CAFCASS, the court welfare agency, has banded together with Women’s Aid to come up with a report on “Allegations of domestic abuse in child contact cases”. This is unfortunate, CAFCASS is an agency in which men, just as much as women, should be able to trust, and they have been doing rather better in recent years than their truly dreadful performance in the first 10 years or so of their existence. For them to be working cheek-by-jowl with an openly anti-male, feminist propaganda organisation such as Women’s Aid is a profoundly retrograde step and a regrettable error of judgement by their CEO, Anthony Douglas.
This is, to begin with, a study based on a very small sample of 216 cases, allegedly drawn at random from 15,160 cases during 2015/16; without independent confirmation, it is difficult to be confident they are representative. The report relies exclusively on the content of the CAFCASS case files, which is necessarily limited; the other information in the court bundle and the court’s final decision are not utilised. In my work “An Exercise in Absolute Futility” I observed that the HMICA courts inspectorate had had this to say about CAFCASS case files:
[C]ase files did not record what work had been done or show that the information acquired in a case had been analysed. They neither recorded what information had been used to reach a conclusion nor stated why other information had not been used. Standards on record-keeping were not followed. As a result it was impossible for inspectors to ascertain whether or not children were adequately being safeguarded.
Inspectors found that reports were neither clear nor fair and were based on limited observation of children with their parents. They excluded key information and failed to consult other professionals; they included information which was irrelevant, inappropriate, or subjective and did not serve children’s interests. The reports drew conclusions without justification and failed to gather evidence when serious allegations had been made, allowing unsubstantiated allegations to influence recommendations. They ignored the wishes of children, even when they were old enough to express them clearly. Family Court Advisors habitually expressed views beyond their professional expertise; they ignored guidelines on report writing; they did not differentiate between evidence and opinion; reports were poorly written, badly spelt and ungrammatical, exposing a lack of basic education. There was no evidence that a consistent assessment model was being used, and no signs that national practice models were being rolled out, despite claims to the contrary.
Recommendations were made which had not been discussed with the parties and which were not practicable. FCAs jumped without intermediate steps from information gathering to a solution, they outlined their own preferred remedy and sought the agreement of parents and children, rarely exploring the positives and negatives of their preferred option.
This is the very shaky foundation on which the CAFCASS/Women’s Aid report is built. The authors make clear that no attempt is made to verify the allegations, so these can only be cases in which allegations have been made: the authors cannot make the claim that they are cases actually involving domestic violence.
Notwithstanding this, the first conclusion drawn refers to the effect on children of domestic violence; no effort is made to distinguish between the effect on a child of actual DV and the effect of a parent making a false allegation against the other. I would have thought that distinction was vital.
The second conclusion states, “Domestic abuse was a common feature within the sample”. This is nonsense: the common feature is the allegation of domestic abuse. For all the authors know, every allegation in the sample could be false.
Conclusion number 4 is that fathers were three times as likely to have allegations of domestic abuse made against them as mothers. Given that fathers are not three times as likely to be perpetrators, some explanation of this disturbing statistic is required, but none is given.
As other studies have found, finding-of-fact hearings are seldom ordered; this may be because feminist academics have fostered the view that what matters is not the veracity of an allegation but its effect on the child. The authors also note that the evidence gathered by other agencies – such as the police – is of little use to the courts.
Under “Conclusions about legal outputs”, the authors note that unsupervised contact is more commonly ordered where allegations have not been made, an observation so obvious, surely, as to require no declaration. That it has been declared implies that contact might – indeed should – be supervised even where no allegation has been made. The authors justify such a stance by observing that arrangements made by mutual agreement “could be demonstrative of a context of fear and controlling behaviour”. Or they could be demonstrative of parents working cooperatively in the best interests of their children.
As I write this, I am watching the BBC docu-drama “Against the Law”, about the prosecutions in the 1950s against men who had committed “gross indecency”; it is difficult not to compare the persecution of homosexual men then with the persecution now of fathers. It is no less devastating to the men concerned and no less irrational. It is notable that homosexual activity among women had never been illegal since the introduction of such legislation in 1533.
The report makes no recommendations as such, which is only right given the unreliability of conclusions drawn from such a small sample. Commenting on the report, Anthony Douglas insists, as he must do, “we were satisfied that in each case action had been taken to manage risk relating to domestic abuse.” The new CEO of Women’s Aid, however, Katie Ghose, cites the long-discredited report on “19 Child Homicides” to repeat the wholly unsubstantiated and mischievous allegation that the courts routinely order contact where they know it to be unsafe. That CAFCASS is now being enlisted to propagate this falsehood is disgraceful. I am sure Ghose fails to see the irony.