Children don’t need violent fathers
Michael Kalmanovitz, Payday men’s network
It is horrific that on average two women every week are murdered by partners and ex partners in the UK and that this doubled in the first three weeks of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Most family court cases involve domestic violence (70-90%), overwhelmingly against women. As a father, a former social worker and children’s home worker, I am horrified at the denial of domestic violence by the fathers’ lobby, and the harmful influence they have had over the family courts. Shockingly their views have been promoted by social workers, CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service which was created to protect the welfare of children) and judges, driving a wedge between mothers and their children and putting children at the mercy of violent and uncaring men. The recent government review into the family courts confirmed the bias against mothers. 
Care homes are dangerous for children
I used to help look after two young sisters in the children’s home I worked in. The girls were there because there was a dispute over custody, and the home was seen as a neutral place. Just after changing jobs, I got a call from the head of the home, to tell me that the girls had just been killed by their father. He had also killed himself. The terror the girls must have gone through and their mother’s pain is unimaginable. The horror of it has stayed with me.
That was 30 years ago. In 2016 Women’s Aid’s Nineteen Child Homicides told us about fathers who had intentionally killed their children, and that in most cases the family courts had ordered the children to have contact with these fathers.
Also 30 years ago a male head of a Kensington & Chelsea children’s home was caught sexually abusing a teenage girl. The union (NALGO) defended him at tribunal: he lost his position but not his salary, and was moved to another home as a basic grade worker!
In another children’s home a colleague was raped on public transport and she sought temporary refuge with her friends and co-workers back in the home. The head of the home threw her out saying her presence there disturbed the children – a lie. His lack of empathy was consistent with his caring nothing for the children.
Three-quarters of children’s homes are now privatised and to maximise their profits oversight is even worse. Private providers make huge fees – sometimes over £200,000 a year for a single placement with no guarantee of how that money is spent. The Howard League for Penal Reform report that privatisation of children’s homes is “playing into the hands of abusers” and putting children in danger of exploitation.  When the risk of being abused or neglected in “care” is so great, why is this not taken into account when decisions are made to take children into “care”?
Social workers are not trained to protect children’s best interests but to pass judgement and exercise power over working class mothers and children
My work as a social worker was mainly with single mothers on low incomes or benefits, disproportionally families of colour and mothers with ill health and disabilities: it was their children who were taken into “care” (including fostering or adoption). It was a mass transfer of children from working class to middle-class families.
Yet very few social workers thought it was essential to use the 1989 Children Act (as it was intended with Section 17, for example) to get money, accommodation, nursery places, holidays and other resources to mothers to prevent children coming in to “care”. Helping mothers in this way to care for their children was in children’s best interest, but many social workers did not see it as prestigious career enhancing work and most managers were indifferent. I think this situation is even worse now.
Shockingly, over 50% of children from the poorest communities are referred to children’s services before they are five-years-old – not because of violence, but because poverty is equated with “neglect”. When social services add algorithms – with all its human inbuilt sexism, racism and other prejudices – to computer programmes that will categorise families, we enter the brutal realm of mass surveillance and monitoring, targeted at working class mothers and their children. Families of colour, victims of domestic violence, disabled mothers are the most likely to be targeted, not for help but for child removal.
Even though social work involves removing children from their mother or primary carer, my training never included learning about or considering the well-documented trauma a child will suffer as a result of being taken from mother, siblings and all that is familiar. For many, that trauma lasts a whole lifetime. This lack of training has been borne out in conversations with others. (I raised this with former social worker Emma Lewell-Buck MP when she was Shadow Education Minister responsible for children and families; she agreed that the trauma of separation was not part of social work training.) How can we make judgements about children’s best interest if we don’t even consider how our drastic decisions will affect them? We are ready to judge their mothers, but not ourselves and the institutions we put them in.
Child protection must start with the assumption that mothers are the primary carers and protectors and that they deserve our respect and support to overcome any difficulties, starting with poverty. A New York court ruled that children are more traumatised by being separated from their mothers than by domestic violence, and that domestic violence would no longer be used to remove children. Why is that not understood in the UK? Why aren’t mothers not getting the resources they need to keep their children safe? Tellingly, the UK Review disclosed that mothers were concerned with their children while fathers were concerned with themselves.  Why then are mothers who do most of the caring work for children being equated with fathers who do not?
Parental alienation is the dangerous fabrication of a misogynist child abuser
In the 1990s I was part of the movement against the Child Support Agency which targeted single mothers on benefits and antagonised fathers. We ran an advice line. We spoke to many fathers who wanted to do the best for their children, and were careful not to undermine their children’s relationship with their mother. They knew, as any caring father would, that children need their mother. But others – often wealthy with money were trying to hide in order not to pay maintenance – wanted to blame their former partner for the domestic violence they had indulged in and for the legislation women were not responsible for. We refused to advise them unless they changed their attitude towards women. (The government had no interest in the hardship they had caused by further impoverishing single mothers with the excuse that fathers must pay instead, opening women to renewed attacks from former partners; all they cared about was driving mothers off benefits.)
As a member of the Support not Separation Coalition, I have witnessed the same again: men hostile and violent to former partners and children, accusing mothers of making up allegations of violence in order to “alienate” the children from them.
In fact, it is violent fathers, including rapists and child abusers who are hiding behind allegations of “parental alienation” to deflect from their crimes and avoid prosecution. “Parental alienation” is the brain-child of Dr Richard A Gardner, a US psychiatrist who dismissed domestic violence and defended paedophilia, advocating that children should be forced to have contact with fathers regardless of any risk to their lives. The World Health Organisation has refused to recognise this much-discredited theory.
But CAFCASS has not dismissed it. Instead they say: “We are increasingly recognising that parental alienation is a feature in many of our cases and have realised that it’s absolutely vital that we take the initiative.” Until recently CAFCASS was chaired by Edward Timpson, previously a Tory Minister for Children & Families, who promoted the presumption in law that fathers’ involvement was beneficial to children. So much for CAFCASS’ independence.
Five of CAFCASS’ “stakeholders” are men’s groups, often charities, including wealthy individuals in high places, who are using the junk-science of “parental alienation” to push a violent anti-woman, anti-child agenda. Dads Unlimited call to “remove the inherent societal bias towards mothers being the primary carers”; Men’s Aid call the Women’s Aid report 19 Child Homicides “inherently dangerous and misleading”; Families Need Fathers accuse mothers of “false and unfounded allegations [that] poison proceedings when a non-resident parent is seeking parenting time with his children.” 
They are joined by Tory MP Philip Davies who has been pressing for “parental alienation” to be defined as domestic abuse in legislation. Philip Davies is racist, sexist and homophobic. Last year he spoke at a Justice for Men & Boys conference which promotes the vicious rape-denial statement 13 reasons women lie about being raped. Davies also spoke at a US men’s conference that included a speaker who supported white nationalists, Islamophobes and male supremacists. The fathers’ lobby has a strong (as yet not fully exposed) connection with the far right!
Many men do want to look after and care for our children and recognise that most of the primary caring work is done by mothers, and that we must respect that, including during a break-up. As fathers, partners, brothers, friends we need to speak out in support of women and children, and publicly oppose violent fathers and their use of “parental alienation”.
Families don’t need violent fathers! Children need love and protection not coercion!
Michael Coleman is a member of Payday men’s network, a member organisation of the Support Not Separation coalition
 Domestic abuse and private law children cases: A literature review, Adrienne Barnett, 2020
 Support Not Separation picketed a Fathers Need Families conference re parental alienation which CAFCASS participated in.
See Women Against Rape’s briefing re the Domestic Abuse bill. (There are now 3 briefings and press release.)
Join Support not Separation outside the Family Court in London the first Wednesday of every month, 12.30-1.30pm – or in a twitter protest during lockdown.