Study calls for court order ‘shake-up’ to keep families together

Parents reunited with their children via a court order following care proceedings say there is a lack of ‘humanity’ in the process, leaving them feeling they were ‘just a cog in the machine, a case rather than a person’, according to new government-funded research.

Parents interviewed by researchers described feeling ‘downtrodden’ and ‘belittled’, and that they had not had enough help before care proceedings for the domestic abuse, mental health difficulties and substance misuse that typically triggered the care proceedings

They also felt a lack of understanding of these parental problems in court made it hard to present their case and give them a realistic chance for their child to come home.

The new study, authored by Professor Judith Harwin and Lily Golding from Lancaster University and funded by the Department for Education, recommends a major overhaul of the court order system. The report will inform the government’s first review of supervision orders since the introduction of the 1989 Children Act.

man in black shirt sitting beside woman in white shirt

The review is being carried out by a sub-group of the Public Law Working Group (PLWG), co-chaired by High Court Judge, Mr Justice Michael Keehan and Professor Harwin.

The research charts the experiences and views of parents whose children were made subject to a supervision order or a care order at home at the end of care proceedings. Both orders are ways of keeping families together when it is safe.

The study found domestic abuse, mental health difficulties and drug and alcohol misuse were widespread factors in the issue of the care proceedings. 

Parents found judges and their legal representatives the most helpful, and social workers the least helpful professionals during proceedings. The relationship between the local authority and parent had improved by the time the final order was made in most cases.

The study made a series of recommendations, including strengthening supervision orders, improving the court experience, and improving the response to domestic abuse.

Professor Judith Harwin said: Supervision orders are now the last main opportunity for parents to be reunited with their children. As this study shows, only a radical revamp will provide families with the active support and services to manage this vital transition back to family life. Otherwise, more children risk ending up back in court for further care proceedings and permanent removal from their parents. There has never been a more important time to invest in the supervision order.’  

Mr Justice Keehan said: ‘The views of parents about their experience of the family justice system and of appearing in the Family Court must be addressed. We, therefore, propose to establish another sub-group of the PLWG to make recommendations about how the experiences and involvement of parents, carers, young people and children in family court proceedings can be improved for the benefit of all those involved in these cases.’

Photo by Saúl Bucio


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