Threshold again

Threshold threshold threshold….

Always coming up like a bad penny. It’s so inconvenient to have to satisfy s31(2) of the Act in order to take people’s children away. Again and again the courts tell us that we really must do it properly – set it out clearly, succinctly, fully – early. Above all don’t forget it till the final hearing (yet still it is left till the last minute). This conversation has been going on since I first qualified.

I’ve given up trying to do threshold as per whatever the current fad is. I just go back to first principles: look at the Act (SIGNIFICANT HARM – ATTRIBUTABLE TO CARE OF THIS PARENT – NOT THAT OF A REASONABLE PARENT…), try and be specific not flabby…More often than not though I’m on the receiving end of a threshold – and can be found asking irritatingly for the LA to identify its primary evidence, to specify how it says the harm is “significant” or how the local authority puts its case on causation as against the reasonable parent of this child (the mere fact that a child is delayed compared to his peers is : NOT. THRESHOLD. The mere fact that a child is exhibiting concerning behaviour is : NOT. THRESHOLD.). I find people roll their eyes at me a lot when I talk about threshold or when I give the *wrong answer* to the question “This case isn’t really about threshold is it?”. Sometimes it really isn’t about threshold, but sometimes the asking of that question is a pretty good indication that the person asking it thinks threshold is obvious but hasn’t actually analysed it.

In November last year* the court forms changed – from a C110 to a C110A. The main change was the merging of an EPO application with a substantive s31 Care application so a LA didn’t have to duplicate work and issue two separate sets of proceedings – very sensible. But another thing happened at the same time. Local authorities were required to set out their threshold in the application form see box 6 of the new form. Shouldn’t really be a problem on the face of it – obvious streamlining no doubt intended to improve efficiency. LAs should of course have analysed and know what the basis of threshold is upon issue in any event – it is but one of many items of work expected to be done in the pre-proceeding stage.

But I have to say, the reality is rather less satisfactory than one might have hope: I have seen an uncomfortably high proportion of rubbish thresholds, not-threshold-at-all-thresholds, and thresholds-mixed-with-general-commentary-and-anxious-handwringing in box 6. I have dealt with several cases where I have had to point out that “that isn’t threshold” and “can you plead it properly please”. I have asked several times “er…where’s your threshold?” and been directed to box 6 only to find a rambling narrative accounts of “why we think this parent is rubbish” or “ten ways in which this child is not doing well, which is probly down to the parents” – which may well be entirely accurate but : IS. NOT. THRESH-HOLD.

This is not to say that threshold is not capable of being met in these cases – in my experience when Local Authorities bring proceedings, more often than not threshold is comfortably crossed on one basis or other. But correct identification of how threshold is crossed is always important and often critical to disposal and questions of risk and proportionality – and to questions of interim removal. [Edit : I’ve put this bit in bold because one reader thought I was perhaps suggesting cases were going through where threshold isn’t actually met. That’s not really my point, although one might ask how you can be properly satisfied its met if you haven’t properly analysed it. My point is that it’s important to identify clearly whether threshold is met AND ON WHAT BASIS. Occasionally because that leads you to the conclusion it isn’t met at all, but more often because it provides focus for looking at what the answer to the case might be.]

Now I haven’t conducted any sort of scientific analysis of this, but my impression is that what is happening is that application forms are (as ever) completed in something of a rush, and the discipline that goes with drafting a separate and specific (interim) threshold is sometimes going out of the window – because the nudge factor is weaker when it’s one box of many. Where once counsel would be instructed for the first hearing would draft threshold (or in house solicitor would specifically prepare the PD documents which each had an identified purpose) – this is just treated as ticked off the list and not thought about unless raised by the representative of the other parties or the court.

I understand very well the pressures that LA solicitors are under when completing these forms. I understand well why it may not be top of their (very long) priority list. So I’m neither having a go at LA lawyers or solicitors generally. But I think this is dangerous. It will lead to cases derailing. A change of a form should not have this effect but my increasing impression is that this form change is leading to sloppiness and we need to tighten up again on thresholds at an early stage. Re B / Re B-S et al reminded us of the importance of analysis – this applies to the factual basis of threshold as much as to disposal.

I’d be interested to know if others have experienced the same or if I am barking up the wrong tree.

*I think it was November, and the dates on the court forms suggest this is so

Friends Reunited – how we were and who we have become

This time a couple of weeks ago I was at our 25 year school reunion. It was, to say the least, surreal. It was also a learning experience, and one that took me through a range of emotions – not just the nostalgia you might expect, but also sadness and guilt – and anxiety borne of the realisation that I had forgotten so much and so many people (thank god for the name badges).

Our reunion came about when an old school friend posted some school photos on Facebook. It led to nostalgic comments, and then the setting up of a group to organise a reunion – and ultimately a big hunt online and through friends of friends and people’s mums to find the 240 odd kids who had been in our school year. In the end about a hundred came, although we had found many more who were unable to attend.

I had a fantastic and slightly sozzled night, and had sufficient good sense to avoid the after party on the beach (sense I definitely did not have when I was fourteen and fond of malibu and coke. Some people’s rites of passage involve pigs, for others its late night beach parties and unpleasant alcoholic drinks you can’t handle).

But for me, there was more to it than that.

Firstly, on the night there were at least 3 people there who had done the “can I just ask you a quick question” at a time of divorce or relationship breakdown (thankfully, all successfully through the other side). Nice to see you guys, glad it came good in the end.

Secondly, a very surprising selection of people tell me they read Pink Tape (hi guys).

Thirdly, I am only slightly paranoid that none of my ex boyfriends came….

Fourthly, there were a good few (but not all) of the outsiders in our year who found the strength to come. The painfully shy, the geeky, the oddballs – we’d have just called them weirdos or worse back then. The bad kids, the jokers and the bullies were all represented too – and of course the whole thing was organised by the popular girls (thank you ladies). It was strangely the same and yet totally different.

The fact that we had grown up and many of us had kids of our own, some teenagers like we were back then, was a great leveller. We all now understand how vulnerable, naive, unkind we all were (well, most of us understand it). There was a concerted effort on the Facebook group to encourage and support those with nerves, anxiety or mental health problems to come – some did and some did not feel able. Me and my mates were nervous about going. Like many others, we arranged to meet up before and arrive in a group. It wasn’t easy for anyone except the most thick skinned. I will never again tie myself in knots at having to step into those awful “networking opportunities” that are forced on me at the bar, panicking and dry mouthed about what small talk to make. This must have been much worse for those people who were bullied and marginalised at school, and I will think of them braving it next time I am about to set foot in the Court of Appeal or some conference room full of unknown faces. It will stay with me just how many of my peers acknowledged in our private Facebook group how traumatic school was for them, and how difficult coming back would be. And how many of the kids I put in the “mean” pigeonhole back then posted comments on Facebook about the difficulties in their home life as kids that I only now understand – as someone who now sees struggling families every day it’s hard to think about and understand how I was so blind to all of this at the time.

I sailed through school, pretty able academically, with a stable family life (thanks mum and dad). I didn’t see it. I didn’t understand it. What I saw was kids teasing me for being rich or brainy (I wasn’t either but it’s a question of perspective) not kids whose lives were different to mine. Poor me I thought (stupid girl).

I’m not stupid now. I know all teenagers are egocentric and just don’t see anyone else’s perspective. But it doesn’t make me feel any less guilty or embarrassed. I’m pretty sure I was rarely actively unkind at school, but I am also pretty sure I was insensitive and failed to defend those who needed it. I wish that wasn’t so.

There were one or two “Big I Ams” whose attitude was still just like the 14 year old boy I remember (and I don’t think the chat up lines had evolved much either), but overall I’m really proud that our year group made a genuine and sustained effort to right some of the wrongs and be supportive of those who found it difficult. Of course it doesn’t undo the lasting effects of a traumatic or chronically awful school experience, but it’s still important – and not just in terms of making people like me feel better (I hope). I think for a few people in “recovery” it was a really important milestone. And on that night I was able to spend time talking to people I never really spoke to at school. I’m sorry if I talked rubbish.

The other, very striking and important observation is this: we may have more lumpy bits, droopy bits, grey hairs and bald spots – but by god we dress better! And we definitely use less hairspray…

And no, I’m not gonna tell you which ones are me! But I did watch too much Breakfast Club.

Class of 1990 : you are ace! Every one of you. Although Tennyson was the best house, natch…. xxxx

Thank you conference

Coercive ControlIt is some sort of conference season…

I will not be using an auto cue next week when I speak at the Coercive Control conference in Bury St Edmunds next week. I will be using my decrepit macbook with the sticky e-key, and a power point presentation with a natty colour scheme. I will be talking about (yes, you guessed it) Coercive Control and the Family Court, and although it seems almost inconceivable given the stellar line up of myself and other people even more impressive* – I am reliably informed that there are still places for anyone with some spare time next Tuesday. Ticket info here. Twitter : @cccburysted

I am also speaking at the Kent Child Care Conference on 12 October, which also has a very impressive line up as well (inexplicably) moi. I am due to say something fabulous about transparency and I am holding off finalising** my presentation in the forlorn hope that a View from the President’s long-shuttered window is about to plop into our inboxes with transparency “Next Step” news.

Those of you who are FLBA members (and those of you who are not I believe) may be interested in the FLBA Conference, which is being held in Cardiff on 21 November. I’m NOT speaking at that one, but the line up is nonetheless pretty great*. Details here.

Thank you conference.

*yes it’s sarcastic. It’s a very impressive line up.

** by which I mean starting