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BASW says breaches of contact orders should be a criminal offence

BASW has responded to the government’s decision to reject the stance of the Family Justice Review and press ahead with legislation that would enshrine the rights of both parents to have access to their children by suggesting that ministers are “grandstanding” rather than dealing with the real issues.

Responding to news that the government will not implement the full findings of the FJR, led by former senior civil servant David Norgrove, Hilton Dawson, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said:

“This is a woolly and weak response from the government, more interested in political grandstanding than in improving family relationships.

“What was the point of having an independent review from David Norgrove if the government are simply going to dismiss its findings, that the child’s best interests should be at the heart of any court proceedings. Legislation already exists to safeguard access rights; it needs to be correctly applied.

Despite the FJR, which applies to England and Wales, rejecting the need for any legal statement of rights – the review said such a move risked “confusion, misinterpretation and false expectations” – the proposed new rules will make clear that contact with both mothers and fathers is vital, the Department for Education said.

Mr Dawson continued: “Like their recent comments on adoption and ‘troubleshooters’ for problem families, this is yet another example of government reinventing an existing wheel.

“Ministers appear to have rejected calls for fathers to have automatic and equal access, so we’re left wondering what exactly it is that they are pledging.

“Of course it is distressing for any parent to be denied access to their children, but we believe that the best interests of the child, and not the parents, as enshrined in the Children Act 1989, should take precedence.

“What about the children whose parents are granted access to them but who are denied having two parents because one of them doesn’t take their responsibilities seriously? Any changes to legislation should focus on the real issues, like considering making breaches of such contact orders a criminal offence.

“We hear of cases where a parent applies for contact, spends a lot of public money on their case, and then after obtaining a court order simply vanishes, leaving a distraught child in their wake.

“Where it is the case that parents do not have contact with their children when there is absolutely no reason for the child, who has right to family life, not to see the absent parent, then this should be addressed properly by the courts system. This should be supported by social workers, who are given the resources to develop a relationship with a family.

“We hear from members who work in the courts say that they often don’t get the chance to become involved with a child when a family is going through an acrimonious split.

“The Government is also pledging to commit £10m to mediation, but whether or not this is new money or merely diverted from other parts of the system, is hard to say. Mediation itself is an interesting issue as in spite of its merits it’s not the panacea to disputes and not necessarily child centred as mediators work with the adults and may not even be skilled in carrying out any direct work with children.”