“The Children Act is an act of kindness”
By Robert Whiston FRSA 27th April 2012 [unfinished]
It would all too easy to ask ‘What planet does Professor Liz Trinder think she is living on ?’ After all, who in their right mind could write and believe that “The Children Act is an act of kindness.”
Left: Liz Trinder, a little more wrinkled by 2011.
However, the issues and her ‘economies with the truth’ are too important to lightly dismiss in that way. One suspects she is fighting a rearguard action to protect her reputation from annihilation before she has time to retire.
Like a prehistoric spider forever trapped inside amber she makes an excellent specimen to examine.
Writing in the Guardian (Feb 7th 2012) Prof. Liz Trinder warned of the dangers of legislating on shared parenting which come through clearly from “the research evidence.”  By which she means the hugely derisible Norgrove Report. 
The ‘research evidence’ in the Norgrove Report can be summed up as repeatedly stating that:
- “the fundamentals of the Children Act 1989 stand up to scrutiny and so do the courts” [ in as much that] “it is undeniably right that the best interests of the child should be the paramount consideration in every case.”
Right: Trinder, in her salad days
If the system is so wonderful and so ‘fundamentally sound’ why are we spending, like the Greek government, tranches of time (year after year) looking for reforms only to decide that none are needed ? Everyone knows collapse and default are just around the corner but everyone is too polite to speak about it.
I probably first came across a youthful Trinder in Whitehall committees in the early 2000s. She had all the confidence only youth can possess – as Mark Twain might have put it. It was probably while she was a senior lecturer in Social Research at the University of East Anglia.
Trinder makes some sweeping statements in her Guardian article that are not strictly true in all respects and are hugely misleading in the opinion of some.
Each of her major claims will therefore be numbered and then addressed:
- 1. “One powerful driver for the government’s position appears to be an attempt to address public perceptions that the courts don’t recognise the joint nature of parenting. This seems to be based on the repeated claims of fathers’ rights groups like Fathers 4 Justice, frequently repeated in the media, that the courts are biased against men. But there is no evidence to back claims that fathers are disadvantaged in court. Under the Children Act both fathers and mothers have parental responsibility, incorporating rights and responsibilities for their children. Since the mid-1990s courts have bent over backwards to try to ensure contact takes place.”
Why does she cite Fathers 4 Justice when there are dozens of other fathers’ rights groups who also repeat the same claims ? Knowing Fathers 4 Justice reputation among ‘decent folk’ and in respectable circles she is playing politics with the ideal and principle of equality hoping to cast fathers’ rights in a sinister light. Does she see a conspiracy when single mothers lobby for more state benefits or better tax treatment ? Of course not.
She claims that public perceptions and fathers’ rights groups are incorrect to believe that “courts don’t recognise the joint nature of parenting.” She says there is no evidence to back claims that the courts are biased against men and justifies this by stating that “fathers and mothers have parental responsibility.” To arrive at this conclusion she has to be a spinster (or obviously has no children of her own).
Parental Responsibility gives you as a parent next to nothing – only custody gives something meaningful and since fathers have been banned from having legal guardianship and custody of their own children since 1991 it is a moot point. Notice now the sleight of hand when she says:
- “Since the mid-1990s courts have bent over backwards to try to ensure contact takes place.”
Time and again from the radical feminist quarter will come this allegation and disinformation. Yes, courts do want to ensure contact takes place – but they will not mandate it. Courts are effectively castrated if a recalcitrant mother decides to block contact whenever the fancy takes her. ‘Contact’ is not parenting; it is not even shared parenting but this is the definition the Trinder types adopt. Parenting is shared in their minds if the father has contact at weekends. Over a year this amounts to no more than 14% of the child’s time being spent with its father.
How many women would be happy to see their children for only 14% of the year instead of the present 86% ? Why is Trinder, and her type, so deliberately and unreasonably blind ? All fathers are asking for is a little less bias in time apportionment.
- 2. “In 2010 the courts refused only 300 of 95,000 such applications. Careful research based on analysis of court records finds that the great majority of fathers get the contact they seek and often do better than mothers. Indeed, the contact presumption is so strong that research studies have found concerns raised by mothers – especially about domestic violence – are not being addressed adequately by the courts.”
This statement is a huge irrelevance in one way and a killer admission in another. Contact applications can number 300 or 300,000 – it would make no difference. It is the ability, or lack of it, to enforce contact order that counts. Since contact applications give rise to ‘contact order’, the better measure of fairness, efficacy and equality for fathers would be how many orders are executed without a breach or problem arising. That number might only be 30%, 50% or 60% – we simply don’t know.
The 95,000 applications are for ‘contact’ are most interestingly since this plays against the radical feminist claims that shared parenting opens the door to abuse and / or violence in families (and should therefore be opposed). Clear as day we can see that 300 applications were adjudged to be not in the child’s best interests (for a multitude of reasons). In other words, 0.3% are refused.
Of the 300 denied Contact Applications the majority (but by no means all) will be against allegedly violent fathers. But what of the minority, i.e. mothers ? Are those women/ mothers who are denied Contact Orders also violent, or are they visibly mentally unbalanced ?
The Australian experience, since 2006 using date from shared parenting orders, would seem to indicate these two factors to be the principal reasons for denial.
In that 0.3% it is claimed domestic violence and child abuse takes place. But what proportion of that 0.3% is due to husbands being frustrated by their ex-wives playing fast and loose with contact visiting times, ex-wives making false allegations and how much is mother abuse of children ? The numbers of mothers rather than fathers abusing and murdering their children is much greater and is dealt with at length in another of these blog pages.
If yearly only 300 applications are denied at present – when the stakes are high and the regime induces the misuse of control over children – it is unlikely to rise further when that ability to abuse control over children (granted to mothers) is rearranged so that neither parent has a reason to thwart or sabotage the child’s seeing the other parent.
- 3. “The research evidence is clear, then, that the claim of systematic bias against fathers is a myth. Indeed the justice secretary, Ken Clarke, said on the Today programme that he does not believe there is any bias. So it is worrying that this entirely unnecessary change is likely to lead to poorer outcomes for children.”
Ken Clarke as the Minister for the Justice also recently said he wanted the (unfair) law on rape anonymity and by inference rape trials changed but it never happened. Mr. Clarke is a nice enough bloke but he is hardly likely to undermine his own Ministry by admitting his courts are systematically biased against fathers, now is he ?
We have to read between the lines and see that a Working Group of Cabinet ranking ministers are looking into the issue of shared parenting.
Trinder really does need to get a grip. In the latest Telegraph poll, undertaken in Feb 2012, fully 75% of British people thought fathers should have the same rights as mothers regarding the care and parenting of their children after divorce (the sample size was a rather substantial 3,996).
In saying that all this change is unnecessary Trinder is turning her deaf aid off to the pleas of grown up children who wish they had been able to meet and know their father 30 or 40 years ago. All the television programmes made on this subject over and over again underscore the ‘emptiness’ that these young adults now feel. They feel resentful that something or someone has denied them their rights. They feel cheated out of having the basic right of knowing their father and growing up with him.
Trinder has the temerity, nay, the insolence to assert that ‘poorer outcomes’ for children will be the result when all the world – but for her little coterie – are saying that ‘outcomes’ under the present regime are so appalling things can’t be allowed to continue.
In that singular regard she has not altered her ideology since her salad days. Age, it would seem, does not of itself bring wisdom
- 4. Behind much of the debate is a set of unhelpful myths about wicked, vengeful women and innocent, bewildered fathers. While these stereotypes might exist in small numbers, they do not stand up to empirical scrutiny. As Oscar Wilde put it “the truth is rarely pure and never simple“. It is no surprise that lawyers, judges and researchers who hear all sides of the family story – men, women and children — do not support changes to the law.
Trinder is foolish to imply that all the lawyers, judges and researchers she knows reject the changes to the law. Obviously some lawyers and judges will object but equally there is strong and what is more constant and growing support for change
Judges at the lower level of courts might find learning a new set of rules tiresome but at the High Court and Appeal Court level there is a growing acknowledgement that these reforms are long overdue.
If we concede for arguments’ sake that lawyers, judges and researchers hear all sides of the family story and are better placed than most would that ‘most’ include teachers ? They alone have to teach children across a range of ages and can immediately identify children from broken families and children in homes where fathers are absent. The giveaways are not only in their behavior but in the quality of their schoolwork, homework and grades achieved. These are true measures of outcomes not gut feelings of lawyers and judges.
As for researchers, Oh dear, where do your begin. Most researchers in this field are women. Most are tied to universities with known ideological bents, e.g. Liz Kelly at North London Polytechnic (now the University of North London). When not feminist acolytes, researchers are slaves to fashionable culture and politics like the Dobash & Dobash duo, described by someone who knew them well as “heavily Marxist.”
Then look at the work these researchers undertake (e.g. Betsy Stanko) and what they measure. Ask yourself how many surveys study men and fathers and how many study mothers and women ? The ratio is probably in the region of 100: 1.
Ditto with government surveys. The ONS which undertakes the Family Expenditure Survey (FES), the Labour Force Survey (which also measures, for example, household demographics, living arrangements and SMH), the Household Panel Survey and a host of other surveys, all of which depend on asking women for the majority of their results.
Trinder has obviously never worked at the coal face – the interface where fathers hit the brick walls of insensitive institutions constructed by society.
Nor has Trinder been stonewalled of sandbagged by society’s insensitive institutions. Homosexuals have, in their time, encountered both stonewalling and sandbagging and who among the radical feminists calls them innocent and bewildered ? Who among the radical feminists discount their claims as nothing more than wicked, unhelpful and vengeful myths ?
There has always, since before 1992 more men out of work than women and they are out of work for longer periods than women – often by a factor of 4 or 6 times – but we hear nothing of that. We only hear unemployment numbers mentioned when more women than usual lose their job in the current recession. Maybe “the truth is rarely pure and never simple”.
If Trinder feels moved to quote the witty but fundamentally shallow and narcissistic Oscar Wilde, then let me quote a pithy and even older and wiser sage; “By their fruit shall ye know them.”
“Outcomes” for children who are not in shared parenting families post divorce are disadvantaged for life. It is irrefutable. 
- 5. Only 10% of separated families go to court about contact. They are a highly conflicted group, with multiple problems and where both parents feel unheard.
This hoary chestnut is rolled out of retirement every time the need to belittle the problem becomes essential. The 10% figure is derived from the ONS ‘Omnibus survey’ which does not bear scrutiny and bears little resemblance to actual real life. The case outlining its dubiousness has been stated many times before but it will quickly be recapped here. Every year there are approx 140,000 divorces. Approx 120,000 involve families with children. As for the ‘highly conflicted group’ nonsense, this is dealt with in the Appendix and more fully in others blog titles on this site.
The ONS’s Omnibus Survey of 2002-04 was based on a comparatively small sample of 935 adults (649 were resident parents and 312 were non-resident parents). The DfES made the results publicly available on Friday 19th March 2004 at a time when once again shared parenting was on the political agenda.
Addendum: April 2013 – At last we know this 10% to be untrue. An academic voice has validated our contention that the 10% figure is a nonsense. In written evidence to the Children and Families bill committee, Prof. Parkinson (author of Australia shared parenting law reform) poured scorn on the claim in child custody matters that “Only 10% choose to come to court over contact arrangements.” In written evidence put before parliament he shows why it is wrong and unreliable (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmjust/739/739vw09.htm
This 10% figure has been cited extensively over the years and by Prof. Liz Trinder (and her inner circle of Jenn McIntosh), Peacey and Hunt (2008) and as far back as Joan Hunt & Ceridwen Roberts (2004). For a brief review of its importance and impact see also “Parkinson’s cavalry crushes Norgrove’s big guns” http://equalparenting.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/16-2/.
In England & Wales only, the number of divorces in 2010 was 119,589 (see graph left). For ease of arithmetic we will round this up to 120,000 – and this does not include all those unmarried also couples seeking contact orders.
If 10% were the true figure we would see 12,000 families going to court to make contact applications every year. But we don’t see that number – we see anywhere between 30,000 ad 60,000 (see Tables below).
So either 400,000 divorces happen every year, or the 10% figure is misleadingly false.
In the first Table the numbers of ‘Residence Applications’ total 30,006 and Contact Applications number 61,356 (making a combined total of approx. 91,300).
Given that approx. 140,000 couples divorced in the year 2002, couples coming to their ‘own arrangements’ must be in the minority since it is arithmetically impossible for 30,006 or 61,356 or even 91,300 to be 10% of those divorcing, i.e. the majority must be going to court.
Table 1. Contact and Residence applications made under Sect 8 of the Children Act 1989. (Source: Hansard 24th May 2004 : Column 1318W).
Arguably, if over 61,000 contact applications were made and over 2,000 applications were withdrawn then the potential market size is 63,000, or approx 60% of the number divorcing (even disregarding the other categories).
NB. In fact, from Hansard we learn that in 2003 there were 115,944 court applications in private law for contact (this includes County Court and High Court http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmconst/116/116we32.htm
The above figures (Table 1) and ones in Table 2 below disprove the official claim that only 10% of couples go to court to settle their child custody disputes. Together they give the lie to scare stories that shared parenting will increase litigation
Table 2 demonstrates that between 1994 and 2003 the Family Court Division was overburdened with Applications in one form or another. The number in the ‘Orders made’ category rose from 22,706 in 1994 to 61,717 by 2003. The number of Welfare Reports made out by CAFCASS staff increased from 14,619 in 1994 to over 33,400 in 2003.
- Table 2. County Court contact applications -England & Wales – annual totals. Total Applications & Outcomes. Source SPIG. http://www.spig.clara.net/stat2/frame-1.htm
It is to stem this rising tide that shared parenting is being introduced. With custody mediation being undertaken outside courtroom the legal process will be speeded up and will be less of a cost for the tax-payer. The present system is very expensive but it does not deliver high quality results. Shared parenting has every prospect of turning around this situation.
Evidence submitted by the Department for Constitutional Affairs
PUBLIC AND PRIVATE LAW APPLICATIONS MADE IN EACH TIER OF COURT BY CIRCUIT, 2003
NB. During 2003, a total of 22,725 public law applications were made to the family courts (a decrease of nearly 4% from 2002), and a further 115,944 private law applications (an increase of 4%) were made.
It is more likely that violence and abuse will occur in public law cases since the local authority, as the reactive agency, will have grounds of child endangerment or evidence of domestic abuse. If an examination of abuse cases were to be made which differentiated between public law and private law cases it would probably clearly show a great divide. But so long as the two are commingled and then conflated the more the public will be mislead.
 “The Children Act is an act of kindness” Guardian, Feb 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/feb/06/no-bias-against-fathers-childrens-act
 Norgrove Report “The Government Response to the Family Justice Review” Feb 2012. https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/CM-8273.pdf
 See for example Charles Murray’s book ‘The Underclass Revisited’, AEI Press (1999).