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A new European deal for families

The Europe-wide COFACE Families Europe, a pluralistic network of civil society associations representing the interests of all families, is seeking sustainable and lasting solutions for families in the future. They have just issued a list of key short-term demands to be achieved by the new European Commission from 2020-2024.  

They reflect the needs and challenges of families of today and call for a mix of European actions (policy, law, funding, benchmarking, innovation) to drive real change. Their demands are:

I. A Europe recognising ALL family forms without discrimination.

II. A Europe which believes in equal opportunities for all families, with a special focus on equality between women and men, as a cornerstone for achieving reconciliation between family and professional life.

III. A Europe which invests in child well-being, shaping a healthy society, environment and economy fit for children.

IV. A Europe which promotes the participation of all families and children, with a special focus on persons with disabilities and their families to all areas of life.

V. A Europe which empowers all families and gives them a voice to act as citizens, consumers, and workers, with strong support for European and national civil society organisations.

VI. A Europe which harnesses the transformative power of technology and promotes an Internet for All.

VII. A Europe which tackles poverty and social exclusion of families and their members, through access to resources and community-based services.

VIII. A Europe which promotes intergenerational solidarity, with full support and recognition of the role of family carers.

IX. A Europe which respects human rights and advances the rights of ALL families and their members.

X. A Europe which makes the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals a reality.


Children (Scotland) Bill published

The Scottish Government has published the Children (Scotland) Bill along with a Policy Memorandum and Explanatory Notes which explain background to the legislation.  It will now be debated in the Scottish Parliament, with the main scrutiny probably taking place in the Justice Committee this Autumn.

A Family Justice Modernisation Strategy has also been published today, outlining work that is ongoing by Scottish Government and others to improve the operation of family justice; work that can be done through secondary legislation or by improved guidance, areas covered by the Children (Scotland) Bill which has been introduced to the Scottish Parliament, and areas that are for longer term work.

Commenting on the Bill, Ian Maxwell from Families Need Fathers Scotland said:

"While measures regulating Child Welfare Reporters and Contact Centres and on taking views of the child are welcome, the Bill as it stands is a massively wasted opportunity."  

"Families Need Fathers Scotland will press hard during the Scottish Parliament's consideration of the Bill for equally shared parenting to become the starting point if a court has to decide about arrangements for children after separation."

"This change has worked well in a range of other countries, and it would put Scotland ahead of other UK legislations in promoting the involvement of both parents with their children even if they live apart."

The Scottish Government says that the new legislation aims to ensure that children’s best interests are at the centre of every family law case and that children’s views are heard by the court.

The Children (Scotland) Bill will further strengthen the family law system. Proposals include regulation of child contact centres to ensure they are safe places for children to meet family members.

Child welfare reporters, who may be appointed when the court has been asked to resolve a dispute between parents, will also be regulated. This will ensure reporters are trained to understand and respond to issues such as domestic abuse and coercive control.

Other improvements for domestic abuse victims and their children include allowing special measures such as screens and a live video links to be used in Child Welfare Hearings, and prohibiting a party from conducting their own case if there is a vulnerable witness.

Community Safety Minister Ash Denham said:

 “We know that family breakdown can be very upsetting for children. It is our responsibility to ensure the family justice system is supportive and does not contribute to their distress. That means putting the best interests of the child first in every case and ensuring their voice is heard, including younger children.

“Children’s welfare is paramount and we have been guided by their views and experiences in developing this bill. More than half of responses to the consultation came via our child-friendly questionnaire.”

Families Need Fathers Scotland will comment in more detail on the Bill shortly.


Time for a Radical Change in Scottish Family Law

The Scottish Government intends to lay its long awaited Family Law Bill at Holyrood this coming week. It will also publish a broader Family Justice Modernisation Strategy.

FNF Scotland is publishing today its critique of where the present system falls short and our proposals for a radical change of approach, The Way Forward For Scotland.

The Way Forward For Scotland urges the government to take a radical approach to its task. There needs to be a paradigm shift in attitudes  and practice towards supporting coparenting of children when their parents do not live together. 

FNF Scotland's casework over 10 years shows the  present system lacks emotional intelligence when it steers parents who can't agree to share parenting into an expensive, interminable and disruptive adversarial approach in which a parent "wins" time with their children by criticising the skills and the character of the other instead of supporting them towards a solution that works best and reduces stress for their children.

FNF Scotland National Manager, Ian Maxwell, says, “Law by itself cannot solve every problem. A court is never a precision tool. However they do affect the approach, the language and the attitude of the many individuals and agencies whose job is to make it work.

 “We believe the 'winner-loser' approach in court and in pre-court correspondence between lawyers isn't best fitted for reaching decisions about parenting. The adversarial approach lacks incentives for separated parents to collaborate positively for the benefit of their children and at crucial points embeds disincentives to share parenting.”

FNF Scotland proposes:

SHARED PARENTING : The new law should include a presumption of equal parenting as a starting point if parents can't decide on the care pattern for children and have to go to court. It will be a rebuttable presumption if it can be established it is not safe or practical or sustainable for the children but the starting point will be equality and continuity of parenting. Arguments before the sheriff should be evidence-based and should allow the sheriff to be 'inquisitorial' in pinning down issues rather than presiding over an adversarial process in which parenting time is won by criticising the skills or the character of the other parent.

CHILD WELFARE REPORTING : A programme of induction, training and oversight of child welfare reporters should be introduced across Scotland. Child Welfare Reporters play a crucial part in sheriff court decisions but at present there is no required training, no performance appraisal and no transparency in the appointment process. Reporters should be required to have training in taking the views of children similar to that in Joint Investigative Interviewing.

SPEEDY CONTACT DECISIONS : The law should stress the importance of quick action to decide on resumption of contact and the benefits to children on seeing both parents. At present cases can drag on for months into years and cost tens of thousands of pounds without any resolution being reached. In the meantime the relationships between parent and child can be damaged and reduced contact can become a fait accompli.

TERMINOLOGY : Remove the terms “residence” and “contact” from the courts to stop one parent assuming they can make unilateral decisions on important parenting issues and demand control relations with schools and health providers. Replace with, for example, “Parenting Orders”.

VOICE OF THE CHILD : Improve the way in which children are involved in contact cases, both for collecting their views and giving them feedback on any court decision but without making the child bear the responsibility for choosing one parent over the other.

ENFORCEMENT : Change the procedures for enforcement of contact orders to allow for a range of sanctions including community service for persistent refusal to comply. Courts should also be able to order parenting/family therapy and measures to address Parental Alienation.


Forthcoming changes

As we approach our tenth anniversary, Families Need Fathers Scotland is working on a series of new developments.

A new web site will be launched in early October, bringing this site together with our Shared Parenting site.  The new site will be easier to use on tablets and phones, and will include a wider range of information about Scottish family law and court procedure.  This will include a set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions based on the enquiries we receive on our helpline, at local group meetings and on our local WhatsApp groups.

The new web site will include running commentary on our lobbying work this Autumn to influence the new Family Law Bill and the accompanying Family Justice Modernisation Strategy, along with other news from Scotland and abroad.  

We will continue to promote our training including a new online course backed up by coaching sessions on conflict management and further training for lay supporters and on grief/stress management.

We will also use it to raise funds through activities such as the Kiltwalk. The final Kiltwalk for 2019 is on Sunday 15th September and our team page is here : https://tinyurl.com/fnfskwed2019 .

The new website will also promote the new name of the organisation - more details shortly.


Love can also live in two houses

As part of their campaign to influence Portuguese politicians considering shared parenting legislation, a TV campaign has been launched by the Portuguese Association for Parental Equality and Children's Rights (Igualdade Parentale).

In their advert a child speaks in class with joy and with much knowledge of his day to day life with the parent he lives with.  But when it comes to talking about the parent whom he sees only every fifteen days, words are harder and his knowledge is less. You notice discomfort in the room and you get the feeling of lives that are not lived entirely as they should.

The campaign states that spending equal amounts of time with both parents is a right and changing the law in favour of shared parenting will ensure a better life for children.  It will be shown on two of the three major national TV channels and four cable tv channels from June 3rd. 

Igualdade Parentale also point out that a wide range of scientific studies show that alternate residence reduces conflict and improves children's lives.  Children are better protected when both fathers and mothers are equally involved in their lives and when social institutions support them in fulfilling their responsibilities.  A survey carried out by Netsonda in 2018 found almost 70% of Portuguese parents agreeing that children should stay equally with both parents after separation.