I am reading today, a report from research undertaken by CAFCASS and Women’s Aid on the nature of allegations of domestic violence in the UK Family Courts. This report on a study of 216 cases, is problematic in so many ways, that it is difficult to know where to begin in determining the damaging impact upon families this may have.
What is most concerning is that Women’s Aid are known to have a political agenda, whilst CAFCASS are supposed to be delivering a state funded and therefore non political service. This therefore, is an uneasy partnership in terms of research because CAFCASS have given access to its records to an agency which is known to interpret research through a politically driven lens. This leads one to wonder how much this report can be taken seriously given that it is so skewed by the agenda of women’s rights. When the research element of the partnership is undertaken by a body which upholds the principle of women’s rights first and children’s as being indivisible from those rights, it is difficult to see how this report does anything other than drive biased outcomes in understanding of family violence and its impact upon children.
CAFCASS are charged with upholding the rights and needs of children, not women. Their responsibility is to determine the safety and wellbeing of children outside of any political agenda. From their website their mission is set out as follows –
CAFCASS represents children in family court cases. We make sure that children’s voices are heard and decisions are taken in their best interests. We are independent of the courts, social services, education and health authorities and all similar agencies.
Women’s Aid have a clearly set out mission as follows –
until women and children are safe
We are a grassroots federation working together to provide life-saving services and
build a future where domestic violence is not tolerated.
and according to Women’s Aid domestic violence is
Women’s Aid defines domestic abuse  as an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer. It is very common. In the vast majority of cases it is experienced by women and is perpetrated by men.
All of which serves to tell us that Women’s Aid ignore the research on domestic violence which shows that men are harmed by women in the home and that children are also harmed by their mothers as well as by their fathers. It also serves to tell us that the lens through which this agency looks at the 216 cases provided by CAFCASS is not going to give us an unbiased outcome.
The truth about Domestic Violence is to be found in the ONS BCS Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences 2015/16 http://bit.ly/2kqolyb
For every three victims of domestic abuse, two will be female, one will be male. These figures are the equivalent of 2.2 million male victims and 4.3 million female victims. One in four women and one in six men suffer from domestic abuse in their lifetime.
The truth is that women are violent in the home too and children are victim to both male and female perpetrators. The picture painted by Women’s Aid, of violent fathers and vulnerable women and children, is both skewed and dangerous to the wellbeing of children because it causes the belief that only fathers are harmful and children should always be seen to be safe with their mothers. This is untrue as so many tragic deaths of children have demonstrated. Baby P, Daniel Pelka and others, all died because their mothers were instrumental in their deaths and no-one saw fit to challenge their control.
The Women’s Aid agenda, which is to empower women and see children’s needs as indivisible from those of their mothers, is not one which an agency such as CAFCASS should be supporting in my view. It does not promote child safety, it promotes instead beliefs about separated families which are not conversant with reality. Beliefs such as this
‘We believe women and children’s experience of abuse’
‘We give priority to women and children’s safety’
Which automatically, in the paradigm of women’s rights means that all women and children tell the truth and the majority of perpetrators are male which therefore means this –
There should be no assumption of child contact for perpetrators of domestic abuse” – Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid Wednesday 26th July 2017 – on the findings from Women’s Aid’s joint research with Cafcass on domestic abuse in the family courts and its impact on children.
The outcomes when such an agency gets involved in family separation as it often does, are not difficult to predict.
‘We believe you’, leads to fathers being accused of domestic violence simply for being men.
‘We believe you’, leads to children whose mothers are inveigling them into their own beliefs about an ex partner after family separation, from being prevented from having a relationship with a good enough dad.
We believe you leads to the oft quoted and re-stated message in the main body of the summary of findings from this research which reads as follows –
The main finding was that domestic abuse was alleged in almost two-thirds of cases (62%), with fathers more likely to be the subject of allegations than mothers. The sample cases provided a complex picture of domestic abuse within family proceedings and it was uncommon for domestic abuse allegations to feature in isolation from other safeguarding concerns. This demonstrates the substantial challenge for courts in determining which cases can safely proceed to contact with the child. (my emphasis).
The conclusion that contact with a father is not safe has underpinned every initiative of Women’s Aid in the Family Court arena for decades. Repeated reports, direct blame at fathers and analyse material using the feminist lens. In this paradigm you cannot fail but show the outcomes one sees in this report, because the methodology and the analysis drives the outcomes Women’s Aid are seeking.
For example, here is the definition used in this report of coercive control.
Coercive control encompassed both controlling and coercive behaviour. Practice Direction 12J defines ‘Controlling behaviour’ as an act or pattern of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour. ‘Coercive behaviour’ is defined as an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten the victim.
This definition of coercive control is exactly that which could be applied to children who are being alienated from a loved parent, a power dynamic which is common in post separation relationships. In this report however, it is used as if coercive control can only ever be used by men against women and the rest of the analysis flows from that assumption.
This is not good enough in the lives of children and CAFCASS have made a big mistake in my view in both the carrying out of this research without balancing it with the experience of fathers and without taking into consideration the political motivations of Women’s Aid. I am not surprised by this however and not particularly outraged either, I have long been aware that the arena we work in is dominated not by the needs and wellbeing of children but by the rights of women.
Sadly I think CAFCASS haven’t done their image any favours whatsoever with this research and they haven’t taught us anything either.
What they have done however is damaged the trust that many already feel is impossible to place in them. Trust which is sorely needed to avoid CAFCASS staff becoming embroiled in the already difficult dynamics which surround family separation in the UK.
In the midst of drives for change for families affected by family separation, it seems that for CAFCASS, business remains, very much as usual.