Child First: Safe child contact saves lives

Help us stop avoidable child deaths and make sure children are put first in the family courts.

Latest Child First campaign win!

New guidance for judges released

The Government and the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, have issued new guidance for judges and magistrates for child contact cases where there are allegations of domestic abuse.  The guidance comes into force on 2 October 2017.

Many of the changes respond directly respond to our recommendations – and importantly, the new guidance:

  • Sets out what judges and magistrates are ‘required’ to do rather than what they ‘should’ do in child contact cases where there is domestic abuse, and sets a mandatory requirement for the courts to determine whether children and/or non-abusive parents will be at risk of harm from a contact order;
  • Clarifies definitions of domestic abuse, coercive control  and the harms caused to children;
  • Makes clear that judges must carefully consider how domestic abuse impacts children, and question whether the “presumption of contact” applies in these cases;
  • Makes clear that if victims or children require special measures within the family court, appropriate arrangements, specifically separating waiting rooms and entering and exit times should be made where possible.

The revised Practice Direction 12J is a critical step forward. But, sadly, we know that all too often guidance in these cases is not followed – putting children’s safety at risk. It is critical that all judges, magistrates, court staff and Cafcass officers know about this new guidance, and how to use it. We hope you can help us raise awareness about the new guidance.

  • Download our template letter on Practice Direction 12J
  • Find your local court using this A-Z, and check that it hears children, family or domestic violence cases.
  • Use the contact details listed to send the letter to your local court – either by email or post.
  • Please share any responses you receive with us! [email protected]

More campaign news

Thanks to the campaign, the Government and the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, have issued new guidance for judges and magistrates for child contact cases where there are allegations of domestic abuse.  The guidance comes into force on 2 October 2017.

The campaign has secured a promise from the Government to create a new law to ban perpetrators of domestic abuse from being able to cross-examine their victims in the family court.

This new law is part of the Prison and Courts Bill which was originally stopped due to the snap General Election.

Women’s Aid marked the first anniversary of the launch of the Child First campaign and report Nineteen Child Homicides by handing the Child First petition into Number 10 Downing Street. It has been signed by over 42,000 people.

On the same day we released our report Child First: A Call to Action One Year On, which shows what we have achieved and what we still have to do to make children safe.

On 20th January, the President of the Family Division announced Mr Justice Cobb’s review of Practice Direction 12J: Child Arrangement and Contact Orders: Domestic Violence and Harm. The Practice Direction outlines what judges and magistrates must do when overseeing child contact cases where domestic abuse is alleged or has taken place.  The review makes various suggestions to improve the practice direction including a clear definition of ‘harm’, addressing the ‘contact at all costs’ culture of the family courts and always putting children’s interest and safety first.

On the 4th January the government announced an emergency review to find the quickest way to ban abusive ex-partners from cross-examining their victims in the family courts.

A debate in the House of Commons Chamber took place on 15 September 2016. Claire Throssell’s MP, Angela Smith, told the stories of Claire’s two sons, Jack, 12 and Paul, 9, who were both killed by their father, a known perpetrator of domestic abuse, in Parliament for the very first time. MPs from all political parties made moving and powerful speeches about the need for change. Read or watch the debate.

The Ministry of Justice has also asked Women’s Aid to review the training provided to family court staff on domestic abuse, and the guidance (Practice Direction 12J) issued to the judges and magistrates when there is an allegation of domestic abuse in child contact cases.

What are we calling for?

We are calling on the Government, all family courts professionals, and involved agencies to make the family court process safer for women and children survivors of domestic abuse.

Join our the Child First campaign today and help us to ensure that children are always put at the heart of contact decisions made by the family courts.

Sign the petition below and use #ChildFirst to help us spread the word. Together we can put an end to unsafe child contact.

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Sign the petition

Call on the Secretary of State for Justice and district judges to take action.

Child First: One Year On Report

Child First: A Call to Action One Year On

“What are the challenges? Keeping the pressure up to make the changes happen – but cultural change within the family courts will take a long time.” Claire Throssell, Child First spokeswoman

Houses of Parliament

Contact your MP

Ask your MP to pledge their support for the Child First campaign.

Why now?

claire-and-angelaWe have launched the Child First campaign to stop avoidable child deaths as a result of unsafe child contact with dangerous perpetrators of domestic violence.

Survivors of domestic abuse frequently tell us that they can be re-victimised and traumatised by their abusers, even after separation, through the family court process.

“The family court was an arena for him to continue his abuse on a much more damaging scale. I wasn’t heard or listened too. My children have suffered drastically as a result.” – Survivor

Our campaign report, Nineteen Child Homicides, highlights the tragic stories of 19 children and 2 women in 12 families that were killed by perpetrators of domestic abuse in circumstances related to unsafe child contact within a ten year period. It’s possible that these deaths could have been prevented if the domestic abuse had been considered as an ongoing risk factor.

ChildFirst campaign inforgraphic

Research & key statistics

View and share our infographics that support the campaign.

Survivor Claire Throssell with her two sons

Read Claire’s story

Survivor Claire Throssell’s two sons were both killed by their father, a known perpetrator of domestic abuse.

mother and child image

Children & the law

The Rights for Women website has information on children and the law and the family court process.

Claire’s story

Survivor Claire Throssell with her two sonsSurvivor Claire Throssell’s two sons, Jack, 12, and Paul, 9, were both killed by their father, a known perpetrator of domestic abuse.

“There are many reasons why I have decided to support this worthy campaign. Having experienced the judicial process and its protocols, the tragic outcome that occurred whilst court proceedings were still ongoing highlights and expose flaws and malpractice within family law. This malpractice ultimately can and does destroy people’s lives.”

“Attending court is an emotional, frightening and at times a traumatic experience which nobody decides to initiate lightly – but does so to protect their children’s physical and emotional wellbeing.”

“No parent should have to hold their children and comfort them as they die or be told that their child has been harmed in an act of revenge or rage.  There are often many facets to one family’s breakdown, and all too often children’s voices are not heard or acted upon.”

Claire Throssell on bbc breakfastChild First Media Coverage

Read the latest articles, interviews, blogs, press releases and tweets from the campaign.

Learn more

Further information & support

Whilst the cases featured in Nineteen Child Homicides are truly shocking, it is important to note that these extreme cases are very rare, and that there is advice and support out there for anyone wishing to leave an abusive relationship or anyone who has concerns around child contact.

If you have any concerns about your safety, or that of anyone you know, please contact the police on 999 in an emergency or call the National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership with Refuge): 0808 2000 247

Learn more about our campaigning work

Contact our press office

© 2015 Women's Aid Federation of England – Women’s Aid is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No: 3171880.

Women’s Aid is a registered charity in England No. 1054154

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