European Parliament makes recommendation on Child Intervention/Adoption Issues
Across Europe, concerns have been raised by parents and others regarding the treatment of children and parents by their respective State organisations and the professionals, that are employed by them. (6)
In some respects, this is of particularly applies to the UK, insofar as it is unique in its approach to family disputes affecting children. The Family Division of the High Court has notoriously been wrapped in secrecy until fairly recently, preventing news outlets or even parents reporting alleged injustice. It also allows separation and adoption orders against the wishes of the natural parents.
Journalist Christopher Booker took a leading role in criticising the secrecy and decisions. (1)(2)(3) Even the President of the Court has called for less secrecy and urged reform. (4) Fathers in particular have run a high profile campaign over many years but this does not mean that mothers have not also often felt very aggrieved by decisions of the court.
Some have felt that Judges were lacking true empathy and concern for children and parents whilst too much influenced by professional social workers, quite able to falsify evidence to get the decision that they required.
All of this set against a woeful history of state care of children in institutions, often allowing or facilitating their physical and sexual abuse. There has therefore been an argument that the Family Courts, either intentionally or accidentally, have contributed to the abuse of children, rather than protecting them from it.
A recent case in Hampstead has again brought the issue into sharp relief and confirmed many of the earlier reservations. (5) In this case the allegations by two children and their subsequent treatment by police, social workers and courts went viral on the internet, with tens of millions world wide, and caused deep concern.
Two social activists who took a prominent role to bring the case to public attention have both been effectively silenced by police prosecutions and court orders, which rather than reassuring the public, has heightened fears that something very dark and worrying is going on. (7)
Recently the British Government was forced to set up a high-powered inquiry into 'historic' sexual abuse of children, which rather confirms this has been a major problem in the past. (8)(9) It would be naive to think that the issue has gone away. Indeed there are many indicators that suggest it may be much, much worse! (10)
These same individuals, with others, have taken the issue to the European Parliament, resulting in groups of MEP's carrying out investigations in member states including Britain, as a result of which the following document has been prepared and sent to all the EC Institutions as well as Member States calling for reform, standardisation and improvement.
Whether it has any effect, awaits to be seen.
|Thursday, 28 April 2016 - Brussels||Provisional edition|
|Safeguarding the best interest of the child across the EU on the basis of petitions addressed to the European Parliament|
1. Recalls that the large number of petitions received on child-related cases indicates that there is a major problem with the implementation of the Brussels IIa Regulation;
2. Considers that all child protection systems should have transnational and cross-border mechanisms in place which take into account the specificities of cross-borders conflicts;
Child protection and judicial cooperation within the EU
3. Calls on the Member States to put in place monitoring and evaluation systems (with relevant socioeconomic and nationality-disaggregated statistics) within a national coordinating framework on cross-border cases involving children; recommends that the Commission coordinate the transfer of information among the relevant Member State authorities;
4. Calls on the Council to report on the specific actions being implemented by the Member States with a view to bringing about synergies between the 28 national child protection systems;
5. Calls for a clear definition of ‘habitual residence’ in the revised Brussels IIa Regulation;
6. Stresses the obligation of national authorities, set out in the Brussels IIa Regulation, to recognise and enforce judgments delivered in another Member State in child-related cases; calls on the Member States to increase and improve the cooperation of their judiciaries in cases involving a child;
7. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to co-finance and promote the establishment of a platform providing assistance to non-national EU citizens in family proceedings and of a single European helpline for cases of child abduction or abuse, as well as counselling concerning care and adoption proceedings;
8. Calls on the Commission to provide a clear and easily accessible guide with practical information for EU citizens on the institutional arrangements on child protection, with a particular focus on adoption or placement without parental consent and on parents’ rights in different Member States;
Role of social services in child protection
9. Calls on the Member States to take a preventive approach and to ensure appropriate and well-resourced policies to avoid launching care proceedings where possible, by introducing early-warning procedures and monitoring mechanisms and providing adequate support to families as primary caregivers, particularly within vulnerable communities where social exclusion is a risk;
10. Stresses that proper assessment of individual cases in family-related issues should not be hindered by budgetary cuts as a result of austerity measures, in particular where the quality of social services is concerned;
11. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to provide for specialised training and education for social workers and all other professionals dealing with cross-border cases involving a child;
12. Calls on the relevant authorities of a Member State that intends to send social workers to investigate a case for adoption or placement in another Member State to inform the authorities of that Member State that such an investigation will be conducted;
Childcare-related judicial proceedings
13. Invites the Member States to designate specialised chambers within family courts or cross-border mediation bodies to deal with cross-border child-related cases; stresses that proper monitoring of the post-judgment situation is pivotal, including when contact with parents is involved;
14. Calls on the Member States to systematically implement the provisions of the Vienna Convention of 1963, and to ensure that embassies or consular representations are informed from the start of all childcare proceedings involving their nationals and that they have full access to the relevant documents; suggests that consular authorities should be allowed to attend every stage of the proceedings;
15. Calls on the Member States to guarantee regular visitation rights to parents, except where this could be detrimental to the best interests of the child, and to allow parents to use their mother tongue with their children during the visits;
16. Recommends that the Member States provide parents, from the outset and at every stage of child-related proceedings, with complete and clear information on the proceedings and on the possible consequences thereof; calls on them to inform parents about the rules on legal support and aid, for example by providing them with a list of bilingual specialised lawyers and by offering interpretation facilities, so as to avoid cases where parents give their consent without fully understanding the implications of their commitments; recommends also that adequate support be provided to parents with literacy difficulties;
17. Recommends establishing minimum standards for the hearing of a child in national civil proceedings, in accordance with Article 24 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights;
18. Recommends separate hearings of parents and children before a judge, an expert or a social worker, in order to avoid children being influenced or falling victim to conflicts of loyalty;
19. Recommends that thresholds for the duration of each stage in cross-border childcare proceedings be set, so that members of the child’s extended family have sufficient time to come forward and apply to adopt the child, or parents can address their problems and propose sustainable alternatives before the final decision on adoption is taken; considers that before any permanent solution, such as adoption, is determined, a proper re‑evaluation of the situation of the biological family must be undertaken;
20. Calls on the Member States to give parents suffering from alcohol or drug addiction reasonable time to have a real opportunity to recover before the court takes a final decision on adoption of their child;
21. Calls on the Commission to pay particular attention to the recommendations received on cross-border mediation by all relevant stakeholders at national and European level;
Child placement and adoption
22. States that there is no mechanism within the EU providing for automatic recognition of domestic adoption orders issued in other Member States; calls on the Member States and the Commission to regulate on recognition of domestic adoption, taking into account the best interests of the child and with due respect for the principle of non‑discrimination;
23. Calls on the Member States to encourage non-contracting states to join the 1993 Hague Convention, which would guarantee that all children benefit from the same standards and would help to avoid a parallel system with fewer safeguards; calls on the Member States to avoid heavy bureaucracy in processing the recognition of international adoptions already recognised in another Member State;
24. Emphasises the importance of offering children in any kind of fostering or adoption arrangement the placement that offers the best opportunities to maintain links with the child’s cultural background and to learn and use their mother tongue; asks the Member State authorities involved in childcare proceedings to make all possible efforts to avoid separating siblings;
25. Calls on the Member States to give particular attention and support to parents, and particularly women, who have been victims of domestic violence, either as children or adults, in order to avoid their being victimised again by the automatic removal of custody of their children;
Cross-border parental child abduction
26. Calls on the Commission to publicise the results achieved in the promotion of cross-border cooperation in child abduction cases, which it declared to be a priority in the EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child;
27. Calls on the Council to report on the results achieved in establishing child abduction alert systems with cross-border implications, and to conclude the relevant cooperation agreements dealing with cross-border abduction cases on the basis of the Commission guidelines;
28. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission and the governments and the parliaments of the Member States.