Survey finds hundreds of children in care being forced to see abusive parents

Hundreds of children in care are being “marched back” to visit their abusive parents and a majority of foster families want to see the practice made illegal, research suggests.

More than half of carers (53%) answering a survey said they had to take a child to visit a parent who had abused them.

Some 85% of foster parents who took part in the research said this should be made illegal and there should be an end to guaranteed contact time.

The survey, carried out by the Centre of Excellence in Child Trauma (CoECT), received 1,125 responses from parents who have adopted, fostered or cared for children who had experienced trauma.

The current law says children’s wishes should be taken into account but will not ultimately determine what happens.

The courts view contact as being in the best interests of the child and see both parents’ involvement as a benefit to the child’s welfare, the CoECT said.

Children’s services can refuse contact if they deem it necessary to safeguard a child’s welfare, but this can only last for a maximum of seven days before a court order must be obtained.

Centre founder and chief executive Sarah Naish (pictured), a former social worker and parent of five adopted siblings, said: “You would not expect to meet your rapist once a month for a cup of tea, so why do we force children to keep seeing their abusers?

“Looking at the poll alone, this is evidence that over 500 children have been marched back to visit their abusers, which is an absolute disgrace.

“From the stories I hear on a daily basis, this is the tip of the iceberg and something needs to be done.

“This should be regarded as one of the biggest scandals that still exists in the British legal system today.

“The legal view that contact with parents is beneficial to a child’s welfare becomes absolutely ridiculous when that parent is the one that abused them.

“The parents I speak to dedicate their entire beings to try and heal the children they have to care for, only for them to be the adult that has to march their child back to the person that abused them.

“The Government needs to take action on this and ban parents that have abused their children from having contact with them.”

Anne Armstrong, a foster parent and social worker in the Midlands, said there had been “far too many occasions” where she had to take children to meet their birth parents who had harmed them.

She told how she has seen children badly affected by the visits and some experience “psychological abuse” at the sessions.

Other foster carers and social workers who contributed to the research told how some children would be “terrified” at such meetings, developing “severe anxiety, emotional problems and facial tics” afterwards.

Rosie Jefferies, a managing director at the centre who was a child in care, claimed making contact with her parents in this way was a “very scary time when I would have to see the people I feared the most.

“I felt terrified and trapped. It was incredibly confusing to me that I was told by my social worker I was in a safe place, yet my birth parents were there. I felt uncertain, unsafe and did not understand why this was happening.

“My experience is not unique – children are still being forced to have contact with abusive parents.

“We need to see a change in the law that prioritises child welfare over the contact right of parents who have committed the worst crimes imaginable.”

Jane Mitchell, an independent trainer in adoption, fostering and social care, said a dog removed by the RSPCA would never have to see its abuser again, adding: “I meet a lot of parents who have had to take their children to contact sessions when the child adamantly does not want to go.

“The current rules are inhumane.

“We find ourselves in a situation where contact can be insisted on as in the ‘best interests’ of the child – when clearly the reverse is true.”

Jessica Jackson, a social worker specialising in domestic violence cases, said: “Too often I see children who have witnessed domestic abuse being expected, encouraged and often court-ordered to spend time with the very individual who perpetrated the abuse.

“Even when there is a clear history of coercion, control and manipulation, there seems to be a cognitive disconnect between the abuse of a partner and the impact on the child.

“Contact often serves as a tool for perpetrators of domestic abuse to continue their powerful manipulation of both the child and mother. The lack of a tangible, trauma-focused assessment of the impact on the child leads to a continuation of their trauma and an even greater sense of fear and powerlessness.”

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “No child should ever be in danger when visiting a parent which is why we are reviewing the family court system to make sure they’re protected.

“We have also introduced legislation to ban abusers from cross-examining their victims in the family courts, and throughout our review we have engaged survivors across the country to ensure we are doing everything we can to safeguard them further.”

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