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Poppi Worthington judgement - the balancing act of our family courts

(12 Posts)
thefamilyvonstrop Wed 20-Jan-16 08:52:19

At the heart of this news story is obviously the death of a very young child, and that is horrendous.
However, I wanted to ask for thoughts on another issue it raised for me - the balancing act that the family courts versus criminal courts invariably raises. In this instance, all physical evidence has been lost or destroyed meaning a criminal "beyond reasonable doubt" verdict as highly unachievable. The family court however, found that on their required level of proof that it was more likely than not that the father committed a heinous crime and was responsible for his daughters death.
The threads, News sites etc are obviously filled with people discussing this and they are pretty unanimously incensed at what's happened. I doubt anyone would advocate that the father regains parental rights over the remaining children. However that's an argument we frequently face when there is no actual child/death at its centre. The anti "forced adoption" position is that no parent should lose their child unless found guilty in a criminal court. They also frequently advocate removing the difference in burdens of proof and making the family court either obsolete or to meet the standards of "beyond reasonable doubt". In this instance, under those positions, the father would continue to parent the children until a conviction proved otherwise. Only a few months ago, in the recent case of the adoption potential miscarriage of justice, posters here on mn lined up to denounce that society could and did remove and adopt a child, without any crime being proven in a criminal court of law. The majority feeling was that the child should be in care until a criminal case concluded then the family court should sit and make their decision. Clearly, applied to this case, that would again result in the children being returned to the father.
Will we ever be able to have reasonable, responsible public debate about our child protection system when public opinion can swing so wildly based on individual cases? Can we ever remove the emotions out of dive hugely upsetting cases at both ends of the spectrum? How do we agree on a system when the very nature of these things is fallibility and the opportunity for mistakes to happen?
Sorry, depressing one to start the day!

mybloodykitchen Wed 20-Jan-16 17:34:56

I've been mulling this over today. Not sure there is anything adequate to be said about that little girl.

I don't think anyone who knows anything about Child protection or indeed anyone with half an ounce of empathy thinks that a conviction is the standard of proof we should hold in family law. I think people do like to make ill thought out pronouncements in the wake of high profile court cases though.

And also there is truth in something that was alluded to in a recent thread about the way that the MN jury sometimes finds itself allied with the parent (mother?) against the best interests of the child.

Poor poor poor little baby though. And the other children only removed from the house much much later.

thefamilyvonstrop Wed 20-Jan-16 19:07:11

I think on the previous thread, it was Kew and maryz who said "extreme cases make bad laws" and it does highlight that here - the knock on effect of the overwhelming opinion previously (no adoption without criminal conviction), if made into a law, would be this father still holding parental rights.
Sadly, it's the position of people like Ian Joseph and his good friend, John hemming too. And both get lots of airtime about the issue.

Devora Wed 20-Jan-16 20:14:50

I read this today and thought the same as you, familyvonstrop. I hope those who advocate that a criminal conviction should be secured before taking children into care are reflecting on this today.

tldr Wed 20-Jan-16 22:50:25

Though of course most who pontificate on this or 'forced adoption' stories on MN or The Mail's comments pages or wherever will reach different conclusions for different cases and fail to notice that a 'system' must cater for all.

Devora Wed 20-Jan-16 23:46:08

Very true, tidr.

thefamilyvonstrop Thu 21-Jan-16 08:04:17

Tidr, I agree that's exactly one of the issues. The emotive nature of theses cases leads to a "something must be done" group attitude and invariably, the wider considerations get ditched. Until the next case with totally contradictory issues.
One of the other issues is that it's not really feasible to have this conversation outside the adoption threads space so the issues never really get aired constructively.

tokoloshe2015 Thu 21-Jan-16 08:11:04

Unfortunately all too few people seem to be able to think rationally - they can hold the beliefs 'no-one should lose their child unless convicted in a court of law' and 'social workers/the system should prevent children being abused or killed' at the same time, without noticing any contradiction.

Criminal law works backwards, and is supposed to punish those who have committed harm.

The Family courts have to try to predict forwards, and prevent (further) harm.

gingerdad Thu 21-Jan-16 08:18:19

petition.parliament.uk/petitions/119101

ElenaSummer Thu 21-Jan-16 11:53:21

Signed the petition - less than 3k signatures so far hoping it gets more coverage.

incywincybitofa Thu 21-Jan-16 13:28:15

Poppi was horribly let down, in life and in death.
The trouble is in some ways Poppi is an anomaly, there were a series of events that do not occur in the majority of cases of this nature, so it is hard to see how a change in the law will change things, holding people to account for what they did and did not do is what I think will bring about the biggest changes.When these cases hit the media, it is normally because of what someone didn't do rather than what they couldn't do

It isn't just a matter of what the foot soldiers did and didn't do, or what her mother and any people who saw Poppi before her death did or didn't do, but also the people who manage and oversee the professionals involved, the people to whom they are accountable, who are those higher level people answering to, for facilitating this to happen. I genuinely believe that laying the blame at one person wont change things, ensuring that person is managed and accountable is crucial, and if they aren't managed the manager must have a share of the culpability when things go wrong.
Ed Balls tried to make Sharon Shoesmith accountable and it back fired, I am not a fan of his, but I genuinely admire him for trying.

A 1 year girl died in horrible horrific circumstances, and no one got off their backsides to find out what actually happened. No one checked what they were doing.

I believe John Hemming and Ian Joseph are wrong, in the same way that other people are wrong, I don't have to argue with him or win a point, his arguments are shaky and hold the wishes of the parents, over the best interests of the child, they spout rhetoric, we raise as our children the facts.
Anyone of us, who has had placement orders challenged at the 11th hour, who have sat through proceedings that take place because those birth parents still have an awful lot of access to power that their children never had, right up until the moment their PR is transferred knows that kids don't go to school one day with a bruise and get adopted six months later, there is a long laborious process to make sure it happens with the best interests of the child at heart and the rights of the birth family protected, I believe on the whole it works, but I do think if we are going to have this process we MUST ensure those who help deliver the process are doing their job and that everyone in the system is accountable for what they do and don't do.

thefamilyvonstrop Thu 21-Jan-16 19:28:20

Incy, I agree and sadly in these types of cases, invariably it's more than one agency or organisation that has failed.
My worry is the noise and public opinion tends to gather round these high profile, exceptional (I hope) cases and people start demanding changes to the law. Those changes invariably would be hugely damaging if not assessed across the wider experiences of child protection.

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