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Much in the press recently about the use of direct payments by disabled persons for sexual services. And very hot under the collar everybody is getting about it too. See Community Care, and again in Community Care and Care Space.

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I have some direct experience of this (ahem – not that direct) in that whilst training as a lawyer, I was employed as a personal assistant for a physically disabled adult man who as a result of his disability found the whole issue of intimate relationships very difficult. I was paid by direct payments. In the course of my employment we had many debates about the ethical and legal issues surrounding the ‘what ifs’ of him paying for sex, when he could not achieve this without the assistance of his employees to transport him. We never reached a conclusion: it is pretty intractable.

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A severely physically disabled person’s need for sexual fulfillment, his right to privacy and to family life is necessarily impinged upon by his practical day to day care needs, and there is often a conflict or tension between the rights of the disabled person and the legal rights of his carer or assistant as employee. This is one such area. And of course overlaid upon that are the legal and ethical difficulties with the often exploitative sex industry.

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My debates with my boss tended to move in circles and never reached resolution, but for my part I kept coming back to the question of why, if the exploitation of women through the sex industry is wrong, we should suspend that tenet simply because the person purchasing the sex is disabled. That does not bely a lack of understanding for how a disability can make forming relationships much more difficult (or can make sexual acts practically very difficult to achieve), but I don’t think that you can abandon the rights of one group in favour of another: the potential consequences for women abused and exploited as a consequence of the sex industry are far more grave than the consequences of not finding sexual fulfillment, which many people both disabled and able bodied have to deal with in their lives. I don’t think that there is an easy solution to this debate, but perhaps the provision of regulated and legal services to those with disabilities (sex therapy?) may be part of it, along with support to ensure that those with disabilities are able to integrate better socially and therefore are supported in forming relationships like the rest of us?

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It comes to something when this represents a good news story…Nottinghamshire County Council has pledged that although it will most likely have to shed 3,000 employees none of the job cuts will come from childrens’ social care. Just as well considering the frightening statistic that 40% of social workers describing their caseloads as ‘unmanageable’*. Lets hope other Authorities follow suit.

*that’s 40% of a relatively small sample, but I’d hazard a guess its pretty much got the situation pegged. I’m only surprised the figure isn’t higher.

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Joshua Rozenberg warns of injudicious cost cutting of courts and legal aid:

Many of the economies we can expect will be false ones. Cutting legal aid will simply lead to more litigants in person. Cases will take longer and court costs will rise. Vulnerable children will be at greater risk. There will be more miscarriages of justice, costing huge sums to investigate and put right.

Full article here.

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I managed to get away from court early today. No stringing things out just to earn an extra bob or two for me. No, common sense and good counsel prevailed and the public purse has been saved a pretty penny and justice done etc etc. But as always there is much to do back in chambers. So whilst there is no time to hone the following into some compelling piece of art or pop-journalism, here are some interesting bits and bobs I’ve collected this week:

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Wall of Brick’s excellent observations on Martin Narey of Barnardos (and ex Probation Service) recent expounding of views on the family courts. I agree with Brick, and I think it best if I let him express my views through the link to his blog post, otherwise I might vent my spleen inappropriately – there are so many people with so many views on how to fix the family courts – Barnardos, LSC, solicitors organisations, CAFCASS, children’s organisations and slightly informed journalists… Every time I have turned on the radio I have heard a different element of the system being blamed for the totality of the current or impending catastrophe. I’m glad that the crisis is reaching a wider audience but there is an awful lot of balone out there.

Barnardo’s press release is worth reading in full. The headlines sound sensible – why not aspire to a 30 week longstop, even if we all know it won’t happen? But then you read that Barnardos want to have a a tiered, fast track target of 12 weeks for children under 18 months. Don’t get me started on why that’s *not good* idea. Quite apart from the fact that I hadn’t even worked out which end of my baby was up by the time he was 12 weeks, its astonishing to hear the suggestion that we can deal with quite the most difficult and sensitive of cases in the shortest period of time. Maybe we should just brand parents ‘bad mother’ across their forehead when their first child is taken away so that we can fast track them through to adoption when they deliver their next child? You see what churlish mood I’m in? I’ll stop now before I say what I really think.

Also worth a read are Law Society Gazette’s interview with Carolyn Downs (interesting take), and Catherine Baksi’s summary of the same.

I’m off to do some work. And some deep breathing.

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Background to this post appears here.

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Alas, this is not the beautifully crafted discussion piece I had wanted to post, but I cannot devote as much time to this as I would like, and so I offer it as your starter for ten in its slightly disjointed and unpolished form…

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Firstly, let me explode the myth that the outcome of care applications is inevitable and that therefore care proceedings are purposeless.

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Almost all care applications result in orders of some kind. Most result in permanent or long term removal, many in adoption. Only a very few are withdrawn because the evidential hurdle of threshold cannot be met. In that limited sense applications made are by and large justifiably made (The alternative viewpoint is that almost all applications succeed because the courts are a mere rubber stamp – I don’t subscribe to that view).

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But many applications result in different orders than originally anticipated or sought (supervision orders, residence orders or special guardianship orders) or with less draconian care plans (care order with a placement at home, a plan for eventual rehabilitation, a change in placement type, or identification of more suitable carers, more structured or substantial support package for parents or child, proper financial and support package for kinship carers). These changes in plan and outcome are on one level matters of detail, but it is in matters of detail that long term outcomes for children and families can be radically altered – the chaos theory of family law. Complaint was made at the review session that there is an increasing tendency for courts to micro-manage care planning and that this is inappropriate. In the first place I don’t think that this is an accurate representation of the law or of practice. But really, why shouldn’t care plans be scrutinised? If they are appropriate and properly thought through there will be no problem – detailed scrutiny is necessary where, as is sadly often the case, they are ill thought through or poorly justified. The extent to which courts scrutinise the detail of care planning is in direct correlation with the quality of the care planning, and the confidence of the courts in it. (more…)

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Couldn’t have put it better myself. This letter from the ALC published in today’s Times is spot on.

POSTSCRIPT: More superlatives – this time it’s implosion rather than meltdown (per Wall LJ).

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