Importance of information sharing between police and family courts
By Gemma Phoenix, Family Court Liaison Officer
I am a Family Court Liaison Officer working on the Domestic Abuse Whole System Approach Project.
I am relatively new in role, but in the short time that I have been here, I have been astounded by the amount of perpetrators of domestic abuse that use the family court arena as a means of continuing control after the relationship has ended.
There are a lot of domestic abuse myths that professionals in the family courts ascribe to; I have witnessed them directly, and seen them used against victims. I have often thought to myself: “this has to be one of the worst forms of abuse”. Because victim’s voices are not being listened to, and these incorrect opinions become all-consuming to the victim, because it is an extension of the power and control perpetrators had or have over them, validated by courts, influencing decision making on so many aspects of their lives, including the most important aspect: their children.
The NSPCC tell us that children exposed to domestic violence are more likely to have behavioural and emotional problems in the long term.
Victims, who have had the courage to leave, often expect to be able to move on and live a life free from abuse. But for most of our clients, this isn’t the case, and the abuse continues, affecting them and their children.
In my role, I receive referrals from police, outside agencies, as sometimes self-referrals when we are in the courts. The referral process is easy, and we are can then able carry out an assessment to check suitability to receive support, and provide signposting for issues that we can’t support victims with.
An example of this was a recent referral from a PCSO from one of the local neighbourhood policing teams. His visit to the victim was unrelated to family court; however, it was brought to his attention that she had been had to endure multiple family court hearings after leaving an abusive relationship. The PCSO discussed our service, obtained verbal consent, and emailed us.
Our role depends greatly on the knowledge and understanding of police staff and partner agencies to be able to think outside the box and detect when further support is needed for the member of the public they are dealing with – the PCSO’s intuition and perception was invaluable in this case.
We contacted and met the client, obtained consent for information sharing, and took a history of the issues she required support with. We assessed that the client would be entitled to legal aid.
She had previously been refused an assessment from a local law firm, therefore, leading her to believe she wasn’t entitled to help. This meant that her and her children had been subject to the stress of multiple family court hearings without the knowledge and support of a solicitor and/or barrister.
The relevant information was gathered from the client and shared with a law firm we work closely with; the lady was accepted for legal aid she now has legal representation moving forward. The FCLO will now support the client through the rest of court process, in the knowledge that she is represented by a solicitor who specialises in domestic abuse cases.
Domestic abuse in all its forms, I feel, is something that should be dealt with head on with education at its core. Understanding the long-lasting impacts of going through the family court process for survivors and their children is vital.
This should extend to the impact on physical and mental health, finances, family relationships, safety and security. But we can never know enough; we can never become complaisant to the ever changing tactics of abusers and we should never accept this as a social norm. Because some forms of abuse are carried out within the remit of a court room, this does not mean the victim is safe, or that the lasting effects on family as a whole aren’t vast and long lasting.
Research complied by Women’s Aid (2018) found that “women highlighted gender discrimination within the culture and processes of the family courts. Testimonies also showed a culture of disbelief, including negative stereotypes about survivors of domestic abuse”.
Every client of mine has sat in front of me at their initial assessment and displayed relief that this abuse is being acknowledged and believed by someone. But more importantly they tell me how alone they feel, isolated and judged.
I tell my clients they’re far from alone and if only they knew the scale of the problem they wouldn’t feel so isolated. This has resulted in a support group being formed, which is kindly being co-ordinated by one of the clients which use the FCLO service. They meet as often as possible, share their experiences and come together to support one another. This makes me feel incredibly proud of the survivors we work with, displaying the ability to support one another in their darkest hour.
They are taking back the power from their controller. Working together, we can make positive changes, which could inevitably save lives, and I am proud to be a part of that journey.
Posted on Wednesday 5th December 2018