David Norgrove: selling out to gossip
by Robert Whiston FRSA April 12th 2011
The Family Justice Review is a panel, chaired by David Norgrove, appointed to look into Britain’s troubled – some would say dysfunctional – family court system. It produced its Interim Report in March 2011 but within days it was being rubbished in the media. Christopher Booker of the Telegraph took exception to Norgrove’s muddled approach. He described the family justice system as “callous, corrupt and staggeringly expensive”.  In fact everything that the Men’s Movement has been claiming it was for 20 years or more. Booker went further; he vilified and hammered Norgrove’s Interim Review of the family justice system as “only scratches the surface of what has become a national scandal.” [see Annex].
In common with all other officially sponsored reports and reviews into this topic, Norgrove’s Interim Review fails to distinguish between ‘private law’ cases and ‘public law’ cases. The result is the usual mishmash of half-baked ideas and principles that taint and corrupt one another.
The government and Tim Loughton MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families says ‘yes’ but their appointed impresario for reviewing Family Justice, David Norgrove, says ‘no.’
What is the issue that so divides them ? The clash is over shared parenting – an idea that after 20 years of lobbying might at last be coming to Britain.
David Norgrove, in his committee’s Interim Report (March 2011), insinuates that shared parenting (a form of child custody) is not too safe and carries with it dangers.  This is despite the fact that shared parenting works well in other countries and reduces child abuse numbers particularly by sole custody parents.
Overlooked too is the small matter of 30 Public Inquires in 30 years into the most obscene and gross forms of child deaths because custody has not been based in shared parenting.
From Khyra Ishaq (2008) to Baby P (2007), and all the other dead children between them and Victoria Climbie, in 2000, have one common feature – an excluded father and a one-parent family custody situation. Yet this failed system is what Norgrove wants Britain to retain.
The Interim Report (page 21,Para 108) concludes that:
- No legislation should be introduced that creates or risks creating the perception that there is an assumed parental right to substantially shared or equal time for both parents.
Who – if not parents – can assume to have parental rights and substantially shared or equal time with the child ? Does the state and Social Workers have a priority claim ?
To justify this somewhat Hegelistic position Norgrove falls back on 3 main arguments, the experience of shared parenting in Sweden (an acknowledged success), shared parenting in Australia (another success) and the research of an Australian child psychologist at La Trobe University, Jennifer McIntosh (a known arch-opponent to shared parenting).
Is Norgrove right to depend on McIntosh’s dire warnings ? Let us have a look at the numbers for New South Wales (Australia). Shared parenting was introduced in 2006 and if we look at the ultimate form of data, child deaths, we can see they decline (Fig 1).
Academia can be a back-stabbing environment but occasionally, someone like Patrick Parkinson, a professor of law, is brave enough to offer up a rebuttal to Jennifer McIntosh type research. He pin-points the opportunism that mini-studies afford to present ‘blame games’ and petty point-scoring.
However, more importantly he reveals how ‘contact’ at weekends, say Friday afternoon to Monday morning, and a mid-week sleep- over at Dads (say, of one night), can be transformed into ‘shared parenting’ for the purposes of those conducting an offensive, e.g. McIntosh. Five days (or parts thereof), in every 14 days with the other parent (the father) apparently fits Jennifer McIntosh definition of shared parenting. This is known as ‘normal contact’ in the UK.
Infants, namely those aged under 12 months old, have always been the most vulnerable and at risk of homicide. As murder victims, they have historically always been far larger than any other age group as this graph from as far back as 2000 shows (Fig 2).
The graph left (Fig 2) is derived from Table 4.4 from “Home Office Criminal Statistics for England & Wales” and shows the age and sex of the victim but not the age and sex of their murderer (for this we have to use American statisitics).
Fig 2 clearly shows (as does the Australian data in Fig 1), that child deaths are most common when a child is under 1 year old. More child homicides are committed in this age range than any other. This homicide ‘bunching’ is reinforced by data from America (see Fig 3) which shows the trend for homicide by age follows a similar pattern.
But whereas British data sources are reluctant to name the perpetrator’s sex American data has no such inhibitions (see Fig 3).
Left: Fig 3. Murder in Families – perpetrators by quantity (US).
The data in Fig 3 shows that more children are murdered by mothers than by men across the whole age range The definition of “other men” can, of course, mean other family members or it can refer to a transient boyfriend, or non-biological fathers, e.g. a long or short term cohabitee.
In homicide terms (i.e. the most severe form of risk/danger of child abuse), it is clear that biological fathers do not figure at all except in the grand total (on the right) and then only barely.
Norgrove accepts that over 90% of child awards are to mothers and they are ‘sole custody’ in nature – so it is not too much of a numerical leap to tie the single mother household (SMH) with sole custody award and their boyfriends as the most dangerous option when deciding child custody. However, for confirmation there is some supporting data from Australian (Fig 4).
The Australian Institute of Criminology recently had to correct an error in its National Homicide Monitoring Program 2006-07 Annual Report (Jan 22nd 2009). The corrected report states that 11 homicides involved a mother and 11 homicides involved a male family member.
The data is shown below in Fig 4. The full report can be downloaded from the AIC website at http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/mr/01/
Left: Fig 4. Australia – child homicides.
The government appears to be adopting a twin track approach – the Munro Reports which focus on the public law side of cases with their child protection issue of the Sharon Shoesmith and Haringey council debacle variety and shared parenting where no protection matters are in contention and where parental divorce is the driver.
Looking beyond entrenched positions and the need to protect one’s academic reputation the numbers come to our rescue. The Australian government preempted a rearguard action and sanctioned comprehensive data collection to measure the differences following the introduction of shared parenting in 2006.
Commenting on post-separation relationships a government report found that:
- “Among parents who separated after the 2006 changes, 62% reported having a friendly and cooperative relationship with the other parent, 19% a distant relationship, 14% a highly conflictual relationship and 5% a fearful relationship (7% of mothers and 3% of fathers).”(see website http://www.aifs.gov.au/institute/pubs/fle/executivesummary.pdf).
This is in direct contradiction to McIntosh’s findings (and Bren Neale and Joan Hunt in the UK), which appears to have been accepted as gospel by Norgrove. A criticism of both McIntosh and Hunt’s is a) the smallness of their sample size, b) their focus on ‘high conflict’ families and c) court imposed shared parenting as a solution.
On page 220 the Report has the audacity/ ignorance to state that:
- “A case file analysis carried out by Hunt and Macleod found there was no evidence that non-resident parents are systemically and unreasonably treated by the family courts. courts.  The study showed courts start from the position that contact is generally in the interests of the child, that they make great efforts to achieve this, and in most instances they are successful.”
No mention is made of Bauserman’s meta-analysis (the accredited standard), or any other longitudinal survey with contrary findings. The quote above is Number 232 and refers to Hunt & Macleod’s 2008 paper “Outcomes of applications to court for contact orders after parental separation or divorce” (London, MOJ). No mention is made of the small sampe size – a mere 308 from a yearly divorce total of over 110,000.
A court imposing shared parenting (b) on dysfunctional high conflict’ families (c) is guaranteed, almost by definition, not to succeed – no fathers groups and no rational person is seeking such a solution.
The sample sizes (a) vary from 61 in Joan Hunt’s “Residence and Contact Disputes in Court” (Table 1.4), falling to 30 in a 2001 paper by Dr Bren Neale & Dr Flowerdew. Another flaw in quoted academic papers is bias. For instance, in a joint paper “Residence and Contact Disputes in Court” by Carol Smart, Vanessa May, Amanda Wade and Clare Furniss funded by the Dept of Constitutional Affairs:
- Only 5% of the sample indicated they had shared residence.
- Over half (52%) of the Questionnaires were returned by residential parents
- Over half (54%) of the respondents were mothers.
This has to be compared with Bauserman’s critically acclaimed 2002 meta analysis of 1,846 sole-custody and 814 joint-custody children which concluded of shared parenting was beneficial to children. But without blushing Norgrove’s Interim Report comes down against shared parenting (the only meta-analysis Norgrove mentions is at Footnote 99 and refer to ‘adopted children’).
It is hardly credible that someone supposedly in command of policy making can be so unaware and permits themselves to write in honest ignorance that:
- ‘There is no empirical evidence showing a clear linear relationship between shared time and improving children’s outcomes’,
Where is the reciprical question; ‘Is there any empirical evidence showing a clear linear relationship between sole mother custody and outcomes ?’
Norgroves committee have at least ‘recognised the real distress of parents, usually fathers, who were who were unable to see their children’ but this sympathy is nonetheless out-trumped by children charities, e.g. Barnados (Para 107). Apparently these children’s ‘groups’ pointed to evidence from Sweden and Australia about the ‘significant damage’ done to children (it is unclear if the Interim Report itself took evidence or the evidence was reported to them by children’s ‘groups’).
The fact of the matter is that Sweden still has shared parenting (it has not abandoned it), and Australians, except for a vociferous minority, are enjoying their new custody regime.
The committee authors of the Interim Report would appear to have confused the function of Barnados which was set up to assist child protection and focus on children “taken into care”, i.e. public law issues. Time and again since the Children Act 1989 this basic divide between actions suitable for public law and private law has been blurred or lost, resulting in bad law for both. It is time they were treated as two distinct categories.
One has to wonders if Norgrove has a grip in reality when he writes that “there should be a statement in legislation to reinforce the importance of the child continuing to have a meaningful relationship with both parents, alongside the need to protect the child from harm.”
Legislation and ministerial pronouncements for a decade or more are crammed with phrases containing ‘continuing’, ‘meaningful relationship’, ‘both parents’, and ‘protect the child’. Here are a few:
- “The Children Act 1989… seeks to encourage both parents to continue to sharein their children’s upbringing, even after separation or divorce” – Consultation Document, Parental Responsibility, LCD, March 1998, p 13,Para 42
- “The underlying philosophy of the Children Act is that parents have a sharedresponsibility for the upbringing of their children even after the parents’relationship has broken down. Thisreflects the Government’s belief thatchildren generally benefit from a continuingrelationship with both parents”. Rt Hon The Lord Irvine, 8 May 1999 (ref MC/99/10/1
The remedy for managing fathers’ expectations is laid out at Para 111:
- “Parents should be enabled and supported to come to a resolution and to construct a Parenting Agreement”.
Fathers groups suggested the adoption of ‘Parenting Plans’ – a tried and tested format overseas – as far back as 2002.
Any grip on reality is totally lost when the Interim Reports confides that both parents share PR (parental responsibility), implying that this has some sort of valued status. Parental responsibility gives a divorced father nothing and trying to ‘con’ non-married fathers into its alleged value is hypocritical.
From the same twilight zone thinking, it blithely continues; “Research in child contact applications shows that contact is granted in most cases” – as if that means something ! !
The committee don’t seem to realise that PR is an irrelevant fig leaf and that ‘contact applications’ do not get a father any closer to seeing his child.
The family justice system is callous, corrupt and staggeringly expensive
by Christopher Booker, Telegraph (UK), April 2nd 2011
David Norgrove’s interim review of the family justice system only scratches the surface of what has become a national scandal, says Christopher Booker.
A quick flip through last week’s interim review of our family justice system might suggest that all is not entirely well with our family courts. The “system is not working”. It needs “significant change”. “Children and families do not understand what is happening to them.” The time taken to resolve cases is “little more than scandalous”. “Some cases should not be in court at all.” “The costs are huge.” “These are symptoms of a situation that cannot be allowed to continue.”
But as I checked the report against what I have learnt about this horribly corrupted system, from the dozens of cases I have been following where children have been seized from their parents for no good reason, I had little sense that those responsible for this review have really begun to grasp just how bad the situation has become.
 Telegraph, 02 Apr 2011
 Hunt J and Macleod, A (2008) ‘Outcomes of applications to court for contact orders after parental separation or divorce’ London MOJ,(sample size = 308). http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/docs/outcomes-contact-orders-briefing-note.pdf