Nineteen Child Homicides - Women's Aid

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safe child contact saves livesNineteen ChildHomicidesWhat must change so children are putfirst in child contact arrangements andthe family courts

Women’s Aid is the national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children.Over the past 40 years, Women’s Aid has been at the forefront of shaping and coordinatingresponses to domestic violence and abuse through practice. We empower survivors by keeping theirvoices at the heart of our work, working with and for women and children by listening to them andresponding to their needs. We are a federation of over 220 organisations who provide more than300 local lifesaving services to women and children across the country.Please cite this report as:“Women’s Aid, Nineteen Child Homicides (Bristol: Women’s Aid, 2016)”For more information about the work of Women’s Aid, please go to Women’s Aid 2016

ForewordThis report should not need to be written, that much is disturbingly obvious. First,while it is impossible to prevent every killing of a child, when the risks are known noother consideration should be more important – yet there is evidence here that otherconsiderations were rated more highly. Second, starkly similar findings more than 10years ago led to the publication of guidance which, if followed, would have made thesekillings less likely. Yet here we are.Nothing in this report should be used to blame individual professionals for the deathsof these children. Only those who killed them deserve blame. But we have a dutyto the children and their families to identify what more should have been done toprotect them – particularly when guidance on how to do so has been available since2008, following the publication of Women’s Aid’s previous report on child homicidesand child contact arrangements, a decade ago.This report shows, that whatever the stated requirements on the family courts, thereis a deeply embedded culture that pushes for contact with fathers at all costs. This issupported by the testimony to Women’s Aid of mothers who have survived domesticabuse and the specialist services that support them. The knowledge that severeabuse has taken place does not stop this relentless push to maintain as close a bondbetween father and child as possible. A father who has abused his child(ren)’s motheris routinely seen as a “good enough” dad. The impact of abuse on the whole family,particularly persistent, coercive and controlling behaviour which continues after therelationship has officially ended, is routinely misunderstood.The evidence here is a stark reminder of the dangers of power without accountability:perpetrators of abuse who have accumulated all power over their partners’ andchildren’s lives, and courts which persist in dangerous misunderstandings andassumptions, effectively colluding in the terrorising – and in some cases serious harm –of women and children.We call on Government and the senior judiciary to ensure that no more children dieas a result of a simple failure to follow the guidance that exists. We call on judges totake responsibility for their own understanding of coercive control, how it works, andhow it affects both women and children. And then, finally, to act on that understanding.In another ten years, we must not yet again be repeating the same investigation, withthe same findings. In fact, of course, ten years is far too long.We must have change now.Polly Neate, Women’s Aid Chief Executive3

ContentsExecutive summary7Introduction9Summary of the 12 cases15Key findings17Discussion of key themes21Recommendations35Conclusion3739Endnotes

Executive summaryNineteen Child Homicides tells the stories of 19 children who were killed by a parentwho was also a perpetrator of domestic abuse, in circumstances relating to childcontact (formally or informally arranged). Our focus is on children but, in some ofthese cases, women were also killed.The blame for these killings lies with the perpetrators. However, we have concludedthat these cases demonstrate failings that need to be addressed to ensure that thefamily courts, Child and Family Courts Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass),children’s social work and other bodies actively minimise the possibility of furtherharm to women and children.This study reviewed relevant serious case reviews for England and Wales, publishedbetween January 2005 and August 2015 (inclusive). It uncovered details of 19children in 12 families who were killed by perpetrators of domestic abuse. All ofthe perpetrators were men and fathers to the children that they killed. All of theperpetrators had access to their children through formal or informal child contactarrangements.Twelve families: Nineteen children killed. Two women killed. Two children seriously harmed through attempted murder. Seven men dead by suicide after committing child homicide.Key themesDespite some clear progress on the policy framework around child contact anddomestic abuse since the 2004 publication of Women’s Aid report Twenty-nineChild Homicides, we believe that there are still improvements to be made. Some keythemes emerged from our analysis of the serious case review reports identified forthis study.These key themes are:1. The importance of recognising domestic abuse as harm to children.2. Professional understanding of the power and control dynamics of domesticabuse.3. Understanding parental separation as a risk factor.7

Nineteen Child Homicides4. The way in which statutory agencies interact with families where there isdomestic abuse.5. Supporting non-abusive parents and challenging abusive parents.RecommendationsThis report makes some clear recommendations for each of these key themes, butthere are two overarching recommendations that the Government, family courtjudiciary and Cafcass must urgently act upon: Further avoidable child deaths must be prevented by putting children firstin the family courts - as the legal framework and guidance states. There is an urgent need for independent, national oversight into theimplementation of Practice Direction 12J - Child Arrangement and ContactOrders: Domestic Violence and Harm.Women’s Aid believes that to prevent further avoidable child deaths, lessons mustbe learned from the deaths of these 19 children. This report highlights key failingsthat need to be addressed in child contact cases involving domestic abuse.Family courts, Cafcass, children’s social work and other agencies must work togetherto ensure that children and mothers are not at risk of further harm after theparents have separated.8

IntroductionIn 2004, Women’s Aid published the Twenty-nine Child Homicides report.This report detailed the findings from a review of public documents relating to 13families where 29 children had been killed by abusive fathers. The killings happenedbetween 1994 and 2004, and were committed by perpetrators of domestic abusein circumstances relating to child contact (informally or formally arranged). Itsfindings prompted a review of judicial practice and the issuing of a new PracticeDirection 12J on prioritising the safety of children and non-abusive parents in childcontact decisions in the family courts.Despite some positive advancements, in terms of the policy framework in relationto domestic abuse and contact applications, Women’s Aid frequently hears fromsurvivors and domestic abuse services about unsafe child contact arrangements.Both groups urged us to launch a campaign to ensure that children are put atthe heart of the family courts. This report therefore forms part of a wider publiccampaign Women’s Aid is conducting to improve the safety of child contact in caseswhere there is, or has been, domestic abuse.As part of our Child First: safe child contact saves lives campaign, Women’sAid has conducted an investigation into cases where children had been killed by aperpetrator of domestic abuse during, or as a result of, unsafe child contact sincethe publication of our 2004 report. Our review covers the period January 2005to August 2015 (inclusive) in England and Wales. We found serious case reviewreports about 19 children, in 12 families, who had been killed in circumstancesrelating to child contact by a father who was a perpetrator of domestic abuse.Our report examines the circumstances in which these abusive fathers were givenaccess to their children (either through informal arrangements or by arrangementsmade in court). We investigate what lessons can be learned for government policyand for agencies working with families where one parent is abusive, including thefamily court judiciary and Cafcass.The key recommendations from this report: Further avoidable child deaths must be prevented by puttingchildren first in the family courts - as the legal framework andguidance states. There is an urgent need for independent, national oversight intothe implementation of Practice Direction 12J - Child Arrangements andContact Order: Domestic Violence and Harm.We want to make it clear from the start that, although this report examines therole of statutory and voluntary agencies and lessons that can be learned in child9

Nineteen Child Homicidessafeguarding, the culpability for these child homicides lies squarely with the abusivefathers who killed their children.Women’s Aid recognises the importance of safe child contact, when it is proved tobe in the best interests of the child(ren) and where the arrangements for contactprioritise the child(ren)’s safety and wellbeing. In all cases of alleged domestic abusethere must be robust and effective assessment by experts of the implications for thechild’s and the non-abusive parent’s safety and wellbeing.Women’s Aid is concerned that the publication of this report should avoid causingfurther distress to the families involved in these cases. Therefore, we have removedany identifying data, such as serious case review report titles, publication and crimedates, the gender and ages of individual children, place names or people’s names(although the latter are usually already redacted in public serious case reviewreports). However, we are happy to make these data available to the Governmentfor their confidential use. We have attached a ‘Case Number’ to each seriouscase review to help structure our research and report-writing. These numbers arerandomly assigned and do not relate to the chronology of the reports.Progress since publication of Twenty-nine Child Homicides(2004)2004Women’s Aid’s 2004 report gave details of 29 children in 13 families whowere killed between 1994 and 2004 in England and Wales.2005Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Courts Administration report on Cafcassand the court service handling of domestic violence cases highlighted theproblems caused by the emphasis on the presumption of contact ratherthan the protection of the child.2006Lord Justice Walli presented a report to the President of the FamilyDivision in response to Twenty-nine Child Homicides. His report focusedon the five cases described in the report where the family courts wereinvolved1.2007The Family Justice Council published a report to the President ofthe Family Division which discussed both the Twenty-Nine ChildHomicides report and the response from Lord Justice Wall. This reportrecommended a ‘cultural change’ in judicial practice in terms of movingaway from a presumption of ‘contact is best’ to a culture of “contact that issafe and positive for the child is always the appropriate way forward.”2The Family Justice Council called for a Practice Direction to be issuedreflecting recent case law on best practice and clarifying the court’sapproach to contact where there are allegations of domestic abuse.10

Nineteen Child Homicides2008The President of the Family Division issued Practice Direction 12J ChildArrangements and Contact Order: Domestic Violence and Harm (first issuedin May 2008, later amended) which states that:“The family court presumes that the involvement of a parent in a child’s lifewill further the child’s welfare, so long as the parent can be involved in a waythat does not put the child or other parent at risk of suffering harm.” 32014Practice Direction 12J is substantially revised. It now contains a widerdefinition of domestic abuse that emphasises coercive control; it directscourts to consider a range of ways in which domestic abuse may beevidenced. It requires courts to ensure that, where domestic abuse hasoccurred, any child arrangements order protect the safety and wellbeing ofthe child and the parent with care and is in the best interests of the child.Despite the progress that has been made, there are still very clear barriers to womenand children survivors of domestic abuse accessing safe contact through the familycourts.The ‘pro-contact’ approach taken by the family justice system has seeminglyovertaken the need for any contact orders to put the child’s best interests first.4The paradox highlighted by survivors of domestic abuse that a parent can be seenas a violent perpetrator of domestic abuse and a good enough father plays outoften in the family courts and “neglects the safety needs of children and women, andthe impact on them of previous or continuing domestic violence”5. As the resultsof this study show, the presumption that contact is always beneficial for children,unless explicitly proven otherwise, is harmful and has contributed to the tragic casesdiscussed here.The cultural assumption in the family justice system that contact with both parentsis the most beneficial outcome for a child is perpetuated by a public conceptionof the family courts as being biased against fathers applying for contact. There isno evidence to suggest this is the case. Research shows that the majority of nonresident parents achieve the type of contact and the amount of contact theyseek. One study of 203 child contact orders found that there was only one orderprohibiting any contact, and only 3% of contact orders were for supervised visiting.6Two recent major changes to the family justice system compound the barriers oftenfaced by survivors of domestic abuse and the increasingly complex and arduousroutes to safe child contact.The first is the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO)which has severely curtailed eligibility for legal aid in private family law cases.Although legal aid is available for court proceedings where a party can producespecified evidence of domestic abuse (referred to as the Domestic ViolenceGateway), there are many cases in which the necessary evidence under theDomestic Violence Gateway is either unavailable or unobtainable7, so that victims of11

Nineteen Child Homicidesdomestic abuse disputing contact are forced to become Litigants in Persons (LIPs).As a consequence, survivors find themselves being cross-examined by theperpetrator of domestic abuse, or by the perpetrator’s barrister, and they may alsohave to cross-examine the perpetrator themselves. This leaves women in a veryvulnerable position where they may not be able to have access to a fair hearing.8Research by Rights of Women, Women’s Aid and Welsh Women’s Aid found that: 38% of women responding to a survey who had experienced or wereexperiencing domestic violence did not have the prescribed forms ofevidence to access family law legal aid. 26% of these went on to represent themselves at court.9The second change is the Children and Families Act 2014 which also introducedthree key changes in family law:1. Presumption of parental involvementThere is now a presumption enshrined in law that children should haveongoing involvement with both parents following separation so long as thisdoes not put the child at risk of suffering harm. This may have the effectof strengthening the courts’ emphasis on enabling contact and minimisingperceptions of risk.2. Child arrangement ordersContact and residence orders have now been replaced with child arrangementorders.3. Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAMs)The requirement to attend a MIAM before entering the family justice systemis now statutory except where domestic violence has been alleged in thelast 12 months. The introduction of MIAMs has meant that many women feelobliged to take part in mediation before a family court case, or instead ofgoing to court for a hearing. Although mediation could be dangerous wherea relationship has been abusive, research has demonstrated that family courtsmay nonetheless direct parties to attend mediation assessment prior tocommencing proceedings, with the result that cases involving domestic abusemay be mediated inappropriately.10 Exclusion from compulsory MIAMs due todomestic abuse has the same evidence criteria as legal aid, which means manywomen will be forced into mediation with their perpetrator unless they canproduce specific forms of evidence.11There has been much progress in the policy, practice and framework of childcontact in domestic abuse cases since the publication of Twenty-nine Child Homicidesin 2004. However, Women’s Aid has significant concerns about the experiences ofsurvivors of domestic abuse and their children in the family courts and throughchild contact with a perpetrator of domestic abuse. Survivors and their children12

Nineteen Child Homicidesfrequently report to Women’s Aid, and to organisations in our federation of services,that they feel re-victimised and traumatised through the family court and childcontact process. Increasingly, since the enshrinement of the presumption of parentalinvolvement in legislation, there are growing concerns amongst some practitionersand academics that the courts are prioritising contact with an abusive parent overthe safety of the child and non-abusive parent.12MethodologyIn this study Women’s Aid aimed to identify those cases where a child had beenkilled by a perpetrator of domestic abuse in circumstances relating to child contact(formally or informally arranged). In reviewing the relevant serious case reviews, weaimed to identify the key issues around enabling safe child contact. This includedexploring the courts’ and other statutory agencies’ roles in minimising the risk offurther harm to adult and child survivors of domestic abuse.Our study is an exploratory one involving the review of published serious case reviewreports. Serious case reviews are undertaken by Local Safeguarding Children Boardswhen abuse or neglect of a child is known or suspected, and either the child has diedor has been seriously harmed. We know that a significant proportion of serious casereviews involve domestic abuse: a study of 139 overview reports from serious casereviews found that about two-thirds (63%) of cases featured domestic abuse.13Data collection and analysisWe used the online search engine in the NSPCC National Case ReviewRepository14 to identify reports relevant to our research. Our review period wasJanuary 2005 until August 2015 (inclusive). This period relates to the dates whenthe reports were published, rather than the dates of the homicides. We used thefollowing search terms to find relevant reports: “Domestic Abuse” “Partner Violence” “Domestic Violence” “Family Violence” “CAFCASS”.We then read the synopses of the Case Reviews identified by this search, andidentified 29 cases that were possibly relevant to our study. We obtained the seriouscase review reports for these 29 results either from the NSPCC Library or byrequesting them from the relevant Children’s Safeguarding Boards. We also includedin our study one recent review that had not been identified in the initial onlinesearch, but we had been alerted to its publication by a news story. We then read all30 reports to identify which were relevant to our study. Our criteria for relevancewere that the serious case review related to a case from England or Wales in which: a child had been killed13

Nineteen Child Homicides the perpetrator was the child’s parent and had perpetrated domestic abuse against theother parent the parents were separated and child contact h

children first in the family courts - as the legal framework and guidance states. There is an urgent need for independent, national oversight into the implementation of Practice Direction 12J - Child Arrangements and Contact Order: Domestic Violence and Harm. 10 Nineteen Child Homicides safeguarding, the culpability for these child homicides lies squarely with the abusive fathers who .

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