A new channel 4 drama explores the sensitive issues which can arise where one parent suspects their partner (or other parent) may be harming their child.
In Unspeakable, the mother receives an anonymous text message, suggesting that her cohabitant boyfriend is abusing her eleven year old daughter. There is no evidence of abuse, save that the daughter is presenting as withdrawn. The mother is then faced with the decision of whether she should in fact raise the “unspeakable” with her boyfriend, her daughter or the police.
What if it were real
Whilst it may be difficult to contemplate abuse taking place in the home, it is important that you take steps to protect the child as soon as the suspicion is raised.
In many cases, there is very little concrete evidence and a parent is left with doubt. In these circumstances, the NSPCC recommends taking the following steps:
- Communicating with the child. Many children who are being abused will find it very difficult to talk about abuse for several reasons, including fear of their abuser, not being believed or not recognising anything is wrong. By maintaining an open dialogue, it is hoped that the child will confide in you when they feel comfortable to do so.
- Keep a diary of your child’s behaviour. If your child is suffering from mood swings or is particularly withdrawn on certain days, keep a note of your concerns so that you can spot patterns of behaviour.
- Talk to the child’s school, a class teacher may have noticed unusual behaviour.
- Talk to a trusted friend or family member in confidence. What are their views of your concern?
What happens if my child is supposed to have contact with the other parent, who I suspect is abusing my child?
Where there is a proved allegation of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, the Court is very unlikely to order that contact should take place.
However, in many cases, there is no proved allegation but a suspicion by one parent. The starting point is that if you are genuinely of the view that your child has been abused, and there is an existing Child Arrangements Order in place, you should contact social services at the earliest opportunity. The most important consideration is safeguarding the child and you may be advised to stop contact immediately.
By preventing your child from attending contact, you may be in breach of the Child Arrangements Order. It is therefore important that you take legal advice on how to proceed as soon as possible. Where a concern has been raised and a Child Arrangements Order is in place, an application can be made to Court to vary the existing arrangements. The variation may be to suspend contact until the matter has been investigated or for contact to be supervised until the allegations have been investigated.
In circumstances where there is no order and the arrangements are agreed directly between parents, a parent with a concern about child abuse should consult a solicitor to advise on whether it is necessary to make an urgent application to the Court. This may be applicable where there is a concern that the parent facing the allegation may remove the child from school, or your care.
My child’s mother has stopped me seeing my child. What can I do?
Where you have been prevented from spending time with your child due to an allegation of abuse, it is likely to be appropriate to make an application to Court in order that the allegation can be investigated and contact reinstated. A CAFCASS officer will be assigned to your case and they will carry out initial safeguarding checks, prior to completing a full investigation (if necessary).
Depending on the nature of the allegation, it may be appropriate for interim contact to take place (that is contact between you and your child which will take place while matters are being resolved). It may be appropriate for interim contact to be supervised, at a contact centre or by a trusted third party. You should speak to a solicitor who may be able to arrange interim contact.
In all cases where there is an allegation of child abuse, you should speak to a solicitor early on to consider your position. As all cases have different circumstances, you will need to receive tailored advice to ensure that your child is effectively safeguarded. At Rayden Solicitors, we have a wealth of experience and expertise in Children Act applications, and can provide you with discreet and confidential advice, and our top expertise.