Cafcass, gay marriage and ‘Cinderella Law’: The last week in family law

Thousands of people are at risk of harm or even murder because of widespread police failure in England and Wales to tackle domestic abuse, a report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary has warned. The report said that there was an alarming and ineffective response by many police forces, and concluded that only eight out of 43 forces responded well to domestic violence. It accused them of unacceptable weaknesses, despite domestic abuse being linked to 8% of crimes and police chiefs saying that abuse was a priority. The Inspectorate has developed a set of recommendations for the police service, Home Office and College of Policing which aim to make a long term difference to the way the service prioritises and responds to domestic abuse.

Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service, has developed a new and improved Parenting Plan, an interactive tool to help parents (and other family members) following separation to parent co-operatively and safely. The plan leads parents towards making practical decisions about parenting and resolving disputes in a way that retains focus on their child. Child safety and security is central to the revised plan which looks to halt the escalation of disagreements and potential courtroom battles which serve to negatively affect the child. The plan covers practical issues of parenting, such as living arrangements, finances, holidays and sporting activities, health and emotional care, and can help to clarify the arrangements needed to put in place. It also contains strategies for improved communication after separation. It differs from other mediation tools in that it can be completed individually or with both parents working through the plan together, and is now also available as an interactive tool – accessible online (a Word version is also available). Its adaptability and accessibility means it can develop with the child and as circumstances change.

The first same-sex weddings have taken place after gay marriage became legal in England and Wales on the 29th of March. The Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act was passed in July last year but it was not until the 13th of March that couples were able to register their intention to marry under the Act for the first time. Politicians from the main parties have hailed the change in the law. David Cameron said the move sent a message that people were now equal “whether gay or straight”, although some religious groups remain opposed.

Children’s social services are so stretched that they are struggling to do more than merely respond to emergencies, an NSPCC report has said. The report, entitled How Safe Are Our Children 2014, suggests that many local authorities are raising the threshold at which they intervene to protect children, because of rising demand. The charity estimates that just one in nine of children and young people who are at risk are receiving support. The government has responded to the report by saying that it was improving child protection by cutting red tape.

Parents who fail to show love and affection towards their children could be sent to prison for up to 10 years under a “Cinderella Law” to be announced in the Queen’s Speech in June, according to a report. The move will make “emotional cruelty” a criminal offence for the first time. This follows a campaign led by the charity Action for Children, which says the UK lags behind other countries. Its chief executive says that such a change would be a “monumental step forward for thousands of children”.

And finally, Cafcass has become a part of the Ministry of Justice. The transfer follows the Family Justice Review’s recommendation in 2011 that Cafcass join the Ministry of Justice to ‘bring court social work functions closer to the court process’.