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The House of Lords Select Committee on Adoption: Post-Legislative Scrutiny has published its report on the impact of the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

According to the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), the Committee has concluded that the majority of the improvements to the adoption system that they identify as being necessary are matters of practice rather than legislation. Adoption support services are one area where they do recommend a significant change to legislation.

BAAF highlight that children adopted from care have complex needs which can persist after adoption despite the ordinary loving care of their adoptive families. Unless these children and their adoptive families are properly supported there is a high risk these difficulties will not improve and ultimately the placement may break down. This can only result in more damage to the child as they return to care. It also leaves the adoptive parents devastated.

Current legislation gives people affected by adoption the right to an assessment for adoption support services, but no duty to provide those services. There is also a postcode lottery of provision from one authority to another.

The House of Lords Scrutiny Committee Report highlights all of these issues in its comprehensive and important Report. This recognises that in order to increase the number of adopters coming forwards and ensure adoption succeeds, local authorities, health and education should have a statutory duty to provide support.

The current proposals in the Children and Families Bill do not go far enough in ensuring that this will be so. BAAF firmly believes that new measures should also be extended to children placed under Special Guardianship as these are exactly the same group of children as those placed for adoption.

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The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has taken a look at the Government’s recently published Bill to open up marriage to same sex couples, to make sure that it is in accordance with the requirements of equality laws in force within Britain.

Rights to equal marriage v religious freedom

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 24th January.

When announcing the publication of the Bill, the Government was careful to highlight the fact that no religious organisation, or individual minister of religion, will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages.

it points out that the right to freedom of religion is already guaranteed under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Bill provides additional protection of this freedom through a ‘quadruple lock’, says the Government, and this will ensure that religious organisations and individual ministers can act in accordance with their beliefs on this issue.

Equality and Human Rights Commission

The EHRC is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It was formed under the Equality Act 2006, and took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission.

It has analysed the Bill in light of the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998, and advised MPs accordingly.

Commission’s conclusions

According to the Commission, the Bill, which will apply in England and Wales, will be in accordance with provisions within the legislation and will further the rights of individuals to equality before the law, in so far as it will:

* enable same sex couples to marry in civil ceremonies;

* ensure those religious organisations that wish to do so can opt in to conduct marriage ceremonies for same sex couples;

* provide protection under equality law for ministers of religion who do not wish to marry same sex couples;

* enable civil partners to convert their partnership to a marriage; and

* enable married individuals wishing to change their legal gender to do so without having to end their marriage.

The Commission concluded that the protections provided in the Bill are sufficient to ensure that churches and individual ministers will not find themselves forced by litigation to conduct same sex marriages, and no one will be required to promote views about same-sex marriage which they do not support.

In addition, the Commission found that the Bill is in accordance with the European Court of Human Rights' interpretation of human rights legislation and would therefore withstand any challenge in the court.

Next steps

The Bill recently had its second reading in the House of Commons, where it was backed by a majority of MPs. It has now moved forward to the Committee Stage of the legislative process, where it will be subject to more rigorous parliamentary scrutiny.

The Commission has promised to carry out a further, more detailed analysis of the Bill, the results of which will also be provided to MPs.

 

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Avon UK and domestic violence charities Refuge and Women’s Aid have released powerful new research on women’s recognition of domestic violence.

The results show that many women do not understand what constitutes domestic violence. It also shows that, despite women naming domestic violence as the single biggest issue that is likely to affect them during their lifetime, a third of all respondents (33%) would not know where to seek support.

Over half (51%) of those questioned stated that they know or suspect that someone in their life has experienced domestic violence.

Key report findings include:

•    More than half of respondents (56.6%) either disagreed or didn’t know if excessive jealousy counted as domestic violence.

•    Nearly half (47.4%) either disagreed or didn’t know if going through a female partner’s private electronic messages counted as domestic violence.

•    Just over half (51.1%) either disagreed (35.1%) or didn’t know (16%) whether a partner making all the monetary decisions is domestic violence

•    18% of 16-18 year olds stated they do not think/are unsure if slapping or hitting is a sign of domestic violence.

•    When asked what they thought they should do if they knew someone was experiencing domestic violence, 70% of respondents said they should call a domestic violence helpline. But when asked what they would do, only 58% reported that they would actually do this; with this figure dropping to 45% and 35% respectively in the youngest age groups.

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Recently published figures by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) have revealed that demand for its service continues to remain at a high level.

Cafcass represents children in family court cases, making sure that their voices are heard and that the decisions that are made about them are in their best interests. The types of cases it works with include:

•    Adoption

•    Care Orders

•    Emergency Protection Orders

•    Residency and contact following divorce and separation

In January 2013, Cafcass received a total of 960 applications. This is a 4% increase on January 2012 levels and is the fourth highest level of applications recorded in a single month this financial year.

The figures also show that:

•    Between April 2012 and January 2013 Cafcass received a total of 9,112 applications. This figure is 7.8% higher when compared to the same period last year.

•    The 991 applications received in July 2012 were the highest ever recorded for a single month.

•    Applications received during all months bar June this financial year have been the highest ever recorded by Cafcass for these individual months.

•    The comparatively lower demand in June 2012 is believed to be due to the lack of working days available due to the special bank holidays this year.

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Posted by on in Children & Child Custody

National charities Grandparents Plus, Family Lives and the Family and Parenting Institute have launched a new project to help kinship carers in the North East.

Between 8,000 and 12,000 children in the North East are living with grandparents and other family members because their parents have died, or can’t look after them because of drug or alcohol addiction, illness or disability, abuse, imprisonment or other serious family problems.

Grandparents and other relatives (kinship carers) who have stepped in to bring up children often face isolation, poverty and stress. Half of the children they are raising have disabilities or special needs.

The three charities are working together to link grandparents and kinship carers with volunteers who will provide a listening ear, useful life experience and help out with some of the challenges for older people bringing up children.

A recent YouGov poll found:

- 74% of adults in the North East of England think grandparents and other relatives bringing up a child should receive practical help from their local council.

- 72% think they should receive a financial allowance. This rises to 75% of adults who think grandparents should get a financial allowance if they are on a low income.

- 83% think they should receive similar support to foster carers.

 

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Women’s Aid is asking the Government to take action to ensure that changes to the benefits system will not have a detrimental impact on the UK’s network of refuge services for victims of domestic violence.

The charity claims that both the introduction of Universal Credit and the benefit cap could seriously threaten the survival of refuge services if they are not specifically protected.

The Government has stated that if refuge services fall within the definition of ‘exempt accommodation’ under current Housing Benefit rules, housing costs for residents will be met locally, outside of Universal Credit, and will not count in the calculation of the benefit cap.

However, there is concern that many refuges do not currently fit the criteria for ‘exempt accommodation’ and will therefore be under threat from the changes.

The cap will particularly affect those with larger families and higher living costs, and those who need to claim for two rents for both the refuge service they are living in and the house they have fled from, but eventually hope to return to.

Mary Mason, Chief Executive Officer of Solace Women's Aid, said:

"Refuges are safe, emergency spaces for women and children who are fleeing the most severe violence. Without them more women and children will die and many more will be living in very dangerous situations.”

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Posted by on in Mediation

At a time of year when there is a drastic increase in the number of people considering separation and divorce, the Government has announced that it is to provide an additional £10 million to help couples agree the terms of their separation through mediation.

‘Divorce Day’

The post-Christmas period is when legal firms receive the most enquiries about separation and divorce – leading to the first working day in January having the unhappy title of ‘Divorce Day'.

Internet searches for information about divorce peak at this time too.

The Ministry of Justice reports that last year divorce-related searches on its website almost doubled  between December 2011 and January 2012, shooting up from 744 to 1,364, while Government information website Gov.uk also saw increased interest. It reveals that there were 692 searches on DirectGov for 'divorce process' in the first week of January 2012, up from 188 in the first week of December.

Couples encouraged to use mediation

The Government is trying to encourage separating couples to think about mediation. This is, it says, a quicker, simpler and more effective way of agreeing how they divide their assets or arrange child contact. It also avoids the traumatic and divisive effect of courtroom battles.

More and more people have used mediation in recent years, and the Government hopes that the additional £10 million (taking the total spent to £25 million) will help more couples do the same.

The new funding follows earlier changes to the court processes, which were introduced by the Government against the backdrop of the Family Justice Review.

These new rules mean that couples seeking a court order about child contact or a financial matter must attend a mediation assessment session first, to find out about mediation and consider whether it is suitable for them.

The Government has carried out an initial assessment of how effective this measure has actually been in reducing the number of applications coming to court. According to family law organisation Resolution, the review found that there had been a 6% drop in the number of private law cases in the Principal Registry.

Benefits of mediation

The Government points out a number of benefits from mediation:

* Couples work out the arrangements around their separation with the guidance of a qualified mediator, enabling them to reach agreements they are prepared to keep to, rather than have decisions imposed by a judge after solicitors have argued the case in court;


* It is cheaper - Government figures reveal that it costs around £500 to resolve property and finance disputes using mediation, compared to the £4,000 it costs through the courts.


* It is quicker -  the average time for a mediated case is 110 days compared to 435 days for non-mediated cases.

Mediation is not always the answer

The Government acknowledges, however, that mediation won’t be right for everyone.

Some people will be able to sort out their own disputes without using mediation or going to court, and in certain circumstances – such as with domestic violence or child protection - legal action through the courts may be needed.

 

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The Government has published details of its Children and Families Bill, which includes reforms to adoption, family justice, an overhaul of Special Educational Needs, reinforcing the role of the Children’s Commissioner and plans to introduce childminders’ agencies.

Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson said:

“I am determined that every young person should be able to fulfil their potential regardless of their background. For this to happen we must tackle the disadvantages faced by our most vulnerable children and families. Our measures in the Children and Families Bill do just that.

“In this Bill we will overhaul adoption - breaking down barriers for adopters and provide more support to children. We will reform family justice - tackling appalling delays and focusing on the needs of the child. And we will improve services for vulnerable young people – transforming the Special Educational Needs system and better protecting children’s rights.”

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The domestic abuse charity, Coordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse (CAADA), has spoken out against a pilot scheme being run by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to reduce police bureaucracy through discretionary use of risk assessment at domestic incidents.

Diana Barran, Chief Executive of CAADA said: “We are gravely concerned that if implemented nationally, ACPO's proposals will have a serious impact on the safety of domestic abuse victims across England and Wales.

“Whilst we are open to the concept of streamlining risk assessment, it is difficult to understand how officers will determine whether a victim is at severe risk from domestic abuse without using a robust risk identification tool. Domestic abuse is rarely a one off incident; it is a pattern of escalating violence and abuse exerted by one person to control another. Many victims conceal the problem when the police arrive for fear of further violence. Our research shows that on average, it takes five years for domestic abuse victims to reach out for support.”

“We know from our work across the country that many domestic homicide reviews reference inconsistent risk identification as a significant contributing factor. If we are to save lives and public money, it is important that risk identification of victims is implemented consistently and thoroughly by all agencies. Without this approach, homicides will increase alongside the cost to the public purse.”

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Ofsted has launched a consultation on the proposed changes to the inspection of Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) to drive improvement for children involved in family court proceedings.

Over the last four years, Ofsted has inspected practice in each of Cafcass’ individual services areas. From 2013, Ofsted proposes to conduct an annual inspection of Cafcass as a national organisation, supported by a detailed examination of practice in up to six local service areas.

By carrying out an annual single inspection, Ofsted will capture evidence both at local level and across nationally delivered functions. The greatest weight will be given to the quality of work at local level in the key statutory functions of making recommendations and providing advice to the family courts on how best to safeguard and promote the welfare of children subject to proceedings.

The inspection will be unannounced and will take place over two weeks.

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Recent data released by national support organisation Family Lives has shown that divorce and separation issues feature heavily in the number of calls received by its helpline.

The data analysed divorce-related calls to Family Lives’ helpline during the period of 1st April – 31st December 2012. 

During this time period, Family Lives was contacted on 28,509 occasions via their Live Chat, email and confidential Helpline service. Of these 4,987 enquiries centred on how divorce and separation was the primary reason for the calls. Of particular concern were the 17,467 from parents regarding their own mental health and wellbeing, and 8,657 revolved around children going through their parents’/ carer’s divorce/separation.

Jeremy Todd, Family Lives Chief Executive said:

“January is often a difficult time for warring parents. Couples are bound to be feeling upset and confused by an impending break-up and it's easy to let anger or guilt get in the way. It will always  help for parents/couples to talk it through with someone as the emotional and financial cost to any separation is considerable and people need to get the right advice.”

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The Prime Minister has announced a new package of support for people who want to adopt to ensure more children get a stable, loving home without delays.

The new measures include:

- looking at ways to give adopters a more active role in the adoption process, with the chance to make a connection with a child in advance and play a greater role in finding the right match. This will be done by:
- encouraging Adoption Activity Days, as pioneered by the British Association of Adoption and Fostering, where prospective parents can meet children waiting for adoption and have the chance to make a real connection with a child. Pilot Activity Days have proved very successful, finding families for almost one in five children and evidence suggests they could be particularly successful in matching harder to place children; and
- looking at options for opening up the Adoption Register to approved prospective adopters.

- ensuring more paid leave for people adopting a child – bringing adoption pay and leave in line with that of biological parents when it comes to maternity and paternity leave, giving parents and children more time to bond in those early days;

- giving adoptive parents the right to take time off work to meet the children they are set to adopt before they move in with family, helping to make the transition to a new family be as smooth as possible;

- trialling the idea of personal budgets, where adoptive parents can have more choice and control over the type and provider of adoption support, that would otherwise be allocated by councils; and

- looking to next year, it will be launching a National Gateway for Adoption, a new ‘one-stop-shop’ online service, for the first stages of the adoption process, making it easy for those thinking about adoption to find out more.

 

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New figures reveal that the number of parental child abduction cases dealt with by the Foreign Office has risen by 88% in under a decade.

Parental child abduction – where a parent takes a child without the permission of those with parental responsibility – is now a worldwide issue. In 2003/04 the Foreign Office worked on cases in 51 countries; now cases relate to 84 different countries, showing just how widespread the problem has become.

Alison Shalaby, Chief Executive of Reunite, said:

“It is important to remember that parental child abduction is not faith or country specific. Seventy-one per cent of the UK public thought that parents most commonly abduct their children to the Middle East, India and Pakistan but it can happen to anyone, from any background. Countries where children are abducted to can range from Australia, to France, to Thailand.

“We have seen a 20% increase in calls made to our helpline in the first half of 2012 compared to 2011 and a 67% increase in the number of children who have been abducted by a parent to a non-Hague country between 2001 and 2011.

“This issue is not going away and with a 47% increase in the number of child abduction cases Reunite has worked on between 2001 and 2011, we are urging parents to think twice before they abduct their child or seek help if they think their child is at risk.”

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Plans to allow same-sex couples in England and Wales have been outlined by Minister for Women and Equalities Maria Miller.

The Government also reiterated its absolute commitment that no religious organisation, or individual minister of religion, would be forced to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. European law already puts protection for religious freedom beyond doubt (under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights) but the Government intends to go even further and put in place a ‘quadruple lock’ in domestic law.

The legal locks, which will be on the face of any primary legislation, are:

  • - no religious organisation, or individual minister, could be compelled to marry same-sex couples (or to permit this to happen on their premises);
  • - it will be unlawful for religious organisations, or their ministers, to marry same-sex couples unless the organisation’s governing body has expressly opted in to do so (and that would mean the religious organisation itself opting in, the presiding minister having consented and  the premises in which the marriage is to be conducted having been registered);
  • - the Equality Act 2010 would be amended to ensure that no discrimination claim could be brought against religious organisations or individual minister for refusing to marry a same-sex couple (or allowing their premises to be used for this purpose); and
  • - the bill will explicitly state that it would be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples, or to opt-in to do so. Canon law – which bans the marriage of same-sex couples – will continue to apply. That means that it would require a change in both primary and Canon law before Church of England and Church in Wales would be able to opt in to conduct same-sex marriages.

 

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The Government has published its second set of adoption scorecards, giving details on how long councils took to place children from care into the families of prospective adopters.

The scorecards show how each council has done against two thresholds:

- average time between a council receiving court approval to place a child and a council deciding on a match to an adoptive family;
- and the average time between a child entering care and moving in with an adoptive family.

The new data shows that 37 councils failed to meet both thresholds.

Children’s minister Edward Timpson said:

“Children awaiting adoption deserve to be placed with loving families more quickly. Instability can cause real damage to a child’s chances. It’s crucial that we make sure that paperwork and processes do not lead to unnecessary delays.

“It is not acceptable that children wait several hundred days longer to be placed with adoptive families in some areas of the country. The slowest councils must do better. I am pleased, however, that some councils have done better by working hard to place more children in care with adoptive parents more swiftly.”

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The Government has launched a web app designed to help parents who are going through a separation.

Work and Pensions Minister, Steve Webb, said:

"Parents tell us they don’t know where to turn for support when they’re going through a separation. A third of British children now live in separated families and it’s vital we help parents to access better advice. Parents working together is in the best interests of the children, and more collaboration helps minimise the impact of separation on them."

According to the Government, around 300,000 families go through a separation every year, but a YouGov poll commissioned by the DWP found that more than half of parents (52%) find it hard to access help and support they need when they separate. The poll also found that:

- 39% of parents didn't access any professional support when they separated from their partners, of whom 25% said it was because they couldn't find the right help or support or felt embarrassed.
- Of those parents who did seek professional help, 27% of them felt they received conflicting advice.

 

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A recent survey has found that millions of cohabiting couples across the UK keep details of their finances secret from their partners, including information on their income, savings and debts.

According to the study, from Prudential, one in seven (14%) respondents don’t know how much money their partner earns. For 9%, this is because – despite living together – they never discuss earnings. However, the remaining 5% admit this is because they mislead their partners into thinking they earn more or less than they actually do.

Around 20% Brits have debts that they have not disclosed to their partners, with an average value of £9,546.

When Prudential asked those who admit to having hidden debts how these debts arose more than a third (36%) say they have borrowed money to cover every day living costs. Around 33% borrowed the money to pay-off other outstanding debts, such as credit card bills, and 6% say the debt arose from previous travelling costs.

Other reasons for having these hidden debts  include overspending due to an emotional event (5%), and debts inherited from past relationships such as joint mortgages (5%).

Among those who admit to having a secret nest egg, 22% say these savings and investments are kept hidden to offer them financial security in case of a break-up.

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Ofsted has published its first adoption statistics, which provide a comprehensive picture of adoption in England.

Deputy Chief Inspector for Ofsted, John Goldup said:

'This publication brings into the public domain for the first time a wealth of data on over 4,250 approved adopters; the length of time adopters wait for a child; the outcome of 25,400 initial enquiries about becoming an adoptive parent made to adoption agencies in 2011/12; the likelihood of sibling groups being placed together; and much more."

Ofsted analysed 147 responses from local authorities and 33 Voluntary Adoption Agencies (VAAs) giving data for the period 1st April 2011 to 31st March 2012.

The figures show that:

- 3,450 children and young people were adopted in England during the year.

- On 31st March 2012, there were 2,680 children living with their adoptive families but an adoption order had not yet been granted.

- 535 children were placed for adoption through VAAs and 736 children through local authorities.

- 545 children were placed for adoption with VAAs by local authorities.

 

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Posted by on in Divorce

A recent report has found that the divorce rate of celebrities after ten years of marriage (40%) is double that of non-celebrity couples (20%).

The Marriage Foundation examined 572 well-known celebrity couples who have tied the knot since the year 2000. The report highlights the weddings of celebrities such as Britney Spears, whose marriage to Jason Alexander lasted just 55 hours. It concludes that people should have more accurate expectations of how much hard work it takes to keep a marriage together.

High Court Judge and founder of The Marriage Foundation, Sir Paul Coleridge, commented on the Hello! magazine approach to marriage: "…there is still, or maybe more than there was, a completely unrealistic expectation about long-term relationships and marriage in particular, that if you find the right ideal partner that’s all that matters and things will just carry on from there and you will be divinely happy.”

The report also points to the corrosive effect of celebrity gossip magazines and tabloid newspapers constantly speculating about celebrity marriages being “on the rocks”. Celebrity break-ups make better stories than happily-ever-afters, argues the report, so the tabloid newspapers are always on “split watch”.

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Posted by on in Divorce

The Government is consulting over amending the measurement of child poverty to include measures that better reflect the reality of life in the UK today.

The measures under consideration include the impact of family stability on child poverty. The Government claims that family stability is important to a child’s experience of growing up and to their life chances because children who have experienced family breakdown are more likely to experience income poverty, socioeconomic disadvantage, physical ill health and behavioural problems.

According to the consultation:

•    15% of couple households moved into persistent income poverty as a result of family breakdown,
•    22% of children in lone parent families were in relative income poverty in 2010/2011 compared to 18% of all children. Twenty four per cent of lone parent families moved out of income poverty as a result of moving into a couple household;
•    32% of children in lone parent families live in households in the poorest 20% of incomes, compared to 20% of those in couple families;
•    after a marital split, the income of women with children falls on average by 12%, but separating fathers’ available income actually increases by 31%;
•    one in five mothers with low qualifications and poor housing before separation from a partner experienced greater deprivation following relationship breakdown;
•    moving from couple to lone parenthood is associated with high rates of leaving employment; and,
•    90% of mothers consider it ‘important’ that a child grows up living with both parents, 60% consider it ‘very important’.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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