By Vanessa Lloyd Platt
This week the Government announced that they are setting up an urgent inquiry in the wake of the tragic killing of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. The joint targeted area inspection will be led by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary of Fire & Rescue Services and HM Inspectorate of Probation. Its focus is to consider where improvements are needed including how agencies can work together to share information.
As a divorce lawyer of forty years’ experience let me save the cost and time of an enquiry before we witness yet a further tragedy.
For the best part of my career dealing with divorce and relationship breakdown, children’s issues ie their safety and welfare, are often at the forefront of my work. Yet week after week, year after year, Cafcass, the Social Services and the Police let families down in their thousands.
I am not suggesting that every social worker, Cafcass officer or police officer is not passionate about their job. Regrettably they are so often untrained to the extent that they do not know how to safeguard the very children they are sworn to protect.
So, lets get back to basics, put simply, the training of most of those on the frontline of such work is wholly inadequate so they cannot spot the nuances and issues involved.
I have campaigned with my firm for years to improve the training of what in so many cases are idealistic, politically motivated and pre-conceived ideas regarding the people they see.
In so many cases, male clients have raised concerns about seeing their children and have been met by pre-conditioned social workers or Cafcass officers who simply accept everything said at face value ie what they have been told by the mother must be true. They seem to believe without question all that they have been told quite often by an intractable mother determined to sever her ex-partner out of the life of their child. I have been involved in cases where unless evidence is served up with bells and whistles to a social worker whether it is in relation to an abused wife or husband or child, they will seem incapable of examining the two sides of any story.
However, the greatest concern that I have, as do my fellow practitioners is about the absolute lack of insight or understanding of narcissistic personalities who dominate children’s proceedings. This is where wives, husbands or partners have expressed welfare issues such as those experienced by little Arthur, only to have them swatted away by inexperienced and naïve social workers.
The definition of domestic abuse in 2015 was extended to include coercive and controlling behaviour. Put this to your average Cafcass officer, in many cases they will wrongly accuse the victim of embellishing or inventing the allegation. Basic training given to social workers, Cafcass officers and police officers on how to spot a narcissistic environment would flush out the perpetrator and the victim so much faster. The problem is that politically correct and woke approaches to this devastating area of child protection, has hidden the real crimes and the real victims.
What are the signs that the social workers, police officers and Cafcass officers are so ready to ignore? Coercive behaviour is an act or pattern of acts, assaults, threats, humiliation, intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten the victim. Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate or dependent on the other by isolating them from sources of support etc.
Obvious signs are isolating someone or a child from friends and family, depriving them of basic needs, in the case of a spouse or partner, monitoring their time or spying on them online or controlling where they can go or who they can see or whether they can sleep. Depriving them of support services, repeatedly putting them down, telling them they are useless, ugly and hopeless, as we saw in little Arthur’s case. Further, humiliating, dehumanising or degrading them, financially controlling them or depriving them of their basic needs. In many cases there are threats of harm to the other person or to their children.
All of these in hindsight were present in the case of little Arthur, so why did social services and the police ignore such obvious signs?
It is quite clear that until we sweep away these preconceived views that the social workers, Cafcass officers and police have, of what an abused husband/wife, partner or child looks like, more injustice and horrific abuse will be allowed to continue.
Experts in narcissistic and controlling behaviour must lead the way in educating our woefully inadequate social services or police domestic units now.
The media has identified the upward spiral in domestic abuse during lockdown, yet where are the social workers to clearly identify these? Where are the trained police officers to arrest the correct party? They, like our social lives have disappeared into the ether.
Whereas Judges have more experience to spot the patterns, as do experienced divorce and matrimonial practitioners, cases are not coming before the Courts fast enough. Reports take an age from social workers or Cafcass officers and when they do arrive their research is often so inadequate yet they are the ones who the Judges rely upon in directing them to make decisions over children’s welfare, contact or living arrangements. If the social workers etc cannot spot the issues, what hope for families in this position.
We don’t need more enquiries, what we need is to throw badly needed funds into this area with proper and unequivocally non-politicised training for all.
It isn’t so much about the interplay between the various services that are the issue but the proper evaluation of child risk that is at the forefront of these cases.
No welfare officer should be fobbed off in the light of huge welfare concerns. They should not fail to look for physical evidence if they have already been informed of the same. Schools and doctors must be liaising with families and social services in a more supportive role adopting a less combative approach.
This scenario is not rocket science, it is an understanding and evaluation of human behaviour to uncover inappropriate conduct which is dangerous to the welfare of a child.
It is now time for us all to rise up with one voice. Our children must be better protected and money and training must be provided as a priority, so none of us have to bear watching a child declare “no one will feed me”, “no one will love me” ever again.