These are the ten reforms advocated by the Times newspaper and who could seriously disagree?
WE believe that wholesale reforms are needed, which can be summed up in ten points:
1. Open family courts to the press in all but exceptional circumstances (as recommended by the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee).
2. Let any parent or carer accused of abuse call any witnesses they need in their defence. At the moment, they are routinely refused permission to do so.
3. Give automatic permission for parents who are refused legal aid to get a lay adviser to help them present their case. This is routinely refused.
4. Remove the restrictions that prevent families from talking about their case (as recommended by the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee).
5. Review the definition of “emotional abuse” across local authorities, to make sure that it cannot become a catch-all for overzealous officials.
6. Provide an automatic right for parents to receive copies of case conference notes and all evidence used against them in court, just as they would in a criminal trial.
7. Create an independent body to oversee the actions of social services, with proper sanctions. If that body is to be the General Social Care Council, make it easier for parents to go directly to that body rather than having to face delays from the local authority.
8. Let children in care waive their right to privacy if they wish to speak out. For gagging children is surely not consistent with promoting their welfare.
9. Restructure CAFCASS, the Family Court Advisory Service, from being an organisation that reports on the parents to the courts to one that actively promotes the parenting needs of children. The primary focus should cease to be assisting the court process. It should be diverting parents away from contested hearings into the making of parenting plans.
10. Review the recent legal aid cut-backs that are deterring lawyers from taking on these complex family cases. It is quite wrong that desperate parents are unable to find a lawyer to help them in their time of need.