Let’s sleep on it

Now, this is a bit of a cop out. There’s been quite a “thing” going on about Penelope Leach and her views about dads, overnight contact and all – and it’s got quite heated.

I’ve been aware of it this week, and have been catching myself up this evening. I’ve got to the point where I think I ought to post about it, but have not really been able to digest it all sufficiently to make the sort of carefully crafted blog post that would be necessary in order to avoid a general tongue-lashing from every interest group, aggrieved parent and busy body on the planet. Because this is a real hot potato, and I’ve been called all sorts of unmentionable things when I’ve touched it before. It’s the sort of topic about which people appear unable to have a civilised debate.

So, chaps*. Let me say this. This is not “comment”. It’s a bunch of links with some thoughts tagged onto the bottom. I’ll do comment later. When I have time to do it properly. Anyone who fights, swears or bitches on the comments is off. Anyone who regurgitates the same old point again and again is off. I’m not feeling very patient.

So, in no particular order :

Guardian articles : Childcare guru: small children should not stay overnight with absent parent - Penelope Leach heavily criticised over claim children may suffer emotional damage if they sleep over at absent parent’s home

Penelope Leach denies her new childcare book is an attack on fathers – The childcare guru of the 1970s, who says overnight stays with absent parents damage small children, insists she is pro-fathers

Researching Reform :
Penelope Leach Says Under Fives Should Not Have Sleepovers With Separated Fathers – And We Agree

‘That’ Statement on Overnight Contact And Where We Stand

Only Dads : Penelope Leach and Sleepovers

New Statesman : Why we need a single mothers’ pressure group

Other stuff:

Penelope Leach’s website

British Psychological Society

A Short Treatise on Woozles and Woozling

I’m sure there are other things I’ve not linked to here, but these are the ones I’ve successfully bookmarked.

My preliminary view is that a lot of this hoo hah is probably borne of a mismatch between headlines and the substance of the book, of a determined desire to demonstrate that some of the research that has been used to block “shared parenting” is wrong, and of a tendency to confuse or elide “shared care” with “50:50″ and with “overnight contact”. I too read the initial headlines about no overnights with horror, but I’m not sure in truth that is quite what she’s saying. I’m not prepared to assume that a whole book has been accurately boiled down in a single line headline. So I’m reserving my judgment.

I’ll say a couple of things, to head off the inevitable “do you have kids?” challenge to my parenting credentials: I do. My kids are 4 and 6. In our household the traditional roles are reversed. I would not expect either of us to deny the other overnight contact after separation given that each of us is actively involved in care. Our kids are edging out of the age bracket Leach is concerned with though, but I remember no so long ago the struggles to get them to stay overnight with grandma and granddad for a rare night out – and the emotional turmoil that involved (for the eldest in particular). Their cousins however (similar ages) have been regularly staying at grandma and granddads without difficulty, no doubt not unrelated to the fact that this has long been part of their routine since separation of their parents. However, I was surprised at how much resistance our two gave to staying overnight with grandma when we tried to introduce it. It was surprisingly difficult to establish even though we were both committed to making it happen. Whether the difference in reaction between the cousins was more to do with routine / familiarity or because they were different children I don’t know. Probably a bit of both, I suspect. As a parent rather than a lawyer though, I’m struck by how some children manage change rather better than others. But of course for some children change is made inevitable by the separation of their parents, and so staying overnight with both of them from time to time is the closest they can get to normal.

I’ll go this far : IF Penelope Leach is saying there should never be overnights for under fives to the “other” parent she is wrong. Just as wrong in fact as anyone saying that all children should always spend 7 of 14 nights with each parent. That much I’m prepared to say in reliance on my credentials as a parent. That much does not require a psychology degree or an extensive survey of the research. If it’s a cop out to say it’s complicated and that the answer may be different for different children – well, then I’m copping out.


*in which I include chapesses.

News in inverted commas

So, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Police have concluded in a report that Police responses to domestic violence are patchy. This is news? We all know that the range of responses to dv ranges wildly from the enlightened, responsive and professional to…well…not that at all.

For those of you who would like to read the actual report, rather than just the BBC or press coverage of the report and people’s responses to it – you can find it here.

Sadly, it took me so long to track down the blimping thing on the gargantuan “clean themed” but utterly opaque gov.uk behemoth of a website (where it in fact was not located) that I have no time to read or comment upon the report, other than my single line off the cuff snark about the not-very-newsiness of this particular finding.

I am certain however that a certain tranche of loyal readers and regular commenters will freely express their views in illuminating ways through the comments function…Over to you lot. Because *Newsflash* some of us have work to do.

Clare’s Law – an ideal

[EDIT : Readers should take a look at the helpful (but depressing) comment from Steven Barratt regarding the way in which LASPO is being interpreted, along with my response. It seems that my idea is unlikely to work :-(]

I’ve had an ideal, as they say in Bristol. “Lightbullb!” as Gru would say.

Banksy depicts marital breakdown... Pic thanks to Williamsdb on flickr

Banksy depicts marital breakdown… Pic thanks to Williamsdb on flickr

I’ve been a mite negative about so-called Clare’s Law (the domestic violence disclosure scheme), but it occurred to me today that it has an unforeseen utility. And it is this…

Applicants for legal aid in private family disputes need to provide evidence of domestic violence from a long but very specific list.

For all but one of the categories of permissible evidence there is a 2 year cut off, that is to say historic dv don’t count. Not, of course, that 2 years and a day feels very “historic” for the victim, or indeed the child witness. But I digress.

So. There will be many people who have suffered domestic violence at the hands of the person now taking them to court about the kids or the house, and who have suffered it not so long ago, and who have evidence of that domestic violence – but who are nonetheless left out in the cold as far as state assistance for legal advice and representation is concerned. Because it’s not quite fresh enough to trump austerity. Thank you LASPO. Gert lush.


Unless they are able to fit within Reg 33(2)(a) of the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012 by providing evidence of “a relevant unspent conviction for a domestic violence offence” that is.

Doesn’t have to be a conviction for an offence against the applicant for legal aid.
Doesn’t have to be a conviction in the last 2 years. It does have to be unspent, mind you but doesn’t have to be in the last 2 years.

(Of course, if there is recent or ongoing behaviour they can apply for a non-mol and get in that way. But in such circumstances there is unlikely to be a 2 year problem.)

This is where Clare’s Law comes in. A victim of domestic violence say, 3 years ago, needs legal representation to be able to deal with proceedings brought by his or her ex. No recent incidents, but that is because the violent partner has not known where they fled to, but its no less terrifying for the 3 year distance.

Chances are s/he may have relevant pre-cons. Chances are one of them might be unspent. Clare’s Law potentially enables the victim to obtain that evidence and protect themselves from the vulnerability of being a litigant in person.

Yay. *Small Bristolian dance*. Not ideal. But an ideal.

Similarly I suppose, Sarah’s law (same but for sex offenders) may assist the so-called “protective parent”.

I’m certainly not encouraging fishing expeditions to get dirt on a former partner as a device to get legal aid. But in circumstances where there is a regulatory set up involving a vast amount of technical hoop jumping with sometimes arbitrary and concerning results, it is necessary and legitimate to assist people who ought to be eligible for help to obtain that help. Parliament intended for LASPO to catch victims of domestic violence. We know in practice some of them are falling through the net. And it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a person who was violent three years ago was also violent five years ago, and got caught and convicted. Sadly repeat perpetrators do escape without convictions over many years and across multiple relationships, but it might help someone. One of the real difficulties with the LASPO evidence requirements is the need for victims themselves to obtain evidence. Clare’s Law might help them access information they might otherwise struggle to get hold of. And although I haven’t been able to access the up to date protocols for the scheme now it is nationally rolled out it must be right that one factor the police will consider when making a disclosure decision is that the applicant proposes to use the information to protect him/herself and their children through the seeking of court orders (or through resisting them).

Of course it doesn’t assist at all with the elephant in the room which is the absence of legal aid AT ALL for those accused of domestic violence, some of whom of course are not guilty of such allegations.

But it is at least some small comfort to think that one daft ministerial ideal might unwittingly help to undo some of the injustice of stupid ministerial ideal (or do I mean idealology?).

Gert lush.