, speech disturbances seem very common. These and other developmental delays, behavioural and physical, show us that children are trying to tell us that something is wrong. For professionals, it means we need to be looking out for these possible underlying reasons. A child might present with something that looks just like a physical illness but is actually a psychological problem requiring a whole range of child care and child health professionals. If we are not asking the right questions, if we do not know the routine way of finding out what is happening at home we are going to miss it.
Domestic violence is, as we have said, very very widespread, so we need to be asking those questions all the time, but within that we need to remember the previous point I made about [ page 8].
confidentiality. We have to find very safe ways of asking questions that do not inadvertently make the danger worse.
Older children, the sort of middle years of childhood, can get very clingy with their mothers, others become aggressive. It used to be thought in earlier research, that was gendered, but I think from looking more closely and from recent research that that is probably not the case. I think again it depends on the particular child and how they are going to react. Indeed you can get children in the same family, sometimes of the same gender, reacting very differently to precisely the same events, depending on who they are, or reacting differently over time. One seventeen year old girl whom I interviewed said at first, when she was much younger she was clingy.
"I wouldn't leave my mum, I wouldn't leave her anywhere. I was around her all the time and then when I was about fourteen I used to stay out all the time. I would end up just staying away altogether. I would stay at my real dad's, my sister's, my boyfriend's, anywhere, just to get out of the house and that was all I was interested in, staying out of the house."
It would not be surprising, though not inevitable, if she ended up with some other kinds of problems and perhaps was coming through to youth based services, and are we then asking the right questions to find out what has gone on?
Individual children in the same family may react differently. One woman I interviewed talked to me about her three sons. The eldest one, when he was big enough, tried to fight his dad and get him away from his mother. The youngest one also tried to be active and would run to the door and try and call for help. Remembering Cherie Booth's comment earlier on, this was a very middle class area, and this was a very proper family. Not at all the stereotypical kind of family and, in fact, help did not come to the door. The middle boy, growing up through his teen-age years did not have that kind of personality. He could not react in those ways and felt dreadful because both his brothers, even the youngest one, would try to do something active and he just could not. He became more and more reclusive and stayed in his room and had to have his meals sneaked in to him by his mother. In the end he developed some quite severe mental health problems and had suicidal feelings for a while. I am pleased to say that he did get effective help and was able to move on from that, but you can see three very different reactions there to the same events. It is about us knowing the child, listening to the child and finding out what is happening for them and not having stereotypical assumptions.
The Canadian study that is often quoted showed 2.5 times the rate of behaviour and psychological problems for children who live with domestic violence over other children. But not all children, and we must not get into pathologising or imagining that it is inevitable that every child will develop, let us say, clinical type symptoms or would necessarily need professional intervention. Some children survive it, some children are able to keep out of the way. They may have other adult support that they can use. They may be very resilient. They may use school, for example, as somewhere that is safe to go and spend other time and get over what is happening at home. For some children, it has a bad effect on them while they are living with it but once they are out and they are safe they feel much better. We had children telling us that they were able to sleep again, that they were feeling happier, that other problems had receded.
There is some overlap with child abuse. There is no clear agreement about the precise degree but there has been an overlap when people have looked at the Child Protection Register, and [Page 9 ], found at least a one third overlap. If a child is being abused, or suspected of being abused, to the point where they are on a Child Protection Register, there is a one in three chance at least that their mother is also being abused. Interestingly, in at least two studies when researchers were involved and looked more closely at those cases they found an overlap rising to two thirds. It may be about awareness and again knowing what we are looking for and asking the questions, although some of that was there in the case files and wasn't being interpreted as domestic violence.
Sometimes, I think in this country we have had too great a split between children's services and services for women. What we have got to do now is to bring those things together. Today is very much about that. It is very much about thinking of an issue that has been seen as a women's issue, domestic violence, but seeing that it also has an impact on children and that we need to consider those two fronds of impact together. For a whole range of reasons, including the fact that we will miss the risks if we don't ask questions about both, and, crucially I think, because very very often the best way of intervening is going to be to work out how to help the woman be safe as well as helping the children be safe. That is going to be the most effective child protection intervention in many cases.
There is also an overlap with child sexual abuse. We have had individual children talking to us about this in research. One small study in Scotland of twenty children who were known or heavily suspected to have been sexually abused found every single one of their mother-s had also experienced some form of domestic violence, but only two of them had ever had a professional talking to her about that. In both cases that was in the voluntary sector, yet those children were all involved with a range of statutory agencies. It was a few years ago now, and maybe we have got better, but we do have to learn to ask those questions across what has been a boundary in the past.
The violence does not stop at separation. It carries on and we are learning now to talk about post-separation violence, the domestic violence, abuse, risk to women and to children that carries on after one or other partner ends that relationship or attempts to do so. Indeed, it would seem from research that the risks may get greater. This man who has been attempting to exert power and control, to rule the roost, if you like, feels completely affronted if the woman tries to break away and it is a time of heightened risk for women: the time of a relationship splitting up and afterwards, may be the most deadly time for women. Again a huge message there for professionals because if we give simplistic messages, or even instructions to women, "you must leave this man. If you don't," (dreadful phrase), "you are failing to protect the children." I am afraid that is still in social work vocabulary.
If we give that sort of rather simplistic injunction to women as to how they should behave we are ignoring the fact that they are the experts on what has been happening in their lives. They may know that that would be placing them in the most deadly danger. It may be right that they need to get away, but how they can do that without help? Are we doing enough about telling them where the refuges are? Are we doing enough as a nation about funding emergency and after-care and outreach services for women and children through the voluntary sector? Still not, I think, and are we doing enough about making sure that both women and children know there is help available, following them through, not just sending them from pillar to post but listening to them and seeing what forms of help would be most appropriate ? [ page 10 ]
Are we listening to children about contact? Children in our most recent research and in other studies are quite able to say when they are very frightened of this man who has been violent and when they do not want to see him. So a thirteen year old talking here,
"I definitely do not want to see him, I would like to see my Mum's brothers and sisters and my Nan but I hate his guts and I never want to see him again. He found out where we had moved to. He threw a brick through the window and he hit Mum in the street and swore. I felt scared and worried. He said he was going to kill our Mum." And this is a girl who has lost count of the number of times the police have been called.
It is not always that straightforward of course as many children have mixed feelings, many children still love their fathers but are scared of them. Again, it is down to the individual and it is down to listening to the voices of children and trying to find out whether contact can be made safer, or sometimes really whether it is just not the right thing for children at this time.
I am going to be a little bit controversial now and show some figures that have come from a recent survey from the Women's Aid Federation of England who have surveyed refuges to see whether the recent changes have made any improvement. They are still very worried about the dangers of contact.
127 refuges responded to the survey.
11 thought things had got better
11 thought they had got worse
66 thought they were about the same
The others were don't knows.
So 11 better, 11 worse.
Almost half said there still were not adequate safety measures in place if contact were granted without checking that there were adequate safety measures in place.
Only two said that children were definitely now being listened to.
Fewer than one in five had come across any cases where contact had been refused
25% said there was no contact centre in their area and most of those who did have a contact centre said it was low vigilance so it could not be used safely where the man was still a very grave danger.
There have been incidents where the fact of a contact hearing or some evidence used in that hearing which have had addresses on them have been used to track women down. In 1998 one woman was killed by an ex-partner who found out what county she was in because of where the hearing was heard.
Women are still being ordered to hand over children for contact visits to men who are known to be dangerous. This includes children who are known to have been on the Child Protection Register, children whose mothers have been ordered to leave the man, or else have the children taken away. Then they have been ordered by the courts to hand over the same children to the same man on contact visits, including from the survey by Women's Aid, to eight `Schedule One' offenders, and including men who have breached injunctions and men who have previously been convicted for violent offences. Children have experienced on contact visits every kind of physical emotional and sexual abuse and trauma and abduction in the course of contact visits and there has also been violence continuing to women through contact visits. [ page 11].
So I do not think we have cracked it. Of course it is very early days but it is very controversial because it has been a decision really between whether the law should change, as has happened in Northern Ireland and happened some while ago in New Zealand, as to whether there should be a rebuttable presumption of no unsupervised contact unless evidence can be produced that it will be safe or whether we can go ahead with a non-mandatory system of guidelines. I wanted to be controversial right at the beginning because I think it sets the terms of a debate for the day. What are we doing through guidelines? Will we be able to achieve safety? Is there more that we could do?
There is some good news. We are starting to know more about how we can help children. I tend to think of this in terms of three kinds of prevention, primary, secondary and tertiary prevention. I will do them backwards.
Tertiary prevention is working with children and getting over the worst effects of what has happened to them. I have spoken about children's groups run with children from ages four upwards, particularly in North America, and increasingly here. But, it is underfunded, the old story, it's in the voluntary sector and it is patchy.
Secondary prevention is trying to make sure it doesn't happen again. Most of that work would be with adults, but there is also work that can be done with children to help them be safe, again both in groups and in direct work in one to one work with children. Safety planning for a five year old included hiding under the bed if there was a violent attack going on downstairs. Sometimes it can be learning not to intervene in dangerous ways, learning how to call the police if you can get to the phone.
Primary prevention is stopping it from ever happening. We did a large quantitative survey of children in schools in which we talked to a general population of children about what they knew about domestic violence and what their attitudes were towards violence against women. The bad news was, shockingly in this day and age, a third of the teenage boys agreed with the statement that it is sometimes O.K. to hit a woman. One in five of the girls agreed with that which is also very frightening, but the good news was that they knew they didn't understand the issues and they did want to talk about it in the school. Over 80% of secondary school children wanted to learn about domestic violence in schools and they wanted to understand why it happens, to know more about what it is and they particularly wanted to have a sort of debate. They did not want people to tell them what was what. They wanted to be able to think it through and understand it more for themselves.
The other element of the research was talking to children who have lived with domestic violence. They are the experts on what impact it has on them. They have said they want to be involved, they want their mums to talk about what they are going to do, they want to help make decisions and they all talked about having somebody to talk to. It was very important to have friends, to talk to siblings and to have adults you could trust and talk to. These children have lived through it, have understood the pattern, have come to an understanding and could be very helpful in developing materials that could be used with a wider population of children in schools. There are some areas in the country where there is very good preventative work going on in the schools but there really could be a lot more of that. As one child said in a group of four children who had lived with domestic violence, "Let's end violence everywhere". Why not have it on the national curriculum, why not discuss it everywhere in schools? It's everywhere in peoples' communities. A very large proportion of the children in the survey knew someone it had happened to but we are not talking to them about it and we are not using children and young peoples' own expertise. [ page 12]
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Regents Park Conference Nov 2001
Contact and Domestic Violence
( Ivor. Please note that Sturge, who followed Mullender onto the platform to speak, stated she too shared Mullender's feminist perspective / views - on her research - but that is not included in the 'official' printed version of the text below RW, [who was present]. ).
don't get fooled by what you perceive as their ignorance. They are using
reverse psychology. Sturge consistently uses that technique at length. She
uses this methodology in everything she does. She turns everything
around, but once you are aware of her technique you see it time and time
again. She only makes common sense if you reverse everything she says.
Speech by Dr. Claire Sturge
A consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist of many, perhaps too many, years experience. She works for Harrow. Last year with Dr. Glaser she produced a paper at the request of the official solicitor for four appeal case which happened to be heard before Dame Elizabeth in the cases of L.VM and H and the subject of that paper was Contact With Fathers After Findings Of Domestic Violence. The Court of Appeal in that case laid down certain guidelines informed by that paper. She frequently acts as an expert in court and is also committed to and involved with the training of experts, both to increase their numbers and, most importantly, to improve standards.
" I am nervous so I am trying to pretend that I am in court because I am more used to that! I am an ordinary jobbing child psychiatrist and I am actually on call because I have no cover. So we will have to hope there is no one taking overdoses or becoming psychotic today in Harrow.
My aims in talking to you are:
1. to talk about children and child development as relevant to this subject
2. to talk about domestic violence and research in the area as it relates to children
3. to try and integrate the two, so it is like trying to develop an argument based on those two areas
4. to be a little bit controversial and provocative.
What I have to say is a good follow-on to Professor Mullender's talk, which so aptly sets the scene as to children's feelings. In comparison, what I have to say is rather dry and theory based.
All children need a secure base, stability, security, need for a sense of belonging, continuity, stimulation, exploration, including social experience, a moral lead and model, validation, and all of these are needed in healthy development and forming trusting relationships. I am going to address one or two of those in a little more detail.
I want to focus on attachment because I feel it is such a misunderstood and misused term.
it is a description of specific behaviours
it refers to a small child's behaviour in situations of potential threat to their security
it reflects the child's confidence in their carer's ability to re-establish a safe situation
it is all based on work with one to two year olds, so it is very restricted.
There are only two officially recognised disorders of attachment, `inhibited' attachment disorders and `reactive' attachment disorders. Those are the two official ones and are relative rare, seen mainly in institutionalised children such as the Rumanian orphanages.
Other terms are descriptive, as part of a child's behaviour within a relationship. It is very important to remember that most of those children who fall into the insecure attachment status, are in the normal range, particularly the anxiously attached children, and they become fairly well adjusted children. The lesson really, is that a secure attachment is useful because it is a positive sign that all is well, if the rest of the relationship is good, whereas insecure attachments just tell you a little bit about the relationship and you need to look at other parts of it. The exception is the disorganised attachment, which you see in abused children and children where their carers are completely unpredictable, for example psychotically ill mothers.
Belonging and Continuity
Belonging and continuity are the child's sense of being part of an identified unit and being secure in that knowledge. Continuity and the absence of significant separation or losses are important: belonging and continuity are essential for development of identity.
Educational and social development are very important as are parents who play an increasingly recognised role in the success of their children. There is a lot of interest currently, I am sure you will know, in `emotional literacy' and we are beginning to see some research indicating that families which encourage the identification and expression of
emotion produce better adjusted and more communicative children, and which I see as part of education, both at school and at home.
Validation is the fact that a child's experience of the world must include:
a sense of being valued and nurtured
that she is important enough to be protected
that her individuality is acknowledged and valued
that the child's views, wishes and particular needs are attended to
So giving a child a sense of self worth is a very central role in parenting. It is largely achieved through attention, warmth and praise. Rutter's work in the sixties and seventies has borne the test of time, and the amount of warmth that can be observed and even scored, between a parent and his or child, is still an excellent predictor of that relationship in the future and a good outcome for children.
There has also been a lot of interest in this in relation to personality development. For example, children who are born with a poor emotional regulation, those rather unstable, moody children, and who are also not validated through abuse or simply emotional neglect, tend to develop borderline personality disorders. Validation in adolescence is probably what makes the difference between those adolescents who go completely off the rails and those who have just multiple blips.
How relationships form and the abilities for future parenting very much start within the parent/child relationship, then the family relationships and finally wider relationships and sexual partnerships.
Internal coherence has become an important concept. It is about the parents having a coherence in how they have internalised their experience of parenting. In effect, you are measuring whether they have been well parented themselves. You can make some predictions on the basis of that about their parenting of the current child.
As a proper doctor I must mention genetics. There is, of course a heritability factor in aggression and violence. It is not a strong one and research indicates that environmental factors, particularly parenting, are at least as important. There is a recent study in Scandinavia which was of children who were adopted and they separated those where one of the biological parents had a history of violence or severe aggression and those who did not. They were then placed, in what seemed to be a random way, irrespective of their histories. The researchers found that:
the ones who had, as it were, the `genetic loading' showed perfectly good adjustment, so long as there was _not marital conflict in the adoptive family
children without the `genetic loading' who were in families where there was marital conflict in the adoptive families on the whole did not become violent.
So you needed the two, the genetic loading and the marital conflict.
Something else that influences my thinking is carer victimisation. Here I am influenced by the work of an American, who was particularly interested in the abuse of pre-school children. She has shown in terms of disruption of their development and post traumatic symptoms, that these very young children are much more affected by seeing their carer threatened and attacked, than by direct abuse to themselves. That seems to me to be a very important thing to remember.
What is Domestic Violence ?
"A malevolent act by one family member against another with the intent of causing physical,sexual or psychological damage ".
I am using the term domestic violence to mean inter partner violence. It has become a real problem because it is now being used to mean physical abuse of children and even animals.
I want to think at some features of domestic violence that might be relevant to the children. I would like to emphasise the violence outside the home, the morbid jealousy which is seen in a minority.
Denial is part of the pattern. If you meet a man who immediately admits it, I think you are dealing with a different situation from the classical domestic violence. There are lots of theories about why there is quite such a high level of denial. It may be just protection of ones pride or ego, but it may also be a further invalidation of the woman's position, by making out she is talking idiotic nonsense.
There are quite consistent results emerging about the communication skills within these couples. On the whole, the male partner in violent relationships has less good verbal and communication skills and less adequate social skills than the woman. I find that quite helpful thinking in my assessments. What is important is trying to see whether the mother has significant parenting difficulties and whether these are as a result of the domestic violence, this kind of encroaching sense of paralysis and inadequacy, or whether she has parenting problems in any case.
The Child's Situation,
There are three main groups:
1. Indirect witnessing - these children are aware of the domestic violence, but they are not directly involved. The inferred would be things like, "Mum's not in her bed in the morning" or "Mum's got bruises to her face" or "Nobody's speaking in the house" and the child is perfectly aware that this is the result of some pretty conflicted situation.
2. These children are present, they are witnesses.
3. These children are involved i.e. they are trying to intervene or they get hit in the process of the fight between the adults. People talk about the double whammy, the exposure into parental violence and the experience of physical abuse directly to them, separate from the domestic violence.
So what problems is the child going to have?
It really makes no difference whether you compare the `aware' versus the `witness' versus the `involved,' or even the `double whammy': you cannot distinguish them on the severity of the outcome for the children. I have become really very concerned about the amount of physical abuse and the amount that we are probably all missing. There are two very important studies of about eleven or twelve thousand families in the forces. A graph of domestic violence incidents showed that if you are at nought, the child is almost certainly not going to be physically abused; at 25 reported incidents, this is quite severe domestic violence, it is 50% likely that the will be physically abused; and at 50 incidents you can more or less guarantee the child is also being beaten. This is really quite powerful stuff in terms of the connection.
I have been challenged about other research that indicates the involvement of women. It is an enormous subject and I am extremely well read in it and I have come down very firmly on the side of the sort of line Professor Mullender was taking. There are, of course, the women whose motive, in the terms of how I defined domestic violence, who wished to degrade, abuse, terrify etc., are extremely rare. There are quite a few who are good little fighters and there is some very interesting work in America in the states where they have compulsory arrest for any reported incident of domestic violence, which has allowed people to study these women and that is quite an extreme end of the violent women and, still, they are not like the men.
The Effects of Domestic Violence on a Family - a Summary
Attachment - in a domestic violence situation there is no secure base. There is no one to put fearful or threatening situations right and their carer is someone who they see as attacked and not someone they can run to for safety.
Belonging and continuity - there are likely to be many disruptions, police visits, scenes with their mother and they become quite unclear what their family unit is.
Warmth and approval - even higher than the amount of physical abuse in these families is the over-punitiveness. It is not just a smack: these children are severely punished often. Which is obviously the opposite of warmth and approval and there can be a lot of emotional abuse in terms of critical comments.
Social and educational needs - a significant proportion of these children do not do well in school
Modelling -they are having a very distorted models of behaviour and relationships.
Moral lead - I put this separate because I think they learn that it is right to hit and abuse and degrade and to lie and to deny and to cover up. So that is what they are told about right and wrong.
The validation of self -they are obviously experiencing much more terror and distress and that is likely to be ignored in the bigger picture of the parents' enmeshment in their battles.
There is a deviant model of relationship- forming.
In effect, the impact on the child of domestic violence can affect each and every area of her basic needs and in my mind all her human rights are infringed.
An Example - Osmond, aged 9 years.
He told me about his parents' violence and how when they started arguing and hitting he would take his little brother into the back room where they had a telly and they turned it very loud so that they couldn't hear what was going on next door.
However, every now and then, he would peep into the kitchen to check that his mother and father were still alive. He said, "Sometimes I wonder if one of them might be dead." If his father saw him when he poked his head around the door he got a wallop and was told, "Get lost you little bastard." Osmond explained to me that bastard means unknown father and that sometimes Daddy accuses his Mum of making him with another man.
`Attachment' - he showed features in his play, talk and behaviour of an anxious attachment to both parents.
`Belonging and continuity' - Osmond had three times fled with his mother to motels after fights. The last time he was abandoned there when his mother overdosed. The family has moved frequently. He doesn't know where he belongs because of all that his father says, and he is not quite sure that he is his father, and he knows that whatever his mum says she will go back to this man.
Warmth and approval - he does erratically experience this but it is unpredictable and he is as likely to be sworn at and told that he is rubbish.
Modelling - he has seen both of his parents lash out; he has heard his mother lie about why she has bruises. He has been told not to tell anyone what happens at home or else he "will get what for". He has seen his father abuse police officers when they have attended the home. In terms of moral lead his father has told him that any boy who doesn't hit back is a wimp. He has learned how to look after himself, he told me proudly. He knows that all girls are slags and the police fascist pigs. He has seen his father hiding the TV whenever there is a knock on the door. At school he is at risk of permanent exclusion for aggressive behaviour and offensive and racist language.
Validation - when, at a joint interview, Osmond told his mother how he feels about them fighting, she tells him not to be silly. When Osmond told her in front of me that he wants to come home but only when the fighting stops, she turned to him and tells him, indeed, commanded him to tell me that it had been a very long time since there had been a fight and that he wanted to come home that day. He was in a very difficult position about what he then said to me. He cried in the interview because he said that his mother didn't like him because she criticised him all the time.
All that illustrates how many facets of the child's needs can be affected.
It is often weeks or even months when one is assessing them that one begins to realise how much they have been affected, and the research, which again Professor Mullender referred to, is unanimous in showing greatly increased rates of these disorders. There is controversy about things like gender effects, whether girls and boys are affected differently. How important is the age of the child at the time? How important is the length of the time of the abuse? and so on, but the general rule is that probably 50% of children in chronic domestic situations will have significant effects to their development.
If we look at the long term, we do have a gender difference. It is the boys who tend to become anti-social and be domestically violent themselves. Although the girls may seek out victim behaviours, so very much like the sequelae of sexual abuse to an extent, there is also an increasing aggression in women. You could see this as a cycle that the inability to trust, the poor attachments and the lack of validation lead to far reaching problems which will then affect the next generation, and that witnessing the violent subjugation of others and threats to your care-giver have neuro-developmental effects. There are now quite a few papers supporting this: a review by Daniel Glaser showed actual neurological differences between children who have and have not been abused both emotionally and physically. Perhaps in a few years you will have some form of scan done and given to the court to indicate damage.
Separation and Contact.
How does all this relate to decisions about contact post separation? In considering contact, many facets of the situation need to be considered in order to make decisions about the child's future adjustment and contact with her parents.
A starting point for me, and I would say this research is unequivocal, is that women are at the severest risk at the time of separation and in the year or two following that. That is certainly when you get a peak in the murders. So separation initially increases the likelihood of violence.
Secondly, there are offspring. The child contact is frequently used as the opportunity for such violence or emotional abuse, or for the gathering of information, that allows the father to track the family.
Thirdly, by definition a violent parent has put his child's needs second to his own and his own deviant needs. He has abdicated his parental responsibility.
So, I am first thinking about what one would want to assess in relation to the child and I think these are all fairly standard. However, I would like to emphasise that I am just horrified by the number of children who go to contact as a result of an order and have no idea why. Nobody has talked to them about why mummy and daddy don't live together anymore or asked them what they remember about things. When I am doing a summary in a report, I sit there thinking if I were the judge, if I were talking to this child in twelve years time, what would I say was the reason that we decided that the child should see the violent parent? To me it is another form of validation, and by just saying well we just go on as normal except dad's living there and mum is living in the other place makes a nonsense of all the child's experiences in terms of what they have seen happening and their experiences of it.
I am thinking here of the emotional state of the mum. Is she regaining her confidence and strength? I am sure those who work in refuges here will support me, as you will have seen women who, in a relatively short time are transformed. You cannot believe it is the same woman who was a sort of shaking, dithering mess, who could not decide about anything when you first saw her, and maybe a couple of months later is now telling you that she has found herself again. She had forgotten who she was and feels clear and strong about what she wants to do. But, there are often huge issues about the relationship, whether it is over or not, whatever anybody says. There are issues about parenting and, when we ask if she can keep the child safe, I think we also have to ask if the court is allowing her to keep the child safe. We cannot judge her without also taking that into account. Of course, very important are her support systems.
There are many other mediating factors. What is the attitude of the father and this should be part of any assessment. Is there any acknowledgement of what has been going on? Can he see anything about what damage his behaviour, their behaviour, may have done to the child or is his denial so high that that is just something to be joked about and not discussed. Is there any motivation for change, has he gone out to look for some help with his anger or to do with his relationship? Is he willing to? Any thoughts of how to repair the damage he has done? Has he ever talked to the child or is he willing to talk about what he has done. Being sorry about it is another form of repair and being able to tell the child about the good things about their mother is very important. For example, " You know, whatever I said about her being this that and the other, actually she is a wonderful mother". That can do a great deal of good repairing.
I would be looking at the motivations for contact. It is quite difficult to tell. I sometimes just let them talk for an hour and make a kind of score, whether I am hearing more about the child or more about the woman when the father is talking about contact, in order to try and make some kind of judgement about what he is really after, when he insists he is totally committed to the child.
This is my next big message and the only one, if you only want to take one away, and that is the purpose of contact. Everything falls into place once you define what the purpose of contact is and what you are expecting from it. So the sorts of things you would be looking at:
Is it to retain a strong and positive relationship i.e. is there a strong and positive relationship which is worth
investing in? If not, are you aiming to try to produce that. Perhaps they have had a terrible relationship with
beatings and all the rest but you think there is some hope that the child and his father can have a positive
Is it a more limited thing like providing knowledge about the child's other parent and their heritage?
Is it for reparation? Does one think that some therapeutic work or cleverly managed contact could actually
help repair some things for the child?
Are there developmental advantages? Some things the father has some particular area of skill to offer and what are the likely benefits for the child going to be? So I would go much further than Professor Mullender in that I don't just want safe contact, I want contact that is going to really do something positive for this child.
The Moral Issue
I feel the courts, all of us, fudge the moral issues. It is a really serious matter when a court tells a child that they want him or her to have contact with a person whom they know has done very very bad and evil things. What is that going to do in the long term? Morals has almost become a dirty word hasn't it?
The general feeling is that contact must be good for the child. We do not have to think about anything else. It is assumed.
So my personal propositions. Professor Mullender called it a rebuttable presumption against contact, that is where there has been a finding, not where everyone is still fighting about who is telling the truth and who is not. I would like courts to take much more interest in all parental situations, and into whether or not there might be domestic violence. I know judges have big piles of papers and when things are agreed they just want to get through the pile, but that worries me.
The other bit of research I feel I have to mention and judges don't like this and don't seem to hear it but one very robust (Tape ends here). You can compare that with contact with and without father, with moves with losses and so on and so forth. That stands out like a beacon and no one has shown that contact makes a difference to eventual outcome. That doesn't, of course, mean that it doesn't but no one has yet shown that and, of course, we know that over sixty per cent of men actually disappear from their children's lives within two years. So it is quite a difficult and complicated picture. I am just going to put this up and sit down.
E N D
Rebuttal of Sturge and Glasers denial that PAS exists.
Dame Elizabeth Butler -Sloss is the President of
the Family Division - about as high as you can get in English family
(laugh) law courts and on a par the Canada's Supreme Court Madame Justice
Claire L'Heureux-Dubι (a well-known feminist judge). However, Elizabeth
Butler-Sloss is not well-known as a feminist judge but sides with them too
many times to be impartial.
Quote :- It is, in my view, particularly apposite to look again at contact since organisations representing fathers are becoming increasingly vocal about the way they consider they are unfairly treated by the family courts." - Butler -Sloss, Nov 2001.
Butler-Sloss, Nov 2001
" As President of the Family Division, and particularly continuing my predecessor's post as a Patron of your organisation, under its new name of Children Law UK, I am delighted both to support the work of the organisation generally, and today's event in particular. I am impressed and delighted that so many renowned experts in their field have given their time to speak today on what is, undoubtedly, not only an extremely important subject but also a complex one, perhaps how complex has been particularly shown to us by Claire Sturge. You have heard the experts [http://www.rgardner.com/refs/ar19.html or http://www.equalparenting.org/s_&_g_rebutal.htm ], I now give you the lawyers' approach, at least a lawyer's approach.
One area of concern about children which has been in the past somewhat under-appreciated is in respect of children one of whose parents, or carers has been violent to the other carer. As you all know, domestic violence has in the last two years or so rightly received publicity and greater public awareness. I hope that you will forgive me, despite the earlier speakers, for giving an overview of the subject.
The evidence of the existence of widespread domestic assaults by one partner on the other is incontrovertible. The majority of victims, according to research, are women, although there is a significant minority of female aggressors.
[ http://www.ivorcatt.com/2023.htm http://www.electromagnetism.demon.co.uk/07088.htm http://www.electromagnetism.demon.co.uk/17137.htm http://www.electromagnetism.demon.co.uk/19165.htm http://www.electromagnetism.demon.co.uk/THE%20REAL%20GOAL%20OF%20FEMINISM.htm ; Men are so routinely stereotyped as 'violent' now, that the slander is rarely challenged.]
There is extensive research on the large number of women who have been victims of violence in the home and the adverse effects upon them and upon their ability to function normally. The research has also shown the adverse effect upon their parenting skills.
Domestic violence covers a wide range of unacceptable behaviour within the family and may take many forms. Indirect violence, threats and verbal abuse may, in certain cases, be as detrimental as actual violence and may have an equally destabilising effect on the other partner. Violence is a form of emotional or psychological abuse as well as physical assault. The research has also shown that the majority of women do not go to the police and do not disclose the violence to their general practitioners. This may be due to fear of repercussions or stigmatism or feelings of shame.
Magistrates hear the more frequent complaints of assault by one partner against the other, or by each partner against the other. The police have been and continue to be called to the scene of warring partners and the violence has often been recorded as a domestic dispute. The description `domestic dispute', particularly where the physical injuries were not severe, may have contributed to a widespread view in the past that domestic violence was not a serious matter. It is also true that a significant number of women make complaints to the police and then withdraw them, often on the day of the hearing before the magistrates. The withdrawal of the proceedings is not a fair indication of the seriousness of the assaults but may be the result of other factors, including pressure from the other partner, or recognition of the difficulties for the complainant and her children flowing from the outcome of the hearing.
Over the years there have been attempts to raise the profile of violence in the home. Erin Pizzey opened the first women's refuge in Chiswick, West London in 1973. She wrote of her experiences in a book entitled "Shout (sic) Quietly or the Neighbours Will Hear". http://www.bennett.com/ptv/index.shtml http://www.dvmen.org/dv-70.htm [When will Sloss read Erins later books?] http://www.mensrights.com.au/dv13o.htm [ I DARED TO SAY PUBLICLY THAT WOMEN CAN BE AS VIOLENT AS MEN AND THAT WOMEN WERE A GREAT DEAL MORE PSYCHOLOGICALLY VIOLENT THAN MEN I sighed because those two sentences uttered twenty-five years ago in my early work at Chiswick caused me to be hated and despised. I became the nation's conscience. I dared to say publicly that women can be as violent as men and that women were a great deal more psychologically violent than men. Pizzey ] Women's refuges have now opened all over the country and there is a national organisation entitled `Refuge' founded to assist women and children who are victims of violence. Marital conflict and family violence has been the subject of an increasing number of medical papers and publications. It has become an issue of increasing concern for the Home Office, the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Department of Health. In passing Part IV of the Family Law Act 1996, which provides for remedies against molestation and for occupation orders, Parliament clearly had the problems of domestic violence well in mind.
. In extreme cases, such as the murder of the mother by the father, the effect upon the children was obvious to everyone. The effect upon the child of witnessing assaults and threats was less obvious.
As Dr Sturge has told you, on the 22"d March 2000 the Court of Appeal, Thorpe LJ Waller LJ and I, heard four appeals which had been grouped together in order for us to look at the issue of contact where there had been violence in the home (re L, re V, re M and re H [20001 2 FLR 334). The Official Solicitor, at our request, provided the Court of Appeal with a joint report from Dr Sturge and Dr Glaser, both distinguished child psychiatrists. [The report appeared in Family Law, July 2000 at page 506].
There were over 200 responses to the paper and the Sub-Committee sent its final Report to the Lord Chancellor on the 29th February 2000.
The Lord Chancellor permitted us to see a copy of the Children Act Sub-Committee Report [Contact between children and violent parent: the question of parental contact in cases where there is domestic violence'] before its publication. We gave, in our judgements some general guidance on this important issue (see Butler-Sloss P at pp336 -344; Thorpe LJ pp 359 - 370; Waller LJ p371).
We need to tap in to the increasing knowledge of the effect of violence within the family upon the children. If one stopped to think, it would be obvious that it would be so. Marital disharmony, particularly demonstrated by endless arguments and quarrels and the resultant tension within the family are well known to affect children.
There are four points, which among others, are, in my view, of particular significance in an application for contact: a) the extent of the violence b) the effect upon the primary carer c) the effect upon the child d) the ability of the offender to recognise his behaviour and attempt to change it.
Where violence has been alleged, it will be a matter for the court to decide whether, if proved, that violence would be relevant to the issue of contact. Where the allegations made, if proved, may have an effect on the outcome, the court must adjudicate on them and find them proved or not proved. As the Court of Appeal pointed out in re L and others, there is, and there should be, no automatic presumption against contact in a case where domestic violence has been established. It is one highly relevant factor amongst many which must be taken into account when the difficult balancing exercise is carried out by the judge applying the welfare principle and the welfare checklist, s (1 (1) and (3) of the Children Act 1989.
Of importance here is also that the court does explore allegations of violence, even where the parties to a contested application for contact subsequently appear to have reached agreement. The court must be aware that there may be situations in which a respondent mother (as is more often the case) feels pressurised into agreeing to some form of contact with the result that the allegations of violence are never investigated.
Domestic violence is, of course, an assault, a criminal offence, and should not be regarded as any less serious because it occurs in the "domestic" arena.
The Magistrates Association is currently looking into the problem of the seeming lack of communication between criminal and civil courts, in particular where perpetrators of violence, who are the subject of criminal proceedings are granted bail in circumstances where the magistrates are unaware that they are already bound by civil injunctions seeking to protect the victim. This is an area raised by Auld LJ in his report on the criminal courts.
An important consideration, when considering if the fact of domestic violence is relevant to the issue of contact, is the effect upon the primary carer of the violence after the separation. Many victims of violence remain afraid of their former partners and that fear is obviously communicated to the child, not necessarily by the parent telling the child of his/her fear.
As in other areas of family law where children are concerned, the stability of the placement for the child is of crucial importance since its breakdown, or the undue fragility of the primary carer, can have serious consequences for the child. In a situation where the court is faced with an application for contact which could not effectively be arranged without the risk of serious harm being caused to the primary carer the court would have to approach the issue of contact with extreme caution. It is clear from the body of mental health and social work research and a long line of authority that the protection of the primary carer for the benefit of the child is of primary importance. In serious cases of violence, if contact is to take place, it may be necessary to provide safeguards under Part IV of the Family Law Act 1996.
The courts may not have always sufficiently taken into account the ongoing consequences for the child of contact with a non-resident parent who has been seriously physically or psychologically violent towards the primary carer. Dr Sturge and Dr Glaser, in their report to the Court of Appeal, reminded us all that domestic violence in a family where there are children is a significant failure of parenting. The reluctance of the child in these circumstances to see the non-resident, violent parent, may have a firm basis. The wishes and feelings of a child who has lived in a violent household have to be given appropriate weight.
There will be a small number of difficult cases in which the child would be entitled to have a guardian to represent him/her in order for the viewpoint of the child to be presented adequately to the court. Judges in private family law cases in particular should have this in mind when considering an application for contact where there have been allegations or findings of domestic violence. This point was made clearly by Lady Justice Hale in re A [representation of child's interests] Court of Appeal, 20th November 2000 (referred to in Family Law, volume 31 page 241) who said:
"The evidence is now quite clear that children whose parents are separating, and especially if their parents are in conflict with one another, need a voice, someone who is able to listen to anything they wish to say and tell them what they need to know. Sometimes they need more than this and that is someone who is able to orchestrate an investigation of the case on their behalf. "
d) The ability of the offender to recognise his/her behaviour and attempt to change it
Once the court has found proved violence which is significant and relevant to the disposal of the case, the court must not only consider the effects of that violence on the child and the primary carer, but should also consider the response of the perpetrator of the violence
As I said in that appeal [Re L ] :
" In the light of the findings of the judge of serious violence by the father including a catalogue of sadistic violence, that he had a very real anger and control problem, and the denial by the father of the facts found by the judge, the judge 's decision not to grant direct contact was entirely in line with the clear advice in the psychiatric report provided to this court. The judge said
" ....it might be a good idea for him to look in a mirror and begin to accept what he is and what his role has been in the mother's life and during her pregnancy with T and subsequent to her birth. The sooner he comes to terms with the fear he has caused and the long-term emotional scars he has caused, the better."
The risks to the child were obvious and the father, in refusing to face up to them, was clearly unable to reduce those risks. "
Mr Justice Wall set out in re M (Contact: Violent Parent)  2 FLR 321, the importance of the violent parent understanding the consequences of the violence and consideration being given by the court to his/her capacity and genuine desire to change. If necessary, this should include the violent parent seeking help for aggression.
Relevant protection for the primary carer may be necessary at all stages. An application for interim contact may require careful consideration. It obviously depends upon the seriousness of the allegations, but, if sufficiently serious, proper precautions must be taken to protect the child and the primary carer. In some cases that may mean no contact or only contact in carefully supervised circumstances together with, where appropriate, suitable injunctive relief.
If the court decides that interim contact is appropriate, it will have to consider how contact will take place and whether precautions need to be taken. This may also apply to arrangements for continuing contact. As a patron of the National Association of Child Contact Centres, I should at this stage put in a plea for the contact centres all round the country. The majority of them are staffed by competent volunteers who are not qualified and should not be asked to deal with violent or abusive parents. If there is any danger of misbehaviour by the offending parent, it is NOT appropriate to make an order for contact to take place at a supported contact centre.
It does well to remember at this stage that such forms of contact are not themselves without risk to the child. As the Court of Appeal pointed out in Re L (above), supervised contact or contact only at a contact centre is not an appropriate long-term solution to contact issues. In Re M, no effort was made to move the contact on from supervision by the mother in the contact centre. The contact came to an end after an argument between the parents in front of G who subsequently said that he did not want to see his father. The father started proceedings in February 1998. Attempts were made to restart contact. The child was taken to the contact centre but he refused to see his father. By the date of the hearing the boy had not seen his father for 2 years.
In this case, although the violence had a lasting effect on the mother, violence does not appear to me to be the main cause of the refusal of contact by the mother. The judge formed the view that the source of the problem was the long period of contact at the contact centre and that the matter should have been tackled years before. . It would seem that, for a normal boy, the contact over the years in the contact centre must have lacked stimulus and interest and the relationship between the father and son does not appear to have had an opportunity to blossom and develop. In the psychiatric report, unstimulating experiences which were lacking in interest, fun or in extending the child and his experiences, were included among the risks of direct contact with the non-resident parent.
The courts naturally start with the view that in most cases contact between the child and the non-resident parent is desirable both for the child and for the parent. It accords with the general welfare of the child under section 1 of the Children Act 1989 and with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 7 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, serious cases of physical or psychological violence to the other parent, where there are children in the family, have to be treated by the courts with an extra degree of caution, recognising of course that the welfare of the child is paramount. http://www.electromagnetism.demon.co.uk/zbbsloss.htm
Finally, I should like to touch briefly on the issue of enforcement of contact orders. The problem of the resident parent who refuses to allow the other parent to see the child is a real and significant one. It works both ways but is most obvious when the resident parent is the mother. It is crucial that the court should resolve at an early stage whether the opposition of the resident parent is justified, e.g. violence by the other partner, or not justified. The arrival of the stepparent is a further and not always welcome complication.
It is, in my view, particularly apposite to look again at contact since organisations representing fathers are becoming increasingly vocal about the way they consider they are unfairly treated by the family courts.
The Australian legislation set out in the consultation paper deserves careful consideration.
The new regime will have three phases:
1. In the first, the obligations on both parties created by an order are set out, together with the penalties that will be occurred on breach of any of these obligations. At this stage information will also be provided to the parties about parenting programmes to assist them in their new parental responsibilities.
2. If the first order is breached the court can require the parent to attend a "post separation parenting programme", which may involve anger management, to explore the reasons for non-compliance. Compensatory contact may also be ordered.
3. The third stage arises where there
has been a second breach, or where an initial breach has been serious or
flagrant. The court can impose a range of sanctions including community service,
a bond or fine and imprisonment. The court can also return to the second
stage where it feels that further parenting programme attendance may be
Park Conference Nov 2001