The women we work with at Pause are all unique; they each have different strengths, interests and personal journeys that have led them to be working with us. But one thing they do have in common is that they have all experienced proceedings that have led to children being removed from their care. This can be a long, complicated and often extremely difficult experience, with lifelong impacts for women, and at Pause we try to help these women make sense of what has happened in the past and find ways to have positive, fulfilling futures.
This is why we were so pleased that the President of the Family Division wanted to hear directly from children and families with direct experience about his proposals to reform the family justice system. The Public Law Working Group he commissioned to consider reforms published its report in Summer 2019, outlining 57 core recommendations, as well as 16 proposals for longer-term change that would require legislative change and/or additional public spending. The consultation on these recommendations closed today. The women we work with have invaluable expertise to share about these proposals and how the system could work better for them, their children and families.
In speaking to the women, we have not only learnt more about their experiences but also heard practical, constructive suggestions based on their unique insight into how pre-birth support, pre-proceedings, communication and being at court, special guardianship and contact could all be improved. Our overarching reflection is that we believe there is a profound lack of trauma-informed or trauma-responsive thinking and planning that accompany public law proceedings. By this we mean that there is little understanding of how traumatic experiences and traumatic stress impact the brain, the body and the way in which people interact and behave with the world. A trauma-informed response fully supports people being challenged and held to account for actions they may have taken. However, framing proceedings with compassion and care allows women to feel listened to and understood, even if ultimately many will never agree with the outcome.
Although not included within the Working Group’s report, the women also highlighted the huge need for support post-proceedings. They have without exception experienced huge loss compounding often already traumatic experiences in their lives and are left feeling alone with this grief and trauma at the close of proceedings. Having worked with over 700 women in this situation, most of whom we were told would not engage, Pause clearly demonstrates that when offered the right service, in the right way, women absolutely do want support and positive changes can be made.
We are delighted that the President of the Family Division has shown a commitment to hearing the voices of those with direct experience of the family justice system. We are even more grateful to the women who have contributed to our response: their insight, desire to be heard and constructive challenge gives us a real opportunity to make family justice better for all.
Jo Thomas, Implementation Manager (Participation and Pause Next Steps)