Dance of the synapses…

Brrr but it was a mighty cold one this morning [yesterday morning now – I got tied up!]. A morning of luscious oversleeping under warm duvets and a crunchy frosty frogmarch into school just before the 8.50 kettling bell. And then a long, hot, steamy shower to defrost my face and brain.

Radio 4 have been running various things about boredom and the creative process recently. Eddie Mair on PM played 2 minutes of what h considered to be “boring” yesterday to see if our synapses got jigging. However, this was clearly not a pop-experiment meant for lawyers. Because Mair’s 2 minutes of “boring” was someone reading the Ts & Cs for voting in Strictly Come Dancing – a fascinating piece of weird and imperfect legal drafting, which led me off onto a reverie about how on earth it could ever be enforced, before realising of course it is an exercise in box-ticking futility. As a boring person once said – only boring people get bored.

img_5894Anyway, back to that thawing shower. It got my synapses in a right tizz, firing off in all directions, joining dots here there and thither. And this post is the somewhat chaotic result. Having mentally formulated the gist I rushed out of the shower, hair still wet, to snap a picture of the side of my car before the evidence disappeared. They might be involved in more accidents (says my dad), but as I discovered this morning the beauty of a black car is the creeping frost-tinsel web that encrusts your motor on mornings like this (Made even more lovely by the swooshing finger doodles drawn by my gloved children as they raced to car at 8.43am). Like a frozen map of all those synapses, right?

So I’m pondering the latest depressing news as I apply detangler to my hair – but this morning it all seemed connected with stuff that is closer to home. Brexit, Trump, the far right in Europe. The Family Courts. Adoption Targets. Un-disentangleable…

Europe is an imperfect compromise. Some of us think (thought?) the pros outweigh the cons (a bit less than half), some think not (a bit more than half). Whoever is right, those of us who thought Brexit would never happen were not listening sufficiently carefully, or not engaging with the grumbling from those who were unhappy about the way things were. And – boom! I give you : Brexit. And – boom! The yanks gave us Trump…

Such is the way of things in Family Court disputes too. When people are pressed too hard into compromise that they can’t really live with (in court or in mediation) – it can break down further down the road, sometimes explosively. Although I don’t happen to agree with him about no fault divorce, Richard Balchin has a point about the need to build a cathartic release valve into any system dealing with wounded, anngry people – and the need to acknowledge anger or a sense of profound unfairness. We pretend we can fudge deep anger out of existence by telling them they ought to suppress their feelings and behave sensibly, pragmatically – and by intentionally or inadvertently pressurising people into compromise – it is not always possible and not always wise. Sometimes we’re just kicking the can.

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-10-37-48I’m not sure we’re very good at listening to the grumbles about the family courts anymore than we really HEARD the pre-Brexit grumbles. People talk of not being listened to. It is too easy to say “Well, those are just the people who didn’t “win” or get the outcome they wanted – there will always be some of those”. There will, but we need to take care that this fact does not deafen us to messages we need to hear about how our system is not working. And how people are not prepared to buy into it.

It isn’t just individual cases. There are grumbles – loud ones – about the system itself. That victims of domestic violence aren’t listened to, that unsafe contact is permitted. That dads are discriminated against and marginalised. That social workers lie, snatch babies for targets and bonuses. That everything is corrupt.

One doesn’t have to agree with Brexiteers that they were right about Europe, and one doesn’t have to agree with Trump supporters that he has a fantastic sexy hairstyle, to see that it might have been a good idea if we’d engaged earlier with the grumbles.

So. Take adoption targets. The Transparency Project have tried to engage – we’ve listened to the grumbles and questions and tried to help find an answer. We haven’t got there yet. See : English councils confirm they set targets for the number of children to be adopted. But what response have we had? We’ve had a lot of people TELLING US that adoption targets don’t operate in the way the grumblers fear or suggest. And a few people offering anecdotal evidence that “I’ve not done x” or “I’ve not seen x done”. And I don’t doubt the authenticity of those accounts – but they fundamentally don’t answer the question or engage with the grumbling. See here on Community Care (comments) : My child was nearly adopted – here’s why adoption targets are wrong.

So. Who is going to step up and deal with this issue?
img_5896Because there is a groundswell. Those who look can see it. Those who choose not to carry blithely on telling themselves that this is the lunatic fringe, a few conspiracy theorists. They are wrong. These people are our clients, our family, our friends. These people are the parents of vulnerable children – who might, just might, be capable of being helped to be better parents – but who might shut out professionals who try to offer that help because they believe their child will be snatched if they open the door.

bolchAnd for the same reasons that people elected Trump, and for the same reasons that people voted in the confident but false belief the referendum was binding rather than merely advisory and that Brexit would somehow magically happen in a flash like the ripping of a plaster – people will start acting (do act) on the basis of the information that IS out there about adoption targets and our so-called evil corrupt secretive system of child snatching. Information like the documentary explored in this post : England’s Stolen Children? Plus ca change, plus c’est le meme chose. Because we’ve not bothered to listen or to give them anything better to rely on (You only have to look at this coverage by the BBC of Pizzagate for an illustration of how fast-spreading and powerful these narratives are – and how difficult it is to bring people back once they have leapt down the rabbit hole).

And they will start acting on this information through their engagement with lawyers, social workers, judges, their children. Don’t our professional and political leaders owe them a duty to give them some answers? We need to take a hot shower, join the dots and wake up.

Humbug to Christmas Jumpers

As if branded school uniform that gets lost, grown out of, muddied or chewed or otherwise knackered as fast as you can say “Parentpay” three times whilst clicking your Clarks together wasn’t enough of an expense…when exactly did it become obligatory for each child to have a Christmas Jumper for the sole purpose of wearing it to school on one day per annum only. And all so we can pay a quid for the privilege. Gr. Argh. Bah. Etc.

Anyway, between all the usual non-festive stuff and a rare attempt at christmas shopping in an actual shop with actual people and actual things to touch and try (and actual children to sneak a peak at every item you secretly put in your basket – what was I thinking?) – I’ve not done much blogging here. I’ve done a fair amount over on The Transparency Project, which is taking up more and more time these days.

This week over on TP is some interesting stuff about that old chestnut adoption targets (there are several posts on that), and an exchange with CAFCASS about domestic abuse. There are various other cases that we’ve covered too. See here on the blog.

I’d also recommend Louise Tickle’s piece in the Guardian this week : Are we taking too many children into care?

Anyway, I’m off to iron my santa outfit for court tomorrow…

Why is it so hard to talk?

Feature Pic courtesy of by Salim Virji on flickr - thanks!

I’ve never been short of an opinion or two. Sometimes I change my mind and change my opinion. I think it’s important to talk about stuff to test out whether your opinion meets that test.

I’ve got some opinions about how difficult we find it to talk about domestic violence with any sense of balance or nuance. I’ve written about some of the problems I have with that before (see here for example), and as it happens the focus of much of what I’ve written on the topic has been on Women’s Aid campaigns as they are the most visible of a number of bodies in the field. I’ve never had so much as a whiff of feedback on those posts from Womens’ Aid, not even to politely disagree. I think that’s a shame. I don’t want a dust up, I just want a conversation. I think Women’s Aid have important stuff to say, and I worry that they sometimes damage their message in the way that they articulate it sometimes.

And then recently I was invited to a face to face event on the topic at which Women’s Aid were talking. Having whinged a lot on the interweb, and having complained about the lack of dialogue, I thought I owed it to the debate to go. So I did, with my Transparency Project hat on. It was a really informative, thought provoking event. I wrote it up here, on The Transparency Project website:

What About Henry? An interesting discussion about how we deal with domestic abuse

We specifically invited a response from Women’s Aid to the questions I posed about the evidence base upon which Women’s Aid base some serious allegations about the Family Courts, AND from CAFCASS, whose principal social worker said some very surprising things about the role of CAFCASS, which sounded very much as if CAFCASS Officers may be being told that it’s fine to step into the Judge’s shoes and decide whether allegations of violence are true (you can see the detail of the exchanges about that in the post I’ve linked to above). I’m willing to bet this goes against everything many of my colleagues in the legal and social work professions had understood about the basics of how children proceedings work (not to mention the laws of evidence), so I think we deserve an explanation of why we’ve been doing it wrong for all these years if that is the case. Or CAFCASS need to reflect on how they’ve got their messages so mixed up.

I have to say I’m baffled at the silence so far. I really hope that we get a response. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m not – but isn’t this stuff really really important? Why can’t we talk about it like grown ups? We complain that parents can’t communicate, but I’m not sure we professionals are much better sometimes.


Feature Pic : courtesy of by Salim Virji on flickr – thanks!