At the recent Resolution National Conference 2022 in Birmingham last week; Sir Andrew McFarlane set out his views on Fact -Finding’s hearings in children cases involving allegations of domestic abuse and the circumstances within which the Court should order a Fact-Finding Hearing under Practice Direction 12J. He stressed that the importance of the allegations is not necessarily what went on when the parties were together, but the real worry is the continuation of the controlling and coercive behaviour or other harmful behaviour after the parties have separated. To assess continued risk of harm in cases where the Court has found domestic abuse has taken place; It is common for the Court to make a Contact Activity Order requiring the Perpetrator to attend and complete a Domestic Abuse Prevention Programme (DAPP) before making a Contact Order.
DAPP is run by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS). The programme is intended to help the perpetrator of domestic abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour to break the cycle of abuse by getting the perpetrator to reflect on their behaviour, accept responsibility for that behaviour and reflect upon how that behaviour has impacted upon the mother and the child. The programme also protects the victim of abuse. A DAPP usually takes place in person, in groups of 8-10 participants over 26-week period with reports for the Court after 13 weeks and completion of the programme on 26 weeks. Before the perpetrator is allowed on to the programme the perpetrator must accept the findings of facts made by the Court and must demonstrate a willingness to change before CAFCASS will make the referral to enroll on the course. CAFCASS will only make referral to enroll on approved DAPP accredited by Respect. Such process requires specific boxes to be ticked, for example, they only recommend low-risk offenders for a DAPP. Meaning, only those considered ‘low risk’ would be eligible for a DAPP.
CAFCASS published a report in 2021 not only highlighting the shortage of approved Respect and MOJ DAPP but the fact there were more than 700 families waiting to enroll on DAPP. The backlog was not only preventing perpetrators from getting help with their anger management issues but was preventing children from having meaningful relationship with their non-custodial parent.
The back log in part is attributed to Covid-19 and the isolation measures imposed by the Government at the height of the pandemic and CAFCASS’s stubborn refusal to date to sanction DAPP providers to administer the programme remotely as they believe such programmes are in effective contrary to the view of the providers themselves who are anxious to help Fathers enroll on their courses. It is of little solace to a father waiting to enroll on DAPP that CAFCASS are working on a remote version of DAPP with respect. This new course cannot come quick enough.
Matters are further compounded as DAPP service providers through out the country are sparse requiring in many cases perpetrators to travel long distances to attend the programme. Further the nature of the DAPP itself leads to a high drop out rate because of the blaming culture and us v them mentality without understanding the reason behind the behaviour before real change can be implemented.
David Eggins and Denise Knowles of Temper Domestic Violence have studied the DAPPs used by CAFCASS and found an enormous 70% drop out rate which they attribute to the programme and travel to such courses.
As a practitioner, it is difficult to encourage fathers to remain on and complete the programme in circumstances whereby they are not allowed a meaningful relationship with their children. Is it also in the child’s best interest for all contact with the other parent to be suspended until a DAPP can be attended? This could result in children not seeing the other parent for several months which may result in contact having to be re-introduced slowly. It therefore leads one to question the wisdom of not sanctioning DAPP remotely in an age whereby the hearing at which the DAPP was ordered itself took place remotely.
Whilst CAFCASS have introduced guidance for Family Court Advisors (FCA)) to deal with family cases in the absence of DAPP requiring not only for the FCA to carry out well -reasoned risk analysis but to convey the assessment to parents; the findings made by the Court in many cases sadly lead to the conclusion it is impossible to progress contact. It is in these types of cases it is unfair on fathers to be deprived of contact with their children and not being able to access DAPP without delay. Is this in anyone’s interest?
Unfortunately, many of our clients have experienced such situations with CAFCASS recommending attendance on DAPP but refusal to make referral to attend Respect and MOJ approved DAPP. Instead, they have recommended attendance on private DAPP with costs of circa £3,000 plus. Even then attendance on private DAPP is still subject to Court Contact Activity Order to attend DAPP and recommendation by CAFCASS when there are Court proceedings as permission of the Court is required to prepare reports as well as disclose Court documents to DAPP provider to address the findings of face made by the Court. It then boils down to whether CAFACSS recognises the programme. It is just a vicious circle and explains why many fathers just give up and many children grow up without a meaningful relationship with one their parents. Little weight is given to the risk to the child in the suspension of their contact with the non-custodial parent both short term and long term in the interim pending enrolment and completion of DAPP.
It is beyond dispute that the existing system whereby access to DAPP by CAFCASS needs reform. It is a matter of funding properly approved DAPP by increasing the number of providers and the locations for attendance on DAPP and removing the barriers to attendance on DAPP by allowing self-referral, allowing remote attendance on DAPP and granting permission to providers to prepare reports for the Court and to disclose court documents to help them address the risk of harm identified by the court in the Fact Finding hearing.
The establishment of the DAPP is essential not only to protect the victims of domestic violence and abuse but to help perpetrators to come to terms with their anger management issues and to break the cycle to enable them to have a meaningful and proper relationship with their children by way of regular and unsupported contact.