CAFCASS COMPLAINTS

I recently made a FOI request to CAFCASS in order to see what was happening in terms of the trends of complaints from parents. I thought (rightly) that there was likely to have been an increase in complaints post LASPO driven by the increase in LiPs, and I wanted to find out if my hunch was right.

The response is now in : see whatdotheyknow.com.

The response was interesting for a number of reasons.

Firstly, as expected there is an upward trend in complaint numbers, although perhaps not as stark as I had thought it might be.

2011/12 : 1,265

2012/13 : 1,495

2013/14 : 1,596

2014 (to 21/10) : 769 (grosses up to around 1400 – but we’ll have to see how that pans out, my hunch is it will be more)

On to the outcome of complaints. The rather astonishing fact emerges that as of February 2012 CAFCASS, having previously gathered such data, decided to stop collecting it. So, whilst we know that OVER 50% of complaints to CAFCASS in 2011/12 were upheld or partially upheld – we have no idea of how often CAFCASS has been getting it wrong since. That is an astonishing lack of transparency – I absolutely did not expect to find that out and think it is hugely disappointing at a time when CAFCASS really needs to be building public trust and confidence. And when the last set of statistics gathered suggest that over half of the complaints have a good basis – that is really not a time to stop using complaints as a tool to enhance practice and performance.

Next up – categorisation of complaints.

Again, because of changes to the way data is collected and handled the actual figures don’t tell us much. But what is interesting is the decision made about how complaints might be categorised. Until Aug 2014 the categories of complaint were described from the perspective of CAFCASS and were rather bland. They didn’t touch on the heart of the potential issues I see clients and litigants complaining about. But from August 2014 the categories were expanded to include bias, discrimination, factual errors… Forgive me, but how is it possible that a pubic body like CAFCASS with Equality Act duties can not have tracked discrimination complaints statistics before August 2014? Again, astonishing. I’ve asked for clarification of who actually categorises the complaints as it seems to me it is a rather subjective task.

One of the things I had really wanted was the numbers of unrepresented parties who had complained. Unsurprisingly perhaps this data is not kept. But I would bet my next FAS form that there is a high preponderance of LiPs making complaints. And that the increase in LiPs accounts for the increase in complaints.

Finally, as best we can tell, the number of complaints to CAFCASS is rising alongside increases in the number of complaints to the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman about them, if the increase in enquiries back to CAFCASS arising from those complaints is an indicator of ombudsman complaint numbers.

So there we have it ladies and gentlemen. Sadly, illuminating for all the wrong reasons. CAFCASS – PLEASE work towards more transparency!! Complaints are a reality for every big organisation, and the efficient resolution of them, and use of them as a learning tool is something to be proud of.

27 thoughts on “CAFCASS COMPLAINTS

  1. All public bodies are seeing a rise in complaints each year.
    e.g. Complaints against the NHS have risen, against ambulance crews 28% up, against Police (Cumbria Police up 32%), against doctors up, against Councils they have rocketed – Etc.

    Little or nothing to do with an increase in LIPs I’d suggest, just people being more aware they can hold these public bodies to account (or try to).

    Access to social media is seen by many commentators as a primary factor in easing the complaint process for users.

    Fully agree with you regarding your other points about transparency, it is shocking but hardly surprising, this is the family justice system.

    Of course there are no figures available (?) on the outcome of the courts decisions for children once they leave the court system.

    All wing and a prayer stuff, pathetic!

  2. […] However, it seems that complaints made about Cafcass are rising and there are worries about how effectively Cafcass is either recording or responding to those complaints. See this post from Pink Tape.  […]

  3. Did you really expect any other response Lucy. The Cafcass executive have become extremely skilled in information management so that their true performance is hidden behind a virtually impenetrable firewall. This in spite of the fact that in 2011 Michael Gove wrote to Cafcass regarding their remit. There is a paragraph in that letter headed TRANSPARENCY and I quote:

    “The Government remains committed to greater transparency so that the public can hold politicians and public bodies to account. As part of this you are already publishing information on spending on salaries, organisational costs and services you buy. In line with all Government departments and Arms Length Bodies you have already published individual salary information for your senior staff earning over £1 OOK, along with organisation charts to demonstrate the groups of people your senior staff are responsible for, and the costs of these groups”.

    “We expect you to continue to publish this data and to continue to co-operate with transparency requests, ensuring data is submitted to deadline and in the required format”.

    If Mr Gove’s letter meant anything to the Cafcass Executive and Board they would be moving towards greater transparency not less as you have found and whilst it is helpful to publish the salaries of their top earners it is transparency in terms of performance and outcomes the public and stakeholders need. This move towards greater transparency and openness in the Family Courts is endorsed by the current President of the Family Division Sir James Munby, who has taken some bold steps in promoting greater transparency in all the dealings of the Family Courts.

    What is even more concerning is a passage from the recent Ofsted National Inspection of Cafcass carried out in February and March of this year. In paragraphs 60 to 62 they tackle Cafcass’ response to complaints and again I quote:

    60. The investigation of complaints from adult service users is undertaken centrally. Children’s complaints are dealt with in local service areas. The centralised approach provides a consistently thorough response to complaints investigation. Investigations are timely and responses are highly detailed ensuring that all aspects of complaints are responded to effectively. A wide range of evidence is cited to ensure that responses are fair. Clear explanations are given to complainants when the issues they raise are matters of practitioner’s professional opinion which for the courts to address during proceedings.

    61. Completion of actions for individual staff following complaints is monitored centrally ensuring that where there is individual learning that this is effectively dealt with in the worker’s supervision. In almost all cases learning is appropriately captured and contributes to the national learning log which is disseminated via management meetings throughout the organisation.

    62. All complaints seen were concluded in a timely manner and high (99%) rates are recorded for timeliness. However, where complaints are complex and require more than the 15 day time to investigate there is a practice of responding to the complaint partially, closing it on the system in timescale and subsequently sending a final letter. The complaints manager reported that this is a rare circumstance although it accounted for the practice in 10% of those sampled. Recording of those cases that go beyond the 15 day timescale needs to improve”.

    I asked Ofsted under a FOI request if they had notified the Information Commissioners Office of these sharp practices whereby they say the complaint has been dealt with within the statutory timescales and the case closed only for it to be opened again at some later date. Ofsted did not notify the ICO of their findings.

    I intend to make a referral to the ICO to investigate these matters. Cafcass continues to block FOI requests through a variety of reasons. 1. We don’t collect or collate that information and or it would exceed the costs limit for expediting the matter at hand.

    Cafcass has a super dooper computer system paid for in 10’s of millions from the public purse. It says that all information, case recording etc is all entered on this computer system, which means it should be a relatively simple matter for a person to interrogate the system, ask it the relevant questions and hey presto you’ve got the information like Crystal reports generate. I find it hard to believe that their computer system does not have this facility given the amount it cost with taxpayers money.

  4. Philip Measures

    At a Select Committee Anthony Douglas also advised that ‘Exit Interviews’ were also used to improve performance / staff morale but my own FOI request elicited the fact that the results of those interviews are not collated but only on placed individual ex-practitioners files – so unable to be used. So what he stated was either an untruth, or at least misleading, and it is high time he was re-called by the Select Committee.

    I hope that the transfer of CAFCASS to the Ministry of Justice doesn’t mark a further slide into lack of openness and transparency – perhaps Simon Hughes will take these matters up.

    • Philip Measures

      To correct my comment of 24th October please see below:

      Letter from Anthony Douglas, dated 2 March 2007:

      I am writing to you in response to Parliamentary Question 122547.

      PQ122547—To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, what plans he has to recruit and retain an experienced workforce in children and family court advisory and support services.

      CAFCASS already has a highly experienced workforce and new Family Court Advisors generally have at least 3 and usually over 5 years post-qualifying experience. CAFCASS carries out extensive training to ensure the skills of all staff are up to date, and that its training programmes are fit for purpose. A strategic pay review is underway, to ensure that levels of pay are competitive. CAFCASS evaluates the success of its recruitment initiatives and carries out exit interviews with staff who leave to ensure any lessons can be learnt. A comprehensive workforce strategy is being consulted on internally at present, and this will address all CAFCASS workforce needs over the next 3-5 years.

      A copy of this reply will be placed in the House Library.

      • It’s always interesting to hear Anthony Douglas attempting to defend staff training when everyone else knows that Cafcass staff have no training in the main area of their work! Nugatory contact, or child-parent severance is all too often the norm, due to recommendation of misleading reports, on whim. They have no guidelines outlining what they are supposed to do.

        Any non-resident parent who has limited or no contact due to a secret misleading Cafcass report should:

        1. File a properly constructed complaint with Cafcass and the Court, countering the report’s content, findings and recommendations – setting out the facts as they are known, rather than as they are imagined to be.

        2. Get their MP to craft a letter to Cafcass, along the following lines, or similar:

        PROPOSED MP LETTER TO CAFCASS:

        Dear (Cafcass/ local office),

        My constituent is claiming that he/she has limited/no contact with his/her children due to a misleading Cafcass report; and that report writers have no guidelines or training in the main area of their work.

        As Cafcass are routinely making time-based recommendations determining children’s futures, it must follow that you have in place time-based guidelines. Also, as PA is considered a common factor, it follows that their must be a training program in place, covering these main aspects of court welfare work.

        Given that the Family Courts rely on Cafcass reports as a document of weight, and endorse recommendations set out therein, I would be most grateful for sight of your guidelines setting out in the median case:

        •How a child’s time should be apportioned between parents after separation or divorce, with reference to periods of time.

        •What sort of factors should be taken into account or not taken into account when making what sort of recommendation.

        •What specific training is given in Parental Alienation; the duration of training; and how training is assessed.

        FOLLOW UP IN THE ABSENCE OF ANY PROPER RESPONSE:

        Despite over a million children’s futures determined by Cafcass, these guidelines have yet to be installed. They have nothing by way of substitution.

        The guidelines they need already exist but Cafcass refuses to install them. This systemic procedural failing cannot be other than a matter of grave national public concern. Galvanise your MP to raise the matter in the House of Commons, and set up an Early Day Motion.

        If you require further information or assistance, it can be provided.

  5. Interesting that this should happen as a number of campaign groups have CAFCASS by its tail. Of as much concern are the cases where there is evidenced collusion between agencies, including CAFCASS, to cover up service failures.

    When care proceedings are turned around 180 degrees following a coordinated change of judge, social worker, and CAFCASS officer, and when evidence is deliberately withheld from a court by children’s services, you have to ask when and where are the alarm bells going to ring?

  6. Cafcass failing to collate complaint statistics comes as no surprise, given that its predecessor, the FCWS, operated in much the same vein – by fobbing off complaints, or refusing to address them; properly, or at all.

    Fact is, Cafcass has no proper way of addressing complaints – as it has no guidelines in the main area of its work. Thus it is unaccountable for the quality and content of its reports, and more importantly their recommendations, that are more usually endorsed by the Judiciary. So, rather than be held accountable for its systemic failings, it is sweeping them under a carpet!

    Since opening its doors on 1st April 2001, over a billion pounds have been spent, over a million children’s futures determined by their reports, and over a decade has passed – yet they have not put pen to paper on what the norms of post separation parenting might be; and have no training in Parental Alienation. This might explain why any minor or imagined blemish in a parents character will suffice to ensure needless child-parent severance.

    A recent Centre for Social Justice report confirms that more than a million UK children no longer see their parents. Their futures have potentially been needlessly sacrificed and wasted on the Altar of procedural neglect.

    It’s amounts to a very secret scandal of National proportion! Children’s futures are at stake here. Despite the obvious dire social ramifications of manufacturing needless one-parent families, it remains to be seen what the Govt is prepared to do about it, if at all?

  7. Jenny Lewington

    If the number of Private Law cases is dropping – “Private law: in January to March 2014, there were 12,065 private law cases started (about 11 % lower than equivalent quarters in previous years) and 13,289 cases that reached a final disposal (continuing the upward trend)” (taken from FamilyLaw June 2014) and fewer S7 reports are being written, with the figures showing the number of complaints as static or rising then the % of complaints is now greater than it has been.

  8. Can the legal industry professionals confirm that in care proceedings where parents are up against their local authority, parents win less than 0.5% of those cases?

    • Well I can’t. I haven’t counted but I certainly hope I win more than 0.5% of cases (whatever “winning” is). I don’t know if your 0.5% comes from some published statistics or not, so it’s difficult to comment meaningfully on it. But I can think of a number of cases of my own where children have remained with their parents or been rehabilitated to them, including where previous children have been adopted against their wishes, or where the children have moved to live with extended family with the agreement of parents who acknowledge they aren’t in a position to offer care. I can think of others where parents without good arguments for return of the children to their care have been assisted to secure more or better contact than the LA argued for. And some of these outcomes are achieved not through some pitched battle where the score is parents 1 LA nil, but by consensus, because the LA has adopted a sensible and justifiable care plan. I’d count all of those as good results for parents – the terminology of “winning” is unhelpful. For most of my clients, even though it may be superficially attractive to score points or beat up the LA through the proceedings, keeping or recovering their children or retaining a connection to them is their main objective.
      There are cases where it is necessary to “fight” out issues in court through an adversarial trial process – either because the LA is adopting an unjustifiable position or has a poor evidence base or because of client instructions. Some of those you “win”, some of those you lose. Some of those are strong cases, others desperately weak given the parental difficulties.

      • As you state it depends on what you mean by “a win”, see care cases where the child is rehabilitated to the parent(s)’ care, though under a care or supervision order, so is that a win for the Local Authority or the parent?

  9. Has anyone else noticed that CAFCASS seem to be increasingly recommending section 91 (14) orders?
    A sceptic – like myself – might conclude that this is a preplanned strategy to ease their work load.
    I’m waiting to hear back from my own FoI request on the subject, after reading this though I’m a little less hopeful…

  10. In my case CAFCASS has failed so badly and has placed my children at risk. at first judge wouldn’t look or listen to me and agreed with cafcass. After urgent FAX from SS and case notes stated ‘there is evidence which could be interpreted as sexual abuse’. Yet the complaint procedure protected cafcass fully. It’s appalling and disgraceful. Children are time and time again not at the heart of the matter and cafcass even ignoring disclosures.
    Thank you for your work x.

    • I agree entirely because the local authority and Cafcass fail miserably to follow their own clear procedures on protecting children and sadly it’s the children that suffer..but when is the government going to do something about it …??? Maladministration is rife and needs addressing urgently. .As many children are being abused by the authority sent to protect them !!

      • This is true. I acquired a solicitor to act for a 5 year old boy that had been sexually abused in a foster home. A 14 year old boy placed in the same home entered the young boys room every night for 3 months, it involved annul penetration. The 14 year old boy has since been prosecuted. It was a fact that the 14 year old had been subject to a history of abuse and it is SS policy that those that have been abused are likely to abuse others. He should not have been placed in the same foster home. The police later insisted that the 5 year old boy was moved as they found sperm with the DNA of the male foster carer on the young boys pajamas. The male foster carer stated that he and his wife had sex on the sofa the night before so the boy must have sat on it. He was not prosecuted.

        I discovered that the social services had been subject to damming reports for the past 5 years by the Welsh Government Inspectorate the CSSIW. The Director for the social services department also publishes a report in reply to the CSSIW report. The director wrote: “What did we do? Staff remains our single most important and valuable resource. Previous inspections by the CSSIW highlighted major difficulties with recruitment and retention of frontline social work staff and the risks of over reliance on an agency workforce. However the majority of social workers are not as experienced as we would wish. Many are still at an early stage of their careers, and are consolidating their practice knowledge through experience, mentoring and learning. We are continually refining our training and development programme to ensure that it continues to meet the needs of staff at differing levels of experience. Our workforce development strategy focuses on effective induction and foundation training to fully support those staff in their first year of practice, progressing to continuing professional development for our more experienced staff.

        This social services continues to take children at an alarming rate with their same staff problems whose inexperience looks to have been responsible for severe harm to a 5 year old boy. I get a report from the boys solicitor I acquired for him on legal aid on the process of the case against the SS, it has been delayed and blocked for2 years by the SS. I have also been in contact with the Director of the Inspectorate whos investigation on this matter did not find any fault. I do have a copy of the boys police statement and the 1400 page case file. I know the truth.

        I suggest that people read the reports on the local service that they are involved with, OFSTED and CSSIW reports are published every year, you may find information that could be used to throw doubt on the reliability of the staff in court. Judges should be made aware of the government reports in their area. There are also reports published on Cafcass and Cafcass Cymru every 3 years. The last report on Cafcass Cymru 2014 indicated faults in 52% of the cases looked at.

        One final point the Cafcass officer in some cases will be appointed guardian, I believe that their are grounds that this process is unfair and possibly unjust as the officer may not be as independent as is required by the court. For the most of the case the guardians opinions may have been guided by a line manager. I refer to the judgement made by SIR NICHOLAS WALL THE PRESIDENT OF THE FAMILY DIVISION 4.7.2011. This judgement supported the independence of a guardian from Cafcass.

        In his robust public judgment Sir Nicholas stated: “I yield to no-one in my view that the guardian’s independence needs to be cherished.” When the court appoints a guardian in specified proceedings under section 41(1) of the Act, it does not appoint CAFCASS to that role: it appoints “an officer of the Service or a Welsh family proceedings officer”. In my judgment, this is important. He re-iterated how important it is for children that guardians can exercise independent judgment when working with solicitors in the ‘tandem model’ and that this “remains the child’s best protection against poor social work practice”. It seems to me that there is no protection for children subjected to a guardian’s poor work practice that in my experience just agree with the social worker.

        The complaints service does not work, complaints according to statistics published by the Public Services Ombudsman shows that the majority of complaints against Cafcass are dismissed by Cafcass. You will be informed that you have the right to take it to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman will the write to you stating that the Public Services Ombudsman Act 2005 restricts what the Ombudsman can investigate, he can only consider the complaint investigation process has been handled correctly. The Act was amended in 2006, the amendment forbids the Ombudsman to investigate complaints against Cafcass procedure or bad practice of its staff. The law commission stated that this amendment must be reversed as it is a social injustice.

        So here is a faulty system that can not be challenged. I have started proceedings against a Cafcass Cymru officer that was appointed as a guardian. The Cafcass complaints procedure did not uphold my complaint even after the Ombudsman wrote to them a stating I did have an issue but they could not investigate. I am making a personal claim against the guardian on the basis of the guardian’s independence. Something’s need to be changed.

        • it is very important that during the investigation process, which Cafcass deliberately refuse to address, with only one intent and that is to hide the truth of clear maladministration and foul play and have to question their true objective if they are prepared to write inaccurate reports that then put the children at more risk, and should be a criminal offence. As no child should be put at risk, even for one minute as it contravenes the children’s Act 1989 where the Child’s Welfare and Safety is Paramount . Also writing reports for the courts that are NOT factual and show deliberate dishonest content and incompetence, is hardly a good advert for Cafcass ,as it often puts the children at unnecessary risk! It’s a shame that managers and officers do not follow important guidelines to ensure that the children are protected at all cost . I believe a full investigation needs to now be done by Ofstead ASAP as it sounds like this issue is going to open a bigger can of worms. The fact they do not disclose the amount of complaints that are upheld, speaks volumes and needs addressing URGENTLY, and if there is evidence that any officer is failing to protect any children, then they should be named and shamed and removed from that position ,and should never be protected by the organisation, as it then confirms clear Maladministration ! If there is any one out there that can assist please do so..thank you ..

  11. Regarding complaints handling by Cafcass. I have recently discovered that there is legislation in place that restricts the Ombudsman to investigate that only the complaints procedure has been correctly followed. The Ombudsman can not investigate valid complaints that Cafcass have not investigated and only performed the cursory sham time line based investigation. This is an abuse of Article 6 of the Human Right to a fair trial or tribunal.

    I have been dealt with by Cafcass Cymru and I made a detailed complaint supported by the officers case notes I acquired under the freedom of information act. The notes were self incriminating and the investigation complains officer wrote that she had read the case notes. She either did not see the documents I have or she has lied.

    Part of my complaint is the use of what is called a CAWAC tool this is a questionnaire for the child and is used to assist in the wishes and feelings report. It was the Welsh Assembly who commissioned Professor Harold to put this together using research data taken from a small section of family’s in South Wales. There are reports that this data was not reliable. A further criticism that may be leveled at these studies is the sole use of children as reporters of all theoretical variables of interest, which raises the possibility that the degree of association between constructs may be artificially inflated. Information based on theoretical values are being used as part of a 7s report making recommendations on a child’s future.

    This tool may be turned out to the English Cafcass so beware. It is not reliable and there is very strong evidence that it does not work. Pretty much like the complaints procedure. I call Cafcass the untouchables. I believe the legislation on placing restrictions is for the UK not just Wales. I am surprised that I have never seen any mention of the abuse of article 6 putting a stop to getting your complaint dealt with in a fair manner.

    • Yes I agree and have current strong evidence to prove it ..but need help to publicise it to name and shame well paid rogues who bring misery to many families and children !!

      • It seems we both have strong evidence, I have since been in contact with the director of the Welsh Ombudsman who also agrees with us. I have seen a copy of a letter he wrote to the Welsh Government stating that the amended act removed the chance of a complainant getting just complaints investigated, he informed the Welsh Government that the Law Commission consider this a social injustice. It was also made clear that most people that would be in a position that led to a complaint are in a position that economically restricts their right to take it to court. I state that HR art 6 is abused in 250 cases last year alone.

        I am not a lawyer and I have appealed to some who could help me make a case, they are not interested. There is also a fact that UN rights of a child art 3 could be considered. It is a duty of all adults in particular those in a position to effect change in the law to do their duty. Alas politicians I have written to in Wales ignore the May 2014 Matter that was written into Welsh Law. Any move to change a system that harms children and family’s is blocked, sadly by those in positions to make the change. I am on benefits looking after my children as single parent. I have time and I am doing what I can. I have written to Lords politicians and Nick Drake the Ombudsman Director. I also need help and advice to take this further, it is an injustice.

  12. Philip Measures

    The numbers of ‘fire walls’ that exist are frightening.

    Terry Grady (above) is correct in relation to the Ombudsman – that is in itself disgraceful that OFSTED can identify that CAFCASS does not deal with Complaints in a way which the vast majority of us would describe as honest and ethical (opening and closing them and re-opening to avoid breaching timescales) and, now, not disclosing how many Complaints were upheld.

    How is it possible to have confidence in a system which is so secretive? Who are they really working for – children & Families or their Government financial backers?

    I urge that the Select Committee reconvene to put Mr Douglas on the ‘mat’ and force him to account for these hidden issues.

  13. I am a solicitor and mother of an 8 year old daughter. In June last year, she categorically refused to see her father. …edited for legal reasons…

    I am at a loss as to what I can do. Any guidance would be greatly appreciated.

    • IK,
      I have edited your comment as it is too detailed for publication, and I have anonymised your name. You ask for advice about your case. I am sorry but I cannot give advice via the comments on this blog. I do offer advice via public access (See http://www.lucyreed.co.uk) but I am unlikely to have capacity to do so for some time as I am about to go on holiday. I can only suggest that you take advice from a family specialist public access barrister or solicitor. I’m sorry not to have been of more help.
      Lucy

    • https://www.mabonline.net/940/
      THE ISLAMIC RULING ON DENYING A PARENT ACCESS TO CHILDREN FROM SCHOLARS IN UK

      After a marital breakdown, children are all too often used as pawns by feuding parents. In theory, both parents should put the interest of their children first, and although they have equal responsibility, it is wrong to assume that they have equal power, when it comes to access to and custody of the children. Under the current legal framework in the UK, the resident parent (the one with the custody of the children) has disproportionate powers regarding the children.

      In our society, it is almost always the mother who has custody and rights over the children, where as the father faces a potentially uphill struggle to realise his rights. This anomalous position has led to a lot of abuse, particularly because many mothers use it to instantly and absolutely deny the father access to the children. In a number of cases, all relations between him and the children are severed at the mother’s behest, and she will demand that he seeks contact with his children by obtaining a child arrangement order through the courts, if mediation fails, which can all take between three and four months or even longer, and by that time, the children have already been further traumatised due to the sudden absence of their father. Also this gives unfair advantage to the mother who can abuse her privilege of custody and unduly influence the children vis a vis their father. The children find themselves torn by their loyalty to both parents but tend to yield to the mother’s pressure not to see the father and to inform CAFCASS that they do not wish to see their father. Again this puts the father at a disadvantage and in the difficult situation of having to show that the children have not been negatively affected. This could be viewed as a form of child abuse, because the situation is imposed on the children (particularly very young children), who are powerless and have no opinion in the matter, their right to see the father is taken away from them.

      Often, some mothers will continue to obstruct contact, even after the courts have issued a contact order, which gives the father the legal right to regularly see the children at agreed times. This is simply another severing of the bond between the father and the children that must be endured until a further court hearing takes place which could be months later.

      The courts at times may be reluctant to enforce the contact order, because they may believe that labouring the mother is not in the best interests of the children. The question is, is it, then, in the best interests of the children for a situation to be created, which prolongs the absence of their father from their lives? It could be argued, the legal hurdles are creating a new generation of fatherless children, who know nothing of their own father, other than his name and the fact that he is biologically related to them. Similarly, there are also cases of fathers with custody engaged in the same process.

      This reluctance of the lawmakers to reprove mothers who breach a contact order could be seen as an implicit green light, at some instances, permitting these mothers to continue denying father access to the children. Of course, this separation damages the relationship between the children and the father and in some cases the frustrated father feels forced to give up, as he has to bear extremely high legal cost due to the many court hearings, caused by the mother’s non-compliance with the contact orders.

      This situation was publically echoed by a senior Judge, Mr Justice Coleridge, in 2010 by making a statement, outlined below:

      ‘Family courts are losing their authority because so many people take no notice of their judgments. Around 5,000 new cases a year come before the family courts in which parents – almost always mothers – defy orders to let the other parent have contact. Judges are extremely reluctant to jail such mothers because of the damaging effects on the children, so many continue to get away with it.’

      This abuse is rife among all communities in Britain and the unfortunate consequences of a fatherless society are undeniably visible. As a result, we see the proliferation of groups like Fathers for Justice and Families need Fathers, advocating the rights of fathers who no longer reside with their children. A recent report appeared in the Sunday Express [1], where it had been found that since June 2003, 8,515 non-resident parents have committed suicide due to the distress of not seeing their children. The study found that 94.8 per cent of the deaths involved a male non-resident parent.

      It is a fundamental right of the child to have access to both parents, and likewise both parents have a natural right over the child that they have given birth to. Thus, rationally speaking, by default there are no grounds to exclude either parent from having access to their children. This separation is justified under some exceptional circumstances, for example, if one of the parents poses a genuine threat to the children and displays violent and harmful conduct at home (domestic abuse and violence). If such cases are backed with evidence and a court order, then temporary separation of that parent from the children has merit whilst a permanent solution is being sought.

      The Muslim community of Britain has not been immune to this situation, where some mothers and fathers sever all ties between the children and either of the former parent. This runs contrary to basic Islamic values, teachings and culture. All Muslim societies have evolved through family units, and where there is a breakdown, the practice of imposing any sort of separation between children and parents or any other family members has traditionally been unknown. It should be self-evident that imposing separation between a child and any relative is an unnatural and unkind act, as ugly as the pre-Islamic custom of burying female children alive (imposing a permanent separation), which was carried out in Pagan Arab society, and was swiftly abolished by Islam.

      Despite this, the problem is rife within some Muslim communities, and is frequently carried out even by those professing to be practising Muslim parents. This is partly because this issue has not been explicitly pronounced as unlawful under Islamic law, unlike, for instance, the consumption of alcohol and pork.

      Even before we seek textual evidence, its prohibited status under Islamic law is obvious, because it runs to contrary to human nature. The most basic human social structure is the family unit, and the father-child and mother-child relationships are a fundamental part of this. To destroy that is like waging war on society, and those who attempt to destroy society by violent acts are given the severest punishment under the law.

      All Islamic scholars agree that this severing of the bond, regardless of whether it is done voluntarily by an irresponsible parent, imposed by the mother or the father, is a cardinal sin. The prohibition of, and warnings against taking such action are very emphatic and Islamic teaching clearly states that the consequence is prevention from entering Paradise on the Day of Judgment. The first evidence from the primary source of Quran clearly states this.

      “Would you then, if you were given the authority, do mischief in the land, and cut off your ties of kinship?” (Quran 41:21)

      The above is corroborated by many Hadiths. For example, Imams Bukhari and Muslim have collected the following saying of the Prophet (PBUH):

      “One will not enter paradise if he/she cuts off relations with relatives.”

      Another Hadith also collected by Bukhari & Muslim and narrated by Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) states:

      The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Do not turn away from your fathers, for he who turns away from his father, will be guilty of committing an act of disbelief.”

      This prohibits severing of the bond with members of immediate family, and most specifically one’s father. Scholars are in agreement that this is the case whether one turns away from one’s own father or forces others to be separated from their fathers.

      Also, the Islamic obligation on both the father and the mother to raise the children is well established; hence, the imposed separation of children from either the father or mother is clearly prohibited. If children willingly cut themselves off from their parents then they are committing a grave sin. Likewise, if someone else is preventing children from forming a close relationship with their parents, that person is also considered blameworthy.

      Parents should be aware of the religious, moral and spiritual consequence of severing family ties in the sight of God. Unfortunately, it is all too common for either parent to deny the right of access to their children solely because of their personal feud. Perhaps they gain some temporary emotional satisfaction from doing this at the expense of their own children, but the long term consequences are detrimental to their worldly life and after-life, and any Muslim who is engaged in such actions should think very carefully before continuing on such a path of emotional abuse and harm.

      Signed:

      Sheikh Abdul Qayyum, East London Mosque

      Dr Sh Suhaib Hasan, Islamic Shari’ah Council, Leyton

      Sheikh Mawlana Mohammad Shahid Raza (Leicester Central Mosque)

      Mufti Abdur-Rahman ibn Yusuf, http://www.zamzamacademy.com

      Imam Qari Asim Muhammad, Makkah Masjid, Leeds

      Sheikh Khalifa Ezzat, London Central Mosque

      Shaykh Dr Muhammad Umar Al-Qadri, Al Mustafa Islamic Centre, Ireland

      Dr Abdul Kalam Azad, Adam Academy, London

      Sheikh Fahimul Anam, Beacon Institute

      Imam Abdullah Hasan, Imams Against Domestic Abuse (IADA)

      Imam Abdul Wahhab, Plashet Grove Masjid, London

      Dr Kamal Abu Zahra, Ad-Duha Institute

      Imam Irfan Chishti – Rochdale Council of Mosques

      Imam Ghulam Moyhuddin, Ashton Central Mosque

      Imam Yusuf Rios, Shaukani Institute, USA

      Sheikh Muhammad Sa’di, European College of Islamic Studies, Birmingham

      Sheikha Selina Begum Ali – Oak Education for Children

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