Wishes & Feelings Reports – No Panacea

I attended the FLBA Annual Conference in Bath today and was struck by a really interesting talk by Dr Kirk Weir, Consultant Child, Adolescent & Family Psychiatrist. He presented statistics based on his work as an expert reporting in High Conflict Contact Cases over a number of years, in support of the proposition that an emphasis on a child’s reported wishes and feelings in such cases is misplaced and potentially misleading. The figures were quite striking.

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Dr Weir reported that of the children he assessed, all of whom were children expressing resistence to contact at the outset, most were able to resume contact once an observed contact was insisted upon. Contact was successfully reestablished and continued in the majority of cases. Factors affecting the likely success of contact leading on from such an assessed contact were neutral handover without the resident parent present (e.g. collect from school), the age of the child (although successful outcomes were achieved with all age groups success with over 7s was more unpredictable), and the length of the preceding period of no contact (the shorter the better). What was apparent from the material presented by Dr Weir was that:

  1. delay in these cases is likely to be harmful and to reduce the chances of a successful outcome (this is not news but the correlation was quite starkly apparent from the figures)
  2. wishes and feelings reports may lead us to abandon attempts to re-establish contact prematurely
  3. whilst for some children it is important to enable them to feel they have a voice, it is important to be aware that children need protection from the burden of having to express a preference for one or other parent or from having to take responsibility for such difficult decisions

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There are 40,000 contact applications issued in England & Wales each year. Delay is endemic. The President’s Interim Guidance actively encourages the use of short wishes and feelings reports as a first port of call in order to reduce the burden on an overstretched CAFCASS. These reports have their place of course, and many contact cases are far less entrenched or highly conflicted than the types of cases Dr Weir is involved with. But all cases start out the same way and most follow a pretty predictable route through in court conciliation, review hearings, wishes and feelings reports – trying this and trying that, softly softly…before months have turned into years and someone somewhere realises this has become a High Conflict Contact Dispute and BANG: you wish with hindsight you had grabbed the bull by the horns earlier on and got an expert in. If Dr Weir is right we’re going about it all wrong. And the current cheap and cheerful wishes and feelings reports may be storing up problems for further down the road.

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One of the topics not addressed by Dr Weir is that the LSC will now not fund any assessment of contact in private law cases and so Dr Weir’s own working practice of insisting that an assessed contact is an integral part of the assessment may no longer be achievable.

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Dr Weir’s paper on this topic has been submitted for peer review. If and when I hear of its publication I will post a link or reference.

11 thoughts on “Wishes & Feelings Reports – No Panacea

  1. Commonsense Bypass

    I read Overpaid hot air. How can dehumanised excess carbon dioxide solve anything in this ego-drenched statistical reductionism.

    Family law officials and self-appointed official experts conceal child abuse from the UK courts. It is their mutual protocol.

  2. Dr Weir- He would say Mass if he thought he would get away with it.

    [Edited – Portia I don’t want to censor your comment, but I also don’t want to publish anything that might turn out to be defamatory – so I’ve had to take a section out of your comment as a precaution. Sorry]

    One day, like the Catholics in Ireland- the truth will emerge.

  3. I would love to see a copy of the paper please post and send me a link.

    Prevention is better than cure.

    If all the money spent on solicitors and barristers was used to provide family support and therapy focussing on putting the children first we could prevent children’s relationships with loving parents and families being destroyed.

    Why should a controlling parents prevention of contact with a loving parent not be viewed as domestic abuse and be viewed as socially unacceptable.

    Parental Alienation is a cancerous form of child abuse!

    The long term devistating effects of a child loosing a parent transend generations.

    • I agree as a Parent who has not seen son for 10 years due to controlling other parent with care and as a social worker who 7 years into the job can tell you it still happens. 🙁

  4. Of course you’re going about it all wrong! Haven’t you been paying attention?

    But what is the right way to go about it? Immediate transfer of residence as soon as the PWC shows any sign of recalcitrance, or something a little less drastic?

    How do we distinguish at the outset between cases which resolve quickly and those which will run for years and years? Can we distinguish?

    How’s that open debate going, by the way? It seems a bit quiet round here.

  5. Now that Re R has been published, I wonder what impact it will have on Wishes and Feelings reports:

    “As the Guardian has recorded in her reports, R has consistently told her that he does not wish to see his father and wants contact to stop. As the guardian had predicted in July 2008 R has become more hostile about his father. If the court were to act upon R’s expressed wishes as to contact it would cease. R has said that he could manage a reduced level of staying contact as the guardian was at one point suggesting but I think it unlikely that contact, for example for alternate weekends or for a weekend a month would be of value. I think that it would also cease. The process would subject R to the same pressures as at present. In considering the weight to be placed upon his view it is important to record the obvious point that R is older than at the last substantive hearing. The Guardian and Dr. M have each considered the question as to whether R is able to express a view which is sufficiently balanced and considered. The advice is that in the particularly difficult circumstances of this case he is not. He has become too involved in the process to the extent that in the Guardian’s view he has attempted to control the outcome. At paragraph 19 of her report on page D187 the guardian described R’s portrayal of his time with his father to be characterised by minor niggling criticisms, to be unbalanced and illustrated a determination to find fault. I accept that opinions of Dr. M and the Guardian. I therefore listen to and take account of R’s view but it cannot be determinative of the result.”

  6. […] As a corollary of that we should draw back from the position where we are in the thrall of the wishes and feelings of the children, and judges should resume responsibility for making decisions for children whose expressed wishes are so often unreliable indicators of what they really want or what is best for them. There is positive reference to Dr Kirk Weir, who I have posted about before in a post entitled Wishes & Feelings Reports – No Panacea. […]

  7. Why is the emphasis being put on Dr Weir’s presentation. He himself has said in the talk that the Legal Aid not providing funding for these reports, this can only be taken as quite a selfish stand on wanting these reports to be taken into consideration.

    Dr Weir charges an extortionate amount of money for a report and majority of his income is from court reports. This, in my opinion, is not a biased opinion. If the law changes, which I cannot see it happening with all the cuts, but if it does, Dr Weir will be back to making quite a lot of money. This is not about the children, this is stance about lining his own pockets.

    Producing a report for a couple of thousand of pounds is all good. But then leaving the family to pick up the pieces once the court has made a decision based on his report. Why does he not include in this fee consultations for the family until the issues are resolved as well as they can be.

    If the family is on Legal Aid then how can they afford his help, or if they do not live near Ipswich. Or if they funded him privately, through the order of the courts, how are the families meant to afford continued therapy from him?

    Forgive me for being so cynical on Dr Weir’s intentions on doing this talk, but just like the Social Workers, CAFCASS officers and if Dr Weir get’s his way, Psychiatrists, provide their “professional” opinion in the court room; once the hearing has ended, majority of the time there is no help for the family.

    Family law is, I don’t need to tell you, a huge emotional and financial drain.
    If Dr Weir is incredibly concerned for these children, then he needs to be holding talks at the Psychiatrists conference to encourage other psychiatrists to include therapy once they have submitted in their reports. And not holding talks at a Family Law conference. This, it seems to me, is his way of generating business with no real concern for the vulnerable parties; e.g., children and parents/guardians.

    Sorry to have a rant, but professionals such as Dr Weir need to put THEIR money where they mouth is.. They need to show genuine concern for these children rather than writing reports with no follow-up unless money is handed over.

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