The Meaning of ‘Significant Harm’

Section 31 (2) Children Act 1989, and the meaning of ‘Significant harm

S 31 of the Children Act 1989 says this:

“31                Care and Supervision

(1) On the application of any local authority or authorised person, the court may make an order—

(a) placing the child with respect to whom the application is made in the care of a designated local authority; or

(b) putting him under the supervision of a designated local authority . . ..

(2) A court may only make a care order or supervision order if it is satisfied—

(a) that the child concerned is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm; and

(b) that the harm, or likelihood of harm, is attributable to—

(i)the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him; or

(ii)the child’s being beyond parental control.”

Firstly, why is this provision of interest to TPs? 

Well, if we can show that the harm our child is suffering from PA is “significant”, the local authority could take our child into care.  Obviously (to us at least) our child is suffering this harm, and it is significant.  But, how significant would that harm have to be for us to be prepared to allow our children to go into local authority care?  In the care of a narcissist or in the care of a local authority…not a great choice…perhaps we could call it ‘the evil of two lessers’.

But, maybe if we could get the child moved to local authority care, that could be used as a stepping stone to moving the child into our care.  It’s not a great solution, but at least the child would be removed from the AP.  And courts have used this kind of device where a child was so alienated (by the time the courts had got to grips with the case) that he would not move directly into the TPs home, so was moved into local authority care as a temporary measure. (Re M (Intractable Contact Dispute) [2003] 2 FLR 636)

In: W (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 772

Lord Justice Ryder noted that

“The mother’s conduct, even if explicable as a consequence of a psychological or behavioural condition, was inexcusable and highly damaging to the child [STOPPA  comments: So, the AP must be censured, whether ‘mad’ or ‘bad’]. The judge’s finding that the mother was “bent on manipulation [STOPPA comments: this shows a ‘guilty mind – a positive intention] and encouraging false allegations” was a finding of huge adverse significance in relation to her capability to care for her child. The child had been encouraged by the mother to make allegations against her father despite the child’s own delight in seeing her father in the process of which she had obtained an unhealthy knowledge of sexual issues. On any basis, the risk of further significant harm to the child had to be addressed by the court. Given the prevalence of false allegations made by parents against each other in private law proceedings, conduct at this level by a parent should be understood to be serious child abuse that will usually necessitate intervention by a court. [Our emphasis][STOPPA comments:  Surely this means that psychological abuse of this severity should be regarded as “significant” for the purpose of S 31(2) and can and should be seen as equivalent harm to that caused by sexual or violent abuse, and can and should trigger intervention by the Local Authority]

Indeed, Ryder LJ goes on to say:

“There can be no question that the court’s jurisdiction to make orders under sections 37 and 38 CA 1989 was engaged on the facts of this case [STOPPA’S emphasis]. The interim threshold for the making of an interim care order was clearly satisfied and there was jurisdiction to make that order.

So…It is possible for PA to trigger transfer of care of a child to a Local Authority.  In theory.  In practice, we as TPs are going to have a lengthy uphill battle to get this done…

Who’s in Charge?

Well… One thing everybody in ‘the system’ knows – it ain’t you, the targeted parent (‘TP’)!

The child is not in charge, because the authentic voice of the child is not heard.  In PA cases, the child simply is a conduit for the words of the alienating parent (‘AP’), a view parroted, more often than not by CAFCASS, which is why ‘wishes and feelings’ reports are completely useless and should be abolished.

Many judges will then parrot what CAFCASS say, and refer to CAFCASS as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the court – bad enough that we have the blind leading the blind…we seem to have the deaf leading the deaf as well!  It is a very disturbing thing to witness your child repeating the AP’s words, then CAFCASS doing it, and finally the judge…is there an echo in here?!

Now, there is the odd judge who will be robust.  Who will know the failings of CAFCASS and Guardians ad Litem, and not be afraid to say so.  And will ignore silly reports and recommendations from woolly-headed social workers.   Mrs Justice Parker is the obvious candidate, in re H:

“I am in no doubt that I am entitled to disagree with the view of both the Guardian and the social worker, both of whom, although expressing their own views forcefully, recognise that the decision is for me, having surveyed all the facts and depending upon the findings that I make. I disagree with them because they have not taken into account the degree of parental manipulation …”

In my opinion, these words could legitimately be repeated in a majority of PA cases.

So, if the authentic voice of the child is not heard, if CAFCASS and the judge merely parrot the child’s expressed wishes and feelings, and if those are the wishes and feelings of the AP…

The Alienating Parent is in charge.

It’s like the AP is the bully in the playground, and the judge and CAFCASS are the cowardly kids that follow the bully around like a pale shadow, repeating the bully’s threats, saying at every turn “yeah”.

We must call for judges to be the supervising teacher in the playground, and to pull the bullies up and discipline them!  But of course, this does not happen. Judges at all levels simply do not enforce court orders, and APs just get away with ignoring the authority of the court, and encourage our children to do so…Mrs Justice Parker again…

“I regard parental manipulation of children, of which I distressingly see an enormous amount, as exceptionally harmful. It distorts the relationship of the child not only with the parent but with the outside world. Children who are suborned into flouting court orders are given extremely damaging messages about the extent to which authority can be disregarded and given the impression that compliance with adult expectations is optional”

Clearly, we need to get together and raise some funds to clone Mrs Justice Parker and put her clones in every family court in the land.  A radical solution, yes, but it’s got something going for it, no?

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