Presidents’ Conference

Monday 16th May, the President of the Family Court Division, Sir James Munby, held his annual conference where various members of the judiciary are updated on certain developments, including the anonymisation guidance produced by Dr Julia Brophy. Unfortunately Dr Brophy was unable to attend, but myself, and several members of NYAS attended on her behalf to provide an update on what has been happening.

Before starting our portion of the conference we thought it would be a good idea to get them in the right frame of mind, and starting to consider how they would feel if their personal details and secrets were published without their knowledge or approval. To do this we had them write down a little known fact from their childhood and put them into an envelope, we then collected them and pretended we were going to read it out loud. The interesting thing following our presentation was that one member approached us to ask what we were going to do with the envelopes as he wanted to keep his fact private, where as another member openly told the conference his little known fact during the question and answer sessions.

Once our introductions were done I had the pleasure of telling a room full of judges and magistrates what the law, and background to our work was. For a background to our presentation you should look back at my previous posts,[1][2][3][4][6][7][8] and head over to Amazon to pick up a copy of my dissertation.[9] We also discussed our various meetings with the President.[See previous links]

The main point of our presentation was to present the findings of “A review of anonymised judgments on Bailii: Children, privacy and ‘jigsaw identification’” and “Anonamymisation and avoidance of the identification of children & the treatment of explicit descriptions of the sexual abuse of children in judgements intended for the public arena” both of which I have written about in previous posts.

The President has both read and disseminated the draft guidance above, due to the importance of any decision he makes relating to this subject he is yet to publish his own guidance, although he is hoping to by the end of this calendar year.

I have not written this post to rehash what I have already said, I think it is important to address some of the questions which were presented at the conference and clear up some of the questions you may have as a reader of this blog or any of the research.

It is not my opinion that there should be a blanket ban on reporting in the Family Courts, or that judges should not be publishing their judgements to BAILII, although this is a current issue which was the subject of research by Dr Julie Doughty. In fact, Family Division Liaison Judge Peter Jackson mentioned that young people involved in a case he heard were glad that their story was published, although whilst sitting on a Transparency Project panel he failed to mention that he first obtained their permission  to include illicit details of their abuse before publication.

If a child or young person is competent enough to fully understand the potential repercussions of information being published, and gives their full consent, without any pressure or coercion, then their Article 8 [ECHR], 16 [UNCRC] and 12 [UNCRC] rights have been respected. It may be beneficial, and provide a sense of vindication, or being listened to, to have intimate details of abuse be published but this is something which will very much have to be taken on a case by case basis.

Judges have to be careful where a child or young person does not want to be identified, in Dr Brophy’s research on jigsaw identification young people were able to identify subjects in 33% of cases from small details which were pieced together. 13 out of 21 of the judgements looked at contained specific information which would enable young people to be identified by peers and local communities, 24% of the judgements were covered in local or national media, and 33% were on social networking sites.

One member of the conference asked how can they stop parents or grandparents from posting about a case when they have warned them not to, this was how the subjects of one of the cases looked at were identified. There is various legislation which a judge can use to limit publication, which you can read about in my dissertation, which can lead to an unlimited fine or prison sentence, from what research I have done these are never followed through so could it be a case of making an example of those who disobey a judge, and could it be that where there is a fight for custody that this demonstrates a lack of acting in the best interests of a child? Where an order is breached it must also be asked how should the law change to try and recompense the child affected.

When it comes to online publication it is now easier than ever to search for people, when legislation was brought in on reporting family proceedings in 2006 Facebook was a fledgling site rather than the behemoth it is today, with over 50% of the global population now having an account. It is also easier to back up websites, share another persons posts, take screen shots, and search. Legislation needs an overhaul to keep updated with technology, this includes how judges anonymise their judgements, and how reporting should be governed.

If the media are allowed greater access to the courts, it has been suggested that a watchdog should be set up, but this raises yet more questions. Who would run it, how would it be funded, what powers would they have, who would they answer to. Any consideration about transparency and the family courts throws a tool box in the works, not just a lone spanner, it is no wonder the President is taking his time.

In my opinion the media inspire disquiet with their scandals, so they are not the answer to transparency. Leaflets do not really work any more. Children and young people have suggested YouTube channels and apps to try and help people better understand the court system, but this does not address the issue of secret courts, child snatchers, and favouritism, to mention a few of the unfounded accusations. Now I do not have the answer to what should be done, but I do have a quote the President needs to keep in mind:

“It has always been the principle of this court, not to risk the incurring of damage to children which it cannot repair, but rather to prevent the damage being done.”

– Lord Eldon LC, in Wellesley v Duke of Beaufort (1827) 2 Russ 1, at para [18]

Media in the Family Courts: A Critical Analysis

Media access to the family courts has been available since the changes introduces in 2009 by The Family Proceedings (Amendment) (No.2) Rules 2009. The introduction of these amendments have allegedly had little to no impact on the vast majority of families although some parties have opted to settle out of court rather than ‘air their dirty laundry’ in public. The main concern of media being entertained in private hearings is the contradiction of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, right to respect for private and family life, and for that matter Article 6 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, no child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.

In 2009 there was a landmark case between Earl and Countess Spencer who requested that their financial affairs be discussed in private during their divorce settlement, in what was presumably an attempt to set an example, the now, Sir James Munby refused their request stating that it “is dangerous territory because it potentially gives privilege to one group in the community over and above others.” Although he also pointed out that there would otherwise be one law for celebrities and “another law for those who live their lives in tranquillity and anonymity.” To circumvent the media access which was now afforded they decided to adjourn and settle out of court, Sir Munby declared himself “slightly puzzled” before admitting that it was “an attempt to circumvent the procedure laid down in the new rules”. Although these rules were intended to make the courts transparent Lewis Marks QC’s comments have to be observed that “there is no public interest in the outcome of this case” but rather a “prurient interest”.

Minors are somewhat protected within the courts by s12 Administration of Justice Act 1989 which prevents the reporting of information relating to proceedings before any court sitting in private where a minor is concerned. The publication of any information which may lead to the identification of any child as being involved in any proceedings before the High Court, a county court or a magistrates’ court in which any power under this Act or the Adoption and Children Act 2002 may be exercised by the court with respect to that or any other child. This prohibition also extends to an address or school as being that of a child involved in any such proceedings.

Anonymity is not an automatic right in many cases and where it is granted the poor skills of a reporter may lead to jigsaw identification. Resent unpublished research has been undertaken into the ability to identify anonymity judgements from the British and Irish Legal Information Institute through jigsaw identification or blatant omissions by the writer, as this is a publicly accessible database it highlights one of the main concerns of privacy around media in the family courts where the courts themselves may not be capable of anonymised judgements. Although the research is not definitive it was undertaken in a single afternoon so any identification will be significant evidence of those concerns.

Whilst presiding over Re J (a child) [2013] EWHC 2694 (Fam) Sir James Munby concluded that “the balance between the public interest in discussing the workings of the system and the personal privacy and welfare interests of the child is best and most proportionately struck by restraining the naming of the child while not restraining the publication of images of the child. The effect of this is that (a) the essential vice – the identification of the child – is in large measure prevented, (b) internet searches are most unlikely to provide any meaningful ‘link’ in the searcher’s mind with the particular child, and (c) the public debate is enabled to continue with the public having access to the footage albeit not knowing who the anonymous child is whose image is on view.”

When consulted young people felt that publication of pictures should be forbidden except where they themselves give permission, parents may not be entirely conscious of the long term consequences for a child or young person when they give permission. With digital media the possible for identification of a child or young person in later life, and the link with a court case, is exponentially increased for what could possibly be the rest of their lives. Clearly there is a contradiction between the views of the courts and those that use their services.

The 2009 reforms have been well documented in the media including the Times with articles such as “Family courts: now we can judge parents’ stories for ourselves: The opening up of family courts to the media is a step in the right direction, argues a senior family lawyer” which in itself raises concern of trial by media at a vulnerable point for a family. McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists provides a good overview of the systems currently in place.

The concerns from these reforms have been echoed by rights activists whilst the courts themselves continue to argue for greater transparency. New Fathers 4 Justice have also called for greater transparency, terming the current system as draconian and condemning super injunctions which they believe would otherwise provide clarity of the court system and cases in general. Due to the call for greater transparency there is currently a review into the possibility of granting the media greater access to the courts, including the ability to view confidential court documents which are not available to the public.

This dissertation is to discusses and evaluates the development of media within the family courts and the impact it has currently on the individuals who use the system, this includes a more in depth discussion of the information above and academic research and commentary from the likes of McNae’s, Barbara Hewson , Adam Wolanski , FamilyLaw.co.uk and others. In addition to the current system this dissertation also discusses and evaluates the proposed reforms and widening of access to the family courts and its potential pitfalls with the help of consultations being considered an published by privacy activists, transparency activists and general organisations involved in the family court system.

You can purchase the full dissertation on Amazon:

http://amzn.eu/4Tzoxlp

Voice of the Child Conference #VOTC2k16

Yesterday was the Family Justice Young People’s Board’s annual conference, the Voice of the Child. Unfortunately even with an early start I missed the very beginning of the conference and walked in not long before a young person, Matthew was telling his story of aspergers.

The young person explained that professionals need to be patient and use appropriate language, it’s all well and good explaining something to a young person but it becomes pointless if they do not understand, just as it is pointless getting annoyed when you are asking questions in a way they cannot comprehend. Some of the other suggestions are, in my opinion, more about common decency such as not talking over them, waiting for them to answer, do what you say you are going to, and treating them age appropriately.

Now Matthew’s story reached a few people in the audience at the conference, but in my mind this is how you should work with any young person. If an adult did not understand what you were saying then you would not start talking to them slowly as if they were a baby, you would not talk over someone telling a story, and you shouldn’t promise to do something you are not going to. In it’s most basic form you should be treating everyone how you would wish to be treated, and just because someone has a disability it does not mean that you treat them any differently.

After a short break it was time for me and my team to present our session ‘The national picture for children and young people in the family court’. Before we spoke a member of the FJYPB spoke about how the number of applications for private and public proceedings have increased year  over year, and how the courts have become more stretched, although Elizabeth Gibby, Deputy Director of Family Justice Policy, did state that judges did want to meet with the young people involved in their cases. It was also revealed that a photograph of them would be provided to the judge so that they can see the young person they are deciding on, and that young people would be shown the judge deciding their case even if they could not meet with them.

As you can probably imagine, when it was our time to step up to the stage we talked about the transparency research we had conducted with Dr Julia Brophy, and our recently released examples of good practice. I will admit I went on a bit of a rant against the media having their own agenda, and BAILII’s disclaimer being of little to no protection for those concerned as the information is still searchable. Although BAILII itself is not indexed by search engines extracts are still published on the likes of Family Law which is.

This judgment was delivered in private. The judge has given leave for this version of the judgment to be published on condition that (irrespective of what is contained in the judgment) in any published version of the judgment the anonymity of the children and members of their family must be strictly preserved. All persons, including representatives of the media, must ensure that this condition is strictly complied with. Failure to do so will be a contempt of court.

We reviewed that identifiers should be avoided at all costs, and that the level of detail of sexual abuse is obtrusive and unnecessary. One of the young people who helped deliver our session asked a few basic questions, such as what did you have for breakfast and what colour socks do you have, to some intrusive ones, such as has your mother stopped drinking and has your dad stopped beating you, in order to demonstrate how these kinds of questions are uncomfortable and often unnecessary for the public at large to know. From speaking to a few people during the lunch break I think our message was well received. We also mentioned how the President, Sir James Munby, has asked us to continue being involved in the evaluation process of what ever guidance he produces and to deliver sessions at a few key conferences for the judiciary [mainly the President’s and Judges’ Conferences].

Our facilitator from the FJYPB then asked participants “how can agencies improve communication with children and young people in the current climate?” before breaking for lunch. (You may be able to make out some of their answers on the linked picture)

After lunch we played a special version of Family Fortunes to wake people up, it also got us to think about what the FJYPB thought on a range of matters such as what is the best way to communicate with young people, what is the most important thing young people worry about during family proceedings, and what is the best way young people think they can be heard during those proceedings.

The next session was somewhat disappointing, yet eye opening, with a question time panel consisting of Jane Robbie [Chief Executive of National Family Mediation], Anthony Douglas [Chief Executive of CAFCASS], Adam Lennon [Head of Family Modernisation and Improvements, HMCTS], Khadija Lewis [Chair – FJYPB Member], HHJ Lesley Newton [Senior Circuit Judge, Designated Family Judge, Manchester County and Family Court], Dr Elizabeth Gibby [Deputy Director of Family Justice Policy, Ministry of Justice], and Albert Heaney [Director of Social Services and Integration, Welsh Government].

The first announcement, from Adam Lennon, was that the Courts and Tribunal Services are investing £1 Bn in updating IT and communication, including their websites to make them easy to navigate and understand. The current websites of HMCTS are managed under the .gov.uk domain meaning that they are centrally managed, although government services tried to make these accessible they still leave a lot to be desired. He also stated that a new website was being tested, and has received feedback from a panel of people with different access needs, meaning that it will hopefully be much improved when the new site goes live.

Dr Elizabeth Gibby stated that the MoJ are planning to deliver direct information to young people through web and mobile platforms, this still does not address the need of young people without internet access or who do not wish to engage through digital means. HHJ Lesley Newton mentioned that engagement with young people is important and should be considered an important step in a case, indeed Lady Hale mentioned the same point in her key note speech at the 2015 ALC conference.

Jane Robbie mentioned that it is difficult for mediation services to engage with young people where one or both of the parents object to their involvement, but should they be able to object to a young person not having a voice in decisions affecting their  lives? Isn’t that a breach of their Article 12 rights? [Yes.]

She also mentioned that it can be difficult to talk to a young person on a one to one basis, in my opinion this demonstrated the need for a young person to have access to an advocate during proceedings in order to ensure that their view is heard. It was stated that a social worker has to fill in a box during court proceedings stating what they think the young person wants, but there is a huge risk that they will be projecting their own views or professional stance, an advocate is independent of such risks and should be engaged. Also the question was raided should young people be able to apply for mediation, this is one way to ensure that they get a voice in proceedings.

Questions were also raised as to whether a child needs to be provided updates to their case, who should do it, how often should they occur, can it be damaging to give them too much information. This goes back to Mattew’s speech, a young person should be engaged in the process, it isn’t a question of Gillick competencies, it is a question of Articles 3, 4, 5, 9, 12, and 13. A Young Person should be made aware of what is happening in relation to them, it  will be down to each individual case as to who is appropriate to give them this information, and how often. Again this is a job which advocates have been doing day-in-day-out, and enforces the need for such an individual to be involved in a case. The information needs to be proportionate and in a way in which the young person understands.

When the panel was asked who has best practice in engaging with young people many of us felt they copped out by saying CAFCASS, the hosts of the conference, it was only Jane Robbie who actually stated that it would depend on the situation and needs of the young person concerned. My answer was obviously NYAS.

A young person also asked the panel why they wasted so much money on consultations rather than using common sense. Not one person gave an answer, they were quite political in their answers, and in the end the young person gave up on getting an actual answer.

Unfortunately because of train scheduling we missed the rest of the conference, but overall I think it was a good experience and that delegates got the message. Talking one-to-one with some of them they were very aware of the issues and wanted to go back to their respective organisations and make changes or improvements.

Child Abduction: Re M (Children) [2016] EWCA Civ 942

A recent case involving an American family has hit the pages of Family Law Group LLP (as well as other reputable blogs I am sure) due to the use of Article 13(b) of the 1980 Hague Convention.

This case concerned a mother who took her two children, J aged 5, and D aged 4, to England for a holiday on 22 January 2016 and was due to return on 19 February 2016 but they remained in England. The father applied for a summary return to New Jersey on the 14 March 2016, but the mother raised the defence of Article 13(b).

“the judicial or administrative authority of the requested State is not bound to order the return of the child if the person, institution or other body which opposes its return establishes that there is a grave risk that his or her return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.”

In this situation the burden of proof lies with the ‘person, institution or other body’ which opposes the child’s return on the balance of probabilities. Whilst using this defence it is important that the risk to the child be ‘grave’, meaning it must have reached a severe level of seriousness. The words ‘physical or psychological harm’ are not qualified, although the words ‘or place[d] the child in an intolerable situation’ are quantified.

“a situation which this particular child in these particular circumstances should not be expected to tolerate”

In re D (a child) [2006] UKHL 51, at para [52]

In this case there were allegations of domestic abuse against which started in 2010 but became worse after the birth of D in 2011. The mother stated that J was hit on his legs when he was 1, D was hit in his mouth when he was two moths old, and that she was regularly assaulted; she was slapped, had her hair pulled and twisted and that she was chocked in the children’s presence. There are various allegations in the initial case DM v KM [2016] EWHC 1282 (Fam).

The initial ruling by Russell J to allow the children and mother to stay in England was largely based on the report of a CAFCASS officer who has met with the children. The report stated that the children were aware of the abuse, J had described his Father as ‘angry’ and ‘rough’. There were concerns that emotional and psychological development may be adversely effected by the situation, and in the face of it his views were indicative of a child learning to blame the victim for the abuser’s actions.

“when my mummy stops talking he does not have to yell any more.”

DM v KM [2016] EWHC 1282 (Fam) at para [16]

As you can imagine there were also concerns for the living arrangements should they return to America.

“Where allegations of domestic abuse are made, the court should first ask whether, if true, there would be the grave risk as defined by Article 13b. If so, the court must then ask how the child can be protected against the risk. The appropriate protective measures and their efficacy will obviously vary from case to case and from country to country … Without such protective measures, the court may have no option but to do the best it can to resolve the disputed issues.”

Re E (Children) (Abduction: Custody Appeal) [2011] UKSC 27

The father denied the allegations, but in order to ameliorate the situation offered undertakings to the court, ,supported by written evidence from a US attorney in respect of  their enforceability.

“not seek the mother’s prosecution for the offence of child abduction; not attend the airport of arrival; not remove the children from the mother’s care; to provide a three bedroom property for the exclusive use of mother and children and pay the rent and outgoings and make other reasonable maintenance provision; to pay for the children’s return flights; to submit to a non molestation order; and, to commence proceedings in a competent USA court in respect of the children.”

Re E (Children) (Abduction: Custody Appeal) [2011] UKSC 27 at para [8]

Russell J found these undertakings to be ‘no more than vague and ephemeral assurances and do not amount to protective measures at all sufficient to meet the needs and circumstances of the children in this case.’

Without any physical evidence as to the abuse there is the potential issue of parental alienation, where a parent knowingly (or, as importantly, unknowingly) is in a position where their child’s wishes and feelings are intrinsically linked to their own with regard to contact with, or even their views on, the other parent. As the mother is the primary care giver this may have been an issue, where it not for the children’s statements in the CAFCASS report and the police being called by the landlord, and the father being taken by police for psychiatric assessment.

On appeal the Court determined that the Russell J had not conducted a proper evaluation of the protective measures and that her approach to the issue of protective measures was ‘wrong’, and inconsistent with Re E in that the Judge ‘merged the first and third step of the exercise upon which she should have embarked’.

(i) identify the risks

(ii) consider protective measures

(iii) in the absence of protective measures, the Court should do the best it can to resolve disputed issues

The appeal was brought on the basis that Russell J’s decision was incompatible with the written evidence presented to the Court and based on a lack of evaluation in relation to the protective measures offered. She had found that found the enforceability of the undertakings doubtful, despite evidence from the US attorney to the contrary, she also doubted the effectiveness of the New Jersey police force as a first port of call if the mother found herself in fear of violence. The Court of appeal found there to be no way in which she could have ‘legitimately doubt[ed] the efficacy of the USA courts or police force in enforcing protective measures’.

Another issue was the emphasis Russell J placed on the CAFCASS report as evidence of domestic abuse on the parent, although the onus upon the Court was to look at and evaluate the effect of domestic abuse on the children. Russell J’s comments, were ‘not sufficiently careful to avoid the perception that she had reached adverse conclusions against the father and was sympathetic to the mother’s plight’. This may be why the Court of Appeal found her approach to be ‘confused’.

The CAFCASS officer concluded that the children were not at grave risk of harm at the hands of their father and the final recommendation was that there should be supervised contact. The Court of Appeal went further to say that the Court ‘was ill advised to interpret factual scenario’ from the report, this is perhaps due to the children’s ages, although they were generally found to be of sufficient maturity for their ages.

The final decision reiterates that it is not within the remit of English Courts to determine the ability of other 1980 Hague Convention signatories to protect potential victims of domestic abuse. Nor is it the English court’s responsibility to determine other signatories’ ability to adjudicate family proceedings. It reinforces the message that whilst Hague proceedings are not a fact finding exercise that the line between the two types of proceedings is dangerously thin, and occasionally blurred.

One of the main criticisms of Russell J’s findings was her failure to consider a conditional order for return upon the father’s performance of his offered undertaking, notably his offer to obtain an injunctive order and secure separate accommodation etc. This case relays the message that protective measures must be explored to the very fullest extent as early as possible in proceedings.

“A court cannot refuse to return a child on the basis of Article 13b of the 1980 Hague Convention if it is established that adequate arrangements have been made to secure the protection of the child after his or her return”

Return of the child [Article 11 BR II]

At its most simplistic evaluation, this case reinforces the need for proper and balanced evaluation of the issues and allegations in Article 13(b) cases. The summary nature of the assessment that should be conducted does not exclude the need for legal scrutiny of allegations. The strength in the father’s case lay in the weight and effectiveness of the protective measures which is why the Court of Appeal allowed the father’s appeal and ordered the return of the children to the state of New Jersey. I think it must also be noted that the children did not express a wish not to return to America or see their father in the CAFCASS report.

Some of this post has been interpenetrated from the original article, linked at the top of this post, and the preceding cases.

Safeguarding, Privacy and Respect for Children and Young People (Part 8)

Apologies for not updating my blog for quite a long time but I have been busy with my dissertation ‘Media in the Family Courts: A Critical Analysis’, graduating, moving, starting a new job, starting a new university, helping with another paper [discussed below], and general life.

So here’s what you are here to learn about, our draft guidance on the anonamysation of judgements. In my opinion this was wrongly reported in Family Law as ‘Draft guidance published on anonymisation of children judgments’ as it could just as easily be applied to vulnerable adults, and others requiring the protection of anonymised judgements.

Again our research was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and supported by the Association of Lawyers for Children. This document has already been supported by the President of the Family Court Division, although it has not yet be judicially approved.

For those of you hard up for time there is an executive summary, but for the hard core of you there is a full document which finally has my name on it. The documents lay out a handy step-by-step process to anonymise a judgement before publication, although some young people, including myself, still have reservations.

The main concern of this new guidance [which has been developed with judges, social workers, psychologists, and other organisations] is that the applying authority (LA) is still identified. During talks with the President we conceded that the applicant authority does need identifying for the purposes of accountability, although, where the applicant authority is small it may be enough to identify the subjects of the case.

As has been discussed in previous posts, some local identifiers may be unavoidable in order to provide accountability and transparency. It is important that the LA is identified as the action they are taking is in the name of the public, and ideally they are taking the best possible action for the child or young persons safety. Hopefully by applying our checklist all other possible identifiers will be removed making it harder to identify those subject to proceedings.

Previously the use of pseudonyms and initials was sporadic, with some judges using actual initials, others trying to use random pseudonyms, and others trying to be culturally sensitive with their pseudonyms. We decided that random initials would be best as these would avoid the possibility of identifying someone through small cultural groups, or, perhaps more importantly, their actual initials.

Another problem with identification is the use of dates of birth, again some judges used full dates, whilst others used ages alone. In most cases the age of a child or young person will be irrelevant so we decided that they should be completely removed where possible, where it is necessary to identify a date the year should be used, or where absolutely necessary the month and year. The same process should be applied to any other dates contained within a judgement.

Ethnic groups are tricky, and where necessary should be identified as vaguely as possible (eg “…of Eastern European origin…”). Religions should also be avoided where possible.

School issues should be redacted unless absolutely necessary in which case wide timescales should be applied in order to make identification as difficult as possible.

Where a professional, witness, or trial judge is involved [obviously a trail judge will be at this stage], it should be considered whether is it essential to name them. It may be necessary to identify someone involved in a case in order to criticise them, or hold them to account. It is difficult to decide if an expert should be identified in a case as they will need to be held to account, this can be beneficial for further similar cases to identify if they wish to use the expert and if their testimonials have been criticised.

Rather than run you through what details should be included in relation to fact finding I will just say that things should be kept as vague as possible and urge you to read the full document.

This has only been a brief overview of what the document contains, and there is still more to be said and done, including the President publishing official guidance. Our guidance has already been widely disseminated but I welcome you to share them further or ask questions.

Safeguarding, Privacy and Respect for Children and Young People (Part 7) and the ALC

Some of you may have been waiting for this next instalment with much bated breath but I assure you had has been worth the anticipation. During our last meeting with the President of the Family Court Division he asked us to look into the ability to identify the subjects of Family Court proceedings through information publicly available on the internet, the idea that the media may be allowed into private proceedings is concerning enough in itself without even thinking about the level of detail of which the courts publish themselves.

In our last peace of research we identified a number of young people involved in Family Court proceedings from cases set out on BAILII, what concerned us was not only the ability to identify them but also the level of unnecessary details included in the reports including the level of sexual abuse. Young peoples opposition to allowing the media into the Family arena was recorded as far back as 2007 in the Confidence and Confidentiality – Openness in Family Courts consultation paper which recommended more cases be placed on the publicly accessible site.

Unfortunately children and young people were largely ignored and we saw the implementation of the  Family Proceedings (Amendment) (No.2) Rules 2009 which first allowed the media into private hearings. It is perhaps sadder that Sir James Munby [President of the Family Court Division] announced that he is determined to  improve reporting of family proceedings to the Society of Editors in 2013 rather than at a judicial event where it would be clearer that he means for a more transparent system rather than risk the potential for a trial by media, as we have seen in many notable criminal cases.

Judges do not carry the burden of anonymization alone, when a judgement is handed down the solicitors and barristers have the opportunity to flag up any issues they may have, including that of the potential for jigsaw identification. Speaking at the ALC Conference His Honour Judge Bellamy urged members to challenge what is being passed down and invited members to read his own practice guidelines (of which he has sent me a copy, as they were in such great demand on the day they ran out of printed copies). It seems that we are not alone in our concerns over the potential of jigsaw identification with the judiciary writing recommendations within their local systems.

Before I end on the research I have been carrying out with NYAS and Dr Julia Brophy I would just like to mention that we are planning to meet with the President in January so we will hopefully have more to report then. In our meeting we plan to discuss a review into anonymization practices within law reporting and an evaluation of judgements already available on BAILII in which summaries of sensitive information may be provided and where it would be inappropriate to do so.

All of the research which has been done so far will no doubt be heavily featured in my dissertation, but there is much more out there and I have yet to do more than scratch the surface. The information and collaboration I have thus far received from the ALC has been invaluable and I am ever grateful.

I was privileged enough to stay for a second day of the ALC conference, funded by Bangor Universities Graduates of the Future Programme and NYAS, which helped me to research some of my dissertation and learn a great deal I would otherwise be ignorant to. The start of the conference was opened by Nicola Jones-King, who I was privileged enough to have lunch with later that day, she described the current court system as a sat-nav which has somehow been reprogrammed to avoid the obstructions that are the child’s views.

Nicola’s co-chair, Maud Davis, was incredibly impressive with her opening statement; although she admitted Nicola had to cover legal aid because it was just too depressing. Maud pointed to  recent case in the county court which allowed the identification of the father and one of their children, Poppi, but not the mother or either sibling due to a reporting restriction. It took Maud and Nicola a few moments in a caffè to identify the other members of the family through information contained within the judgement [of Cumbria County Council v M & F [2015]].

I have long been touting the words of Lord Justice Ward in ETK v News Group Newspapers Ltd [2011] EWCA Civ 439

“They are bound to be harmed by immediate publicity, both because it would undermine the family as a whole and because the playground is a cruel place where bullies feed on personal discomfort and embarrassment.”

But I have now found a new, if old favourite of Lord Eldon LC in Wellesley v Duke of Beaufort (1827) 2 Russ 1 at page 18

“It has always been the principle of this court, not to risk the incurring of damage to children which it cannot repair, but rather to prevent the damage being done.”

Which has been read and quoted in a recent judgement by Sir James Munby [Re: M (Children) [2015] EWHC 1433 (Fam)]. Given previous exchanges it may be pertinent to inform him of my interpretation of these words, as well as their relevance in this day and age, despite being over 180 years old they are still felt to ring true.

My experiences of the ALC were not only that of social media, I also had the pleasure of seeing Julie Selwyn, Professor of Child and Family Social Work, presenting her research Beyond the Adoption Order. There are many concerns over s.12 [Children and Families Act 2014] orders, one being the way in which children and young people are listened to but also the after care for those who care for them, and our age old friend, access to CAMHS. I am not going to dwell much on this section but I do advise looking through the research as it makes for interesting reading.

Our key note speaker was the heroine of the legal system, the greatly admired Brenda Hale, Baroness Hale of Richmond. Although one of the most notable people within the legal profession she did start with a somewhat joking exchange, during her introduction HHJ Bellamy joked that she was one of his favourite judges of the Supreme Court as she had not overturned one of his decisions to which she rebutted that there was an application for appeal to overturn one of his decisions to which she had not made a decision as to what to do.

With the conference being centred around a child’s journey through the court system it is probably no surprise that it was encompassed by the question “Are we nearly there yet?” This question has probably been heard on many an occasion, of which Lady Hale professed her husband would somewhat jokingly reply:

“Only another five hours. Now was that an act of cruelty or kindness; lying to a child or admitting that either the child had no right to know the answer, or that the adult also didn’t know.”

It is this that we were first drawn to ponder as parallels were drawn between the car journey, and the traditional mode of care proceedings. Lady Hale herself admitted that she was unsure if things were any different in the “brave new world of 26 week deadlines”. But where a child is involved in proceedings she had previously asked whether they should be seen and not heard, presumably provocatively.

It had been 12 years since she last addressed the ALC, in her last speech she had indeed found that children should be heard, and more often than they were then. As evidence we were directed to the work of Dr David Jones, in a paper he presented to the Presidents Interdisciplinary Conference September 2003.

The first reason presented was that of children wanting to communicate, if the lines of communication are not opened up to them at difficult times then sooner or later they will have wished that they could have had their say, and that someone had asked them to do so earlier.

“Second, that children have a right to know what is going on around them, and to understand important matters about themselves. Third, children need protection from present or likely harm, so they need to be able to tell people about this, and people need to be able to pick up on the signs and ask them about it. Lastly children need protection from the harm which may come to them quicker if they are kept in ignorance of, or are unable to talk about, important matters in their lives.”

Courts undoubtedly cannot treat children as the object of proceedings, they are both witnesses of the facts and must be treated as a party to decision making process about their futures, this is reiterated under Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. When Lady Hale herself was involved in the Family Division [1994-1999] they were very reluctant to involve children in the proceedings in either capacity.

The Children Act 1989 introduced an express requirement to take into account the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child, but there was scepticism as to the value of those views. In Taking A Longer View Of Contact, Jane Fortin stated:

“There is an obvious temptation to discount the views of relatively young children – on the basis that they are too young to have any real opinions, that any views they express are not informed by any real insight into their situation, or that their ideas are shaped by those with whom they spend most of their time.”

This was felt to be true of child abduction cases, on the grounds that they were always bound to side with the abducting parent, although Fortin’s study of separated children when they grew up gave no support for the suggestion that their views were unduly influence by the parent with whom they were living. Some felt that you were more like to get sense from a younger, than an older child, one saying:

“When they get to where they are 13 they’ll come up with silly ideas, I think to suite them. To play, to get out of it as much as they can where the younger ones come up with more sense. The younger ones are cleverer than you think, and their the ones with the most sensible ideas.”

Unfortunately the procedural rules in support of children taking part left it to professionals to communicate with the child and pass on that communication to the court without any formal structure or training. Private law proceedings would traditionally be done through CAFCASS Reporting Officers, whilst care proceedings would be through the child’s guardian [which could potentially be an interpenetration of their own views].

It may be postulated that part 12.14.3 of the Family Procedure Rules discourages members of the judiciary from having a child in court at the time of the hearing as they are much stronger than previous iterations stating that proceedings WILL continue in the absence of a child as long as the child is represented by a children’s guardian or solicitor.

“She is young for her 13 years, and for most of the hearing she seemed preoccupied, and who can blame her with her toys and her colouring books.”

Waite J in Re C (A Minor)(Care: Child’s Wishes) [1993] 1 FLR 832

Whilst the case of Re C (A Minor)(Care: Child’s Wishes) was concluding the judge asked the girls guardian whether they felt it had been a good idea for them to be there, to which they said it had been a good idea and although she may not have taken in much of what was going on, but at least she felt she knew that decisions were being made about her when she was there. Unfortunately the judge thought otherwise.

Lady Hale remarked that her husband, who occasionally sits in the public benches in Supreme Court, reports that some of the junior lawyers sitting behind counsel, apparently industriously typing notes on their laptops are in fact playing solitaire or doing their emails. So what damage does allowing a child who wants to be there from being there? Not allowing a child to be there when they want to seems a backwards step, Scotland allow them to be there and Germany allows for children to attend at least some of the time according to European Court cases.

When Lady Hale joined the Royal Courts of Justice she was told by a senior Family Division Judge that the reason for chambers being directly behind the courtroom was so that in wardship proceedings the judge had to be close to the courtroom so that he could see the child in his room. This shows how much the assumption has changed in recent years from the child being a key part of proceedings to merely the subject of a case and back again.

Before the Children Act Magistrates were told that they had no power to meet with children in private law proceedings, and yet they were seeing them all the time in public law proceedings.

“At its heart lies the conflict between advancing the welfare of the child and upholding the child’s freedom of expression and participation. Unless we in this jurisdiction are to fall out of step with similar societies as they safeguard Article 12 rights [article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child], we must, in the case of articulate teenagers, accept that the right to freedom of expression and participation outweighs the paternalistic judgement of welfare.”

Mabon v Mabon and Ors [2005] EWCA Civ 634

It is important to realise that things have changed drastically from days gone by, when visiting Holborn High Court, HHJ John Altman informed us of a case where a seat was set at his bench for a young person to sit next to him during the hearing of his case. Although a progressive judge this shows that the judiciary is changing and more weight is being given to the independent thoughts and feelings of children and young people when decisions are being made about their lives.

In two cases from Germany the European Court on Human Rights decided that there had not been sufficient procedural protection for the fathers right to respect for his family life, with his child, when he had been denied contact. In one case the court had not interviewed a five year old child personally because the expert had advised against it. In the other, the court had relied on the strongly expressed views of a 13 year old child without getting an up-to-date psychological report.

Although the cases were around insufficient protection of the fathers rights, it can, and probably should, be interpreted as insufficient protection of the children’s rights. The cases ended up in the Grand Chamber which held that it would be going too far to say that the national court was always obliged to hear directly from the child or to have an up-to-date psychological report, although it was clear that one or the other was a good idea. These cases lead the senior judiciary to consider that there may be policy issues to consider within our own jurisdiction.

Lady Hale argued that there were five advantages to a child meeting with a judge. First, that the judge will be able to see them as a real person rather than  the object of other peoples disputes and concerns. Secondly, that the court may learn more of the child’s wishes and feelings than at second, or third hand. Thirdly, the child will feel respected, valued and involved as long as they are not coerced or obliged to make choices of which they do not wish to make. Fourthly, it presents an opportunity to help the child understand the rules [of a court order]. Finally, parents may be reassured that the court has been actively involved rather than just rubber stamping professionals decisions.

I realise I have spoken a lot on Lady Hale’s speech and so I invite you to read the documents linked at the bottom of this article for more information regarding the remainder f her speech on expert evidence from young people and the views of the Family Justice Young People’s Board.

I would like to give you a few quotes from one lawyer who I spoke with later in the day, and I honestly wish I had gotten his name as it would be useful and interesting to talk to him again:

“The idea that the agony of our children should be put onto the Sun newspaper, the Mirror, or anywhere else is just sickening, utterly unbelievable and as far as I can see the only person pushing it is the President. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that many judges I’ve heard have expressed horror at that idea; and it is the President who’s pushing it, and the President has a history of involvement with the media which I think is extremely worrying that he is now, apparently alone, in pushing for greater publicity, grater use of our children’s and families pain to sell newspapers.”

Although Lady Hale was not able to respond to the question he put in its entirety she did state that she was fascinated to learn about the work being done with children and young people on what they think of publicity, and the complexities of proper privacy being respected. She admitted that it is not as simple as just publishing things on BAILII and the judiciary need this pointing out, she also congratulated us [NYAS, the ALC and the Researchers] on what we have pointed out.

I am not going to go into detail on the Parents in Dispute session other than to say that psychologists are looking at working with divorcing couples to create a parental alliance and work on their issues without discussing the past. The parents work alone for three sessions with two different psychologists before coming together [where possible,] for another three sessions. The idea of separate psychologists is to stop one or another from become fatigued and encompassed by any negativity, in theory they will be able to help one another if they should run into difficulty as well as the subjects.

The last speaker I am going to talk about is an expert witness who provided an education you will not find for a lawyer anywhere else. Professor Archie J Malcolm gave us a lesson on histology and pathology relating to young children and babies. In many cases involving the death of a baby a cranial fissure is mistaken for a fracture, compared to an adult, or older child, with calcified bones it takes a lot more force to fracture the skull or ribs as the periosteal reaction is still in its infancy and cartilage is somewhat in the place of bone.

Where there is a fracture it is dated by its place in the healing process, at fist instance there will be a collection of fibrin which will bind with with platelets forms a hemostatic plug or clot over a wound site, after six to eighteen hours a polymorph will appear before macrophages invade to fight off infection within one to three days. A stoma will appear after two to five days, an osteoblast within five to eight, an osteoclast within five to ten before fracture callus in the final ten or more days.

As I have already mentioned, a young child’s bones are far more pliable than an adults due to its structure being mainly cartilage, this means that to break a babies rib would be a non accidental injury. In one study only 3 of 947 infants suffered rib fractures after receiving CPR. If a child has posterior rib fractures then they have likely been squeezed too hard as a fall or blow to the back will not cause that much damage, the only issue is an anterior x-ray will not show these injuries as the front of the rib cage will hide the back.

In general a metaphyseal fracture is likely to be caused by violent swinging from the forearm or ankle, this is where there is damage at the interface of a long bone between the cartilage and hard bone. Common places are around the knee from severe accidents, it can also occur at the top of the femur, ankle and elbow; the only problem with identify such an injury is that it will take about three days to appear on an x-ray.

There are different types of fracture, these are the transverse [snap or bow to the bone], spiral [rotation or twist], comminution[high velocity impact], and greenstick [a break to one side of the cortex only as the bone is still flexible]. There were a few gory images to accompany Prof. Malcolm’s presentation although he had removed the worst and instead included anecdotal evidence of brains being crushed, spines being severed and much more besides.

As the last session I was able to attend it was certainly an eye opening experience, if not different and somewhat horrifying what some people can do. If I could listen to a similar presentation again I definitely would for the educational side; although you have to ask if some did not have a perverse fascination with the cross between the psyche, law and medical horrors he had to speak of.

 

Guidelines for Children and Young People Giving Evidence

Final Report of the Children and Vulnerable Witnesses Working Group

England Are Failing The Young and Vulnerable

First off I realize that many of my titles are emotive and arguably overstated but mostly they reflect what is generally felt once people have read my post, or at least how I feel as I write them so apologies.

Going back in my blogs I wrote about attending a round table discussion on inpatient mental health and a few of the reforms we though necessary to improve the current system; in a few weeks time I will be attending another of these discussion groups but this time with the Office of the Childrens’ Commissioner, and hopefully a larger group of individuals. I think we can all agree that at the moment there is a lack of staffing, funding, availability and general service when it comes to mental health facilities with many having to travel to different cities to acquire adequate mental health provision; but this is not the only area in which the government are failing.

A recent freedom of information request by NYAS revealed that the Department of Education and NHS England are failing to record adequate statistical data on the number of children in care and care leavers who are admitted to hospital due to mental health issues. With a response rate from mental health units only reaching 28% from this request NYAS has found that in the past five years at least a thousand children and young people have been admitted to mental health in-patient units whilst in care, the data of which is not shared across central government.

To paraphrase Claire Hyde (NYAS Assistant CEO) there is no meaningful statistical data on children and young people who are looked after or who are care leavers, there is no substantial information of their experiences beyond that of anecdotal evidence, of which NYAS may be more privy due to interpersonal relationships as advocates for those receiving treatment. To follow on from that there is also an alarming rate of children and young people who have to go out of their authorities catchment area in order to receive treatment which has left some social workers with a more blasé attitude towards their work concerning those individuals, and NYAS advocates often having to inform and remind social workers about the rights and entitlements of children and young people.

With children and young people both in, and having left care there are many concerns, especially with the media coverage of scandals in recent months. It is commonly felt that these individuals are the ones who slip through ‘everyone’s safety nets’ leaving them with ‘lifelong problems which cost society more in the long run’. Although the statistical data may be scares the anecdotal evidence from various news sources in long and concerning. It is not only the statistical data which is lacking, the Mental Health Code of  Practice8 highlights the requirement for independent mental health advocates to have experience of working with children and young people who are looked after or care leavers as well as the legislation governing them across both mental health and their legal status as looked after children and young people. Just look at my previous posts and you will see a whole host of issues with regards to advocacy and funding both within England and Wales, local government are still not competent enough to realize the importance of advocacy and the affect it can have on both helping the child or young person and the services they may be involved with.

Advocacy is not just about supporting children and young people with complaints

With those in or leaving care there is also still the issue of who is to fund their costs of living beyond those of the average NHS patient, such as clothing and toiletries just to give you some idea, and where do they turn when there is an issue with their funding especially if their foster carer/social worker/original LA is different to the one they are receiving treatment? From NYAS’s freedom of information request it was revealed that over 15% experienced delays to their hospital discharges due to a lack of foster or residential placement. The duration of stays ranged from one day to 540 days. Two young people were of no fixed abodes on admission. No data is gathered on how far children have to travel to the units from their homes. 50% did not record length of stay. Over 50 % had no advocacy provision in place.

This is just a small selection of the issues on offer, no doubt I will bring more to light in subsequent postings.

*Published in January 2015, the new code will come into force on 1 April 2015, subject to Parliamentary approval.

Thanks to Claire Hyde (NYAS Assistant CEO) and NYAS themselves for their Mental Health Article and prior round table discussion group on which this post is based.

MEGA Young People, We Won’t Stop!

So first off this wasn’t just another meeting, we had in fact received a message detailing that advocacy areas would now be under the Minister of Health and Social Services solely as opposed to the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty; during the summer ministers had met to strategically review the evidence relating to the current and future states of advocacy provided by the “Missing Voices” Report, MEGA six-month report, evaluation of MEIC (which I helped set up as part of a previous role on the Extended National Youth Advocacy Board), and early messages from the CSSIW’s inspection of care planning and safeguarding arrangements across all local authorities in Wales.

During these meetings two immediate actions were concluded. Firstly, [as previously mentioned,] to bring advocacy under a single Ministerial Portfolio; Secondly, to invite local government to bring forward a model for securing a national approach to statutory advocacy for looked after children, children in need and other specified individuals.

A Strategic Leadership Group, chaired by Albert Heaney, Director for Social Services, and comprising representatives from the Welsh Local Government Association, the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru, the Children’s  Commissioner’s Office has been established to develop priority actions to, deliver a functional business model, underpinning a national approach to advocacy. The Group has established a focussed Task and Finish Group to report back to the Strategic Leadership Group at the end of January on progress.

In the interim, officials in discussion with the Chair of MEGA have concluded to apply a period of pause and review to the work of both the MEGA and the YPEG pending the outcomes of the work to develop a national approach to advocacy. As the revised statutory advocacy landscape emerges in the Spring, they anticipate that they will engage with both the MEGA and the YPEG to ensure that there is effective opportunity for participation in shaping the statutory advocacy landscape.

As you can tell that is all from the letter, and if you know me you will know that I rejected the period of rest as did the other young people on the basis that we were/are service users of some description and know how things work in practice rather than theory. As I mentioned in my previous post around 1/3 of local authorities are spending less than half of what is recommended on advocacy per child or young person, this is partly because the Welsh Assembly are unaware centrally of how local authorities are distributing their funding, and some even see it as a non-essential service so they will do the bare minimum to meet statutory standards. A few weeks ago I was part of a tender team for the North Wales advocacy contract, they were already underspending on services and were asking for a further 40% reduction in costs, applicants refused and another tender was offered where by service providers would name their price.

Since this review local authorities have been advised not to offer tender until a framework has been set out, once a contract has been signed it will be very difficult to terminate, if not impossible meaning that any plans may have to be delayed with many contracts spanning three years. The Vale of Glamorgan have adhered to this advice and are staying off their tender and staying with their current provider until this new framework comes to fruition which will hopefully come into effect in October.

With no formalised vision of a single service provider written on paper for Wales yet they are looking to Northern Ireland for inspiration, a much smaller geographical area with many shared issues, a different legal system and basically not Wales. Currently it is a postcode lottery in Wales as to which local council you come under and the emphasis and funding they put into advocacy, there could be specialist provision for those in one area but not their neighbouring constituency which causes a lot of problems if a c/yp has to move for any reason.

Another current issue with advocacy is the entitlement, strictly speaking if you have mental health issues you can be entitled to one, if you have educational issues you can be entitled to another and if you are in care another. This entitlement currently negates and undermines the whole idea of advocacy where you should be able to build a rapport and speak freely rather than having [potentially] three more adults [interfering] in the situation, there is also the question of who funds them as each of these areas are allocated different funding within local authorities again creating a postcode lottery.

So far has been a big rant on the negatives, so apologies, but here are our potential solutions. Firstly when a child goes into care, is in need, or is one of these other specified individuals then they should get a face to face meeting with an advocate who can explain their role and offer their help. This is what is known as an active offer which is done in Dumfries and Galloway [and subsequently reflected in their tender process] where as social workers can currently get away with claiming they have made an active offer or class “Do you want an advocate” as such. What we have suggested is to incorporate an active offer as a component within care meetings which the chair will then be obligated to check, and to that matter social workers need to be actively educated on what an advocate does rather than just leaving them to think they make their jobs harder or assist with complaints [which is usually the last course of action we will suggest].

With younger people particularly there is a fear of the new, and so they should be made aware that they can nominate a friend, family member, teacher, etc. to be their advocate and they do not have to have a seasoned professional. Again the idea of advocacy is to provide a voice to the c/yp and sometimes that is best done by those who already know them. If things are too difficult I do believe that local authorities should provide funding for, and offer independent visitors, these are basically impartial people who will befriend the c/yp and take them somewhere comfortable to escape for a while or chat about anything in the world [within reason].

With the severe underfunding it is a shared view that an inspectorate should be introduced, as there is with social services, so that the Welsh Government can step in where a local authority is failing in funding or management of services by putting them into special measures. This inspectorate will be armed with national standards and outcomes as set out in the Regulation and Inspection Bill. These standards would also include the way in which tenders would operate and provide for a more consistent service throughout Wales.

One of the main things which were not redressed however is the 88% of young people leaving care who would like to continue having advocates, any information on the possibility of an advocate after care should be included in a leaving care pack which would include transitioning into adult services or a period of settling into adult independent life.

So that is the story so far and we will be reconvening in March and keeping in touch via email/phone.

Cyberbully (2015)

Following the story of Casey Williams shows reminiscence of a bygone error as she is trolled by a hacker, only to discover that she herself has been cyber bullying for a long time and ignorant as to the consequences of her seemingly innocent actions. I am not going to give a play by play of what happens, but rather a commentary on the real life situations this film attributes too including the seemingly forgotten case on Amanda Todd whose name still resonates within certain circles.

During the course of the film it is clear that the ‘younger’ generation seem to be abhorrent towards one another and the online norm is to slate what others attempt including the actions of Jennifer Li, this young woman posts a video of herself singing for pure enjoyment. As innocent as Jennifer’s actions were it opened her up to ridicule from her peers who said she was a ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ who would never be good enough for ‘x-factor’ (which in my opinion is pretty dire in itself) in an attempt to lower her self-esteem and ridicule the poor girl. As you would expect she moved away, changing schools and her life in order to try and live a normal life; after several weeks however her peers discovered the old ridicule and began to jump on the band wagon by even dressing as Jennifer for Halloween and sending the pictures to her family. When Jennifer could take no more she took her own life.

Now Casey was the first person to take Jennifer’s video (along with a few others) and ridicule them for being who they were behind an anonymous name. It has often been said that the facelessness of the internet can cause people to be irrational and say things that they would not dare in person; this is one of the many reasons Facebook and Google+ require you to use a real name in order to make an account, as I have said previously this has caused issues for drag  queens and alike whose accounts have been suspended or removed because they can not prove that they are who they say they are.

Casey herself is made fun of in a public Twitter post, to which you can now report abuse, but it may not be acted upon for a distinct period of time by which point an unlimited number of people may have seen and screen-grabbed the post. Peoples stupidity have been the butt of many a web and television series including RudeTube and Why Would You Put That On The Internet. When she gets the chance to post on the persons account as them she implies they have erectile dysfunction, her actions in themselves are referred to as a frape (originally a Facebook rape, which in itself is a disgusting name, but in this film for some  reason is applied to Twitter (maybe people are getting stupider or I’m just old)) and the onslaught of this innocent boy begins.

Whilst the whole film is going on the hacker is threatening to post images of Casey that she took for her boyfriend, which in itself should tell you their nature. This is always a risky thing to do, and illegal for those under 18 to take, especially with the amount of revenge porn websites in existence (as demonstrated if you take Media Law) and the fact that when you are in a relationship you tend to connect with some of one another’s friends so if they post an inappropriate image it is there for the world to see and can be copied to any number of places.

Casey’s images are never posted but ones of her friends are from her account which can, and presumably did, cause irreversible damage to that persons public image and relationships as a whole. In the film a video was also posted outing one of her friends as homosexual, to which her class mates replied with an onslaught of homophobic posts and personal attacks which should appal. Unfortunately these kinds of responses are common place if you go on YouTube and look up whoever ‘come out to’ whoever you will see these kinds of ugly people are everywhere in the world.

One last point before I summarise, although a far fetched story elements of it alone can apply to most peoples lives, the webcam in your device can be hacked and turned on without your knowledge and if you are on an unsecured or public network it is so easy to take control of your device and steal your content without you knowing.

Here’s the clinch, Amanda Todd. Now if you do not know her story watch the video below but in essence she exposed herself to someone she trusted who threatened to expose her publicly if she didn’t ‘put on a show’. Amanda stood her ground but the image was sent out and she developed depression and got involved with drugs. The guy made a profile with the images of Amanda before proceeding to add people at her school who then alienated her to the point where she self harmed so that she had some sense of control in her life, and as a reminder she was human.

As Jennifer did, she ended up moving schools and everything was working out again so she thought she could reconnect with a friend who said he fancied her even though he had a girlfriend, he invited her over and she regretted it as they ‘hooked up’. Not long after a gang of peers told her no-one liked her and that she should go before getting physically violent and recording the incident.

After years of abuse she drank bleach and tried to kill herself, when she recovered and went home she saw a barrage of abuse on Facebook saying how she should have ‘done it better’ and ‘deserved it’. She moved again but as things were online they just followed where ever she went until finally she committed suicide. Below is one of the many uploads of her story and the start of the trend of the card holding in videos.

The film in itself shows how one small thing can spiral out of control and ruin someone’s life, and although a one room film with essentially one actor and very little overheads, it hits home with its point and although derivative of Amanda Todd and many other similar stories throughout the world it is well executed and will hopefully help make people think before they post.

Advocacy At The OCC

At this time of continuing austerity England has decided to take stock of its advocacy and see how well, or not, it is working and how the system can be generally improved through the efforts of an advisory board which will ideally advise the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) on what the ‘advocacy project’ should do and help ensure that young people’s ideas and experiences are listened to and taken seriously in line with article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The idea of this project is to think of ways in which ideas and proposals can been taken forward to improve or reform the current system based on vigorous research and feedback from those receiving services and those supplying them.

Today was our first meeting where the basis to the project was explained, it had already been put out to a tender which was won by the University of Central Lancaster. Three of their representatives were present at the meeting detailing what they envisage the project being with the help and feedback of the panel. The general plan is set out in four stages which may overlap at one time or another for shear convenience.

As you have probably rightly assumed the first step will be to research and fully understand the policies and legislation currently governing advocacy and asking providers what services they are supplying and how things actually work. The second phase will be to work closely with six selected advocacy providers to do some detailed research on current processes and experiences; this is where the overlap is likely to occur as phase three is to engage with young people receiving [or having received] advocacy services as well as other stakeholders such as local authorities, care homes, schools and other institutions which may benefit from services.

All of this engagement and research will enable the OCC to work towards developing a standard to which all advocacy providers should work which will be published in a final report. The last real framework of any kind was published in 2002 under the Department of Health, this is vastly outdated with advocacy coming under the banner of the Department of Education for several years.

From our round table discussion it was clear that there is huge disparity in the availability and funding of advocacy across England, the same is of course true in Wales. Currently half of local authorities who responded to a freedom of information request contracted advocacy to national providers, just over a third used local or mixture of providers whilst nearly twenty percent were using in-house services.

A number of us were concerned with the use of in-house services and the possibility of bias against a child or young person, although independent advocacy is funded by the local authorities everything else [except the sharing of necessary data] is separate which may be why there is disparity in records between the needs and outcomes of some young people receiving services, this may however also be down to quotas or mere box ticking exercises.

Just from today’s discussions it is clear that changes need to be made to the current system, and this is a good first step. I have left a lot out at this stage as figures need to be finalised and everybody was being brought up to speed, but everyone seems to be on the same page with a similar view as to what needs to happen so we shall see over the coming months what will happen and try to plug sny gaps in services.

What is interesting to me is that only the other month Wales also started looking at the future of advocacy independent of the English OCC so maybe some discussions have gone on behind closed doors? Either way it is something to keep an eye on, especially with the possibility of different outcomes and ideas.