Key issues raised by research on child contact and domestic violence
Dr Ravi Thiara and Dr Christine Harrison Centre for the Study of Safety and Wellbeing University of Warwick 2016
Existing research provides strong evidence that in making arrangements for child contact when there is a history of domestic violence, the current workings of the Family Justice System support a pro-contact approach that neglects the safety needs of children and women, and the impact on them of previous or continuing domestic violence. This frequently exposes children and women to further violence, causes them significant harm, and prevents their recovery. For a substantial number of children, the privileging of men’s rights to contact over children’s welfare negatively affects every aspect of their wellbeing and development. The individual and societal costs are unacceptable. In the UK there have been conflicting developments in safeguarding children and women. It is widely acknowledged that, whilst criminal justice responses have improved, the law, policy and practice in relation to child contact arrangements following parental separation remain dominated by models that marginalise the impact of domestic violence. Studies reveal that concerns about children’s safety and the effects of men’s violence are routinely overlooked, in voluntary as well as court ordered arrangements. Indeed, it has proved inordinately difficult to improve safety, with serious implications for the health and development of children and their mothers. This promotion of fathers’ involvement in children’s lives at the expense of safety considerations (MacDonald, 2014) has perpetuated what Thiara and Humphreys (2015) describe as the ‘absent presence’ of violent men in the lives of children and women. More than anything, the presumption that contact is beneficial for children, unless proven otherwise, has been shown to be incredibly harmful for some children (Women’s Aid, 2016). The UK is a signatory of the Istanbul Convention (see http://www.humanrights.ch/en/standards/cetreaties/violence-against-women). This extends the commitments of European countries in combating domestic violence and its impact on children and women. Article 31 of the Convention requires member countries to strengthen legislation relating to visitation (contact) and custody (residence). Quite specifically, the Convention establishes an expectation that incidents of violence against the non-abusive parent will be taken into account by judicial authorities when determining arrangements for children i.e. contact orders should not be issued without taking into account the impact of domestic violence on children and women, and no arrangements should be made which jeopardise the rights and safety of a child or mother. This highlights a further contradiction in the UK government’s stance; although the UK is a signatory to the Convention, it has not yet been ratified.
read the full article here:-Safe not sorry