Child Protection Across Borders: International Perspectives

December can be a very difficult month for those who, like myself, spend their professional lives tackling what can, at times, appear to be a deeply troubling crisis in childcare post divorce/separation.

So I was very pleased to fly to Tel-Aviv for the ISFL Conference 9 – 10th December 2019 on Children’s Rights and Interests. 

I was invited by a valued contact, Philip Marcus. He is a former Judge and deputy President of Jerusalem Family Court. He is also author of many articles on family law and family courts, including parental alienation, contact refusal and maladaptive gatekeeping.

Mindful of my vision to establish an inter-disciplinary professional consultation and action group to address the many improvements the child protection services, post divorce and separation need, Philip arranged for me to speak to the Founder of the Family Court in Jerusalem, Dr. Dorit Eldar Avidan, clinical social worker, author of,  “In the Name of the Child” research on children of divorced parents in adulthood.

He also set up a meeting with Inbal-Bar-On Kibenson, Head of Behavioural Disorders and Emotional Problems at Haifa University, specialist in assimilation of parental alienation intervention programmes, therapist and lecturer and court-appointed expert in reconciliation cases. 

The broader international gathering included professional participants and speakers from over a dozen countries, provoking reflections after 30 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child as in 1989 the UN convention ratified the rights of the child.

The foundations on which the convention is built includes international understanding that: 

– children are human beings and rights holders, they are the children of today.

– ever child is autonomous and not the property of their parents.

– the child has the right to express his or her opinion. 

– a child’s immaturity should not be seen as a reason not to take them seriously.

Action to promote the protection and rights of the child were sent to the UN Geneva for further work on legal implementation on children’s rights in countries across the world.

As many prominent names are increasingly acknowledging, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary working together nationally and internationally is going to be critical to protect children’s rights, recognising unhealthy or selfish influences that are increasingly undermining independent voice.

At every gathering of child abuse and alienation specialists during this trip, there was international acknowledgement that a cornerstone of CRC should be regulations on child participation in family courts; speaking to social workers and the Judge so children can be heard on issues affecting them. Where best practices exist, then countries lagging behind need to learn from them.

Article 5 stresses the need for education about family obligations and the responsibilities for bringing up children. People asserting their rights are not begging, just asking for their due, as justice and the Family Court system belongs to all of us and there needs to be a focus on the issues not the issuer.

Children are not a means to the end they are an end in themselves. It’s children who have been let down when they are not protected or afforded their rights and we need to support them to name, blame and claim as the child may feel they are going against a parent and, therefore. the Family Court should be structured from a child’s perspective.

Children have a right to participate and not to participate. Testimony for the child can be less stressful when supported by an objective and skilled professional. In some countries there are workshops for Judges to help them utilise optimum techniques to assist children give testimony. Children need dignity, participation, best interests, emotional tort and ethics.

Experts who work in the Family Courts are helped by having a passion for the work. As an expert you are privy to the best and the worst of the human condition and professional practice. Advanced interdisciplinary training should be offered to all professionals.

Parent’s who co-parent have less risk of conflict.

Multi-system programmes, therefore, are needed for preventing contact failure. Social initiative is needed to assist parents and children to cope with separation and divorce.

To reduce the negative and long term impacts of children being alienated from a parent and extended family there is a need to increase knowledge and have a wide range of actions on the ground.

Early identification of alienation and targeted approach with treatment programmes.

There is a clear need for:

  • de-legalisation of conflict between parents
  • early diagnosis of complex divorce problems (well upstream)
  • proportionate support: light if at all possible, heavy if necessary
  • adequate referral for the appropriate help and support processing of divorce, identify poor processing, parental reorganisation, conflict management and trauma processing
  • addressing the problems of using legal instruments aimed at combatting consequence/symptoms and not at underlying problems
  • more attention to be given to help curb conflict between parents
  • a mandatory extrajudicial process in case of compliance problems

In relation to PA, these important points emerged:

  1. the stability of the views of the child is key
  2. age and maturity of the child is important
  3. the reason behind the refusal of the child
  4. experts’ opinions
  5. the behaviour of the contact seeking parent
  6. the behaviour of the parent with whom the child resides
  7. the nature of the conflict between the parents
  8. the provision of guiding support

With specific reference to The Rights of the Child:

Article 3 (2) “State parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her wellbeing, taking into account the rights of his or her parents”. 
– Article 5, “State parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents and provide appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise of the rights of the child”.
– Article 7, “children have a right to know and be raised by their parents”.
– Article 8, “it’s a violation for the State NOT to offer professional support to parents and children to maintain contact with each other”.
– Article 9, “rights of children to be heard when separated from parents”. This extends to the right to counselling without the consent of parents at any age.
– Article 18, “State parties shall use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that both parents have common responsibility for the upbringing and the development of the child”. 
– Article 19, “The State must prevent abuse and neglect of children”.

I was honoured to be included and to spend so much time with child protection professionals and experts from around the globe, from Africa to Japan. But it was chilling to see how so many of the issues were so similar, spread so fast using new communication channels and were typically only being confronted by systems often stuck in the thinking of several generations past.

I returned from these many talks and travels more convinced than ever that we are going to need cross-border solutions to the problems, both geographic and professional.

Given the scale of the abuse, facilitating this movement will remain my focus throughout this new year and I’m reassured to report that so many parents and a growing army of professionals are fast approaching a similar conclusion.

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