“No parent should have to hold their children and comfort them as they die”
Claire Throssell, mother to Jack and Paul, both killed in 2014 by their father
The national domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid has today launched a major new campaign, ‘Child First’. The campaign calls on the family courts and the Government to put the safety of children back at the heart of all decisions made by the family court judiciary. Child First launches alongside the report, ‘Nineteen Child Homicides’. The report tells the stories of the cases of nineteen children, all intentionally killed by a parent who was also a known perpetrator of domestic abuse. These killings were made possible through unsafe child contact arrangements, formal and informal. Over half of these child contact arrangements were ordered through the courts.
Key Statistics from ‘Nineteen Child Homicides’
● 19 children killed from 12 families
● 2 mothers killed
● 2 children seriously harmed through attempted murder
● For 7 out of the 12 families, the contact had been ordered through court
Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said:
“There is a misguided belief within the family courts and among judges that, because a relationship has ended, so has the domestic abuse. Survivors frequently report to us that they and their children are re-victimised and traumatised by their abusers, even after separation, through the family court process. This trauma makes it extremely difficult for the non-abusive parent to advocate clearly and effectively for the safety of their child. In the criminal courts, there are protection measures in place to give victims fair access to justice. This is not the case in the family courts. For example, it is common for victims of domestic abuse to be cross-examined by the perpetrator. This must end.
“The desire by the family courts to treat parents in exactly the same way, and get cases over with quickly, blinds them to the consequences of unsafe child contact. As the report ‘Nineteen Child Homicides’ shows, these consequences can be fatal. The culture of, ‘contact with the child, no matter what’, must end. Less than 1% of child contact applications are refused[i], but we know that domestic abuse features in around 70% of CAFCASS caseloads, and in 70-90% of cases going to the family courts[ii]. Clearly, the system is failing. The best interests of children should be the overriding principle of the family courts, but far too often this is simply not the case."
Claire Throssell, mother to Jack and Paul, both killed in 2014 by their father, said:
“No parent should have to hold their children and comfort them as they die, or be told that their child has been harmed in an act of revenge or rage. Having experienced the family court judicial process and its protocols, the tragic outcome that occurred - whilst court proceedings were still ongoing - exposes flaws and malpractice within family law.
“All too often children’s voices are not heard or acted upon. Attending court is an emotional, frightening and at times a traumatic experience which nobody decides to initiate lightly - but does so to protect their children’s physical and emotional wellbeing.”
Women’s Aid urges the Government and family courts to undertake two key recommendations from ‘Nineteen Child Homicides’, in order to protect children and their non-abusive parent, and stop further avoidable child deaths. These form the two campaign asks of ‘Child First’:
1) Further avoidable child deaths must be prevented by putting children first in the family courts - as the legal framework and guidance states.
Ensure that domestic abuse is identified and its impact fully considered by the family court judiciary. Child contact arrangement orders must put the best interests of the child(ren) first and protect the well-being of the parent the child is living with, in accordance with ‘Practice direction 12 J Child arrangements & Contact order: Domestic violence and harm’. There is an urgent need for independent, national oversight into the implementation of Practice Direction 12J.
2) Make the family courts fit for purpose through the introduction of protection measures for survivors of domestic abuse
Ensure survivors of domestic abuse attending the family court have access to protection measures, similar to those available in criminal courts. Survivors of domestic abuse should always have access to a separate waiting room or area, and judges must ensure there is time for the non-abusive parent to leave court safely before releasing the perpetrator.
Professor Evan Stark, Ph.D, MSW, Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University, said:
“Nineteen Child Homicides describes one devastating consequence of the Family Court’s failure to make safety a priority in contact orders. But child deaths from unsafe contact are only the most tragic outcome of the huge gap that separates the justice for abused women and the failure of the Family Court to protect children and the non-abusive parent. Child First aims to close this gap.”
Sarah Forster, family law barrister and Deputy District Judge, said:
“I am supporting Child First to help drive the culture change needed within the family courts to keep children safe. There must never again be a report such as ‘Nineteen Child Homicides’. Everyone within the family court system must work together to stop avoidable child deaths. It can, and must, be done.”
John Bolch, solicitor, family law blogger and writer, said:
“As a former family lawyer with over 20 years of experience, and having seen all too many such tragedies reported, I wholeheartedly support this campaign."
“It is, in my view, high time that the Family Justice System abandoned any reliance on the proposition that a man can have a history of violence to the mother of his children but, nonetheless, be a good father.”[i]
Lord Justice Wall, 2006
To find out more about the campaign and download the report, go to www.womensaid.org.uk/
To sign the Child First petition go to https://you.38degrees.org.uk/
For more information or to arrange interviews with Child First spokespeople or case studies, please contact Alice Stride in the Women’s Aid Press Office on 0207 566 2511/ 07807 218687 or firstname.lastname@example.org.