Enforcement of Contact

The Nuffield Foundation has published a research briefing regarding research undertaken in respect of enforcement of contact orders (H/T Noel @children_law). It provides an evidential base consistent with my own feeling about how (in)effective enforcement is, and how widely the not-so-new enforcement tools introduced in 2006 are used (er… they aren’t).

Of course there are those who will criticize this report simply on the basis that it comes from the Nuffield (which in the eyes of some is an anti-dad thinktank conspiracy machine), but I have no reason to think that the broad insight it appears to give us is wrong (it’s just a briefing, I haven’t seen the research it is based upon). It IS undeniably right that the enforcement tools at the disposal of judges are difficult to use without causing more harm than good for children. It IS undeniably right that not all cases warrant / justify the same response – some but not all are best dealt with in a punitive / draconian way, but many many more are best dealt with by problem solving, reassessing risk or generally looking again at the problem that has caused contact to breakdown.

So. What does it say?

86% of applications were made by non resident fathers. Only 4% were implacable hostility cases in the view of the researchers, whereas some 55% were about mutual conflict and 31% about risk. In 10% of cases the issue was children over 10 years of age refusing contact. Interestingly, the researchers found that rather than being too quick to dismiss enforcement applications, the judges were occasionally too quick to adopt a punitive approach rather than focusing on identified safety issues.

These percentages mask the fact that the number of applications made for enforcement is pretty low – we have a snapshot only, but only just over 200 were made in England over a 2 month period, approximating we assume to about 100 per month. Compare it to the approximately 46,000 new private law children applications made each year (CAFCASS Stats for y/e Mar 2013), and we can see that enforcement applications are running at around 2.5%. I think it’s a pretty safe bet that contact is not working well or at all in a good deal more than 2.5% of cases, and to me it suggests that applicants (mostly dads) are not applying for enforcement orders. In many cases that may well be because enforcement is very obviously going to be unhelpful or make matters worse. But in some, I sense, that  non resident parents are applying back to court for directions, and asking for help from the court in form C2 or by letter, but not making specific applications for “Enforcement Orders” or “Financial Compensation Orders” within the meaning of s11O etc, and they are not doing it on C79. I suspect that this skew the stats – and more importantly the approach the court takes, which is more likely to be a “review hearing” type approach. If there is no C79 s11) is not triggered – there is no power of the courts own motion to make enforcement orders or other associated orders.

The report writers note a serious mismatch between the numbers of children at risk of emotional harm and those who received counselling or support. This is a little puzzling – I don’t think that the data they were looking at (CAFCASS files) would necessarily have been a reliable source of information about whether or not counselling or support was offered, since the provision of such services is not a statutory function of either CAFCASS or something that can be ordered via the court process. Of course, one might argue that things should be more joined up – it’s probably right that lots of kids are at risk of emotional harm and don’t get support, but I’m not sure that this is linked directly to enforcement – although it would undoubtedly be a lovely idea if judges could make referrals for services I’m pretty sure that duck is dead before its even hatched in the current climate (you can’t mix a metaphor without breaking some eggs you know).

17 thoughts on “Enforcement of Contact

  1. I presume also that cases where there were enforcement proceedings regarding a shared residence order weren’t taken into account as they would not have been applied for via a C79?

    • Well, they shouldn’t have been – but there is one example cited of just that – although the doc does not observe the fact that it isn’t “enforcement proceedings” proper.

      I dealt with an application for enforcement of a SRO that was incorrectly issued on a C79 recently – of course there is no power to make an enforcement order in respect of a SRO.

      Murky waters eh. I guess we shall have to wait for full research summary to see how the researchers / CAFCASS defined “Enforcement proceedings” and how many more general applications for court assistance were classed as enforcement apps.

  2. I found the report a strange mixture of useful facts and rather less useful speculation and subjective interpretation. Trinder is best when she sticks to the facts and weakest when she tries to interpret them. One interesting finding was that the courts’ response in 62% of cases was to make identical orders – this is a judicial habit which has been condemned before, I think it was Munby. It is also interesting that the courts don’t seem to understand how to apply unpaid work requirements. Ray Barry (who runs the Real Fathers for Justice) criticised Trinder for failing to recognise that these cases were ones in which a court had already decided contact was safe; he identified other problems with her conclusions.

    I think you are right, Lucy, that C79 applications are rare, but that this does not mean contact is working in cases where they are not made. My wife, who runs a forum with a large and fairly representative membership of around 104,000, confirms that questions about enforcement rarely progress to an application. Often breach is a one-off, or not clearly a breach at all, and applications for directions or a variation are more appropriate. These things are more complicated than Trinder makes out and her findings may be of limited value.

    • Nick, Actually it DOESN’T say “identical orders” – it says this: “Comparing the two, courts ordered the same amount of contact at enforcement in 56% of all cases and 71% of all the conflict cases. In the latter, at least, the court was underlining that the basic order had been correct but that the parents either needed to try again to make it work or that some additional help was needed in the form of more detail about implementation (e.g. handovers) or additional support such as parent education.”
      Which I think you’ll agree is NOT quite the same. Same quantity, but potentially significant tweaks to make it WORK.
      Having said that I can’t see any reference to 62% at all – so am I missing the bit you are referring to?
      As for orders being made once it is established it is safe – well yes, but of course things do change – the trick is working out if they actually have (one example relapsing alcoholic).
      I agree that absence of C79 doesn’t mean its working. And that variation / directions applications are often more appropriate – I would go so far as to say almost always actually.

  3. If we link these findings to your attempt to seek accurate information about the use of Family Assistance Orders, see CAFCASS DATA Posted on | July 8, 2013 which Cafcass told us that whilst there has been a small decline in their use recently, we do not know the amount or quality of work that was undertaken to support parents needing additional social work based support as defined by the courts.

    These interventions were designed to provide the kind of additional support to meet and overcome ongoing parental conflict, which was already established in the particular cases. Family Support Workers like me frequently undertook this work and often successfully….and I define successful as an observable decrease and diminution of conflict together with an increase in co-operative behaviours between the separated parents.

    This work if targeted appropriately should have led to a decrease in the need for enforcement orders. Now with a decrease in Cafcass’ resources, the loss of over 50 FSW’s together with the increase in caseloads for FCA’s Cafcass cannot offer the social work support to help ameliorate ongoing difficulties between parents in private law proceedings, indeed the 2nd S in Cafcass which stands for Support is largely redundant today.

    Perhaps Cafcass can enlighten us about the extent of their use of direct interventions in private law including Family Group Conferences and Child Inclusive Mediation, as these were both heavily promoted by the Cafcass executive a few years ago, and I received training in both approaches.

  4. […] at Pink Tape, Lucy Reed has crunched the figures and made some pertinent […]

  5. Fathers for justice do excellent work and have managed a high profile.Unfortunately “mothers for contact” does not even exist;probably because it is not for the most part fathers refusing contact but cruel hatchet faced judges. These sadists take visible pleasure ordering mothers who love and have never hurt their children to have no further contact with them.Why? Because they have dared to allow their children to report abuse by fosterers,social workers or even their own fathers.These petty tyrants actually warn mothers who have committed no crime that they must not contact their children face to face ,by telephone ,by email ,by facebook, or in any other way at all ! !
    Vicky Haigh was named in Parliament because she was shopping at her local service station when her ex husband and her 9year old daughter drove in for some petrol;Vicky could not have known of his intentions but not having seen her daughter for two years she dared to greet her;Father phoned police and Vicky was sentenced to 3 years prison for talking to her daughter !Other parents have been jailed for sending a birthday card,waving in the street,saying hello, or ringing a doorbell !
    Was I alone studying pictures of baby p’s wicked mother receiving visits from her surviving children when I WONDERED WHY MOTHERS WHO HAD COMMITTED NO CRIME SHOULD BE SO CONSISTENTLY JAILED FOR CONTACTING THEIR OWN CHILDREN?

    • Forced adoption – the post is about enforcement of contact orders where the court has concluded such orders are appropriate. Your comment is not. It is about cases where courts have determined its not. Could you try and keep comments on topic rather than making the same point opportunistically on every blog post?
      Are you suggesting there is a particular cruelty applied to mothers but not fathers? Are the decisions refusing contact to fathers more legitimate / less cruel? Plenty of fathers are refused contact notwithstanding that they have been convicted of no crime.
      Incidentally, there is at least one organisation I can think of that is in effect “mothers for contact”.

  6. Family court judges frequently issue orders/injunctions that forbid parents( who have neither been accused of a crime nor committed one) from contacting their own children face to face,by email or by phone for long and sometimes indefinite periods.
    Such judges should be jailed for a long time for crimes against humanity.MAY THAT TIME COME SOON!

    • Forced Adoption – ah so the emotive stuff about *mothers* was just for effect? And the judges are just vile to ALL parents, but even handedly so?

  7. One of the odd things about this report is that it seems to have been released in several different versions and the statistics vary. Is this because they keep adding new cases to the data? I confess I was referring to an old version.

  8. Familoo,as you probably know women give birth and men do not ! Hence these orders are more often made on women than men as there are more single mothers around than fathers.The judges you rightly describe as vile make these orders to stop children screaming out for their mummies (yes and daddies too !) and upsetting fosterers and adopters;When children are told often enough that their parents don’t love them and don’t want to see them any more they eventually believe it ;More’s the pity !
    Do you actually support such orders familoo? I would have thought that mothers who love their children and have never harmed them who beg for just one sign of life from their children might strike a chord of compassion in that chilly exterior …..

    • Ian. Yes, I recall childbirth. I’m not sure what orders you are referring to when you say “these orders are more often made on women than men” – if you mean orders for no contact I am pretty certain you are wrong. If you mean committal orders, I should think the numbers are so low as to be difficult to interpret with any statistical validity. But I would hazard a guess mothers are more likely to be on the wrong end of a committal order if its arising from a breach of a contact order eg an implacable hostility case (as you rightly note the vast majority of resident parents are still mothers) but as for committals arising for other forms of contempt such as contravening injunctions relating to privacy of proceedings or other prohibitive orders I’m not sure why mothers should be disproportionately affected – orders preventing contact I suppose might be more likely to be breached by a mother than a father, but in broad terms non-resident parents are as likely to disobey that sort of order I would have thought.

      I’m not going to be drawn on general questions of whether I support “such orders” (not least because I’m not clear what you are referring to), because each case turns on its very specific facts and such orders are only made after hearing evidence.

      Your last line confirms my previous suggestion, which is that your use of maternal imagery and language is for rhetorical effect. Attempting to insult me by suggesting I don’t conform to some warm apple pie version of “proper” motherhood doesn’t make your argument any stronger. These are cheap shots Ian and weaken your arguments, making them sound like tabloid headlines. And incidentally, just because I’m thick skinned doesn’t make it any less rude.

      I was simply trying to get clarity from you as to the basis of your proposition that “it is not for the most part fathers refusing contact but cruel hatchet faced judges. These sadists take visible pleasure ordering mothers who love and have never hurt their children to have no further contact with them.” Which appeared to suggest that the judiciary were taking a different approach to mothers than to fathers in similar circumstances. Still waiting for that clarity…

  9. Not sure if my last contribution got through so I may possibly repeat myself in the interests of the clarity you request familoo.I deal mostly with cases of public law ie judges make decisions of “no contact” against one or both parents. I have recently come across a majority of women as opposed to men forbidden by judges to contact their own children.I reckon more babies are taken at birth from mothers than fathers because the fathers are often absent at birth(sometimes absent altogether,or even unknown) whilst mothers are always there ! The same conditions apply later on hence more single mums than single dads ,but I do not claim judges discriminate either way.
    What I do say is that it is pitiful for the Nuffield foundation and learned professors to write about the enforcement of “appropriate”no contact orders when they should be condemning all such orders as crimes against humanity ! Punishment without crime should never happen in our courts yet parents who have not even been charged with crimes let alone committed any are given a virtual life sentence.This occurs when they are forbidden to contact their own children, who are often given away to strangers so that they never see their parents again .
    Common sense should tell us that parents who go through countless grilling court appearances begging for the return of their children must truly love them and should usually have them returned ;but they rarely succeed…..
    Lastly the “baby P” effect is a myth but is used as an excuse for increasing the number of children taken.What they do not tell you is that the proportion of the total numbers of children taken since baby p for physical or sexual abuse has fallen but those taken for emotional abuse has nearly doubled as a proportion of the total taken.Emotional abuse is now the catch all buzzword !

    • Thank you. That clarifies your position. I didn’t see any other message apart from those I have approved through moderation – nothing has been binned and nothing in spam. Hope they all got through…

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