Move to stop violent fathers seeing children

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The Independent Online
Controversial proposals to prevent violent fathers from seeing their children are put forward in a study published today as social scientists warn that men who have subjected their partners to domestic violence can use contact with their children to keep harming the women.

However, probation officers and a charity supporting fathers warned that the study had focused on a very narrow group and to deny contact across the board was "a recipe for disaster".

Children are suffering abuse and emotional distress as a result of enforced visits to violent fathers, according to the report supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which criticises some professionals for allowing contact with fathers to take precedence over the safety and welfare of children.

A study of 53 women and 77 professionals in England over two years, suggested that mothers were under pressure to agree to unsafe arrangements rather than be viewed as "hostile" or "unreasonable" by the courts.

The mothers, who had all experienced domestic violence, were contacted through refuges, professionals and support groups. All but three said that they had been assaulted by former partners when taking or collecting their children fromvisits.

Most had at first wanted their children to go on seeing their former partners, with some feeling that contact visits were one way of ensuring that absent fathers took some responsibility for their offspring. A few still considered that their former partner was a "good father".

However, in cases where contact had led to renewed threats and violence, women had found it difficult to convince the courts that there were good reasons for ending the arrangements. And rather than taking children's objections to seeing their father at face value, lawyers and court welfare officers often interpreted then as the result of emotional pressure from the mothers.

"Cara" left her husband in 1988 after seven years of abuse but contact with the children was maintained, despite threats of violence to her.

"I wanted them to have good access, you know like quality contact," she said. "But he was drunk all the time and ... he used to say to the kids "I'm going to cut your mother's throat' and you know he was really warped."

Mothers also reported difficulty in satisfying the courts that child abuse or neglect had taken place. Symptoms such as anxiety, bedwetting or vomiting were liable to be viewed as the consequences of separation rather than abusive contact with their fathers.

But Bruce Lidington, chairman of the charity Families Need Fathers said: "Where there is a genuine threat to the mother we obviously would not wish to stand in the way of proper protection.

"But ... what is being overlooked is the context overall where a lot of false allegations are made ...

"Our worry is that if there is an allegation of violence the presumption is there should be no contact at all which is a recipe for disaster."

t Domestic Violence and Child Contact in England and Denmark; The Policy Press, Rodney Lodge, Grange Road, Bristol, BS8 4EA; pounds 11.95

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