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Government sells out on early interventions

Dear All:

Please find pasted below the DfES 25.5.04 letter describing the DfES-CAFCASS "Family Resolutions" project; the attachment contains the same letter in 'pictogram' form.

You may take the view that, under the new DfES-CAFCASS "Family Resolutions" scheme:

.... applications to increase or vary the quantity of contact
... trigger investigations on the quality of contact

The DfES scheme is a step away from the present system. Under the status quo, arguments on quantum are admissible.

The Early Interventions project, for which support is now enhanced, will not be taken forward either under the DfES scheme or by the DfES Design Team.

Please feel free to sub-distribute / post.


Here is the letter (see also the attachment)
Mr Oliver Cyriax
New Approaches to Contact

25 May 2004

Dear Oliver,

The Family Resolutions Pilot Project

Thank you for your letters of 5 May to Bruce Clark and to me, following our meeting on 29 April. I found our discussions very helpful and I think it might be useful if I give some more detail here about the context of the Family Resolutions Pilot and its aims. Some of what I say will inevitably cover aspects of what we discussed and areas outlined in my letter of 6 April.

Both Margaret Hodge and Lord Filkin are committed to taking forward the Family Resolutions Pilot Project. This commitment is in the context of the Government's response to the recommendations set out in the Children Act Sub-Committee's Report "Making Contact Work'. The Project aims to help separating or separated parents reach agreement about contact and residence for their children, without needing formal family court proceedings. The pilot phase will test the effectiveness of a range of measures including information and advice and parental co-operation sessions. Since our meeting, Bruce Clarke has again spoken to Lord Filkin and the minister has reconfirmed his support for the Family Resolutions Pilot Project.

In designing and implementing the project, ministers fully understand the importance of drawing on the experience and lessons learned from other jurisdictions. Undoubtedly a great deal of good work has been done in the UK and elsewhere in this area and it is very important we do not work in isolation. In particular, the Project is drawing on the recommendations of the ad hoc group chaired by District Justice Nicholas Crichton.

The project will promote good quality contact while, through screening and risk assessment, it will safeguard children from the risks of domestic violence, abuse and the adverse effects of their parents' conflict. The pilot will provide well presented relevant information and skills guidance in planning for co-operative parenting, as well as further support in reaching agreement.

However I am sure you can understand if I take this opportunity to underline that the pilot and subsequent national rollout will be operating in the context of the current statute law, as interpreted by case law judgments. In practice, this means relying on the current assumption of contact that has been established through case law, rather than developing new presumptions in the statute law. Therefore, the pilot will be based on the current principle, as set out in the Children Act 1989, that the child's welfare will be the paramount consideration. In this context, it is the quality of contact between a child and his/her non-resident parent rather than the simple quantum of contact that is the more important issue. Further, it is a key aim of the project to encourage parents to step back from the adult conflict and focus exclusively on the needs of their children. Therefore, the project cannot advocate a structured programme along the lines proposed by "New Approaches to Contact", in terms of specifying, from the outset, the quantity of contact. This focus on quality ahead of quantity will feature in the planning session(s), where both parents will be expected to work together to draw up their own plan for co-operative parenting. These plans will, of course, need to be flexible across time, as parents will need to adapt and develop them to reflect changing circumstances, such as their children growing older and becoming more independent.

I realise that discussions during the past year have frequently referred to "Early Interventions" and the "Florida model". This in part came about through the significant interest about what happens in Florida and our references to the recommendations of the ad hoc group chaired by District Judge Nicholas Crichton. However the title "Family Resolutions Pilot Project" was chosen to emphasise the key principle of parents continuing to work together in the best interest of their children, even if the adult relationship had broken down. Also, changing the title from "Early Interventions" acknowledges that although the intervention may take place early in terms of Court-based intervention, it is probably not at all early for the families.

As I mentioned above, we are very conscious of the value to be gained from looking at what other jurisdictions have done and this includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand, EU countries, the "Florida" model and the US generally. The pilot will include an independent review of court based interventions in other jurisdictions, with a clear account of the evaluation and monitoring undertaken. The pilot has no in-built assumption in favour of an already existing model.

Yours sincerely

Althea Efunshile

Director, Safeguarding Children Group


- the element of quantum has been removed from cases about quantum
- quantum will not be a relevant factor when assessing how much contact there should be
- cases about quantum will be assessed on the quality of contact
- no indications can or will be given to parents on what appropriate levels of quantum are

The purpose of a contact application is to rule on the appropriate level of quantum.

It is to be presumed that:

- if the quality is deemed good, there will be no need for more contact
- if the quality is deemed bad, there should not be more contact
- if the quality is deemed indeterminate, there should be no more contact while the case is deferred
- quality will be assessed on a subjective basis according to nebulous criteria
- successive cases will be assessed on nebulous but different criteria
- assessments will be made on the basis of fleetingly-observed child-parent interaction or inferred child-parent interaction

The FR system may operate as an incentive to offer low contact until (and after) the quality of contact is deemed adequate. As applications can - presumably - be defended on what is said to happen during contact, there may be additional incentive to find fault with the non-resident parent's conduct or bearing. Considerations of child welfare, over and above what is said to happen during the designated period of contact, are presumably not relevant.

The content of the pre-court machinery (information, skills guidance, planning sessions, risk assessment) will presumably focus on quality of contact.

Authoritative statements on the Children Act 1989

The general statements known to the NATC on the Children Act's private law provisions are:

"New orders are introduced to reflect our emphasis on encouraging parents to participate fully in the child's upbringing" The Minister introducing the Bill, 27 April 1989, Hansard

"The Children Act 1989... seeks to encourage both parents to continue to share in their children's upbringing, even after separation or divorce"

Consultation Document, Parental responsibility, Lord Chancellor's Department, March 1998, p 13, para 42

"The underlying philosophy of the Children Act is that parents have a shared responsibility for the upbringing of their children even after the parents' relationship has broken down. This reflects the Government's belief that children generally benefit from a continuing relationship with both parents".

Rt Hon The Lord Irvine of Lairg, 8 May 1999 (ref MC/99/10/1)

The DfES Project is the diametric opposite of the NATC Early Interventions project said by the Minister (on the basis of information received from his civil servants) to be under development: "The Early Interventions project which was developed by New Approaches to contact NATC and others is being developed and taken forward" (29.4.04 DCA/CEP). Eight of the nine members of the DfES Design Team have no knowledge of the EI project and have had no dealings with the NATC (the general knowledge of contact issues may, in addition, be tenuous).

The DfES Family Resolutions project was said, at the time that funding was obtained by the DfES, to be "broadly similar" to the NATC EI project. The DfESFamily Resolutions project had not been announced or discussed prior to the publicised official receipt of the EI project. It seems that the Family Resolutions project was not the subject of a formal proposal as a specified project.

The Family Resolutions Project is said to be a DfES project and not a CAFCASS Project; the most recent CAFCASS guidelines affirm in their entirety: Heading 6.5 (‘Quality Counts Most - not Quantity’) “What counts is the quality of a child’s relationship with the parent or family member, not simply the amount of time they spend together. Quantity is only one measure of quality.” [CONTACT PRINCIPLES & GUIDANCE: Progress (Feb 04, ref BK, 7 pp)].

The CAFCASS author of this statement is on the DfES Design Team. The author of this statement appears to be responsible for mistaking the EI project for its opposite and presenting EI to government, inverted, as a project developed by CAFCASS. The CAFCASS (BK) statement on quantum is the only known supplement to CAFCASS's assertion that: "CAFCASS does not currently have guidelines in relation to the amount of time a child should spend with a non-resident parent, nor does it have detailed written-down guidance on the factors to be taken into consideration on time based recommendations" (3 April 2002, CAFCASS/ DRC). The point of every CAFCASS welfare report is a time-based recommendation. CAFCASS is the institutional embodiment of the opposite of the NATC Early Interventions project.

The NATC EI project has support from the High Court judiciary, the Family Law Bar Association, the 03/04 Chair of the Solicitors Family Law Association, parents groups, mediators, the cream of the profession generally and, perhaps most important, support of the child development specialists.

Agreed facts are that the NATC EI documentation submitted to the DCA and DfES has not been seen, not been read and cannot be found.

The Family Resolutions project is due for implementation on 1 September 2004 as a prelude to national rollout.

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