Power and control; breaking the cycle of silence

Working in the field of family separation it is never possible to be far away from the problem of domestic violence. Whether it be an issue which is real or alleged or an issue which is under or over reported, family separation and domestic violence appear, at least from the stories we are told, to go hand in hand.

In many ways the issue of domestic violence is a thorny one within the overall landscape of family separation. For some, domestic violence is at the heart of family separation and must drive all policy and practice around it, for others it is a problem which causes false allegations and is used as a tool to prevent relationships between children and a parent (usually a father). For practitioners who work with family separation, understanding domestic violence and the way in which it is responded to is a serious business. Serious because it can, at the outer extremes, mean the difference between life and death for parents and children or the complete and utter destruction of the relationship between parents and children through false allegations. Either way, domestic violence is an issue that must be taken seriously across all of its manifestations.

Taking domestic violence seriously however does not necessarily mean having to listen to the exhortations of the domestic violence lobby groups. These groups, made up as they are of women (and some men) who believe that domestic violence is only to be understood within a paradigm of patriarchal control, are extremely powerful and determined in their arguments. The core thrust of these being that violence is an issue which is created within a society dominated by patriarchal power and control over women and that liberation from this requires a zero tolerance towards any act of domestic violence across the universe.

For these groups, domestic violence is primarily viewed as being an issue which is perpetrated by men against women and the response to this is to treat every act of violence as a danger signal of the highest magnitude. For these groups, educating women to understand their conflicted relationships within an understanding of being oppressed, is key to liberating them from the dynamic that puts them in danger from ‘their perpetrator’, the use of the possessive term in this culture being akin to the way in which survivors refer to people who abused them as being ‘my abuser.’

But domestic violence does not have to be considered in this way for it to be taken seriously and in fact, to pursue an understanding of domestic violence in this one, narrow focused way, can put men, women and children at serious risk of harm. There is a huge body of research, both in this country and across the world, which has focused upon a much more nuanced understanding of the ways in which violence in families is present during and after separation and it seems vital, to me, that in working with family separation it is to this, more sophisticated way of understanding and responding that we look for guidance to our own policy and practice development.

I am aware however that the domestic violence lobby has a massive amount of power over the support services that are supposed to assist separating families in this country and that to challenge this is often to be viewed as putting women and children in danger. Before I go on to discuss the different ways of understanding and responding to the problem of domestic or family violence as I prefer to call it, let me explain why reliance upon the narrow focused approach taken by many in this country puts children in danger.

The report 29 Child Homicides was written by Women’s Aid in 2004i This report is widely circulated around the support services to separated families as ‘evidence’ for the need for strong and restrictive safeguarding proceedings when working with families where domestic violence is any issue, its focus being upon raising issues of concern about contact being given to fathers who went on to kill their children as a result.

This report is also routinely used by organisations such as the NSPCC to support arguments that the Children Act should not be changed and that their should not be any moves towards presumptions of contact, the intimation being that to do so is to put more children at risk.

This report was actually responded to by Lord Justice Wall in 2006,ii who wrote a rebuttal of the evidence given in the report and showed that it was by no means the case that the courts had been involved in giving contact to 29 fathers who killed their children. In reality, only five cases were actually related to court proceedings, the others had been agreed by consent.

29 children being killed by their fathers is a tragedy but the focus upon whether or not this was because of the court ordering ‘contact’ is not the issue that we need to focus upon.

The real issue of concern is that this report is used to argue for strong and often punitive safeguarding measures around fathers by services which are designed to support separating families. In essence it is used as one of the tools to restrict relationships between fathers and their children, the underlying message being that any father who is seeking to have a relationship with his children after separation, where family violence has been present, must be regarded as being a potential killer of his children. In recent months, I have also repeatedly heard, in discussions around this issue with DV lobby groups present, the terms ‘family annihilator’ which appears to be a label created to name fathers who kill themselves and their children. I find this almost ‘glib’ approach to labelling what is actually, most often, an emergence of what is called in psychiatric terms the ‘Medea Complex’, seriously worrying because it again narrowly focuses upon fathers whilst completely ignoring the damage that disturbed mothers can do.

Domestic violence is not an issue which can be reduced to sound bites and it is not an issue which can be shoe horned into an idealogical argument about patriarchy. The world may feel comfortable to those women who understand it this way but the reality is that it is a far more serious and far more widespread issue than that.

Lets go back to the 29 child homicides report. Used as I said above to argue that strong safeguarding procedures should be in place around fathers when family violence is presenting in support services. Used also to restrict and restrain fathers from having any kind of automatic ongoing relationship with their children after separation. And quite rightly so, I hear many practitioners say, particularly those who consider that anyone challenging received wisdom about domestic violence must be putting women and children at risk.

How many of those same support services, I wonder, who willingly and blindly accept that the only issue to be concerned about around domestic violence is the safety of women and children, are aware that during the same period covered by the 29 Child Homicides report, NSPCC research, shows that some 800 children have died at the hands of resident mothers or carers. And how many of those same support services that rely upon 29 Child Homicides to inform their thinking, have read the 2000 publication “Child Maltreatment in the UK”, which showed that violent treatment was more likely to be meted out by female carers than male ones.iii

And, in the cold light of a gender analysis of evidence, which clearly demonstrates the appalling level of danger to children from their mothers or other carers in comparison to that posed by their ‘non resident’ fathers, how many have the strong and secure safeguarding procedures in place that routinely assess mothers for risk of harm to their children or worse?

Not enough in my view.

No child should be killed by a parent and no child should be put at risk during family separation and beyond and when they are we should be vigilant in understanding the risk factors and the reasons leading to this. And as practitioners, it is incumbent upon us to understand, the reality of the lives lived by the families that we work with and to take the widest possible view of all of the research that is undertaken with the people that we work with. Similarly, when formulating policy, it is not the case that those with the loudest voices or the most sophisticated media machines, should be allowed to dictate how we consider issues which are serious and which must be tackled directly and systematically if we are to make a difference to the families which suffer through the experience of separation.

The reality of family separation and the issue of violence is that it is present in many different forms, it is used by mothers and fathers and it is also the subject of false allegations in some families. And relying upon reports such as 29 Child Homicides, without counter balancing it with the reality as reported by organisations such as the NSPCC and by the Home Office, 9which shows that of all victims of domestic violence 40% are male), puts more children at risk not fewer, as well as allowing female perpetrators unfettered access to children that they sometimes go on and kill.

It is incredibly difficult to raise these issues in a world in which the power and control paradigm of patriarchy has been the driving force behind responses to the issue in policy and practice for many years. Indeed those who have raised these issues have found themselves up against efforts to discredit them and have been held up as being somehow placing women and children at risk of harm. I count myself as one of those and it is a risk to put my head above the parapet and challenge this orthodoxy. But to stand by silently is to be party to the suppression of truth and when it comes to the safety of children and their mothers and fathers, following the truth is the only approach I am willing to take.

Fortunately I am not the only one working to raise these issues. Tim Loughton, as shown in the extract from Hansard was talking about them in 2006. Erin Pizzy has been talking about it for a very long time. Researchers Johnson and Kelly said in 2008

a growing body of empirical research has demonstrated that intimate partner violence is not a unitary phenomenon and that types of domestic violence can be differentiated with respect to partner dynamics, context, and consequences’ iv

and closer to home, a 2012 from the Centre for Social Justice report stated

the patriarchy, power and control analysis remains more or less intact despite its incompatibility with emerging findings about domestic abuse’v

Similarly, the issue of domestic violence is starting to be understood on a more nuanced basis, allowing for depth studies of the drivers behind family violence and the ways in which it can be approached systematically within our culture. Writing about differentiation of types of domestic violence, researcher Dr Jane Wangmann from Australia stated that

‘it is no longer scientifically or ethically acceptable to speak of domestic violence without specifying, loudly and clearly, the type of violence to which we refer’vi

All of which allows us to get closer to the issue of violence, deconstruct our understanding of it and build new strategies to address it. Strategies that safeguard our children and strategies that ensure that we are working with mothers and fathers in ways that reflect what happens in their real lives, not in the lives that we are told that they live by lobby groups who depend upon one narrowly focused understanding of the world around us.

Violence and family separation do indeed go hand in hand but, the existence of it does not mean that we must automatically exclude fathers from children’s lives based on an assumption that they will be dangerous to their children. For to do so, based upon the same assumption and informed by the empirical evidence, we would be forced to do exactly the same on a routine basis to separated mothers too.

Breaking out of the power and control paradigm means also being able to step out of the control that the domestic violence lobby has over the issue and being brave enough to challenge the orthodoxy (and bear the consequences). Doing so takes courage but it also offers services to families which are more protective not less and more focused upon their real needs in ways that truly assist them to change.

Not one for silence, I will be speaking about these issues more over the coming months and I will, if I have to, bear the consequences of that. I do so not because I am on some kind of mission, not because I have an axe to grind on behalf of fathers but because I know that doing so means that I am focusing my attentions on safety in the right places, not spending my time looking in the wrong direction for danger when it is going on behind me.

And because separating and separated mothers and fathers are human, they are each capable of good behaviour and each capable of harm and they each, without exception, deserve to be helped to the best of our ability.

i2004, Hilary Saunders – women’s Aid – 29 Child Homicides – lessons still to be learned on domestic violence and child protection.

iiiIt pains me to have to single out one organisation that has behaved reprehensibly on this issue. I would be the first to acknowledge that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has done a lot of good work in raising awareness of child abuse and campaigning against it, promoting good practice by engaging children, and raising substantial funds for services for vulnerable children. Many members of my party in my constituency enthusiastically raise money for the NSPCC, as I have in the past. However, during the proceedings on the Bill in the Lords, the NSPCC put out a briefing note that attacked our amendments as a threat to the safety of children, yet produced no evidence to support its claim.

In its latest briefing note, for our scrutiny of the Bill, the NSPCC has made the following claim:

“NSPCC believes that any proposals to introduce into the Bill a legislative presumption of contact will be interpreted and put into practice by the courts in a way which is detrimental to the welfare of the child and could ultimately threaten the safety of the child.”

In effect, it is saying that if a non-resident parent—predominantly a father—benefits from a presumption of contact, he is more likely to do harm to his own child.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Maria Eagle): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tim Loughton: Let me finish and I certainly will.

In support of its claim, the NSPCC cites the fact that 29 children were killed over the past 10 years during contact visits to non-resident parents. That is an appalling figure. However, it ignores its own research, which shows that over the same period some 800 children have died at the hands of resident parents or carers, and the 2000 publication “Child Maltreatment in the UK”, which showed that violent treatment was more likely to be meted out by female carers than male ones.

The briefing is alarmist, sensationalist, misleading, empirically flawed, completely irresponsible and highly reprehensible. It is not worthy of an organisation such as the NSPCC, which claims to stand up for our children. I hope that our deliberations on the amendments will be based on balanced, rational and well-informed debate, rather than the arrant nonsense that I am sure will shock many dedicated and hard-working NSPCC supporters around the country. (excerpt from Hansard – 2 March 2006: Column 438 – see http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmhansrd/vo060302/debtext/60302-18.htm)

ivDifferentiation among types of intimate partner violence: research update and implications for interventions. Joan B. Kelly Michael P. Johnson, Family Court Review 2008

v Beyond violence: Breaking cycles of domestic abuse, Dr Elly Farmer and Dr Samantha Callan, Centre for Social Justice, 2012

viJohnson 2005, quoted in Different types of intimate partner violence, Dr Jane Wangmann, Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse, 2011.

31 Comments

  1. Another thought provoking article Karen. I wonder if you’re able to clarify the 29 / 800 “perpetrators” comparison a little please. It seems from the body of this piece that it’s 29 “non-resident fathers with contact” compared with 800 “resident mothers or carers” and therefore that the 800 might well include fathers / male carers.

    In the Hansard extract, Tim Loughton makes the comparison differently – without any gender reference – stating it’s between “during contact visits to non-resident parents” (29) and “at the hands of resident parents or carers” (800).

    It seems important to be clear what is and what is not being compared. It seems possibly for example to come to a rather simplistic conclusion with these figures that might be incorrect – simply by virtue of the different levels of opportunity (access to the children) – that men and women are likely to kill children (in the family) in a ratio of 29 to 800.

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    1. Karen and expofunction and all of us want to make the over-riding point – children can be killed and harmed by mothers and female carers as well as fathers and male carers.

      We all want to make the argument – for children’s welfare in high conflict situations – as strongly as possible, and to point out how there can be “mischief” (as Karen says) in the use of statistics. That’s the main thrust of this excellent and important blog here.

      It is therefore really important that we – we all, anyone on any “side” who writes about “facts” – we all need to be as careful in what we write as we criticise others for not being. We need to not allow even one slightly unjustified bit of logic or phrase to give any opportunity for others to damn the whole argument because of that one comment.

      So it is to ensure that the overall argument is 100% water-tight against those who will want to demolish the argument … that is, it is not that we here are in any way arguing against the argument as a whole – that expofunction is right to point out the yet to be justified phrases that could be used to try to sink the whole ship!

      Nick Child
      Family Therapist, Edinburgh

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  2. Hi Expofunction,

    The evidence appears to be 29 children killed at the hands of their non resident fathers (which is from the 29 Child Homicides report) and 800 children killed by their resident mother or carers which of course could mean fathers or other relatives too.

    However, for me the comparison is not that 29 children were killed by their non resident fathers compared with 800 children killed by their resident mothers (or carers), I am not even saying that mothers are more dangerous to children than fathers.

    what I am saying is that the 29 child homicides report is routinely used as evidence against non resident fathers who are restricted in their relationships with their children through safeguarding procedures that are portrayed as necessary and the report is used to back that.

    And yet, other empirical evidence shows that many more children are killed by their resident parent/mother/carer and yet we neither restrict all of those from access to their children routinely, nor do services regard it as being any kind of safeguarding issue.

    But based upon the issue of safety and risk, the evidence shows us that resident mothers/carers are more likely, by a huge margin, to kill their children. And by any risk assessment standards, based upon that evidence, safety measures should be in place for both mothers and fathers be they resident and non resident parents.

    And yet they are only in place in many services for non resident fathers.

    Leading one to conclude that the issue being protected against in many service safeguarding routines is not that of where the real risk lies but where people believe it lies.

    A more gender biased approach one could not wish to encounter and yet one which is prevalent in many services to separated families.

    K

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    1. Thanks Karen,

      I should have been more careful with my own wording. The issue I was trying to highlight (and there will be others too) was in the comparison the 29 are likely to spend considerably less time with the children than the 800, and the circumstances in which they spend that time may be quite different too.

      I think I understand the points you’re making here but one of those is the misuse of statistics by groups with specific interests / agendas and I thought it would be as easy for those with opposing ones to use these figures equally inappropriately to support equally narrow views.

      You may think me pedantic, but I don’t think it’s strictly accurate to say: “.. the evidence shows us that resident mothers/carers are more likely, by a huge margin, to kill their children.” It does show historically that many more children have been killed by resident mothers/carers; but “more likely”? My difficulty with this is it’s not clear what the causal factor is: being a resident parent; or being a mother; or both (or even some hidden factor).

      The implication to the casual reader – who might be inclined to use this to support a particular agenda – might be that women are “more likely” to kill children in the family than men. I don’t imagine that’s what you’re suggesting and I don’t believe it’s what the figures here show.

      I do absolutely agree with and support the thrust of your argument!

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      1. Can we not take it for granted that out of those 800 carers the majority are obviously mothers, because thats logically the outcome of the custody of chldren, that mothers usually have them. That being the case then its clear that harm done to chldren will be mostly from the mother. I find it hard to believe that within this number the vast majority will have been fathers, its just not the status quo, and we all know that 97% of mothers have residency and usually custody, to believe anything else flys in the face of what the courts apply. Nevertheless, knowing Karen, I know this not about statistics for her, its about children and parity, hang what sex I am or yours, its about justice for all.

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      2. Given what else we know it’s reasonable to assume a significant part of the 800 are mothers. But sadly in this world, it’s then far too easy to make the – unjustifiable – leap that just being a mother or just being female is what causes these children’s deaths, or more conveniently – for some – that if the situation was reversed and there were far more resident fathers, then somehow the situation would more closely reflect the figure of 29.

        So when you say “.. its clear that harm done to chldren will be mostly from the mother”, that too seems to offer up the possibility (I’m quite sure was not intended) that this might be so in all circumstances. You’ve chosen to make that statement when it’s no more valid – based on this data – than “.. its clear that harm done to children will be mostly from the resident parent / carer” might be.

        I completely agree that the issue is all about children and families and the much harder and clearer thinking that’s needed by those making policies and laws that affect them.

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      3. I do get the issue that you are referring to expofunction, the issue being that resident parents are more likely to spend more time with their children but, in my view, that doesn’t wash when it comes to safeguarding. Are we saying that spending more time with children and the circumstances that they spend that time in is a reason why so many more children are killed in the care of a resident parent than a non resident parent? Are we for examining the reasons closely when it comes to women perpetrators but when it comes to men we are to simply restrict their access to children and have done with it?

        The issue that I am drawing attention to is that we routinely screen and prevent non resident fathers from relationships with their children based on research – 29 child homicides being one of the pieces that are cited as ‘evidence’ for doing so. And yet we do not, in too many services, routinely do the same for resident parents (mothers or otherwise) even when research shows that more children are killed by them. This is evidence of gender blind services which deliver gender baised outcomes and prevent one parent from a relationship whilst ignoring, at will, the danger posed to children by the other.

        Are mothers more likely to kill children than fathers? Some research would say so. Are they ‘more likely’ to kill or harm children than fathers, the NSPCC report I refer to would say so. Is the causal factor being a mother or being a resident parent? Perhaps if we looked at this research a little closer we might understand that but the truth of the matter is, and we cannot get away from it, that in the same period that women’s aid refer to in their report 29 Child homicides, 29 children were killed by a non resident father and 800 children were killed by a resident mother or carer.

        In any assessment of risk that in my view demonstrates that more risk to children lies in the care of a resident mother than a non resident father. I know its unpalatable and that it is against all of our received wisdom and we do not wish to get into mothers are more likely to harm their kids than fathers but when it comes to safeguarding kids, I know where I would be putting my strongest procedures.

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      4. I’m saying that the time and circumstances are likely to be one of many factors that need to be considered to understand these figures.

        I’m saying we should examine the reasons closely but not make gender (or other) assumptions unless they’re validated. Of course we should not make policy and laws on the child-like assumptions that all men are bad and all women are angels or vice versa, nor should we allow ourselves to veer even slightly in either direction until we’ve held those who’re responsible for making those policies and laws to a much more rigorous examination of the basis and thoroughness of their own thinking it all through and had them show us the evidence for doing so.

        I completely agree that the issue you’re drawing attention to is utterly absurd.

        I think there may be a problem with the wording of the report. That they chose to include the word mother in “resident mothers or carers” and failed to indicate that the figure may include males too seems to suggest something more than the data might support. In other circumstances that might not have been to much of an issue, but in a situation so highly charged with opposing gender positions it’s unhelpful.

        I’ve absolutely no idea if or why it would be that mothers or fathers are more likely to kill their children and there’s nothing here to inform me better. I don’t believe the NSPCC report shows mothers are more likely to kill children than fathers because in order to do that they would first have to show which part or combination of “resident / mother / carer” (or other factors) was the cause of those killings and make comparisons with an equivalent group containing fathers (and employ a control group too). They’ve not done that; they’ve only compared it with a quite different group (non-resident fathers with contact). It only suggests that if everything were to remain the same we might reasonably expect the results to be repeated. I agree we cannot – and should not want to – get away from the historic picture the report shows, nor should we allow that data to be misused.

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      5. Hello again expofunction,

        I am struggling a bit to understand what your major concern is. Is it that in comparing these two pieces of research (one of which is from Women’s Aid and therefore influenced by their ideology, the other which is from NSPCC and therefore influenced by their ideology that we are not comparing like for like. Are you saying that if non resident fathers were subject the same pressures that resident mothers/carers are that the figures might go up too?

        If that is the case then yes, of course, you are correct in pointing that out and it may well be the case that if more dads were resident parents, more dads might kill or harm their kids.

        However, we live in a gendered society, in which mothers are free to assume the status of resident parent without challenge. It is not the case that they are given it by fathers or that they earn it by virtue of being the one that does the most before separation, they do, in many cases, (not all I grant you) assume it and we, as a society, approve of that. We allow it, we encourage it and we pay for it through our divided financial support

        But we do not discuss or consider, at policy or practitioner level the risk that this kind of assumption brings to children and we do not pay attention to the risk in our safeguarding procedures. How many women’s aid reports have we seen that refers to the numbers of mothers who harm their children? Not many I would argue and those that do spend more time analysing the pressures upon women that cause this behaviour than they do in analysis of the lack of safeguarding that allows it to happen.

        Which, once again, brings us back to the same gendered arguments which are configured around the notion that if women kill or harm it must be because of some extra pressure upon them and if men do it its because they are somehow inherently violent because of the patriarchal society that we live in and therefore are in need of more restraint and safeguarding.

        The truth of the matter is that children are at risk from both parents but we only safeguard against non resident father risk. The question I am asking is, why? The answer is, I suspect, is because the underlying notion that women only harm because of outside pressures and men harm because they are inherently harmful and given permission to be so by ‘patriarchy’, is pervading the policy and practice around separating families.

        Its a gendered notion which is not borne out by the empirical evidence and in my view it is putting more children at risk not fewer.

        In all cases where children are killed I would argue that we need to understand why so that we can address the issues that lead to it. Simply blanket restricting all relationships between fathers and their children or, putting in place strong safeguarding procedures for dads but not for mums is putting more children at risk not fewer.

        And finally, understanding the dynamics, the pressures and the ways in which psychiatric illnesses such as the Medea Complex may be triggered in high conflict divorce and separation means we will start to get to grips with the terrible reality of harm done to children by either parent in any circumstances.

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      6. Hi again Karen,

        My major concern is the same issue you’re writing about!

        I find it incredibly sad – and I worry too – that so many of those involved in and around the issue of conflicted separation get drawn deeper and deeper into a world of gender issues that’s become so complex & skewed – and strewn with land mines – that it sustains itself. The children and families have long since become the battlefield on which gender battles are fought rather than the cause everyone should be fighting for. Despite families being trampled underfoot some parents too are persuaded to leave the children behind since the only hands held out to them are often those offering to pull them into the fray on one side or the other.

        Against and despite that landscape you do something quite different with the programmes you’ve developed and the practical and effective support you provide for children and families so no-one has more right or authority to reel against this lunacy than you. Shining light on absurdity is essential because:

        “Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.”

        Albert Einstein (March 14, 1879 – April 18, 1955)

        What worried me when I was reading these statistics was the different ways they were presented and the potential for one side or the other to do a great deal of mischief with them when there’s little or no basis to warrant that and wondering if it might not be almost as important to highlight what these figures don’t tell us.

        Not comparing like with like certainly seems to be a problem here but so too is the lack of comparative data for intact families. Perhaps the problem arises out of comparing data from sources influenced by different ideologies and agendas. However who would have believed the NSPCC data could ever be subject to this sort of criticism. If Tim Loughton’s conclusions about the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children are even half right we must all ask ourselves – and them – some very fundamental and searching questions. It does however highlight the seriousness of the plight of children if even the NSPCC cannot be relied upon to fight only for them.

        One of the common problems – it seems to me – is that too many issues are examined together when they need to be separated out to achieve clarity. The data tells us something; the evidence for the gendered society tells us something else, but they do not necessarily bring us automatically to the right conclusion when viewed together. I wasn’t implying support for a gendered argument configured around the notion that if women kill or harm it must be because of some extra pressure upon them; but suggesting this data does not enable that argument to be made (for men or women) at all.

        The issue with so many of the problems you identify seems – as you suggest – to be one of spin over substance, where substance ought to be the product of clear evidence-based analysis and hard thinking.

        The core issue really is the terrible things people do to (each other and) children and we need – as you point to here – to be more determined to understand and deal with that and less diverted by gender politics.

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      7. But Expofunction gender politics is at the heart of this because it is the gendered system that creates the discrimination against fathers and contributes to their anger and frustration and it is the same discrimination by helping services and gendered legislation that contributes to pushing fathers out of childrens lives. This is a systemic crisis in which fathers are pushed out of childrens lives and blamed for abandoning them and fathers are regarded routinely as dangerous whilst mothers are not. In anyone’s psychology, to be blamed for abandoning your children when you have done nothing of the sort, and to be considered automatically dangerous and when you are nothing of the kind, would lead to anger and fury and resentment as a normal reaction.

        We have to tackle it head on and face the truth of what we have done in allowing the paradigm used by women’s aid and refuge et al to dominate the way that we understand and respond to violence in the home. Because it is there (and within the single parent lobby) that the gendered legislation took root. The DV and single parent lobby are specifically underpinned by gender politics, they are informed by women’s rights arguments and they influence our society at every single level of it. It is a gender political issue because it was made that way by the women who control the space.

        But worldwide it is starting to be tackled on a different scale and within a different paradigm, in which violence is analysed within the relational world and is understood and responded to based upon the real needs of families and not the patriarchal power and control paradigm. The UK is a long way from that but we have to start somewhere and, by flagging up the way in which our helping services routinely act in ways that re-inforce discrimination against fathers, even when the evidence tells them otherwise, is one way into the debate.

        One is reminded of the phrase you cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs and we may therefore have to go through the anger, the refusals, the rebuttals, the use of these conversations within gendered arguments and more before we come out of the other side as men and women working together to tackle the issue of DV and safeguarding children but at least…and this is a very big at least….at least we will be having the conversation and in doing so we will be breaking the taboo about talking differently around the subject, something which I have faced over recent years and which I know people like Erin Pizzy have faced for many years.

        And the final thing is – the research may not compare like for like – but the safeguarding procedures that are put in place in helping agencies should be based on fact not fiction or false beliefs – and it is that which I am most keen to raise in this debate – the fact that children are not safe when helpers assume the worst about fathers and the best about mothers.

        I am so glad to be able to have the discussion, thank you for your wise and considered thinking. K

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      8. Hi Karen,

        I’ve caused some confusion here I’m afraid. My apologies, I should have been clearer.

        I’m not suggesting your own involvement in gender politics is a diversion. You already have a proven track record delivering very effective services to some of the most highly conflicted families in the country. Many of those families have already been failed by multiple agencies and many more have nowhere to turn. You can demonstrate by practice and real world experience the things you write here. I’m reinforcing that other agencies who either fail families or have nothing effective to offer them might be so engaged with and diverted by the gender politics you’re writing about that they may never even have imagined the services you already provide. That’s why I suggested no-one has more right or authority to reel against this lunacy than you.

        The most powerful and shocking part of your post – if we can come to terms at all with the idea of children being killed by a parent – is the revelation that supports my use of the word lunacy: that what Tim Loughton thankfully highlighted and described as “arrant nonsense” could possibly make it all the way to the pages of Hansard.

        Having read that, I found it difficult to let go of the idea that policy of this kind might be influenced – even made – based on blatant misuse of data.

        This is what needs to be stopped in it’s tracks at the very first sign and never allowed to take hold in the first place.

        Ideally, robust objective data is subjected to robust objective scrutiny.

        More commonly, robust (but incomplete) objective data is subjected to robust but somewhat subjective scrutiny.

        Debating (it can’t be described as scrutinising) incomplete subjective data simply ties everyone in knots. Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

        Tim Loughton clearly has no intention of ruining himself and falling into a deep place, but has he really done enough to stop others passing through the gate of this inferno?

        Loughton might usefully have reminded them of how the dictionary defines two of the most important and commonly used terms in policy making:

        Objective: undistorted by emotion or personal bias.

        Subjective: of, relating to, or emanating from a person’s emotions, prejudices, etc.

        If the issue is safeguarding children in the context of families, robust objective data might look something like: all incidences of physical and psychological harm caused to children in the context of family. That’s likely a hopelessly idealistic expectation, but it’s important to be continually reminded of it because account must also be taken of “what we know we don’t know” and the interests of those who cannot lobby powerfully; most importantly children.

        Tim Loughton points to the NSPCC’s use of a highly subjective report that appears might be based on a single statistic to support claims made to influence overall policy. He also points to other data of their own and another report the NSPCC should be aware of but ignored. In doing so he’s demolished their influence in any objective debate and highlighted the importance of objectivity.

        However, Loughton did not say (from the information here) these 3 reports together form a complete picture or that they’re directly comparable. The additional two reports simply offer more – but importantly different – information that clearly must also be taken into account along with the first.

        Neither did Loughton discredit the 2004 Women’s Aid report the NSPCC used. It was not a Women’s Aid’s briefing note but the NSPCC’s (and Women’s Aid are at liberty to produce whatever reports they choose). He did however make clearer how much weight ought reasonably to be attached to the 2004 Women’s Aid report.

        I really have no idea what lasting effect Loughton’s contribution might have had, but it seems to me his intervention may have achieved three things at the time:

        1. Stopped the NSPCC repeating their mistake (hopefully from careful examination of how on earth they ever managed to get this so badly wrong).

        2. Provided an example to everyone of the importance of objectivity and the consequences of being subjective.

        3. Set the Women’s Aid report in more realistic context in that debate.

        However Loughton was likely most effective with the NSPCC. Others may have quickly forgotten his example and – as you say – the Women’s Aid report prospers still.

        The morning after this post appeared on your blog, another of your followers who also commented earlier – Nick Child – forwarded an e-mail to me that he had just sent to a councillor and other key people in The City of Edinburgh Council (with copies to those below). He had discovered – as you suggested would be the case – a widely distributed e-mail with a copy of the “29 Child Homicides Report”, sent to his work (in mid January 2013) that was making it’s way around Council departments such as Community Protection and also Lothian NHS Trust. Here are some quotes from the interagency e-mail:

        “Colleagues, please see attached review” [Note: “review”]

        “.. contains useful evidence re the clear linkages with domestic abuse & child homicide.”

        “This gives further weight to our ongoing emphasis upon developing Routine Enquiry of Abuse within .. as well as our partnership work to support Domestic Abuse Courts”

        “.. can you please disseminate further to the ..”

        In his e-mail Nick points to this blog post and the Hansard extract here and suggested Council policy and practice ought to be set and monitored more carefully than in ways which appear most likely to generate ineffectual moral panic.

        [Moral panic: .. in essence controversies that involve arguments and social tension and in which disagreement is difficult because the matter at its centre is taboo. Source: Wikipedia]

        You have an incredibly important contribution to offer and it’s vital that you have the opportunity to make an objective case in debates that are not overwhelmingly subjective. There are few people who might be able to help make that case, but there may be more who could follow Tim Loughton’s carefully objective example and hold agencies and authorities to higher standards of objectivity or respectfully question how they set and control their own policies and practice, as Nick Child has already done.

        It may not happen quickly, but challenging those who think and act subjectively by holding a spotlight on their subjectivity may be more effective than lending them credibility by engaging in impossible debate with them. If others can hold spotlights too, it may help clear away some of the obstacles you face, as I suspect Tim Loughton might already have shown with the NSPCC.

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      9. Hello again Expofunction, this is a good example of how we may well spread the word about the way in which research is used to bolster policy and practice which is discriminatory based upon flawed and biased evidence. However, let me just sound a note of caution in the optimistic nature of your post because I think it is important to be realistic when we are discussing this particular issue.

        Tim Loughton raised this issue in the House in 2006. He was Children’s Minister from the inception of the Coalition government and brought through the proposals for the changes to the Children Act in this role – he is effectively one of the first Ministers in government to be willing to tackle this – he was unceremoniously sacked in the reshuffle before Christmas and went on to speak of the ways in which his department was full of people who were ardent feminists and who would not allow change to happen in any significant way. In the short months since he was sacked, the DfE has returned to its former reliance upon feminist research and the orthodoxy has regained its control over family policy. The world of policy making at government level is deeply unpleasant and in my experience, far away from truth, clarity and objectivity, it is not about the best interest of the child, it is all about the best interests of women. It took me a long time to appreciate just how deeply ingrained the determination to eradicate fathers from children’s lives actually is but when I finally saw it I was shocked and appalled. That men are killing themselves and routinely suicidal because of the way in which family policy overlooks and ignores the reality is nothing short of a national scandal in my view but because its about men (and boys) nothing gets done and no-one speaks of it.

        Tim Loughton’s voice has been drowned out and in the back stabbing that followed his sacking, efforts have been made to discredit him by calling him a show off or words to that effect. And NSPCC and Women’s Aid still rely on these figures, at a recent roundtable on the issue, with CEO’s of the various women’s dv charities, the report was held up as ‘evidence’ again for why collaborative parenting after separation should not be promoted.

        If no-one speaks of these things, however difficult they are, we will continue to routinely abuse and discriminate against one half of the human race in our family separation policy. Its not what I want to be involved with, its dirty and its wrong. Men and women, mothers and fathers, should be appreciated for the wonderful people that they are and the valuable things they give to their children. It sometimes, if I am honest, makes me ashamed that I was ever involved with the women’s movement, liberation at the expense of men was not what I wanted – ever. K

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  3. Well written piece Karen, and so objective and without gender bias as usual. Lets face it Karen we fathers are the ones that are refered to when it comes to any suggestion of DV, that’s what is meant, us males, and we all know it! Especially when the NSPCC come out with the spurious biased trash you have written about. I’m not saying that DV does not exist, of course it does, but how is it proven and by what standard of evidence is the court to believe the accuser of such? We need the same standard of proof that we have in the criminal courts in the Childrens courts also, without it it’s all to easy for a judge to decide that on balance its a fact and usually Dad will get shafted by a lie, all to protect the children of course, so we are told. In my research I have found that mothers, on the whole, harm their children more so than fathers, but I guess we could argue about the numbers all day. The fact is we fathers are made to jump through all the hoops of proving that we are capable and not potential child beaters, whereas mothers have to prove very little, after all they are the weaker sex physically, so it goes without saying that we dads are the problem, its called gender bias and based upon zip all! Lets get the law changed so that the mere mention of the words DV is not going to be the possible lie that prevents us from accessing our kids, because in truth this is what is taking place, they are magic words to win a case and usually fathers lose their loved ones because of it. Regards as aways Karen. Paul.

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  4. Very good as always, Karen. Someone once said there are only two kinds of women, the ones who know their partner was/is abusive towards them and the ones that have not yet understood this. Seems to describe the more extreme part of the DV loby quite well!

    What is also clear is that the DV lobby does not distinguish between women and children. If there has been any violence against a woman (even a one off reaction to extreme provokation) then the children are automatically deemed at risk. This is of course not the case, and worth pointing out everytime the it-will-put-women-and-children-at-risk argument is roled out.

    I just wonder if this problem is increased by the division of parents into primary carer and non-resident parent. If there is any doubt about the safety, when the children are in the care of the latter, it seems a relative small sacrifice to cut contact ,if the perception is that this parent is “weekend fun parent”. “Weekend fun parent” is afterall not really necesarry for the day-to-day care of the children. The threshole for what is regarded good enough parenting (including safety) for the primary carer becomes higher as you are interfering with the children’s relationship with their most important parent. Thus to me this problem ties up with all the other problems resulting from this perception of primary and non-resident parent.

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    1. There’s your problem right there Karen, how offencive is that… “the children’s relationship with their MOST IMPORTANT parent”. How the hell are we ever going to get past this mind set? GRRR! For God’s sake I am one of those important parents, or is it a case of “we are all equal, but some are more equal that others”?. We have differing roles as mums and dads, but that does not make one more important than the other! Unless we get away from these type of statements we are truly f….d!

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      1. Hi Paul and Kat, I think that Kat is referring to the way in which the threshold for considering good enough parenting is raised higher when thoughts of restricting mothers relationships, meaning that society considers mothers to be more important than fathers and therefore the threshold for intervening is higher (put another way, we tolerate more bad behaviour from mothers in their parenting than we do dads because society tells us that mothers are the most important carer).

        Kat I think the division into PWC and NRP is at the basis of so much of what is wrong in our approach to post separation parenting and plays a massive part in the unbalanced way we approach safeguarding.

        Paul, you are right – mum, dad, different, equal. Its the corner stone of equalities work that difference is valued and celebrated and each is considered of equal value for what they bring to children’s lives. Strictly speaking, in an equal opportunities analysis, the NSPCC research would require us to put in place far stronger safeguarding procedures for children’s relationships with their mothers than their fathers after separation, in order to bring about equality of opportunity in terms of how mums and dads continue their relationships after separation and particularly in driving outcomes that are in the ‘best interests of the child.’ But it is never raised and never challenged whilst discriminatory procedures abound, driving fathers out of their children’s lives based upon research which is heavily influenced by an idealogical agenda which has been challenged in so many other countries.

        For me it is about child safety and about the value of mothering and fathering which in my mind are of equal value for the different things they bring. And the safeguarding in my practice is as strong for mothers as it is for fathers but it excludes no-one on the basis of my own personal assumptions. K

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  5. Thank you Karen, you have put it better then I ever could. I don’t want to be the more “important” parent, as was stated, but then again I don’t want to be considered as the lesser either. And yet in the eyes of the courts and such as the NSPCC I know that I am, I know this deep down in my gut and it makes me feel downcast and worthless within this biased system that considers me as just a weekend dad, how kind of them eh? I wish reallyI was a weekend dad, I’d lick their backsides to be one too, I just want to play a part in my son’s life, if only, if only. How far do I have to humiliate myself to show my love, and yet I’d do it, just for one hour to see my son. Im a fool I know, but thats me. So much has to change, but I know it’s not going to in my life time.

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  6. You really deserve to be heard by a wider audience Karen. You eloquence and adherence to the truth is beyond admirable. I truly hope you can carry on standing tall in the face of ideologues who have nothing but their own self-interest at heart, and I know that you will face strong opposition. This post is so very powerful (as are all of your posts). It should be compulsory reading.

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  7. On the subject of child safety, it’s not always about domestic violence. The dangers that children are exposed to by mothers tend to be different, but just as dangerous and more frequent. As usual, talking about this doesn’t fit the agenda. And it is the FEMINIST agenda that drives policy. Here are a few examples of negligent mothers brought up by googling “child left home alone” There is NO END to the number of occurrences.

    More than a third of NSW mothers have left children aged under 12 at home alone and nearly half think it’s all right to do so, a new study shows.
    http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/mums-leaving-kids-home-alone-20121218-2bl6e.html#ixzz2Jb18Srqc

    Mother ‘left her two small children home alone with oven door open for heat so she could go out and charge her cell phone’
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2230246/Mother-left-small-children-home-oven-door-open-heat-charge-cell-phone.html

    Bingeing mother left baby alone for a week: Jail for 20-year-old whose child was found ‘starving’ in cot
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2190972/Bingeing-mother-left-baby-week-Jail-20-year-old-child-starving-cot.html

    Feckless mother left kids home alone in disgusting house during drunken night out
    http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2012/10/22/feckless-mother-left-kids-home-alone-in-disgusting-house-during-drunken-night-out/

    Florida mom leaves three kids, 5, 3 and 2, home alone while she shopped; ‘I’m watching my sisters, can you watch us now?’ boy, 5, tells cops
    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/mom-leaves-kids-home-article-1.1217763

    Police: 3 kids left home alone near loaded gun, drugs; mom sought
    http://www.wfmz.com/news/news-regional-berks/Police-3-kids-left-home-alone-near-loaded-gun-drugs-mom-sought/-/121418/18070970/-/v9brr8/-/index.html

    Mother who left four-year old home alone to be questioned
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/mother-who-left-fouryear-old-home-alone-to-be-questioned-6172891.html

    Mother left toddler home alone all day with just a plate of crisps and bottle of juice
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2200961/Mother-left-toddler-home-day-just-plate-crisps-bottle-juice.html

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  8. ” I wish really I was a weekend dad,”

    Sums it up really.

    I know one dad. As fine and mild a character as you could meet. He has two hours in contact centre hell while his legal aid opposition delay due to the poor quality of a CAFCASS report. Three months until he may get more time and then of course perhaps the graduated increase to time outside the contact centre and heaven forbid parenting time unsupervised.

    Its the mad hatters tea party. The saddest thing is that the emotional well being of our children is cast aside at the altar of adult expediency? unless you have a heart of wood to view it brings only tears and wounds that may heal but are always there. like a small stone in your pocket. sometimes you feel you have lost it but at certain times when you least expect it, you feel its stony certainty like an old friend. one thing you know for sure is that it will never go away.

    your concern is often less for you but what it might feel for your children? That of course is your darkest moment.

    the statistics are interesting and we can argue no doubt until the minutiae consume us. they are skewed to suit a certain agenda. that agenda is not one that is best for our children. There is a certainty about such things.

    I suppose the 800 and the 29 hold their own sad stories. Few will be interested in the voices of the children who lost their future, their innocence betrayed. That they shared this world with us, their beauty and that that was lost?

    perhaps the NSPCC, Womens Aid etc might lay down their guns?

    I doubt it.

    It would mean the true conception of a position that was led less by political expediency and more by the needs of those we bring into this world. When their agenda is driven by the former these same skewed values feed on individual parenting (have a look at the gingerbread forum?) and they perpetuate themselves, then only darkness beckons. perhaps?

    your posts as always offer that eternal cliché. A ray of hope. If my sons have to endure the same as me when they are adults i will see it as a failure. One thing they will inherit and here certainty lends a hand, is the knowledge that there were good people who tried to make it otherwise. if we could whisper to them then we could tell them?

    “we only want the earth”.

    venceramos.

    .

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    1. Dear El Dermo, I meant to write to you last month and ask you to write a piece for my blog on surviving and hoping through the experience you and many fathers share, would you do that this month? You have a way of using words that I think brings hope to others. Message me or email at clinic@separatedfamilies.org.uk very best K

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  9. This has been a very interesting dialogue between Karen and correspondents. I believe it is characterised by a justified curiosity about the issue and commitment to genuine testing of the evidence. I am frequently distressed that so many pieces of ‘research’ are published under the name of respected academic institutions but are entirely unacademic in their content because they seek to prove their gender-based propositions than test them.

    I am about to look up the two publications referred to – the source of the 29 and the 800 – but can anyone advise whether the period covered by the 29 has been re-examined for child fatalities at the hands of non resident mothers either court ordered or by agreement?

    Thanks.

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  10. Hi vox populi, I haven’t seen any research around non resident mothers, I will have a look though and post if I find it.

    My key focus is not really the research being compared but the fact that services will rely on selective research to inform their safeguarding procedures, something which puts children at risk of more harm if one were to follow the theoretical reasons for using such research through to conclusion. In our own safeguarding procedures at CSF we use as much research from as many different sources to inform our thinking and our understanding and we routinely ensure that we take samples from our case work to inform our approach to building strong safeguarding procedures.

    In my experience, much of what is put out as independent research is anything but in this field. Take Joan Hunt and Mavis Mclean who regularly write about family separation, both do so under the umbrella of Gingerbread with whom they share funding and develop research programmes. How can any research coming out of that be considered to give an independent view? Similarly, when researching issues, both of these researchers will go to members of single parent charities and ask them about their experiences. As many single parents are members of Gingerbread because Gingerbread reflects back to them what they have experienced – being left to cope alone with kids – the answers to research questions uphold the experience of single parenthood which is represented by Gingerbread. I would have no problem with that, it is when Gingerbread and researchers seek to tell us that this is the whole story about family separation and when they seek to have legislation built upon this selective and niche group within the overall separated family cohort that I become vexed.

    Tackling this has been our task over the past decade or more so that parents who need help can get it but the opposition to the idea that family separation is about so much more than abandoned single parents and runaway dads has been one heck of an uphill struggle and the fight is still going on.

    Will post research if I can find it.

    Very best

    K

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  11. Research and figures can be made to fit many scenarios. The day to day experience in dealing with alienated families and their outcomes, whether good or not so good, should be the only statistics that should be considered as accurate.

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  12. Karen – your words and this debate are music to my ears. My partner was accused of DV by his ex, has had to endure the pain of the courts, orders and restricted contact, not to mention being labelled as an abuser. The advice he receives “don’t get angry, do as your told, demonstrate you want to change and that you are a model parent.” He was a “model parent” and is still is – but the authorities who are there to decide what’s “best for the children” have made their mind up and that’s one big brick wall to try and break through. It’s heartbreaking, truly heartbreaking, not only about the distress that his ex us causing us all, but more importantly the long-term damage that will be caused to their young son. And who will get the blame? I don’t think I need to answer that!

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  13. Karen, A question which is related to safeguarding of children. One of the common ways of denying or making it difficult for a father to have a relathioship with his children after divorce is for mum to allege mental health problems. The argument seems to be that if dad has depression/ feels anxiety (common in a divorce/separation situation) then he is not a safe parent. This often leads to intrusive disclosures of dad’s health records.

    Yet I have just had a brief look at charities helping young carers (i.e. children who look after their parents to a greater or lesser extent). It is clear that many of these children live in lone parent families and mental health problems is a factor in a very big number of cases. Yet here the onus is on preserving the relationship between the parent and child and offer practical help and other support. Again to me it seems to be that the bar is set differently for what we accept as a safe (or more broadly good enough parenting) depending on the situation and again the separated dad has to reach a higher standdard than others. Do you have any experience of or comment to this?

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  14. true Kat

    if children were denied contact with a parent because of mental health problems then there would be a lot of parentless children about? i am surprised that the courts have got away with this for so long?

    Also surprised that the general concept of risk and mental health are accepted carte blanche? most parents who separate, myself included, will develop symptoms of depression and anxiety more so if they are dragged through the court circus and denied reasonable access to their children.

    the courts reinforce the stigma associated with of mental health disorders and reinforce a skewed concept of risk. That said the courts seem stuck in a 1950s time warp anyway so perhaps it comes as no surprise that it is a frequent weapon in the contact blocking armoury? It would be interesting to see what charities like MIND make of it all?

    http://www.5boroughspartnership.nhs.uk/stamp-out-stigma/

    http://www.mind.org.uk/

    and why aren’t groups like FNF highlighting such discriminatory practice?

    Its enough to make a man choke on his Cohiba?

    venceramos!

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  15. The snow globe. A story written by Paul Manning.

    I remember being really small, to small to see over the edge of a table. There was this glass snow globe and I remember who lived inside the globe, two snowmen, the small one was me and the other was my father, and we were holding hands. We had red scarves around our necks and we were smiling as the pretend snow fell on our heads inside. My father told me this story whenever he allowed me to hold the snow globe. I used to shake it until a swirl of snow would appear, and I would watch as it settled again, it always made me smile to see me and my dad in the globe together. Since the first day I saw it dad had always said it was us inside, and at that age I believed in magic and happy fairy tales and so I believed what he said to me. As long as we had that globe, he said, then we would always be together. As I grew a little older I came to love my father more and more, but somehow I felt that things were not the same now, because he and mum were not getting along and he was forced to move out and I only saw him on weekends, this made me sad.

    At school today the other boys poked fun at me and said that I didn’t have a father, their dads sometimes picked them up to take them home in their cars, but now mine didn’t anymore. I thought of my dad as I walked home alone and wondered about the snow globe, that he had given me before he left and his promise to me about it. As time passed dad wasn’t allowed to come and see me anymore and he disappeared at the weekends too. I am confused now and mom doesn’t tell me anything about dad, and yet I still love him very much.

    It was late and time for bed and tomorrow was another day. But, before I switched off the light I took hold of the snow globe, that was always at my bedside. I looked at dad and me inside holding hands as snowmen. I gave it a shake and the snow flurried up inside and I began to cry. I held it close to my eyes, so I could see all the beautiful details, and then something magical happened, my dad, the snowman, with his broad grin, seemed to wink at me reassuringly, I’m sure he did? I woke early in the morning and as I looked out of my window I could see that outside it was all white with snow all around. I took hold of the snow globe, as I always did first thing, but now, strangeley, just one snowman was inside without his smile, he was all alone.

    I am all grown up now, and to this day I keep my mysterious snow globe with me, hoping that when I shake it that my father will come back to me and reappear inside. The two of us together again… Just as it was before inside the snow globe.

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  16. Given the extent to which charities and groups such as the NSPCC have intentionally misled, not to say downright lied to the public (and on a regular basis it seems), why have they not been shut down for their misdemeanors?

    Who is protecting these groups? (Also, it’s interesting that we need to come to Karen’s blogs for the facts, since the media will not touch them).

    Like

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