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Stop press - more Government bungling with the family

Original Message -----
From: Kirby, Brian
To: 'dave.mortimer@tiscali.co.uk'
Sent: Wednesday, June 09, 2004 1:40 PM
Subject: FW: Family Resolutions: "A Waste of Time"
I am unsure what response you want from me by sending this copy correspondence and making your statement about the Family Resolutions Pilot. It is also not for me to comment or justify what either the Minister for Children or the Lord Chancellor may have said in a press release (as you ask in your previous email).
I regret very much that this project that should be cause for optimism and hope has been so misrepresented in the press and elsewhere and that some appear to want to undermine it. Even more so, as I understood fathers' groups along with CAFCASS and many others, wished for the testing of such new alternatives to formal family proceedings.
CAFCASS people have much experience in assisting parents to resolve their differences over post-separation parenting, instead of less satisfactory court imposed arrangements; we also support mediation services in the work they do. The CASC report 'Making Contact Work' urged Government to make this CAFCASS provision universally available to families approaching courts. In response and with a view to future development, CAFCASS is keenly supporting this venture that will test a new and better resourced approach to this work, informed by work in other jurisdictions, research and experience and will be independently evaluated. It will be informed by research on contact, what we know about contact and the nature of contact disputes, and the needs of children in contact situations. CAFCASS is strongly committed to ensuring that children and their needs are at the heart of this project.
Outline proposals for the scheme were prepared for the DCA and DfES by a group formed early last summer and chaired by a senior district judge. Members of that group were from research, CAFCASS, mediation bodies, family therapy, court administration and child psychiatry. Those proposals were accepted and form the basis for this pilot project. The further detail of the scheme is being developed not only by using the experience of those on the design team but also through contributions by others who have substantial and relevant expertise.
Brian Kirby
External Projects Manager
----- Original Message -----
From: Bruce.CLARK@dfes.gsi.gov.uk
To: dave.mortimer@tiscali.co.uk
Sent: Wednesday, June 09, 2004 8:44 AM
Subject: RE: Family Resolutions: "A Waste of Time"
Thank you for sending me a copy of the letter sent by my manager, Althea Efunshile to Robert Whiston. As I hope you will understand, I am not really in a position to make comment on the contents of this correspondence, beyond confirming that it is an accurate account of the Government's current thinking as it works, with others, to design the pilot project.
-----Original Message-----
From: dave.mortimer@tiscali.co.uk
Sent: 09 June 2004 00:32
To: CLARK, Bruce
Subject: Family Resolutions: "A Waste of Time"

Dear Bruce,
Thanks for your email requesting information about the Family Resolutions project. I'm happy to oblige. The material you need is contained in the 26th May letter from your chair Althea Efunschile. I've attached it to this email in case you haven't yet seen it.
I am sure you will soon understand what the Family Resolutions project is all about.
As Althea says, the project "will promote good quality contact" - and here's how: "It is the quality of contact rather than the simple quantum 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 the focus on quality ahead of quantity will feature in the Planning Sessions".
I'm sure that sounds fine and dandy to those who simply don't know how the courts work. So perhaps I can explain what will happen. I don't suppose anyone has told you this yet - but contact cases ARE about quantum. That's the sole point in issue, but what you're saying is that quantum simply dose not matter. So when a child is being starved of contact by the resident parent - let's say there's contact at two hours a week - and I apply for more, what you'll do is send us off to "Planning Sessions".
And these Planning Sessions will tell parents, loud and clear, that mere quantity simply doesn't matter. Instead we'll be told to focus on quality. Contact applications will stop right there - with an endless arguments about whether I pay enough attention to my child when I do see them. In fact what you have devised is a perfect recipe for perpetual litigation.
The resident parent is going to criticise my imagined handling of the child despite the fact that happens when she is not there - and simply cannot know what happens - and her misgivings will lead to a denial of any more contact and she has every incentive to find fault. And every incentive to offer very low contact. And if the contact is "assessed"as good - by God knows who - then I won't need any more contact! And if it's said to be bad, I shouldn't have any more contact either! And no-one will have any idea of what "good quality" contact is, or how it's to be assessed, and each year it'll be done differently.
In other words, Bruce - and I hate to be the one to tell you this - you've masterminded an infinitely more repressive version of the present system. It's a Great Leap Backwards.
Instead of it being very difficult to attain reasonable contact, you're going to make it impossible. This pilot is a major disaster for children, parents and of course the DfES - who will quite rightly get all the blame.
What do you think will happen when people find out and what on earth do you think lawyers will make of this project?
In your reply can you please explain what happened to the Early Interventions pilot which everyone supported. And, by the way, with your scheme it really doesn't matter whether mediation is voluntary or mandatory. According to you, its main purpose is to remind resident parents that they can get away with offering almost no contact on the pretext that this is "high-quality".
Please let me have your comments.
Best regards
Dave Mortimer
----- Original Message -----
From: Bruce.CLARK@dfes.gsi.gov.uk
To: dave.mortimer@tiscali.co.uk
Sent: Monday, June 07, 2004 8:08 AM
Subject: Margaret Hodge - mediation

Thanks for your e-mail. I am afraid that I am not aware of the context in which Mrs Hodge is "recommending voluntary mediation as a solution to contact disputes" , as you state. Please will you provide me with further information to enable me to respond more fully.


----- Original Message -----
From: dave.mortimer@tiscali.co.uk
To: Bruce.CLARK@dfes.gsi.gov.uk
Sent: Monday, June 07, 2004 8:28 AM
Subject: The original EI project, based on the presumption of reasonable
contact, has been scrapped by Hodge

Dear Bruce,
Thank you for your reply. We have all been told that Margaret Hodge is effectively killing off all Family Law reform. At the foot of this email is a document we are told Whitehall doesn't want us to see. All the proposals submitted have either been thwarted or replaced. These are the manoeuvrings which have been happening that few of us were able to see - until now. The leaked document below sets out details of the CAFCASS / DfES project which the Government swapped for the original NATC Early Interventions (E.I.) project. The reformist NATC E.I. project was based on the presumption of reasonable contact and co-parenting. We were told that the Early Interventions project had the support of the legal profession, court experts, child development psychiatrists, and even the judges. It had been worked out and was ready to go. So why has Margaret Hodge and her dept told senior ministers and the media they are cracking on with the project when it is simply not true. She has replaced the Early Interventions project with her so-called "Family Resolutions" project, which she is trying to pass off as the Early Interventions project. Down below are the leaked specifications for the Hodge fiasco - her so-called "Family Resolutions" project. The CAFCASS inspired "Family Resolutions" project, we believe is simply a 'spoiler' used to confuse the media. It has no judicial support. It has only recently been dreamed up. It has no pedigree; no years in the formulation. It has no particular purpose; and no grasp of policy or contact issues. Those working on it are unfamiliar with the subject area. The Family Resolutions specifications are contained in an unsent draft letter by the Design Team Chair, Mavis Maclean. This letter was intended for the Coalition for Equal Parenting in reply to their letter of 23 March. As far as we know, it was never sent. But it has been issued to navigates as a project 'brief'.

Best regards
David Mortimer
The main headlines are that :-

1- The DfES Family Resolutions project is a sham
2- there isn't actually 'a project'
3- the big DfES idea was merely to start a Talking Shop about a project
4- contact is only mentioned as an afterthought on the last line... where it's reduced to the idea of... more funding for supervised contact centres (and as one of several options) It's now official. The original EI project, based on the presumption of reasonable contact, has been scrapped by Hodge. Here's what our children will get instead The aim of the Family Resolutions Pilot is to support and help parents to reach agreement about how to share responsibility for co-operative parenting, after divorce or separation. Evidence clearly demonstrates that parents are happiest with arrangements that they themselves agree. This pilot project will evaluate the options for helping all parents to understand that contested hearings in court are a last resort, and that contact and residence arrangements negotiated outside of the court process are the best way of helping them to go forward together as parents, even if they are no longer a couple. We have given careful consideration to the experience of other countries in dealing with child contact disputes, including that set out in the detailed advice paper prepared by the ad hoc group chaired by Nicholas Crichton DJ in 2003. This paper was included in recommendations made by officials to Ministers in both the Department for Education and Skills, and the Department for Constitutional Affairs, for taking forward exploratory work on how couples could best be helped to reach settlement over parenting issues without turning to the courts. In late 2003 Margaret Hodge, Minister for Children, asked officials to investigate options for improving the ways in which child contact and residence applications to court are dealt with, including through conciliation and intervention measures to increase agreement between the disputing parents. We are taking this work forward under the overall direction of a cross-cutting Steering Group, which I chair. Detailed recommendations for the practical delivery of options will be made by a Design Group, which also includes representation from other Government Departments, the judiciary, voluntary service providers and family research. Two of the members of the Design Group were also members of the ad hoc group - one of them being Judge Crichton himself. The Design Group is not working to any pre-determined intervention plan - of the ad hoc group, of CAFCASS, or any other individual or body. It will develop recommendations based on the collective expertise of its members [see below], and the contacts and advice those members will draw on from outside the Group. Mediation is one of the available methods of intervention, among a wider range of conciliation and family support services that are under consideration. It is however essential to bear in mind that no two countries are the same, either in terms of their social cultures or their jurisdictions: what works well in one environment offers no guarantee of success elsewhere. In the U.S., for example, the law makes the rights of the adult the paramount concern [untrue]. The law in England and Wales states that the child's interests are paramount. In developing the Family Resolutions Pilot proposals, we understand the importance of devising solutions that can and will work best in this country at this time. The primary aim of the Design Group, and of this pilot as a whole, is to ensure that couples in dispute understand fully the impact of separation on their children, and what will be the most effective, and most satisfactory way for them to reach agreement about their future roles as co-operative parents. A key part of the success of this project is the direct involvement of the judiciary. I am pleased that we have received strong and positive support from family court judges. In addition to Judge Crichton on the Design Group, Mrs Justice Bracewell is a member of the Steering Group, and the judges in the pilot areas have indicated their support and will be directly involved in implementation. Judicial support will be instrumental to the success of the pilot project, in encouraging disputing couples to seek to settle their differences away from the confrontational surroundings of the court. It is important that this initiative is designed in a way that takes into account the needs of all family members. This means, for example, that we accept this initiative will not be not suitable in cases where domestic violence is a factor. The truth is that court-imposed orders generate the least satisfactory outcomes in terms of what parents themselves have told us. Even when an order is made, disagreements can and do continue to prevent the family moving forward. Enforcing contact orders is difficult; judges are understandably reluctant to jail or heavily fine parents who do not comply with contact orders, as that would often harm the child. However, we are considering this difficult issue as a separate matter, and will come forward with proposals in the summer. Finally, where it is safe to do so, we want children to have contact with both parents after divorce or separation. To support this, we have committed an additional £3.5m for child contact services including the funding of 14 new supervised contact services." "Collective Expertise of its members" Aside from DJ Crichton, none of the nine members of the Design Team who are (according to the Minister, taking forward the NATC EI project) know anything about the EI project and have had no dealings with the NATC. For the most part the membership consists of middle-ranking civil servants unfamiliar with family law, the family courts or contact issues. A reforming project approved by the Minister in one Department the DCA has been scrapped by Hodge's civil servants. The EI project papers were thrown away and still have not been seen by the Design Team.

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