Education Committee - Children first: the child protection system in EnglandWritten evidence submitted by the Women’s Aid Federation of England (Women’s Aid)

Executive Summary

Women’s Aid is the national domestic violence charity that co-ordinates and supports an England-wide network of over 370 local domestic and sexual violence organisations running over 500 refuge, advocacy and outreach services and providing direct support to over 300,000 women and children every year as well as online support and services. Women’s Aid is responding to this Inquiry from the perspective of these service users, and in the light of responses to our special survey of member services conducted in 2010.

Women’s Aid welcomes the Education Committee’s commitment to building on the Munro review and the Field, Allen and Tickell Reviews and believes that there is real opportunity to protect children in England from harm. All children have a right to a life free from violence—Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK has ratified, says that all children have the right to be protected from being hurt and mistreated, physically or mentally. Governments are obliged to take all necessary steps to ensure that children and young people can live a life free from all violence.

Summary of the Issues

Violence against Women and Girls (Children) and the Impact

International and national research shows that the prevalence of Violence against women and girls to be massive. A snapshot examination of the figures shows that:

Every year 1 million women experience at least one incident of domestic abuse—nearly 20,000 women a week.1

At least 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence. Nearly three quarters of children on the “at risk” register live in households where domestic violence occurs.2

3.7 million women in England and Wales have been sexually assaulted at some point since the age of 16.3

33% of girls aged 13–17 who are in an intimate partner relationship have experienced some form of sexual partner violence.4

In 2009 the Forced Marriage Unit received over 1,600 calls to its helpline on suspected incidences of forced marriage, 86% of who were women.5

It is widely quoted that there are around 12 so-called “honour” killings a year.6

In 2003, there were up to 4,000 women trafficked for sexual exploitation in the UK.7

20% of women say they have experienced stalking at some point since the age of 16.8

An estimated 66,000 women in England and Wales in 2001 had been subject to female genital mutilation.9

Almost one in three girls have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school.10

Prevention work in schools

The impact of violence against women and girls on children’s safety, and hence on the child protection systems, can largely be addressed through the prevention of violence against women and girls through education. It is estimated that violence against women and girls costs society £40 billion each year.11 The direct cost to the economy of domestic violence alone in England and Wales in one year is £6 billion. As such, investing in the prevention of violence against women and girls has a massive cost benefit associated with violence in the long term.

Schools provide an opportunity to reach children and young people from an early age to educate them about domestic violence including forced marriages and honour-based violence and they also provide an opportunity for those with positions of responsibility to register where children are at risk of violence including forced marriage.

Children and young people have themselves highlighted the need for clear information and appropriate responses and results of the Kidspeak consultation carried out by Women’s Aid have reinforced this and further highlighted that teachers and the education system are a vital support mechanism for children and young people where teachers have the appropriate information.

Effective protection for victims of domestic violence and their children

Women’s Aid believes that all children have a right to contact with both parents and all family members as long as it is safe, but that the safety of the children and their non-abusing parents must be ensured.

To facilitate this, Women’s Aid believes that in every case in the family courts, there should be a full risk assessment and management; that wholly independent advocacy should be provided for children in all cases, enabling their views to be fully taken into account; and that there is no assumption that all parents—whether or not they are violent—are good parents.

We also recommend that the family courts recognise the dynamics of domestic violence, including the fact that domestic violence does not start or end at separation and can often continue long after a couple have separated; and that contact may be used as a method of re-victimising survivors and their children.

There is a dangerous separation between the proceedings of three separate court systems: child protection cases under public law (where the focus is on the child, and the mother is encouraged—or even forced—to leave her partner to protect her children from the consequences of living with domestic violence; the criminal court, where the perpetrator is charged and may be convicted of assault, harassment or other abuse; and the family court system where the same abuser is seen as a “good enough father” to be given contact.12 To avoid the “3 planets effect”, where there are ongoing criminal or child protection proceedings, Women’s Aid recommends these should be taken into account in assessing any risks involved in contact.


Research and practice has shown that the vast majority of cases that CAFCASS deal with involve allegations of domestic violence. A range of research and inspection reports has also found that there are some examples of very good practice but also examples of extremely dangerous practice which highlight that there is an inconsistency and systematic failure to implement policies and practice relating to domestic violence.

Women’s Aid regularly consults with our members about the effectiveness of CAFCASS and has found that there are still concerns about their effectiveness and also about their understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence. Women’s Aid also has concerns about CAFCASS’ professional bias and discrimination towards Women’s Aid member organisations.

Women’s Aid and the Inter-disciplinary Alliance for Children have concerns that CAFCASS’ current operating priorities mean that there are unacceptable backlogs in cases as well as a lack of continuity of care due to delays.

1. Introduction

1.1 Women’s Aid Federation of England (Women’s Aid)

1.1.1 Women’s Aid is the national domestic violence charity that co-ordinates and supports an England-wide network of over 370 local domestic and sexual violence organisations running over 500 refuge, advocacy and outreach services. Keeping the voices of survivors at the heart of its work, Women’s Aid campaigns for effective legal protection and services, works to prevent abuse through public awareness, education and training and provides vital 24 hour lifeline services through the 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (in partnership with Refuge), and through Women’s Aid’s online information and support services for adults, and for children and young people,

1.1.2 Women’s Aid welcomes this Inquiry into the Child Protection System and the opportunity to provide written evidence to the Education Select Committee on behalf of our national network of local services, providing local refuge and outreach support to almost 125,000 women and nearly 55,000 children seeking safety from domestic violence in 200910. Our forthcoming Annual Survey for 201011, which will be published in February 2012, will also give details of the numbers of male victims supported by our services. Nationally we received over 149,000 calls for telephone support in 200910 and over 70,000 people a month access our online support services. In 2009–10 there were almost 200,000 page views on Women’s Aid’s dedicated website for children and there are almost 6,000 members of the messageboard.

1.1.3 International research shows consistently that one in four women are likely to experience domestic violence in their lifetime and in England and Wales alone, 3/4 million children are affected by domestic. Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner as a result of domestic abuse. Statistics related to child deaths linked to domestic abuse are not kept but evidence from both the USA and the UK suggests that there is a high correlation: for example, one study of 163 child homicides in 83 different local authority areas in the UK found that there was a background of domestic violence in 46% of these.13 and an analysis of serious case reviews found that in two-thirds of families where there was child death or serious injury, there was a background of ongoing domestic violence.14

1.1.4 In 29 Child Homicides, Women’s Aid compiled a list of 29 children (in 13 families)15 who were killed as a result of contact or residence arrangements in England and Wales during the previous decade to 2004 (however, since there are no national statistics kept on this, the actual figure may be higher). Ten of these children were killed between 2002 and 2004. With regard to five of these families, contact was ordered by the court.16 The publication of 29 Child Homicides raised the profile of child contact and the risks that unsafe child contact can pose to both the child and the non-abusing parent (usually the mother).

1.1.5 Women’s Aid has a two-fold role within the child protection system. At a local level our network of over 500 services provides specialist advocacy and support to women and children, including those involved in the child protection system. At a national level we work right across the voluntary and statutory sector to provide specialist advocacy for all children and women affected by domestic violence in England. We work, at a national level, with a wide range of Government departments and external agencies to ensure that all children and women are safe. We also sit on a range of multidisciplinary groups including the Department for Education’s VAWG Advisory Group; the Children are Unbeatable Alliance and the Inter-Disciplinary Alliance for Children. Women’s Aid consults our members by means of a telephone consultation on every Ofsted Inspection of CAFCASS and provides evidence to Ofsted as part of their reviews.

1.1.6 Women’s Aid also provides specialist training on domestic violence for professionals within the family justice system. We have worked closely with Skills for Justice to develop their specialist National Occupational Standards (NOS) for Domestic and Sexual Violence and we also run a National Training Centre with Accredited Training for all professionals on domestic and sexual violence. We also work closely with our sister Federations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales on issues relating to the family justice system.

1.1.7 To ensure that our response reflects not only previous evidence and research but the current perspective and evidence from our network of member services, we also carried out a number of surveys in 2010/11 of our members on some of the issues related to the Inquiry, including for the Family Justice Review and a survey examining the impact of Local Authority cuts on our services’ ability to protect children and young people from domestic violence. We have also included consultations held with our members over the period 2008–11 on the work of CAFCASS which is attached at Appendix 1.

2. Summary of Key Issues

2.1 Violence against Women and Children and the Impact

2.1.1 Women’s Aid believes that no discussion of child protection in England can be conducted without looking at the disproportionate impact of violence on women and children, and especially girl children.

2.1.2 Violence against women and children is more common than is often realised, or reported in the media. The Department of Health estimates that every year almost 750,000 children experience domestic violence.17 However, this figure is likely to be a gross underestimation due to the fact that many women do not report domestic violence to the police or take a long time to do so. A study conducted in 1997 found that, on average, women experience 35 incidents of abuse before contacting the police.18 In families where domestic violence occurs, children witness about three-quarters of the incidents and around half of the children will themselves have been physically abused.19

A snapshot survey of domestic violence taken on one day (Thursday, September 28, 2000) showed that every minute in the UK, the police received a call asking for assistance with domestic violence. It also found that 1 in 4 of all crimes of violence reported were domestic violence.20

Teenage relationship abuse, a child protection issues in itself, consists of the same patterns of coercive and controlling behaviour as domestic abuse. These patterns might include some or all of the following: sexual abuse, physical abuse, financial abuse, emotional abuse and psychological abuse. However, there is a lack of recognition of the seriousness of teenage relationships because they are more likely to be short-lived. This does not mean that they can not be as abusive as adult relationships—in fact research has shown that teenagers experience as much abuse in their intimate relationships as adults, with several studies showing that up to 40% experience abuse.21 A study by the NSPCC and Bristol University questioned 1,353 young people (aged between 13 and 17 years old) on violence in their intimate relationships found that 33% of girls and 16% of boys reported some form of sexual abuse; 25% of girls (the same proportion as adult women) and 18% of boys reported some form of physical relationship abuse and around 75% of girls and 50% of boys reported some form of emotional relationship abuse.22

Pregnancy is often a time when domestic violence either starts or escalates. It has been referred to, by one commentator, as “double-intentioned violence” as physical attacks directly affect both the mother and the unborn child.23 The Confidential Maternal and Child Health Enquiry in England and Wales indicated that 39% of women experienced domestic abuse during pregnancy (n=70) and that 19 of the women died as a direct result of the abuse.24 The Enquiry also found that 81% of women found it difficult to access ante-natal services; 77% were in contact with their local social services ; 64% of mothers and children were in contact with child protection services and that 62% of pregnant women under the age of 18 had experienced domestic violence in the home.25 An Australian population survey showed that 41% of women who experienced domestic abuse reported violence during pregnancy, and that 20% of these women who experienced domestic abuse reported that their first experience of violence was during pregnancy.26 There is also a very strong link between miscarriage and domestic violence27 with one study showing that women who were subjected to domestic violence in pregnancy were four times more likely to miscarry than women who had not been abused during pregnancy.28 Studies have also found that that pregnancy is a time of increased risk with a significant association between pregnancy, miscarriage, low-birth rate and poor mother-child attachment and physical or sexual violence;29 abused women have said that they are more likely to be kicked in the abdomen or breasts during pregnancy.30

Children can be adversely affected by domestic violence in one of two ways. They can be indirectly abused by the perpetrator by witnessing violence to their mother or they can be directly abused themselves by the perpetrator (physically, sexually, emotionally, financially or psychologically).

Indirect Abuse

Most children are aware of the violence and the abuse suffered by their mothers from a very early age.31 The research also showed that most children are aware of the violence and abuse suffered by their mothers—87% of the 108 mothers in the study believed that their children had witnessed or overheard the abuse. This mirrors earlier findings which show 90% of children are in the same or adjoining rooms when domestic violence occurs.32

Section 120 of The Adoption and Children Act 2002 extended the legal definition of “significant harm” to a child to include the impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another—particularly in the home, even if they themselves had not been physically abused or assaulted. The amendment which came into effect in January 2005 was created in response to research that children can suffer long-term damage from living in a home where domestic violence is taking place.33

Direct Abuse

In families where domestic violence occurs, children may also be sexually or physically abused. A meta-analysis of research studies estimated that in 3060% of domestic violence cases, the abusive partner was also abusing children in the family.34 The rate of reported domestic violence is particularly affected by whether active questions are asked about abuse of children. A study of NSPCC cases found that where children were known to have been abused there was a dramatic increase in disclosure of abuse from an initial one-third to two-thirds of children, once a domestic violence monitoring form was introduced.35

A 2002 NSPCC prevalence study showed that 26% of 18 to 24 years olds had lived with violence between their parents/carers and for 5% this was frequent and on-going.36

In a 1994 study of women and children who had left an abusive situation, 10% of mothers had been sexually abused in front of their children and 27% of the partners had also abused the children.37

2.1.3 Children and young people can be extremely affected by their experiences of living with domestic violence. The impacts can be physical, behavioural, psychological or educational and they can also be long-term or short-term impacts.38 The way that children can be impacted depends on a wide range of factors including: age and developmental stage, gender, ethnicity, position within the family, sexuality, disability, their relationship with their mother, whether the abuse was direct or indirect, their access to safety and existence of support networks:

Children exposed to sudden, unexpected man-made violence appear to be more vulnerable –making the millions of children growing up with domestic violence…at great risk for profound emotional, behavioral, physiological, cognitive, and social problems.39


Children and young people can be hurt, either by trying to intervene and stop the violence or by being injured themselves by the abuser. They may develop self-harming behaviour, or eating disorders. Their health could also be affected as they may not be being cared for appropriately (perhaps due to the mother’s not being allowed to parent correctly by the abuser). They may have suicidal thoughts or turn to self-harm or try to escape the violence through misuse of alcohol or drugs, truanting or by running away.


There is a high-risk that children and young people will be abused themselves where there is domestic violence. In homes where living in fear is the norm, an atmosphere of secrecy can develop and this creates a climate in which sexual abuse could occur. In addition to this, children may sometimes be forced to watch the sexual abuse of their mother. This can have a long-lasting impact on the sexual and emotional development of the child.


The mother of the child may have limited control over the family finances. Therefore, there might be little or no money available for extra-curricular activities, clothing or even food which can have a detrimental impact on their health and development. It may also mean that children who go into refuge provision have to leave behind personal possessions, including toys, books, computers and so on which cannot easily be replaced due to lack of money. Separation can also lead to poverty for many mothers and children, especially if mothers deem that fighting their ex-partner for their house or possessions may adversely affect their safety.41


Children will often be very confused about their feelings. They may, for example, love both parents but want the abuse to stop. They may be given negative messages about their own worth, which may lead to low self-esteem or depression. Many children feel guilty and believe the abuse is their fault. Some children may internalise feelings and appear passive and withdrawn whilst others externalise their feeling in disruptive behaviour.


Children may become withdrawn and isolated. They may not be allowed out to play by the perpetrator and if there is abuse in the home, they are less likely to invite their friends around. Schooling may be disrupted by a variety of factors including: being too scared to leave their mother alone or they may have had to move schools when they moved into refuge provision or other safe or temporary accommodation.


Children are likely to have heard threats to harm their mother. They may also have been directly threatened with harm or heard threats to harm their pet. They also live under the constant and unpredictable threat of violence, resulting in feelings of intimidation, fear and vulnerability, which can lead to high anxiety, tension, confusion and stress.

2.2 Prevention Work in Schools

2.2.1 Research commissioned by the Home Office and cited in the HASC report42 indicated that for domestic violence to be addressed effectively it should at least be a core feature of PSHE. Teachers cannot be expected to deal confidently with relationships without understanding issues such as domestic violence and forced marriage and these issues require specialist training, information and advice.

There is a growing recognition that the home lives of children and young people can have a significant impact on their ability to participate fully in school life and achieve academically.43 Furthermore, children and young people are the next generation of potential victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse.

The current child protection legislation, policies, procedures and guidelines tend to be reactive, rather than proactive, yet by working with children and young people now, Women’s Aid believes that we can prevent domestic violence in the future.

As schools are where children and young people learn how to interact with others, it is an ideal environment in which discriminating attitudes which can underpin abusive behaviour can be tackled.

2.2.2 Schools have a crucial role to play, alongside parents and carers, in helping children and young people to develop respectful relationships, manage their emotions, and challenge the way in which some young men behave towards young women. Schools’ existing statutory duty to develop and implement a behaviour policy, an anti-bullying policy and a gender equality policy gives a strong context for schools to develop their important preventive role in ending violence against women and their role in supporting girls and young women experiencing violence. This work will also contribute to the fulfillment of schools’ and local authorities’ duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. Schools can help children and young people understand that no one should be abused (through work on PSHE education, Citizenship and other approaches such as SEAL.

Schools can create an environment which both promotes their belief and commitment that domestic abuse is not acceptable, and that they are willing to discuss and challenge it. There is currently a designated teacher in each school with responsibility for safeguarding children, but these teachers have not been specifically trained to respond to domestic violence.

It is crucial when designing any prevention programme to work in schools that a “whole-school” approach is taken. Women’s Aid has found that young people will not only disclose to teaching staff but are more likely to disclose to someone they trust and this may be anyone who works for the school. A “whole-school approach” means involving everyone in the school including non-teaching staff and school governors to help to prevent abuse in the future. 44

2.2.3 Schools can support their students by:

(1)Informing all staff about the school’s child protection procedures and how they relate to domestic violence. They know when to discuss concerns with the designated senior member of staff for child protection and how they can refer young people support services.

(2)Displaying Information about local support services in the school. This includes students having access to school counsellors and peer mentors who can provide appropriate support.

(3)Referring to External agencies for specific support, including youth justice, police, sexual assault referral centres, children’s social care services and local domestic violence agencies.

Women’s Aid believes that schools should also be inspected by Ofsted, as part of their inspection framework, specifically on their success or failure to address issues contained in the educational toolkit on domestic violence and relationships:

Our experience of working with schools on violence against women and girls identifies a number of key challenges. This includes a lack of capacity within the staff team and the curriculum to develop new areas of work, making a case for prioritising the work, determining where and how best to start developing an action plan. Another key barrier is a general lack of understanding of how gender inequality manifests in school environments, and how prevalent violence against women and girls is in the school and local community. This lack of understanding means that teachers are resistant to delivering work on VAWG as they get scared of “opening a can of worms” and do not understand their existing responsibilities for child protection. Yet, not “opening the can of worms” can result in a more serious incident later where schools may be at risk of not meeting their child protection obligations.

Schools need to embed the work into their policies and frameworks so that it is sustained and linked in.

Training needs to be on delivery of interventions by teachers (facilitation skills) and support services for young people impacted by VAWG (child protection).

2.2.4 Historically the inclusion of the issue of domestic abuse within school lessons has been patchy and inconsistent. In order to address this, Women’s Aid carried out research to identify the barriers facing schools and teachers, with the aim of developing an appropriate and helpful response.

Teachers told us that due to conflicting demands and the pressure to attain academically, there was little time to look through the myriad of resources that exist for schools to find appropriate lesson plans. Women’s Aid response was to create an easy-to-use resource that has simple lesson plans that can be used from reception to year 13.

With funding from The Body Shop, Women’s Aid has developed an online education toolkit, “Expect Respect” that includes:

An easy to use, one hour lesson plan for each year of school from reception to year 13;

clear guidance regarding the links between the learning outcomes within the lesson plans and the relevant parts of the Early Years/National Curriculum, SEAL and the Every Child Matters 45agenda;

supporting information and resources for teachers;

additional interactive activities for children and young people to access on line where appropriate; and

an online support service giving teachers individual advice and guidance about the delivery of the lesson plans.

The lesson plans were developed by experienced teachers in partnership with domestic abuse experts from Women’s Aid. Each lesson plan has been tested in a variety of school settings by teachers not involved in their development, and has then been amended in light of this evaluation. Children and young people themselves were also involved in this evaluation, and their valuable feedback has informed the final documents. It has also been evaluated by different agencies and local areas who have chosen to incorporate this work into their schools.

Women’s Aid has also developed an inset training day that can be used to train teachers on domestic violence and how to use the toolkit effectively.

The Expect Respect Educational Toolkit is available for free from Women’s Aid’s website and supporting materials can also be ordered free from our website

Women’s Aid is currently undertaking an evaluation of our educational toolkit. This is not a rigorous research project but a “what works” in local areas. The toolkit was originally designed for work in schools but its remit has expanded to incorporate wider youth settings and youth justice settings, including short stay schools and Youth Offending Teams.

2.2.5 Women’s Aid recommends that The Centre for Excellence in Outcomes (C4EO) should be supported by government to appoint two sector specialists in violence against girls and young women. These appointments would need to be funded centrally. It would ensure that all examples of good practice of prevention and support are recorded, new ones collated and specialist support for local areas is brokered. This would be an excellent opportunity for local areas to support other areas with practical advice and support and develop community responses that work across a wide range of local authorities.

2.2.6 There is also a chronic under-resourcing of children’s services for working on violence against women and girls. For example, a Women’s Aid survey of child support workers found that 80% of them are under pressure due to funding cuts and that almost 90% are under immediate pressure and do not know whether they have funding post March 2011.46

Despite this chronic under-resourcing specialist services are working with schools throughout the country to provide specialist expertise on developing appropriate school responses and are also a key referral point for individuals. In order for these services to continue this role and to increase their coverage to ensure that all schools are linked in with specialist services, the government must fill the gaps in funding for these services.

2.3 Effective protection for victims of domestic violence and their children

2.3.1 Women’s Aid’s main concern for the purposes of providing evidence to this inquiry is how the family courts can effectively protect and support families where domestic violence is a factor in family breakdown—divorce, separation, arrangements for children—to ensure the safety of children and parents in both the short and the long-term, whether in the realm of “public” or “private” law.

2.3.2 Domestic violence is one of the greatest family and criminal problems facing the UK, accounting for a quarter of all violent crime. It is a pattern of violence that includes physical, psychological and sexual violence.

2.3.3 Women’s Aid is concerned that there is no reference to domestic violence in the current call for evidence. This is particularly striking as evidence has shown that domestic violence features significantly in both private and public law cases.47 In our evidence, Women’s Aid has used the definition of the family courts as outlined in the Ministry of Justice Court Statistics,48 that the family courts deal with issues such as parental disputes, child protection cases, divorce and separation, and cases of domestic violence. We do not believe that these are mutually exclusive categories and they are interwoven and should be dealt with accordingly by the family courts. The Ministry of Justice’s own figures show that only 10% of divorce and separation cases come into the family justice system, but of those, research has shown that a high proportion involve unreasonable behaviour from one of the parties including physical and mental abuse, often severe abuse, and this abuse also affects children significantly; often this abuse often continues long after separation has occurred.49 Equally, 75% of children on child protection registers are affected by domestic violence in their family.

2.3.4 There is a dangerous separation between the proceedings of three separate court systems: child protection cases under public law (where the focus is on the child, and the mother is encouraged—or even forced—to leave her partner to protect her children from the consequences of living with domestic violence; the criminal court, where the perpetrator is charged and may be convicted of assault, harassment or other abuse; and the family court system where the same abuser is seen as a “good enough father” to be given contact.50

2.3.5 Our particular concern is outcomes of applications for contact and residence and the subsequent safety of children and non-abusing parent following these.

2.3.6 Women’s Aid believes that all children have a right to enjoy regular contact with both parents and family members, following separation, provided that it is safe. Furthermore we believe that there is a link between equality and respect in family relationships and the incidence of domestic violence. Not only is there an obvious historical link in our own country’s history in the status of women and access to better human rights, but we can still see in countries where there is absence of gender equality, and women’s status is significantly lower, much higher incidences of violence against women and children.

2.3.7 Put another way, equality between women and men, in all aspects of life, including responsibilities for care and nurture of children, by providing better role models of healthy relationships for children and young people, for girls and for boys, is likely to help prevent violence and bullying behaviour in private and family life in the future.

2.3.8 For that reason we do believe that, except where there is a risk to their safety or wellbeing, where relationships have broken down, children should be able to have contact with non-resident parents, with grandparents, or be looked after through shared parenting arrangements.

2.3.9 However, where there is domestic violence, the family justice system should not assume that contact is beneficial and should be rigorous in the management of risks to safety and well-being of children and their parents. As Lord Justice Wall, now President of the Family Division, has said we should continue to promote the message that it is not possible at one and the same time to be guilty of serious violence to your partner and to hold yourself out as a good parent. The old approach that a man may have abused the mother of his children, but that he had not struck the children and that he was still a good father will no longer wash in the over-whelming majority of cases.51

2.3.10 Women’s Aid firmly believes that in every case in the family justice system, especially where there are allegations of children witnessing or experiencing abuse, that there needs to be separate, wholly independent advocacy for children. Women’s Aid frequently carries out consultation and research with children and young people to get their views on all elements of our work. In our Kidspeak report in 2007,52 children expressed their wish for independent advocacy and representation and were extremely concerned that their views were not considered as they should be.

2.3.11 Women’s Aid recommends:

That effective protection of children and their non-abusing parent in both the short and long term be the primary consideration of the family justice system.

That there is no assumption that a violent parent is a good parent or that they have stopped being abusive just because they say that they have.

That the family justice system recognises that domestic violence neither begins nor indeed stops, at the point of separation and can often continue long after separation.

The views of children are fully taken into account in line with international commitments.


2.4.1 A 2002 NAPO survey on the work of CAFCASS found that, of 300 cases involved, 77% (230 cases) featured allegations of domestic violence.53 In 2005, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Court Administration (HMICA)54 published a fairly damning report on the work of CAFCASS. The report, whilst stating that there was some excellent practice by CAFCASS, was highly critical of overall practice and made eleven main recommendations for change including providing further training for CAFCASS staff on domestic violence. The CAFCASS response to the report was to produce a Domestic Violence Toolkit55 in 2005, which was updated in 2007.The Toolkit advises that even when contact is felt to be in the interests of the child, the safety and protection of the child and the abused parent must be paramount (CAFCASS, 2007:55).

2.4.2 Women’s Aid consultation with our member services, through telephone consultations between 2008 and 2010, has also shown that in local areas, CAFCASS has mixed practice ranging from really excellent services for children to extremely poor and unsafe practice. Some of the highlights of this research can be found in Appendix 2.

2.4.3 However, recent inspections of CAFCASS by Ofsted including a follow-up inspection in the South East region in 2008 have still raised concerns about the role of CAFCASS in private law cases. The 2008 report56 found key faults indicating that CAFCASS personnel still, in some cases, needed additional training on domestic violence and contact.

2.4.4 Women’s Aid has serious concerns about the effectiveness of CAFCASS and is a member of the Inter-disciplinary Alliance for Children, and support the statement issued in July 2010. The main concerns flagged by the group are:

There are unacceptable backlogs of cases in public and private law proceedings, despite the commitment and best efforts of front line staff who have been working under great pressure for a considerable length of time.

CAFCASS’ current operating priorities are now posing a serious threat to the statutory framework of children’s rights and evidence-based health and welfare policies, painstakingly developed through research and clinical practice over some forty years. Two examples of this are the proposed amendment of s41 Children Act 1989—opposed by twenty two interdisciplinary organisations in 2009—and a recent legal note circulated by CAFCASS which purports to give it authority to make changes to the section 41 roles and responsibilities of the children’s guardian.

From August 2009 CAFCASS has been on an emergency footing and has only been able to offer “a minimum safe standard” of service delivery. A gap has opened up between organisational definitions of what constitutes a “safe minimum” and the statutory duty to give paramount consideration to the best interests of the child. Practitioners are concerned that in complying with organisational directives they may potentially be in breach of both their statutory duties and their professional code of ethics.

The assumption that appears to underlie operational decision-making and resource allocation within CAFCASS is that what is best for CAFCASS as an organisation will also be best for children. This is debatable and currently not evidence-based.

CAFCASS has become increasingly bureaucratised and this is impeding the proper exercise of the professional discretion of its practitioners.

The framework of inspection applied by OFSTED does not appear to be fit for purpose.

2.4.5 Women’s Aid also has concerns that some CAFCASS officers do not, as previously stated, have sufficient training on domestic violence to understand the power and control relationship that exists between the abusing and non-abusing parent. We also have evidence that our member services have experienced professional bias and discrimination from some CAFCASS officers—these CAFCASS officers do not recognise that Women’s Aid Services are professional specialist services (required and assessed under the Government “Supporting People” Quality Assessment Framework. Our member services have also flagged the delay and backlog in cases which makes it difficult for continuity of care from CAFCASS officers.



1. Introduction and Methodology

In support of our submission, Women’s Aid (WA) has gathered together research and consultation that we have carried out with our member services during the period 2008–11.

The research from the consultations was used to inform Ofsted during their area inspections of CAFCASS and the geographical areas used in the research correspond to the CAFCASS service areas.

The comments have been grouped together in thematic areas, with the underlying premise of an examination of their effectiveness in child protection:

General Comments.


Service user engagement.

Listening to children.

Partnership working.

2. Summary of Key Responses

General Comments

Generally, we have received mixed reviews from our members about CAFCASS. In some areas they seem to be working extremely effectively and are sympathetic and understanding towards victims of domestic violence whilst in other areas they are extremely poor and appear almost hostile towards the women in our services. Many of the respondents also noted the time delays, including time delays in cases where the original CAFCASS worker was on long-term sick leave and had not been replaced.

Case Study Example: C7 Area (Cheshire and Merseyside)

We had one case in particular, a woman who had severe mental heath illness (bi-polar disorder). She had several appointments with him [the worker in question], as she had been forced to flee her marital home and leave her children behind. She was especially vulnerable due to the extent of her mental health difficulties, and required heavy levels of support from us. He refused to let her take an advocate from our organisation into the appointments with her. We used to transport her there, but he would not allow us in with her. We had to wait outside until the appointment was over.

She found this quite an ordeal and left every appointment very distressed, stating that he had been horrible to her.

Since then I have attended a workshop at National Conference, facilitated by CAFCASS personnel, who assured me that he was in the wrong to do this, as it was her human right to have someone in the appointments with her if she chose to. The woman in question at the time did not want us to take any action, as she was still dealing with CAFCASS and trying to win the right to see her children. She feared that “making trouble” for him would have a detrimental outcome on her case.


CAFCASS have developed an excellent training course on domestic violence for their workers but what Women’s Aid members have told us is that its implementation is patchy and inconsistent and that many of the workers do not understand the dynamics of domestic violence. Many of our respondents told us that CAFCASS can often side with the “charming” father and believe that he is going to change his behaviour because he has said so. We also have evidence of CAFCASS spending the majority of their time with the father and not with the mother and also interviewing the father and child together but not the mother and child. There are also reports from our members that CAFCASS also do not understand that perpetrators of domestic violence can be extremely manipulative.

Our members believe that CAFCASS workers need more training and that when they do receive it, or where there are mutual training days (see partnership working below) they develop a better understanding and are more likely to be objective in their reports:

“There is no deeper investigation into the cases—often what is said by the father is taken at face value”.

“The CAFCASS officers still do not have an understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence”.

“There is little understanding of abuse and its impact on women and children”.

“In (Y-town) I think there is only one good worker. She is the only one that has any grasp of dv. Yet this worker still made a comment to the mother [who had experienced severe domestic violence] on interviewing the child by saying “oh I see he gets his looks from his father”.

“They have no understanding of domestic violence. They don’t realise how manipulative perps can be”.

Case Study Example: N3 Area (Lancashire and Cumbria)

In this case it was the mother seeking contact (she has since suspended/withdrawn the case) as she had fled the abuser but could not take the boy with her (I am unsure whether it was due to ages of boys allowed in the refuge or if it was a speed of fleeing issue).

The DV had a profound effect on the boy and he had attempted suicide twice. He was also seen to be very attached to his mother.

He said he did not want to see his mother and started using language that mirrored the language that the father used (eg slag and slut etc).

The father had exerted a lot of pressure on the boy to say that he did not want to see his mother.

The mother had had an affair and the boy knew all of the details about this (which he could not have done unless the father had told him).

The officer took on board what the boy said completely without probing deeper into the family situation and into how the boy knew all of the details.

They also neglected to interview the other son, who was 18/19 who said that the father had told the younger brother about the affair.

In this case the boy had clearly been manipulated by the father but the CAFCASS officers did not pick this up.

Case Study Example: N4 Area (North and East Yorkshire and Humberside)

One of the children, who is 11, is displaying behavioural problems including violence against his male siblings and the mother. The father is encouraging the child’s behaviour against the mother.

The CAFCASS worker was assigned again to look into the case but the date for her report has already passed. She has yet to contact any outside agencies and the final hearing is in November.

She has seen the children, but with the father present and no permission from the mother who has residency. She has spent huge amounts of time with the father but none with the mother (which I feel is typical of CAFCASS in this area).

In court, the CAFCASS worker sat with her solicitor and gave him a huge list of questions to ask the mother, almost as if she were cross-examining the mother and challenging her evidence but she did not have any questions for the father.

She has no experience or understanding of dv. In general in the York area the workers have no understanding of perpetrators (ie that they come across as charming and are v manipulative). They appear to take what they say at face value. They also have poor knowledge of the impact of dv on families and children. There is also little empathy for the mothers.

It is also clear where the father is educated and middle class they tend to take his side and be very pro-contact, regardless of what the children say.

Service User Engagement

As outlined above, many of the issues around service user engagement are linked to a lack of thorough training on domestic violence. In some areas CAFCASS can appear quite hostile towards women according to our member services, whilst in others our members were very positive about CAFCASS’s attitudes towards women especially if they were in refuge provision.

“Once they know they [the women in their service] have been in refuge they are very sympathetic. They acknowledge that it is very difficult for them”.

“The use of male officers is still a cause for concern for many of the women as they are very reluctant to disclose the full levels of violence, especially sexual violence and this means that often the workers don’t think that the domestic violence is as bad as it is. This causes concern because women feel they are unable to present their case as fully as possible”.

“We have too many examples of times that domestic abuse is minimised. There is a lot of sympathy for the dads and admiration that they want to see their children. Past domestic violence is dismissed as they are keen for everyone “to move on”. Current abuse is minimised and even when noted, seen as something he should try to moderate but not dealt with seriously. Mums are put under a lot of pressure at court to put their needs aside in order to accommodate dad”.

Listening to Children

The message is clear here—CAFCASS in most (but not all) of the areas that we consulted do not adequately listen to the voices of children. We have clear evidence where children have clearly said they do not want any contact with their father but yet CAFCASS recommend that contact takes place.

“They are still not listening to the children as much as they should do”.

“In another case, the client asked the WA worker to go with them for their CAFCASS interview. The CAFCASS worker refused to allow WA to be present. This case was originally in an outreach service but the mother and the child are so terrified that they entered into refuge provision. The child who is 7/8 is so terrified of her father that she does not want any contact with him. CAFCASS did not take this seriously”.

Case Study Example: N3 (Lancashire and Cumbria)

In this case a 14 year old girl wanted no contact with her father, that she had no interest in maintaining relations with him.

The mother said that she did not mind if the father had contact but that it was up to the daughter.

The CAFCASS officer said that the mother was clearly manipulating the daughter into saying that she did not want contact and recommended that contact be awarded.

This was also a case that had been to MARAC so was obviously high risk.

Partnership Working

There are mixed levels of engagement by CAFCASS with Women’s Aid members. In some areas CAFCASS work very effectively and value Women’s Aid members’ input into their report whilst in other areas CAFCASS will not even talk to our members and view them as not being of importance or of a professional level.

“CAFCASS are happy to engage and the manager of CAFCASS (although she is leaving I think) works with the manager of WA”.

“Hull Women’s Aid and CAFCASS have a very good working relationship. The workers appear to have good knowledge of DV and WA has no concerns about them”.

“We have tried to build bridges with CAFCASS by inviting them for mutual training and information. This has been cancelled on a number of occasions”.

“CAFCASS do not attend the local dv forum which I feel is not a tokenistic forum, as in other areas, but is very well attended by all other agencies (health, police, social services, local council etc.) CAFCASS’s non-attendance has been raised on more than one occasion at the forum but they appear unwilling to engage. They need a cultural shift not just training”.

“CAFCASS tell the service when they are involved and ask for recommendations from the service on what they should do—they use our existing relations with the children to consult their views. They ask us to ask the children (and in our own opinions) whether there should be contact and at what level (supervised, unsupervised, overnight etc) we are also asked to prepare court reports for CAFCASS on the children’s views”.

“We have had no response to any complaints made and feel that no changes have been made to CAFCASS as a result of our complaints.”

April 2012

1 Povey, D (ed.), Coleman, K, Kaiza, P and Roe, S (2009), Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 200708 (Supplementary Volume 2 to “Crime in England and Wales 2007/08”). Home Office Statistical Bulletin 02/09,

2 Department of Health (2002), Women Health into the Mainstream, London: DH.

3 As above.

4 Barter, C, McCarry, M, Berridge, D and Evans, K (2009) Partner exploitation and violence in teenage intimate relationships, London: NSPCC, available at

5 Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Forced Marriage Unit Website,

6 Cowan, R (2004), “Death threat couple still running 11 years on”, The Guardian Newspaper, 28 June 2004. Available at

7 Home Office and Scottish Executive (2004), UK Action Plan on Tackling Human Trafficking.

8 Walker, A, Flatley, J, Kershaw, C and Moon, D, (Eds) (2009) Crime in England and Wales 200809, Home Office Statistical Bulletin 11/09, London: Home Office.

9 Dorkenoo, E, Morison, L and MacFarlane, A (2009) A Statistical Study to Estimate the Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation in England and Wales Summary Report, London: FORWARD.

10 End Violence Against Women and Yougov poll of 16-18 year olds (October 2010).

11 Järvinen, J, Kail, A and Miller, I (2008) Hard-knock life, New Philanthropy Capital.

12 Professor Marianne Hester and her colleagues likens this to three separate and non-communicating planets: see Radford, Lorraine and Hester, Marianne (2007) Mothering through domestic violence (London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers).

13 Channel 4 despatches child homicide study (July 2009).

14 Brandon, Marion, Pippa Belderson, Catherine Warren, David Howe, Ruth Gardner, Jane Dodsworth and Jane Black. (2008) Analysing Child Deaths and Serious Injury through Abuse and Neglect: What Can We Learn? A Biennial Analysis of Serious Case Reviews 2003-2005. (London: DSCF).

15 Saunders, H (2004), 29 Child Homicides, Bristol: Women’s Aid.

16 Letter dated 16.7.2002 to Women’s Aid Federation of England from Rosie Winterton, Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department).

17 Department of Health (2002), Women’s Mental Health: Into the Mainstream.

18 Yearnshaw, S (1997) “Analysis of Cohort”, in Bewley, S, Friend J and Mezey G (eds.) Violence Against Women, London: Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

19 Royal College of Psychiatrists (2004), Domestic Violence: Its Effects on Children, Factsheet for Parents and Teachers, (23.08.10).

20 Stanko, B (2000) The Day to Count: A Snapshot of the Impact of Domestic Violence in the UK Royal Holloway, London: University of London.

21 Schutt, N (2006), Domestic violence in adolescent relationships: Young people in Southwark and their experiences with unhealthy relationships, London: Safer Southwark Partnership; Sugar Magazine Poll (2005); End Violence Against Women (EVAW) (2006) UK Poll of 16-20 Year Olds. End Violence. Against Women. November 2006. ICM, available at: (accessed 07.09.10)

22 Barter, C, McCarry, M, Berridge, D and Evans, K (2009) op cit.

23 Kelly, L (1994) “The Interconnectedness of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse: Challenges for Research, Policy and Practice”, in Mullender, A and Morley, R (eds.) Children Living With Domestic Violence, London: Whiting and Birch.

24 Lewis, G (ed.) (2007) The Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health (CEMACH): Saving Mothers’ Lives: reviewing maternal deaths to make motherhood safer - 2003-2005. Seventh Report on Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths in the United Kingdom, London: CEMACH.

25 Ibid.

26 ABS (2006) Personal Safety Survey, Australia, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Catalogue No 4906.055.003, Canberra. (accessed 03.09.10).

27 Campbell, J (2002) “Health Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence”, Lancet, Vol 359.

28 Schornstein, S (1997) Domestic Violence and Health Care: What every professional needs to know, Thousand Oaks, California, USA: Sage.

29 See for example Taft, A, Watson, L, and Lee, C (2004) “Violence Against Young Australian Women and Association with Reproductive Events: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of a National Population Sample”, Aust N Z J Public Health, Vol. 28 and McWilliams and McKiernan (1993).

30 BMA (2007) Domestic Abuse – A Report from the BMA Board of Science, London: British Medical Association.

31 See for example Hague et al (1996), Hester and Pearson (1998), McGee (2000), Mullender et al (2002) and Radford and Hester (2006).

32 Jaffe et al (1990) Children of Battered Women, Newbury Park, California: Sage.

33 See note 22 above.

34 Edleson, J (1999) “Children Witnessing of Adult Domestic Violence”, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14:4.

35 Hester, M and Pearson, C (1998) From Periphery to Centre: Domestic Violence in Work with Abused Children, Bristol: Policy Press.

36 Cawson, P (2002) Child Maltreatment in the Family: The Experience of a National Sample of Young People, London: NSPCC.

37 Abrahams, H (1994) Hidden Victims: Children and Domestic Violence, London: NCH (Now Action for Children).

38 For a detailed discussion of the impact of domestic violence on children see Hester et al (2007) op cit.

39 Perry, B, Pollard, R, Blakley, T, Baker, W and Vigilante, D (1995) “Childhood Trauma, the Neurobiology of Adaptation”, and “Use-Dependent” Development of the Brain: How “States” Become “Traits”, Infant Medical Journal, 16:4, p 273.

40 The impacts detailed below have been adapted from Women’s Aid’s Expect Respect Educational Toolkit, available to download for free from:

41 Abrahams, 1994) op. cit.

42 Home Affairs Select Committee (2008), Sixth Report or (accessed 24.09.10).

43 Prevention work is also vital when working in other youth settings including: youth clubs; short-stay schools (formerly pupil referral units) and youth offending teams.

44 The text on developing a whole-school approach has been adapted from Sharpen, J and Wharf, H (2010), Teenage Relationship Abuse: A Teacher’s Guide to Violence and Abuse in Teenage Relationships, London: Home Office.

45 The Every Child Matters Agenda no longer exists as in government terminology (post-May) although agencies are still using it.

46 Women’s Aid (2010) Children’s Support Workers: A Special Survey; Women’s Aid, National Children’s Supporter Worker Meeting, 26 November 2010.

47 For example, in a 2008 study conducted by the Ministry of Justice into applications for child contact orders, in 54% of cases sampled, the resident parent raised concerns over serious welfare issues, 34% of which were related to domestic violence. See Hunt, J and Macleod, S (2008), Outcomes of applications to court for contact orders after parental separation or divorce, Briefing Note, Ministry of Justice, Family Law and Justice Division, September 2008.

48 Ministry of Justice (2010), Court Statistics Quarterly: January to March 2010, Ministry of Justice Statistical Bulletin.

49 See for example Hester & Radford (1996) Domestic Violence and Access Arrangements for Children in Denmark and England, Policy Press, University of Bristol.

50 Professor Marianne Hester and her colleagues likens this to three separate and non-communicating planets: see Radford, Lorraine and Hester, Marianne (2007) Mothering through domestic violence (London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers).

51 Lord Justice Wall (2007) Domestic Violence in Consent Orders, in a speech to the Hertfordshire Family Forum at the Law Faculty of the University of St Albans on 13 March 2007, available at:

52 Barron, J (2007), Kidspeak: Giving Children and Young People a Voice on Domestic Violence, Bristol: Women’s Aid.

53 NAPO, (2002) Contact, Separation and the work of Family Court Staff: A Briefing, NAPO the Trade Union and Professional association for Family Court and Probation Staff.

54 HMICA, (2005) Domestic Violence, Safety and Family Proceedings, available from: (accessed April 2009).

55 CAFCASS, (2007) Putting Children First, available from: (accessed April 2009).

56 Ofsted, (2008) Ofsted’s Inspection of Cafcass South East Region, available from:

Prepared 16th November 2012