Last week, Women’s Aid and CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) released their joint report Allegations of Domestic Abuse in Child Contact Cases. Anyone with any knowledge or history of involvement with either of these two organisations will instantly recognise this as a terrible decision.
For those who do not understand why this is a terrible decision, allow me to link to another report published by Women’s Aid, their Child First: 19 Child Homicides report which attempted to argue that any man who is even accused of domestic abuse is instantly a threat to the life of the child. The paper can be summated with the statement: if we say a man is an abuser, he wants to murder his children. It has since been thoroughly refuted by the 330 Child Homicides report.
Their most recent report is sinister for two invidious reasons:
- Their promulgation of the “men are abusers, women are abused” narrative, which they will try to use to influence Government.
- They have been supported by CAFCASS who, as they are state funded, are supposed to remain politically neutral.
Their most publicised finding is that 62% of applications to the family court about where a child should live or spend time feature allegations of domestic abuse. Katie Ghose, the newest Chief Executive (who has only been on the job for about two weeks), has used this statistic to argue that “there should be no assumption of child contact for perpetrators of domestic abuse” because, obviously, an allegation is evidence enough. She also remarks “in 44% of contact applications where domestic abuse was alleged, contact was ordered at the first hearing”, without either considering the validity of the allegation or addressing the idea that perhaps allegations are made by the parent-with-child to prevent contact with the non-resident parent.
Whilst this report may suggest there is a pandemic of a problem within the Family Courts given the deluge of allegations of domestic abuse, “[T]he purpose of the study was to look at the types of allegations present in family law court proceedings, including safeguarding concerns other than domestic abuse, and what happened within the proceedings. It did not seek to make findings on the allegations”.
You read that right.
They outright state they did not bother to investigate if these allegations were truthful or not. Heck, it’s not like anyone would ever want to maliciously present false allegations of domestic abuse against their ex-partner!?
Not only did they fail to investigate the validity of the allegations, they also allowed prevalence rates of abuse to be inflated through flimsy research practices. The survey considered three categories of domestic abuse – physical abuse, sexual abuse and coercive control. The categories are not mutually exclusive and data was collected from the following sources:
- Allegations made by a parent (majority of allegations, 48.9%)
- Local authority information
- Police information – this included records from the Police National Computer (convictions, cautions, reprimands, final warnings), and locally held police information (police call outs)
- Medical evidence (whilst included, no allegations were made using Medical Evidence)
- Exemption from a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM)
- Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programme (DVPP) referral (five allegations total)
- Finding of fact hearing ordered by the court (five allegations total)
- Domestic abuse related order (for example a non-molestation order)
Data were collected on each record of domestic abuse present in the case file. This was collected separately for all three categories of abuse (physical, sexual, and coercive control), against the source of the record (such as police or local authority information).
Let’s say a person makes an allegation such as sexual assault under threat of repercussion, this would satisfy all three initial categories. Let’s then hypothesise that the victim goes to their GP or a hospital, is then referred to a refuge and then the police are notified (who can themselves record it on multiple levels). Maybe the local authorities are informed as well. This single incident has now been reported numerous times and would thus count as multiple allegations according to the report, inflating the final number of allegations (in cases that featured allegations, the mean average was 3.3 allegations per case). Staggering.
This, however, does not impact their worrying finding that 62% of cases feature an allegation of domestic abuse (their finding of 62% is over ten times the size of the UK estimated domestic abuse prevalence rate of 6%). The fact that multiple allegations can be made per incident means the total number of allegations is inflated but, this does not explain why so many cases feature allegations. Either we are to believe that couples who require the family courts are also families who are at risk of (or are more likely to have a history of) domestic abuse or, the family courts elicit allegations of domestic abuse. I leave that dilemma to our audience.
They also fail to note why the gender imbalance in domestic abuse allegations does not match real life statistics. One in three victims of domestic abuse are men yet, the statistics found in the report do not match this. No explanation for this discrepancy is given.
Another issue with their methodology is the validity of the source material, which is pronounced when the report states “[T]he data is dependent upon the recording within the Cafcass case files only, which are not the same in content as the full bundle of papers available at the court hearing.” Therefore, the entirety of the data and subsequent results are predicated upon the interpretations of the CAFCASS officers who wrote the original 216 case files used in this report (rather than relying on official court files). Ergo, what could be recorded by the CAFCASS officer as an allegation of domestic abuse made by the mother/father, could be nothing more than the CAFCASS officer misinterpreting what the parent is actually saying. Not that they would ever do that, surely not!?
This leads me to the position where I cannot trust a single case file used in this report as they are open to the subjective interpretation of the CAFCASS officer. In fact, CAFCASS has been called out by parliament for their “lack of readiness”, “continued failure to get to get to grips with the fundamental weaknesses in its culture, management and performance”, has been declared “as an organisation, not fit for purpose” and “[L]ow compliance by staff with important requirements has been a persistent problem, and has undermined Cafcass’s efforts to improve performance”. I will trust this CAFCASS report just about as far as I can throw it (which would be not very far and would result in a horrible mess on the floor, what with it being 30 pages of ideologically-driven bile). I recommend our dear audience trawls through those two links I cite, they are certainly very eye-opening pertaining CAFCASS’s ability to perform (or, more correctly, lack of ability to perform).
Another worrying finding was that of cases where allegations did not feature; only 48% were given orders of unsupervised contact at the final hearing. The fact that this number is so low is shocking, why are so many fathers denied unsupervised contact with their children when there are no allegations being made? What possible motive could the courts find to keep a perfectly ordinary father out of the life of his child(ren)?
I now feel compelled to remark on the lack of consistency in the report, their agenda seems lost when we assess some of the case examples, such as this one: “The children disclosed to the local authority that the mother was physically abusive towards them, and older children did not want contact. The children received counselling during proceedings and there was scope for future mediation to support contact with the mother.” If we are to work on the basis that “there should be no assumption of child contact for perpetrators of domestic abuse”, why are they pushing for contact with the mother? Noq;onnm was the mother violent in a domestic environment, she was violent towards the children.
It is not just their flimsy methodology and questionable results that irk me but, the way they are weaponizing such skewed information to further imbalance the family courts. In the same blog post in which I found the Katie Ghose quote, Women’s Aid states that in far too many cases fathers who have perpetrated domestic abuse against their child’s mother are getting the benefit of the doubt when it comes to deciding who should have contact. They are pushing the narrative that as soon as a father is accused, he should be denied basic due process. An utterance of an allegation should be worth the weight of a banging gavel.
They also state in the report that “contact taking place before proceedings and consent may not always equate to an ‘agreement’ about contact and may instead be indicative of a context of coercion or fear.” That’s right, a mother would never choose to let her kids see their father; she is only doing so because she is being controlled by the father. This is unsurprising as these are the same people who say fathers are not allowed to cross-examine when in the courtroom because men use it to continue the abuse. It’s now been brought into legislation.
A spokeswoman from CAFCASS has responded to the criticisms levied against the report and, to curtly summate/paraphrase her “we hear your criticisms but we’ve spoken with men’s groups before so, shove off”. I’m sure CAFCASS has all our best interests at heart; it’s not like they’re hugely incomptent.