On Collision Course

Children’s futures are being poisoned by ‘ junk science ’ and an almighty clash is in the offing.  Government policy is about to be challenged head-on by a report.

What is known as the Norgrove Report (aka the Family Justice Review) will also become known as yet another missed / lost opportunity. it is not what teh Coalition governemtn was looking for. The Norgrove Report batently confronts government intentions. No government can allow one of its major policies to be trashed and still expect to retain credibility. Mohamed or the mountain will have to move.

Set up in the dying days of the last Labour government (Feb 2010), the Family Justice Review headed up by David Norgrove, was supposed to spell out the problems and find solutions.

The omens looked good; the new Coalition had taken over government and in opposition had promised to put an end to mother-only-custody after divorce. With regards ‘shared parenting’ they wanted both parents involved and had promised to legalise (make it happen).

Labour had also long stated this ambition but had never made any serious move to make it happen. The advent of a new broom in the form of the new administration looked like the ideal excuse for the FJR (Family Justice Review) to make itself useful, live up to its remit and get the job done.

In Nov 2010, Tim Loughton MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education – the minister with responsibilities for the topic laid out proposals to tackle “parental alienation.” In a written response to a question, he told the House of Commons that the government intended to legislate in favour of shared parenting :-

  • Tim Loughton [holding answer 25 November 2010]: “The coalition Government’s programme for government makes clear our intention to encourage shared parenting. One of the principles governing the work of the Family Justice Review is that the positive involvement of both parents should be promoted post-separation”  [1]

Ahead of a national consultation leading to legislation, the Review Panel was supposed to issue its final report in the autumn 2011 for reforming the Family Justice System. Clearly, if the Review Panel does not recommend the shared parenting so many ministers have promised it will be seen to undermined their veracity.

The list of ministers and the number of occasions when ‘shared parenting’ has been stated as a goal have been too numerous to ignore or be swept under the carpet.  A list of the most easily found speeches by MPs and ministers is shown in Appendix A.

  • “The spring 2011 Interim Report from David Norgrove’s Review of Family Law proposed enshrining in law the principle (but not the presumption) that children benefit from each parent having a meaningful involvement in their lives. However in his final report Norgrove has dropped this proposal.” [2] – Centre for Social Justice

Media reports in Nov 2011 began claiming that the Norgrove review into the workings of family law had decided that fathers should not be  guaranteed equal parental rights or status after divorce.

Why has the Norgrove’s Review apparently ‘turned turtle’ ?  Alas, everyone  was forgetting that Norgrove was formerly a civil servant and a Whitehall mandarin –  why would he want to rock the boat for his friends ?

Above: David Norgrove

Having dallied in the real world of commerce briefly he had to be fired in 2004 as the only under-performing (double-digit sales declines) director at Marks & Spencers for his “lack of performance.”  [3]

With an amassed pension pot from M & S  of almost £1.5m and with a £330,000 ‘golden goodbye’, he could afford to while away several months working as a ‘sheep hand’ on a New Zealand sheep station. [4]

The David Norgrove report is emphatically NOT the report that David Cameron (the PM) called for when he asked that the operation of Family Law be reviewed. Cameron’s intention was to ensure that the principles enshrined in the Children Act 1989, namely that there be a presumption that it is in a child best interests (CBI) to be brought up in a family – even where that family was no longer living together – should be properly implemented.

Additionally, that the current custom and practice – which has no place in law – where the child is presumptively placed in the sole residence of the mother (irrespective of her conduct or misconduct) be abandoned as it is not in the child’s best interests.

Unfortunately, the media have put a spin on the Norgrove report – perhaps out malice or ignorance – that it was commissioned by Cameron. It was not. In fact, it is so far away from Conservative thinking that the influential Conservative think-tank, the Centre for Social Justice took the unusual step of issuing a ‘distancing’ Press Release. [5]

CSJ‘s Executive Director, Gavin Poole, angry at the way the report had treated fathers and family groups said:  

  • “Norgrove’s refusal to acknowledge the importance of fathers and [refusal to] recommend a change to the law ignores the vast majority of public opinion and evidence about the devastating effect absent dads has on children.

The CSJ (Centre for Social Justice) press release goes on to state:

  • The CSJ has long championed the rights of children to have contact with non-resident parents and grandparents. Its work with the poorest communities and Britain’s summer rioting – shows time and again how fatherlessness is implicated in youth crime, educational failure, addictions and worklessness.  
  • “We urge the Government to take the lead themselves in enshrining in law the importance that fathers and grandparents play in a child’s upbringing and update the Children’s Act in this highly significant way.”

Contrast the above with what you are about to read.

‘Junk science’ poisons children’s futures

Family justice as executed in the divorce courts is slow and incoherent and both parents and children suffer “shocking delays” over decisions.  This we already knew and no one needed an expensive enquiry to tell us the obvious. [6] It is also not justice and not family-oriented.

The key demand of fathers’ rights campaigners to give both parents equal access to children after divorce is ruled out by Norgrove – and one has to ask why ? After all, even a government spokesman said it was vital to “radically reform” the family justice system ?

In refusing to give fathers any rights Norgrove said on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme that:

  • “Fundamentally, this is not about the rights of parents, it’s about the welfare of children and we should be focused entirely on that.

If it is solely about the “welfare of children” how can that ambition be accommodated with the known and accepted fact that denying a child access to both parents is contrary to the welfare of that child ?

Is he perhaps forgetting that parents and adults generally do have rights and want to exercise them they do not want civil servants who are paid out of their taxed incomes telling them whatthey should or should not be entitled to?  These same adults have rights thatincluded demanding legislative change. We do not yet live in a totalitarian state where we are told what is best for us.

Clearly some ‘politicking’ of the worst kind and a poisoning of the mind has been underway.

Norgrove says parents should be ‘encouraged’ to make their own care arrangements when they separate but what chance will that stand where one party has all the rights and the other none ?

Grandparents are completely left out in the cold. Norgrove doesn’t even recognise they should have any rights to see their own grandchildren. In every other walk of life elderly people, i.e. grandparents are deemed a vulnerable class of citizens. Yet in divorce when age means they are less emotionally resilient they are expected to tough it out and are denied their basic human rights.

Norgrove’s excuse for A). not helping fathers and B). abandoning grandparents is interesting in its deceit.

Left: Jennifer McIntosh

His claim to be ‘not against fathers’ is based on tainted if not poisoned evidence supplied by a known ‘anti-shared parenting’ advocate, one Jenifer Macintosh who, although being an Australian academic appears to have made herself comfortable at deliberations on the other side of the world, in London.

Norgroves gives his raison d’être for changing nothing as:

  • “The evidence from other countries, particularly Australia, is thatif you put thatkind of requirement into legislation, it leads to damage to children because you put them right in the middle of those last few per cent of parents who are separating who get into really violent dispute.”

What is this ‘evidence’ of which he speaks ? Could it be that the child abuse and child homicides by adults has fallen since 2006 when the legislative change took effect ? He appears unaware of this measure.

The ‘evidence’ turns out to be no more than a small sample survey of troubled families trying to negotiate a separation. Norgrove might not be aware of its but as far back as 2002 CAFCASS admitted that these troublesome families with intractable problems accounted for only 2% to 5% of their cases.

Before going on to explore this ‘evidence’ some perspective needs to be given regarding the 5%. To paraphrase Norgrove  “. . . those last few per cent of parents” who separate and who hotly or violently dispute custody matters are, relatively speaking, insignificant and should not be allowed to dictate the futures happiness of hundreds of thousands of others. Mr Norgrove has said that:

  • “Every year 500,000 children and adults are involved in the family justice system.” (averaging 140,000 divorces pa means 280,000 adults – RW)

To give the reader a numerical guide CAFCASS produced some 35,000 welfare reports in 2008. Five percent of that figure would amount to 1,750 cases. Does Norgrove realistically intend to hold up reform for hundreds of thousands of people because of 1,750 cases ?

Jennifer McIntosh, an Associate Professor from La Trobe University (Melbourne), has somehow gained entrée to the Norgrove committee and has laid before them spurious research by herself, her friends and colleagues.

McIntosh fires the torpedo and Norgrove  deserts his remit and lets his ship be struck. Totally intimidated, he doesn’t seek refuting evidence, but abandons all hope, takes to the  lifeboats and cowers before the onslaught. He accepts, on page 148, of the report:

  • “A review by McIntosh of conflict research identifies two processes through which these risks occur“ [emphasis added – RW]

But, Mr. Norgrove, ‘conflict research’ applies to those parents that you’ve already conceded represent only a ‘few per cent of parents. So ‘conflict research’ is an irrelevance in your overall deliberations.

Norgrove’s report is entirely compromised by his reliance on Australian evidence which is not only questionable but since the law change began to take effect in 2006 – 07 has hardly bedded-in long enough to form a firm opinion by 2009 or 2010.

Nevertheless McIntosh “notes” there is an indirect link with “conflict having a negative impact on family functioning, particularly parenting.” On this truism she then begins to build quoting from her 2003 paper “Enduring conflict in parental separation: Pathways of impact on child”: [7]

McIntosh notes specifically that persistent conflict damages parenting quality, styles of discipline and the affective response of parents to children, all of which influence child outcomes.

Immediately, we can discern she is no admirer of father custody or of shared custody. She wants to keep ‘custody’ a fully female domain with all the power and veto rights reserved for mothers.

On page 224 of the Norgrove Report, McIntosh is cited as providing data identifying a number of troubling outcomes for children. Invariably anti –shared parenting lobbyists have focused on alleged abuse, domestic violence and women’s fear. We are not disappointed by McIntosh – where she reports mothers as expressing safety concerns (fathers’ safety concerns are not recorded by McIntosh):

  • “ . . . . where mothers report safety concerns, child well-being is lower regardless of the care arrangement, and the position is worse for children in shared time arrangements than more traditional arrangements.

If we had time here to look at the abuse statistics complied since 2006 in divorce cases the variation between mothers and fathers abuse and/or violence is not disimilar.

McIntosh believes she can show that“research” by Belinda Fehlberg (pictured right), into ‘shared care’, i.e. shared parenting, contains special risks for children aged under four

  • “. . . . . regardless of socio-economic background, parenting or inter-parental co-operation, shared overnight care for children under four years of age had an independent and deleterious impact”

The problem with relying on Belinda Felhberg is that she is an acknowledged Australian feminist with a track record of putting gender politics ahead of doing what is fair and right. The other problem is that her findings  run contrary to the acclaimed meta-study by Bauserman.

Fathers 4 Equality” based in Australia summed up the situation and the Australian’s attitudes towards Belinda Fehlberg when it declares: “Dishonest reporting on Australia’s shared parenting laws starting to wear thin.”

  • “This is what happens when you cry wolf too often. People simply stop believing you. Just read the comments below to get an idea of how people react to the “distortions” in this article by Belinda Fehlberg. The general public can detect an agenda a mile away.
    Belinda Fehlberg has a long history of calling for the Shared Parenting reforms to be repealed, and this is only her most recent effort.”

As a product of Warwick University (England), where Germaine Greer lectured for many years, one has to discount much of what Fehlberg concludes – much as one has to discount the veracity of Prof. Thea Brown who made such a blunder in her arithmetic that her university had to make a public a retraction and apology.

Norgrove really should not be surprised at the bias in the information supplied to him, for who is better placed to edit socio-legal findings than someone who is on the editorial board of the Australian Journal of Family Law –  one Belinda Fehlberg.  

Right: Ceridwen Roberts

Fehlberg is linked to Joan Hunt, Ceridwen Roberts, and Mavis  Maclean through their joint membership of the ‘Oxford Centre for Family Law and Policy.’  [8]  Together these authors have made it difficult to get the very positive benefits of shared parenting across to those that make the decisions.

Left: Mavis  Maclean

For those opposed to shared care / shared parenting, i.e. McIntosh, Fehlberg and the fellow phalanx of feminists, shared care is not  ‘normal’ and should be left to mothers. Without realising it they have become the reactionaries – the dinosaurs – in a progressive world.

They are panicked that motherhood is somehow being assaulted – “fathers have been encouraged” to share care and “mothers feel pressured.”

The prospect of shared parenting increasing from 2% to 13% is enough for them to press their rape alarms.

Divorce is never going to be a picnic, i.e. easy, but it can be mitigated and certain factors better managed than at present thus making it less unbearable. shared parenting is one of those management tools.

The people want shared parenting. The people like it. The people of Australia think its working well.  The only people who don’t want it are academics who will probably never have children and be unaffected by divorce and custody.


Appendix A

 A list of the most easily found speeches by MPs and ministers relating to shared parenting

NB. The Australain Chisholm Report suggests that ‘equal parental responsibility’ needs to be distinguished from ‘shared time.’ We in Britain should be wary of accepting ‘shared parenting’ when in the official mind this will give fathers only ‘equal parental responsibility’ rather than a greater quantum of time, ie shared time.

Women and Equalities: Flexible Working (15 September 2011) Maria Miller: I was in that position, a few years ago now. It is a difficult transition to make. That is why we are making it a great priority to introduce a new system of flexible parental leave so that new parents can choose how to share child care between them. That, along with our reforms of the benefits system under universal credit, will help many more women in particular to stay close to the labour…

Written Answers — Treasury: Child Benefit (12 September 2011) Laurence Robertson: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will allow child benefit payments to be made to both parents where parental responsibility is shared after separation; and if he will make a statement.

Written Answers — Work and Pensions: Parental Leave (13 September 2010) Edward Davey: I have been asked to reply. The Government are committed to encouraging shared parenting from the earliest stage of pregnancy-including the promotion of a system of flexible parental leave. The current maternity and paternity leave system favours mothers, who receive 52 weeks leave and 39 weeks pay. Fathers have only two weeks paid leave reserved for them. I will launch a consultation on…

Written Answers — Education: Cafcass (28 March 2011) Tim Loughton: There are no practical differences in the way that CAFCASS handles shared residence cases specifically in situations where parents live in different local authority areas. In all family law cases the focus of CAFCASS’s work is the best interests of the child. This focus applies equally to shared residence arrangements as to any other type of arrangement. Where CAFCASS officers assess that a…

Written Answers — Work and Pensions: Children: Maintenance (16 February 2011) Maria Miller: The Government have recently published a consultation document-“Strengthening families, promoting parental responsibility: the future of child maintenance”; http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/strengthening-families.pdf The Government want to encourage parents to reach family-based arrangements for child maintenance which will facilitate co-parenting and ongoing involvement of both parents in their…

Written Answers — Work and Pensions: Maternity Pay (31 January 2011) Maria Miller: The Government are committed to encourage shared parenting from the earliest stages of pregnancy-including the promotion of a system of flexible parental leave. It is important that we make sure that any new system balances the needs of families and those who employ them. We will be consulting widely in due course to give family groups, individual workers and employers the opportunity to help…

Written Answers — Education: Lone Parents (20 December 2010) Tim Farron: To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will bring forward proposals to tackle parental alienation syndrome by strengthening the shared parenting aspect of the Children Act 2004.

Written Answers — Work and Pensions: Children: Maintenance (19 November 2010) Maria Miller: The Government are currently considering the role that the child maintenance system can play in their overall commitment to support shared parenting and promote parental responsibility. In this context, and that of the spending review, the Department are in discussion with the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission about a strategy for the collection of arrears, including options for an…

Written Answers — Work and Pensions: Children: Maintenance (8 November 2010) Maria Miller: …of meetings with the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission to ensure that an effective child maintenance system is available to families as part of the Government’s commitment to supporting shared parenting and promoting parental responsibility.

Written Answers — Business, Innovation and Skills: Paternity Leave (3 November 2010) Edward Davey: The Government are committed to encouraging shared parenting and making the workplace more family friendly. We will launch a consultation in due course on the design of a new system of flexible shared parental leav

Women and Equalities: Flexible Parental Leave (28 October 2010)Maria Miller: The Government are committed to encouraging shared parenting and making the workplace more family friendly. We will launch a consultation in due course on the design of a new system of flexible shared parental leave. 

Written Answers — Business, Innovation and Skills: Paternity Leave (25 October 2010) Edward Davey: We will consult in due course on plans to introduce shared parental leave, listening to employers and employer representatives’ views on how we can best meet the needs of affected businesses. A full impact assessment, including methodology used to calculate the proportion of small businesses that would be affected by additional paternity leave, is available at…

Written Answers — Women and Equalities: Equal Pay: Gender (15 July 2010) Theresa May: …the fair treatment of women in the workplace. We will also take other steps to improve the position of womenat work, for example by extending the right to request flexible working and encouraging shared parenting, including the promotion of a system of flexible parental leave.

Written Answers — Work and Pensions: Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (7 June 2010) Maria Miller: The Government are committed to supporting families, ending child poverty and encouraging, where possible, shared parenting from the earliest stages of pregnancy. For families where both parents do not live together, helping to deliver financial support is an important part of achieving these broader objectives. The 2010-11 business plan for CMEC sets out their role in this process….

[2]  Centre for Social Justice, paraphrase of press release Nov 3rd  2011 http://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/client/downloads/Norgrove%20response%2003%2011%2011.pdf

[5] Centre for Social Justice Nov 3rd 2011 http://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/client/downloads/Norgrove%20response%2003%2011%2011.pdf   http://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/

[6]  Family justice review criticises ‘shocking delays’, BBC Nov 3rd 2011  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-15562498

[7] McIntosh J. (2003). ‘Enduring conflict in parental separation: Pathways of impact on child development’. Journal of Family Studies, 9(1) 63–80 

[8] The directors are named as Mavis Maclean & John Eekelaar. The latter was involved in the Law Commissions study of joint custody in 1987, (Working Paper No 96) but when questioned on the figure of 50% joint custody awards refused to go into further detail and claimed no recollection.

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