Last year, by order of the High Court advised by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), my friend’s two high school children were taken by force in the middle of the night from the home of their mother. They were dragged out of her house screaming, put into a police van and taken to live at their father’s house. They were told their reasons for not wanting to see their father weren’t good enough and that they must have a relationship with him.
If this sounds shocking - the truth is that this is happening in the family courts all the time. Just a glance through the comments of this petition will give you an idea.
Ever since the children’s Mum left their father, he continued to find ways to exert power and control over her. The kids didn’t want to see their Dad, but with the help of a specialist barrister, that only he could afford, the children ended up being taken in the middle of the night.
Children are as much victims of the domestic abuse they see and hear.
Many months on, the children write to Cafcass asking for help, describing how miserable they are, begging to be returned to the care of their Mother and demanding their ‘human rights’. They are still not being listened to.
The Cafcass website says: "We put children’s needs, wishes and feelings first, making sure that children’s voices are heard at the heart of the family court setting, and that decisions are made in their best interests"
But CAFCASS is doing the opposite.
These youngsters asked for help. So we did research, asked questions and have received numerous letters describing more Cafcass horror stories where children are not listened to and put at risk by unsafe child contact orders.
We also found that the rights of (mainly) women, who are trying to escape abusive relationships, are still not being heard and prioritised. This is despite Family Court rules issued in 2016 which say they must be.
Family Court secrecy means that mistakes can go undetected. Concerned parents are often seen as being ‘difficult’ and ‘obstructive’. Then they are forbidden from, and afraid of speaking out!
We must stop this happening. The decision makers in the Family Court must be properly trained to spot patterns of domestic abuse and the culture of secrecy must change to being more open.
We demand that the Government ensures that in the family courts:
Mandatory Training & Education already recommended by Family Court Rules and that this is independently monitored.
These rules state: ‘All members of the Family Court judiciary and Cafcass professionals must undergo mandatory specialist training in the dynamics of domestic abuse, coercive and controlling behaviour, the frequency and nature of post separation abuse, the impact of domestic abuse on children, on parenting and on the mother-child relationship.’
The Rights of Children must always be upheld - no child should ever be subjected to this type of forced removal against their will and then left in distress and without a voice. The voices, wishes and feelings and the human rights of children should be paramount in the decision making of the courts regarding contact arrangements.