Family courts remain an unsafe and traumatic place for women and children
Progress in family courts for domestic abuse survivors has stalled.
Wednesday 29th June 2022
Two years after a government report into the family courts, Women’s Aid has found the justice system is still failing domestic abuse survivors and their children.
In 2020, a Ministry of Justice expert panel, the Harm Panel, published a report revealing that the family court system was seriously failing and creating further harm and trauma for women and children in private law proceedings. The government responded by publishing an implementation plan.
The Women’s Aid report launched today, Two years, too long: Mapping action on the Harm Panel’s findings, reveals that despite some progress, not enough work has been done towards the transformed system that the Harm Panel recommended, and there is evidence of progress stalling, even reversing. Domestic abuse survivors and support workers told Women’s Aid that they have continued to be disbelieved, children have continued to be forced into unsafe contact arrangements with abusive parents, and perpetrators have continued to use child arrangement proceedings as a form of post-separation abuse. On top of this, survivors and professionals reported that family court professionals have not been held accountable for their poor decision-making and the trauma it has caused.
Key findings include:
- All of the survivors contributing to our report felt that their children’s thoughts, wishes or feelings had not been listened to or acted upon;
- An underlying culture of misogyny, mother-blaming and victim-blaming continues in the family courts;
- Women continue to be accused of “parental alienation” when they raise valid concerns around domestic abuse and child safety;
- Family court proceedings continue to be trauma-inducing, rather than trauma-aware.
The report is launched today at a panel event at Westminster, chaired by Women’s Aid chief executive Farah Nazeer, with speakers including Justice Minister Lord Bellamy QC, the Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding Jess Phillips, a domestic abuse survivor, as well as representatives from Nottinghamshire Women’s Aid, Rights of Women and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s office.
Women’s Aid launched our Child First campaign six years ago, calling on the government, family courts professionals, and involved agencies to make the family court process safer for women and children survivors of domestic abuse.
Farah Nazeer, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said:
“The current system, based on misogyny, victim-blaming, and a lack of understanding trauma is as tragic as it is unacceptable: we must show women and children that they will be listened to, believed and supported.
“We call on the government to ensure the Harm Panel recommendations are actioned as a matter of urgency- there can be no further delay. We are ready and willing to work with agencies and organisations across the family courts system to ensure progress: only by working together can we achieve the results we need. We know that the implementation of the Harm Panel report can deliver real change, and at Women’s Aid, we will not stop campaigning until all women and children are safe.”
Claire Throssell MBE, Child First Survivor Ambassador, said:
“In 2016, when the Child First campaign was launched, my two precious sons, Jack and Paul, were included in the tally of 19 children and two women who had been murdered by a perpetrator of domestic abuse in circumstances of child contact. The Harm Report was published in June 2020 and the Domestic Abuse Act was given Royal Assent in 2021. Yet the reality is that victims and survivors are still experiencing the same traumatising and humiliating treatment I suffered in 2014. Within the family court system, there remains inequality, injustice, fear and oppression. Too often, perpetrators are shielded because practice directions and guidance that were created to protect children are not working effectively. There is still too much insistence on parental rights and a deafening silence about the rights of a child.
“Urgent action is needed to prevent other parents having to exist like me. I promised my precious sons as I held them as they died, that no more children should have to die at the hands of someone who should love and protect them the most. This is why I support the report published by Women’s Aid today and hope that its recommendations will be followed.”