As requested by some people yesterday, here is the presentation I did for the Fourth International Conference on Men’s Issues, 2018.

In 1971, social worker Florence Rush delivered a speech to a feminist conference on rape held in New York which was received with rapturous applause.

Sexual abuse of children is permitted because it is an unspoken but prominent factor in socializing and preparing the female to accept a subordinate role: to feel guilty, ashamed and to tolerate through fear, the power exercised over her by men…

The female’s early sexual experiences prepare her to submit in later life to the adult forms of sexual abuse heaped on her by her boyfriend, her lover, her husband.  In short, the sexual abuse of female children is a process of education that prepares them to become the wives and mothers of America.

“Not in 100 years,” wrote the journalist Beatrix Campbell in 1988,

had patriarchal society been so profoundly and publicly confronted by the scale of men’s sexual abuse of children.  Male sexuality was the problem, but in the great sex scandal of the 1980s that had become almost unsayable.

This vile ideology informs opposition to fathers’ contact following separation.

It is also the ideology which informed the growth of social services throughout the 1970s and 80s, which was characterised by the Believe the Child movement and a series of scandals involving belief in satanic ritual abuse.

A child protection system is essential, but it has taken a form in which the interests of children are made subordinate to a virulently anti-male, anti-family cult.

My principal area of interest is in family law and what drives it.  I have written three books:

  • The Family Law A to Z – co-written with my wife, Ruth, and intended for litigants, McKenzies and students;
  • An Exercise in Absolute Futility – my first attempt at explaining how we have arrived with the system we have;
  • The Carnival of Human Misery – my second attempt. The title comes from an address by Sir Paul Coleridge to the Resolution National Conference in 2008.

Following a career in theatre and television, I have worked at a Further Education college for the last 16 years, which is long enough to observe patterns and trends, and the one that is most evident is the rapid decline in adolescent mental health.

Support is difficult to access, and the commonplace accusation that a young person must attempt suicide at least once to access CAMHS is not far from the truth.

The consequence is that only a quarter of adolescents are getting the support they need and a fifth are being turned away.

The Government is so concerned by this and by the inability of the NHS to cope that it issued a Green Paper last December, pledging an extra £1.4 billion over the next five years.

One policy is to extend responsibility to schools and colleges, and a couple of weeks ago my colleagues and I were required to do a level 2 qualification in Understanding Children and Young People’s Mental Health.  Early completion earned us an extra day’s holiday which is how I come to be here on a Friday.

Let’s establish some numbers.

The Government’s Green Paper reported that 9.6% of children have a diagnosable mental health disorder; this incidence increases with age and is more prevalent in boys.

So, in a typical class of 30, two boys and one girl will have a diagnosable disorder.  Some may have multiple problems.

An alternative picture was put forward in November by the Marriage Foundation.

They found that 27% of fourteen-year-olds reported mental health symptoms.  That’s 8 children in a class of 30.

I had wanted to show you some figures showing changes over time, but they do not exist; indeed, The British Psychological Society says,

We do not know the scale of the problem … we simply do not have accurate information from which to gauge the state of children and young people’s mental health nationally.

This slide shows how boys and girls are affected differently.

The next question is why so many young people are suffering poor mental health.

This question was asked at the training I attended, and various suggestions were put forward, from poverty to exam stress.

But none of these explanations accounts for the relatively sudden rise in the last 5 years or so.

I want to put forward four possible explanations.

The first is the transformation of children into consumers, who must have the latest phones, the trendiest trainers, and the pressure this places on parents and on household finances.

One young man in my class is reluctant to come to college – and to school before that – because his family is too poor to afford these things.  This has severely impacted on his education.

UNICEF talk about “compulsive consumerism” – parents showering children with toys and designer clothes, rather than spending time with them.

The second factor is social media, particularly via smart phones.

More teenagers now have a smart phone than a father.

Teenagers are using these up to eight hours a day and their use in classrooms is becoming a real problem.

Today’s teens stay in their bedrooms, interacting with the world virtually.  When they “hang out” with their mates, it is via a smart phone.  Only half of teenagers go out on dates.

This is why teenage pregnancy has now fallen to its lowest levels, though it is still the highest in Europe.

Numerous studies link smart phone addiction to mental health problems.  The more time they spend on their phones, the more unhappy they are.  Heavy phone use increases the risk of depression by 56% and the risk of suicide by 35%.

The third factor is the programme to institutionalise childhood.

Children are institutionalised very early, often at just a few weeks old; they are expected to conform and have reduced opportunities to interact with adults and to play.

This is the result of the failure of successive governments to reform Gordon Brown’s policies on child care.

Brown poured more than £21 billion into “childcare”, pushing up prices, so that by 2004, a typical nursery place for a child cost nearly £7,000 a year.

Brown made benefits conditional upon a mother actively seeking work, with the result that, by last year, two thirds of single mothers were back in work.

The other result is that parents spend less time with their children because they must work longer hours to pay other people to look after them.

The UK is one of only 6 European countries where children start school at 4 or 5, the rest start at 6 or 7 and this is associated with less hyperactivity and better academic outcomes.  Other studies show that the reduction in childhood play is leading to reduced synaptic development, reduced intellectual development and literacy, and increased stress and other mental health problems.

In 1998, Anthony Giddens, one of the engineers of the New Labour project, explained in The Third Way how the “democratisation” of the family demanded that responsibility for childcare be shared not only between men and women but also between parents and non-parents.

He proposed that in the “democratic family”, parents would have to “negotiate” with the state for authority over their children.

In Scotland, parents and government are locked into a desperate battle over the Named Person Scheme whereby each child will be allocated a state employee – a teacher or social worker – who will be able to make decisions on behalf of the child where the parents refuse to make a state-approved decision.

For example, if parents do not consent to their child changing gender, the Named Person will be able to provide consent instead.

The Supreme Court has blocked the scheme for now, but the government has not abandoned its attempt to impose it and is currently operating the scheme despite the fact that there is no legislation in force.

It is worth repeating what the Court said,

Different upbringings produce different people. The first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is to get at the children, to distance them from the subversive, varied influences of their families, and indoctrinate them in their rulers’ view of the world.

The final factor is family structure.

In their study, the Marriage Foundation found a strong correlation between family structure and adolescent mental health.

A surprise finding was the high level of mental health problems, which was higher than previous studies had found.

Another surprise was the difference in health between intact married and cohabiting families.

Cohabiting families are inherently unstable.  In married families parents make a public commitment to each other, but in cohabiting families, they do not, usually because of one party’s unwillingness to commit.

The most damaging influence on children isn’t their parents’ unhappiness; it is this uncertainty and instability.

Divorce is in overall decline, after reaching a peak in 1991.

But what is driving family breakdown isn’t married couples divorcing; it is the failure to marry and the tendency of couples to cohabit, possibly under the false belief in Common Law Marriage.

Cohabiting couples are the fastest growing household type in Britain, and make up 15.7% of households, but 52% of breakdowns.

Of parents who are still together by the time their children reach 15, 93% are married.

So, what is it about family breakdown that is so damaging to children?

The feminist answer is that it is witnessing parental conflict which harms children, but the reality is that high conflict is a feature amongst only 2% of parents and only 9% of those who separate.

The Marriage Foundation study showed how father-absence increases a child’s likelihood of having mental health problems.

Fatherlessness is the great scourge of our generation.

One child in three doesn’t live with his father.

One child in four doesn’t even consider his father a part of his family.

Nearly 50% of fifteen-year-olds no longer live with their fathers, whereas in Finland the figure is only 5% and the OECD average is 15.

The UK has some of the worst family stability in the world.

Christian Guy from the Centre for Social Justice says,

Timid politicians are becoming numb to Britain’s sky-high family breakdown rates.  Behind too many front doors, instability damages adults and children.  Yet, as these OECD figures show, broken families are not some inevitable feature of modern society or social progress.

He demanded a Cabinet-level Secretary of State for the family to coordinate pro-family policies across all government departments, and to ensure government intervention is family-friendly, something David Cameron promised but never delivered.

The right government policies, he said, could reduce the figure from 50 to 20%.

Two measures a government could introduce would be to counter family breakdown by making a clear commitment to marriage and to commence an objective evidence-based investigation into the family justice system.

Instead, it seems set to legislate to provide legal protection for cohabitation – following a recent Supreme Court ruling – and has no intention of legislating further on parental disputes, contrary to Theresa May’s pledge in 2004,

In my first month in Government, I will publish a Bill to give a presumption of co-parenting and a right for both parents to be involved in bringing up their children, when couples separate.  We will ensure that the law serves the best interests of the child – and children deserve to see both parents.

Our Country deserves a better system of family justice: one that is open, fair and accountable; a system that protects children and a system that recognises as we do, that the best parent is both parents.

The common explanation for father absence, embraced by politicians and legislators – is that fathers are simply irresponsible.

David Cameron, for example, said,

I want all fathers to stand by their responsibilities and that means hunting down absent dads and making sure they’re paying their child maintenance.

Because they think they know the answer, there is no will or funding to investigate the issue.

The most recent UK study of father absence was by Jonathan Bradshaw of the University of York.  In 1998.  He said,

Non-resident fathers want close, intimate and fulfilling relationship with their children.  The majority want to fulfil all their parental obligations, social, emotional and financial, but it seems that one is unsatisfactory without the others… There is no need to enforce parental obligations – they exist and are accepted already.

Professor Edward Kruk says that ninety percent of fathers’ disengagement is the result of obstruction by the child’s mother.

He suggests fathers disengage in order to spare their children the ordeal of having to witness their degradation.

His most disturbing finding is that it is the fathers who were most involved prior to separation who are the most likely to disengage afterwards.

Irish Times columnist John Waters says,

I do not suggest that Irish men never walk away from their children.  But even those who do so, cannot be said to have made free choices: to some extent, they follow a pattern dictated less by individual conscience than cultural conditioning.  A society that honoured fatherhood would not have this problem.

Contact is whatever relationship the state allows a separated father to have with his children.

Bob Geldof called it,

Life in an hour.  Love in a measured fragment of State-permitted time.

Next Friday, on his 70th birthday, Sir James Munby will leave office as President of the Family Division of the High Court of Justice.

In 2004, Munby gave judgment in the case of Re D, in which a father was forced to abandon his fight to maintain contact with his daughter.

From the father’s perspective, the last two years of litigation have been an exercise in absolute futility.  It is shaming to have to say it, but I agree with his view.  I feel desperately sorry for him.  I am very sad the system is as it is.

Re D was widely reported in the media, as Munby intended, because he added to the judgment a comprehensive criticism of the family justice system.

The publicity was widely welcomed by father’s groups, and it bolstered the public perception that the family justice system was biased against fathers.

It is disappointing that during his stint as President, Munby hasn’t addressed these issues and has focused instead on a controversial new C100 application form and on digital divorce.

Perhaps his recent comment that dysfunctional and broken forms of family represent “a reality which we should welcome and applaud” provides a clue to his true politics.

Unlike fathers’ groups, the campaign against fathers’ involvement is supported by leading feminist academics and political figures and is extremely well funded.

It has achieved this by hitching a ride on the domestic violence industry, with its already well-established myth of male violence and abuse.

This has conferred upon the campaign two benefits: credibility and cash.

 

One of the targets of this campaign is the guidance given to judges regarding how they should approach applications made by fathers for contact, Practice Direction 12J.

The origins of 12J lie in four similar cases the President, Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, was hearing in 2000 in the Court of Appeal.  Allegations of domestic violence had been made in all four.

The Official Solicitor commissioned guidance on the cases from two child psychiatrists who specialised in the sexual abuse of children by men.

They advised that the court should begin by demanding to know the motivation for such an application.

They concluded that contested contact would always be harmful, and should take place only where it demonstrably benefited the child.

 

But this wasn’t enough for the feminist organisation Women’s Aid, who wanted a presumption of no contact at all.

They published a document claiming that 29 children had been murdered by their fathers during court-ordered contact in the preceding 10 years.

They maintained that the courts were so biased in favour of paternal contact that they were knowingly and repeatedly sending innocent children to their deaths.

They contended that judges, magistrates, barristers, solicitors, expert witness and family court advisers should all be held accountable for the deaths.

A review of the document by Lord Justice Wall revealed that eighteen of the twenty-nine children had never been subject to any court proceedings at all.  The deaths of eight could not have been predicted or prevented.  The remaining three had been consent orders brought to court for judicial sanction; there had been no reason for the court to have refused the orders.

Women’s Aid produced a second document in 2016, which described how 19 children had been murdered during contact sessions between 2005 and 2015.

In a foreword, Chief Executive, Polly Neate, said,

there is a deeply embedded culture that pushes for contact with fathers at all costs.

The methodology of both reports was to trawl through Serious Case Reviews, selecting only those which supported their case.  A less partial examination of the same evidence showed that hundreds of children had been killed at the hands of their mothers over the same periods.

When Jack Straw, the Minister for Justice, launched the Family Justice Review in 2010, a great opportunity to reform the system to protect children’s relationships with their fathers was missed.

The goal was to come up with a system which would be quicker, simpler, fairer and, above all, cheaper.

The review was chaired by Sir David Norgrove, sacked board member of Marks and Spencer.

Evidence was sought from very few pro-shared parenting organisations which reported that fathers found the courts of little help when their relationships with their children were threatened.

More representations were received which claimed significant damage was done to children when legislation created expectations about a substantial sharing of time.

The nature of this “damage” wasn’t specified and no evidence was offered. There had never been any such legislation.

The Final Report stated,

We remain firm in our view that any legislation that might risk creating an impression of a parental “right” to any particular amount of time with a child would undermine the central principle of the Children Act 1989 that the welfare of the child is paramount.

The academic evidence considered was limited entirely to the work of three Australians: two academics, one subsequently discredited, and a retired judge.

The review insisted,

Evidence has shown increased litigation (false) and that the change has contributed to damage to children because the term “meaningful” has come to be measured in terms of the quantity of time spent with each parent, rather than the quality of the relationship for the child.

This was disingenuous: courts can only rule on quantity, not quality.

The Norgrove panel completely ignored the huge body of evidence supportive of shared parenting.

Professor Patrick Parkinson, president of the International Society of Family Law, made a detailed refutation of all the references to the Australian experience in Norgrove’s report and summed up,

Almost none of the claims made by the Norgrove Committee, or which were made to it and relied upon by the Committee, can be sustained.

The Coalition was unconvinced by Norgrove’s findings on shared parenting,

The Government believes that there should be a legislative statement of the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both their parents after family separation.

A working party launched a consultation into cooperative parenting which led to a presumption incorporated into the 2014 Children and Families Bill,

A court is to presume, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of that parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare.

One of the MPs on the Bill Committee, Caroline Nokes, explained,

By inversing the subject of the legal right, and introducing a clause which gives this “right” not to the parent, but to the child, the Government achieves the twin objectives of enshrining shared parenting, whilst maintaining the paramountcy of the child’s welfare.

Tragically, the clause was emasculated in the Lords by an amendment specifying that involvement did not mean any particular division of a child’s time.

Lord Justice Ryder, the judge charged with modernisation, said the clause would have no effect on judicial practice, while Edward Timpson MP – who had pushed through the original clause – admitted nothing would change and the exercise had been designed to correct the perception of anti-father bias.

 

Women’s Aid continued their campaign for an alternative presumption of no paternal contact and reform of Practice Direction 12J.

Their briefings dominated a Commons debate in September 2016 on how the family courts dealt with cases involving allegations of domestic violence, and a follow-up session on Wednesday.

They produced further reports jointly with CAFCASS and with Queen Mary University of London.

They want to restrict the right of those accused of domestic violence to cross-examine their accusers and to enable greater use of injunctive orders to prevent those accused of domestic violence from making applications.

The only counter to this narrative – as far as I can see – has been a misguided attempt by Families Need Fathers to claim thousands of women were seeking Non-Molestation Orders in order to claim legal aid.

 

The family judiciary capitulated, appeared to accept the scandalous and groundless allegations made against it and issued a redrafting of the disputed Practice Direction 12J.

The alterations perpetuated myths: for example, that men exploit the court process to continue the abuse of women on court premises.  The burden of proof was shifted onto the applicant to demonstrate how his involvement would benefit the child.

A wider definition of domestic abuse meant that the mere existence of a disputed application could be interpreted as exposing the child to an unacceptable risk of harm, leading to such applications being rejected as a matter of routine.

At the very heart of the child protection system, and thus of family justice itself, is an apocalyptic belief in a battle between good and evil: a secular eschatology in which social workers and magistrates represent the last defence between innocent children and mothers and their violent and abusive fathers.

In the last century, as the millennium approached, this developed into a genuine belief in satanic covens, ritual infanticide and sacrifice.  Children were taken from their parents and interrogated, sometimes for days, until they gave the answers social workers wanted to hear.

As the millennium passed, the impulse became secularised again, belief in covens turned into belief in paedophile rings, but religiously inspired thinking became incorporated into the language of social work.

In his magisterial book, the Secret of Bryn Estyn, about an alleged paedophile ring in a north Wales care home, Richard Webster warns us,

We should resist the temptation to fall victim to one of the greatest fallacies of all ― the idea that it is the destiny of all rational societies to leave behind them superstition and unreason and to pass into an era where witch-hunts and persecution have no place.  This… is one of the great delusions of modern rationalism.  The sobering truth is that the more confident we become in the rigour and restraint of our own rational disposition, the more likely we are to become blind to those irrational impulses which are part of the very essence of human nature and which are destined to endure as long as human nature itself endures.

The current witch-hunt is not the product of some shallow and temporary aberration which floats upon the surface of our culture.  The modern child protection movement out of which it has grown is itself a revivalist movement, deeply rooted in some of our most ancient religious orthodoxies.  It is, in effect, a modern secular church which is just as powerful as traditional churches have been in the past, and whose doctrines are almost as pervasive.

We should face up to the fact that the revivalism of the modern child protection movement is something which goes deep into our own cultural history and our own psychology. It is only if we first understand the extraordinary depth and inclusiveness of this movement, and the extent to which we have all been influenced by it, that we are likely to be able to moderate its destructive power and deal effectively with the threat it poses both to innocent people and to justice itself.

 

Thank you very much.