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Re-rooted Lives

Inter-disciplinary work within the Family Justice System


An important source of reference for all those involved in child protection work

Paperback i

Book printed softcover

The interdisciplinary Dartington Conferences, introduced the family judiciary to the important role of child psychology and psychoanalysis in the outcome of child protection cases.

A decade on, the diverse professions working in the family justice system continue to share the common goal of preventing or ameliorating the effects of 'rooted sorrows', despite the inevitable tension between the aspiration to 're-root lives' and the difficulty of providing that ideal in many individual cases.

Through papers written by distinguished contributors drawn from various disciplines, edited and grouped thematically by Carola Thorpe and Judith Trowell, Re-rooted Lives provides a detailed exploration of both the theory and practice which underpins the attempt to achieve the best outcomes for children and their families.

This fascinating book is essential reading and an important source of reference for all those involved in child protection work including lawyers, health professionals, social workers, mediators, and the police.


Section 1

  • Childhood and Social Order: The Emergence of Internal Law
    Dr Clifford Yorke
  • Child Sexual Abuse Hearings In Family Courts: the Role of the Judge and the Value of the Expert Witness
    Lord Justice Wall
  • Expert Evidence: Evident and not Evident
    Dr Judith Freedman
  • What is ‘True Enough' to be Convincing Evidence? The Child Psychotherapist, The Family, The Team and The Court
    Beverley Tydeman
  • Therapeutic Assessments': Assessing the Ability to Change
    Dr Eia Asen
  • Entangled Bonds: Psychodynamic Assessments of Sibling Relationships for the Family Courts
    Jenifer Wakelyn
  • A Child Psychotherapist's Assessment Tools -
    Dr Janine Sternberg
  • Examining the Evidence Base in Child Protection: A Paediatrician's View
    Professor Jo Sibert

Section 2

  • Isn't the Judge Human Too?
    Mr Justice Hedley
  • ‘This Even-Handed Justice'
    Stephen Cobb, QC
  • Standing Firm Beside ‘Fact'
    Dr Anne Zachary
  • Representing Asian Families in the Family Courts
    Khatun Sapnara
  • The Language of Law and the Nature of Families
    Katherine Gieve

Section 3

  • Visions of Excellence - Law, Healing and Humanity
    Henry Brown
  • Myths about Family Mediation
    Christopher Richards
  • What is the Future for Social Work with Children?
    Michael Leadbetter

Section 4

  • Beyond Mothering: Dispelling Three Myths About Family Relationships and Children's Adaptation
    Professors Philip a Cowan and Carolyn Pape Cowan
  • Relationships: Law Content and Form
    Dr Stephen Cretney
Contested Children Act proceedings are dominated by the search for the welfare of the child. Government policy makers pursue the same goal. The United Nations Convention has the same declared central theme. So judges, legislators, and nations are united in their work. But is the welfare of the child a concept that permits of generalisation or are individual cases so fact dependent to defeat the formulation of a general rule, or even of any presumption? Certainly the formulation of a rule must be limited to the century or even the generation in which it is to be applied. The acceptability of corporal punishment of children in past generations contrasts with our acceptance today of homosexual relationships between 16-year-olds. What one generation accepts another generation condemns.

Let me take two examples in the more specific context of parenting. First it used to be a presumption, if not a rule, that mothers were naturally better endowed. Recently, fathers have entered the field with ever increasing confidence. Dual residence orders are now much more frequently made. Across the channel in 2002 France legislated Residence Alternée as an available norm. Second, what about contact between the child and the absent parent? In modern times it has generally been presumed to be beneficial. That presumption is reinforced by the advent of the Human Rights Act 1998; the Article 8 rights of child and absent parent point to the need to ensure post separation contact.

But to what extent are judges and policy makers listening to the voices of other disciplines, particularly mental health practitioners and researchers? In 1979 Goldstein Freud and Solnit in Beyond the Best Interests of the Child (Free Press 1973) advised, on the foundation of psychoanalytic theory, that conflicted contact was contrary to the welfare of the child and that the child’s relationship with the absent parent should be determined by the custodial parent.

That conclusion now seems quaint, particularly with the advent of the Children and Adoption Act 2006. However, recent research which focuses on the views and feelings of the children themselves is ambiguous over the benefits of contact: it suggests that we cannot presume that contact is always in the child’s best interests, see Young Adults Perceptions of Court-Ordered Contact: Fortin Ritchie Buchanan: Child and Family Law Quarterly (2006) Vol. 18.211. Further a more recent article (‘Contact/Shared Residence and Child Well-Being: Research Evidence and its Implications for Legal Decision-Making’ Gilmore International Journal of Law Policy and the Family 20 (2006) 344) summarises a large volume of international research and also suggests that no presumptions should be adopted over the benefits or otherwise of contact. The reader of these articles may wonder whether the advice of Goldstein Freud and Solnit had not some validity.

If I narrow the focus to contested legal proceedings, and in settling the post separation regime less than 10% of families choose that route, it is surely obvious that judges who decide and practitioners who advise need to be informed of current research and broad mental health consensus. The work of Professors Murch and Hooper, in demonstrating the emergence of a distinct family justice system and its essentially inter-disciplinary character, has helped free lawyers from over-reliance on purely legal thinking. But lawyers are generally cautious of dialogue with other learnings and perhaps particularly of psychoanalytic thinking. That brings me to my theme, Rooted Sorrows and Re-Rooted Lives.

Rooted Sorrows was the product of a residential conference to consider the contribution of the psychodynamic mental health approach to work in the family justice system. How did it come about? The Portman Clinic had launched a course in Forensic Psychotherapy and had established an advisory body to meet once a year to discuss the utility and development of the course. Lord Lloyd of Berwick spoke for criminal justice and I for family justice.

He saw the value of the courses for sentencing judges and persuaded the Home Office to fund a residential conference for judges and forensic psychotherapists who were assessing for the trial process or who were treating the convicted. I, following in his wake, persuaded the Lord Chancellor’s Department to fund a family justice conference. Influenced by what I had learned from Mervyn Murch I proposed an interdisciplinary gathering and Dartington as the venue. The reaction of those who attended illustrates the caution that I have suggested. Some were unenthusiastic in their response. I remember one mental health professional in particular who was vehement in the conclusion that there had been insufficient acknowledgment of other approaches to forensic work in family proceedings.

However, the conference has had its enduring legacies, which is more than can be said for most conferences that generate only transient enthusiasm. First, it led immediately to the creation of the President’s Interdisciplinary Committee. Second, it justified the publication of the conference papers, skilfully edited by Nicholas Wall. But the principal credit for the publication must go to Richard Hudson, then Managing Director of Jordan’s. Richard had a huge influence on the expansion of the library now available to the specialist family lawyer. He was brave in publishing what was not certainly, or even probably, profitable. He and then his successor, Caroline Vandridge-Ames, have published the papers from each succeeding Dartington Conference, allowing comparison of the respective popularity and influence of each. Rooted Sorrows has outstripped all its successors. It has long been out of print and library copies do not sit forlorn and unread on their shelves.

So it was that in 2002 Richard suggested to me his idea of a second edition, not a reprint but a new work that would catch developments in the intervening seven years. My efforts to recruit an editor with the time and expertise proved frustrating. I tried the recently retired, but expertise was easier to locate than enthusiasm for the partial return to work. Time passed and Richard made the courageous move from publishing to teaching English to the sixth form at his old school. Fortunately, Caroline endorsed the plan and the search for an editor resolved with not one but two.

The editors have conjured papers from leading practitioners and thinkers in the family justice field of today. Here are papers that will better inform judges and legal practitioners of the experience and convictions of other disciplines. Here too are papers by judges and legal practitioners that view the same territory from a different vantage point. Just as lawyers need to broaden their understanding of child welfare and development, so other disciplines need to have sufficient comprehension of the law and the practice of the courts to enable them to communicate comfortably as reporters or witnesses of fact or opinion.

My hope is that Re-Rooted Lives will prove as influential and enduring as its predecessor. It will, undoubtedly, offer judges, practitioners and policy makers the opportunity to think more profoundly about the issues that confront them in their working lives.

The Rt Hon Lord Justice Thorpe
June 2007

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