The Stop Abuse Campaign today inaugurates regular reports on the work we are doing with a report on two exciting phone calls with representatives of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the National Center for State Courts The connection started with letters to these organizations from our Director of Research, Barry Goldstein. In his letters, which were posted on our web site, Barry put together recent media investigations of the dangerous response to abuse cases with recent research. Taken together it provides a compelling picture that the present practices used in custody courts and child protective agencies cannot protect the health and safety of children.
Most of the good practices included in the Safe Child Act could, and in fact should have been implemented by the courts years ago. This would quickly result in safer outcomes for the children. We contacted these organizations because they have the ability to implement some of the needed changes and persuade others to implement the rest. This is why we believe these calls were so important.
We were very pleased with the response we received during both calls. Unlike most custody cases today, the focus of our discussions was not about whether there is a problem, but rather what can be done to improve the court response to abuse cases. We were careful to limit the discussion to the 3.8% of cases that cannot be settled because they involve the worst abusers who believe the mother had no right to leave. It makes sense to focus on these cases because they are the ones that ruin children’s lives. Limiting the discussion to a small group of cases means there would be less disruption in the court system so the authorities would be more open to reforms concerning abuse cases.
Both organizations were interested in the Safe Child Act, not to promote it, but rather to consider implementing the reforms contained in our proposal. Both organizations asked us to provide sample laws and articles that explain the benefits of our proposal. They were particularly willing to make the ACE Research and Saunders’ Study and major part of future judicial trainings. There was also recognition of problems with the evaluators the courts rely on.
Another problem concerns attorneys who are often hostile to presenting evidence of domestic violence and child abuse. This will require new training which is not something these organizations have jurisdiction over. One of the topics we discussed was how retaliatory actions by the courts discourage attorneys and protective mothers from presenting evidence of abuse. The courts cannot protect the children if they do not receive evidence of abuse so it is important for judges to avoid responses that tend to promote self-censorship.
Perhaps most encouraging was that both organizations expressed appreciation for the way we put together the research and media stories and asked to continue working together to better protect children. At many points in the discussion each side expressed agreement on many important points. We know that many of our supporters have had horrific experiences with bad judges and it might be surprising to know there are good judges who want to do the right thing. Of course it is the bad decisions that we are more likely to hear about and it is useful to keep that in mind. This is why scientific research is more helpful than anecdotal evidence. We really appreciated when the NCJFCJ made the distinction between good and bad judges and expressed their frustration about some of their colleagues who will not listen.
Like many of our friends and supporters, Melanie, Andrew and Barry constantly hear horrific stories about the failure of courts to safeguard children. As Ben Atherton-Zeman has expressed, it is an honor when protective mothers share their stories with us, but more than anything we want these stories to end. This is what is so exciting about these phone calls. It could be the start of at least making the stories less common.