Many mothers fear ongoing contact between their children and former partner, but find family court professionals ignore these fears because they are convinced that ongoing contact with both parents is in the interest of children in the long-term. Mothers who have escaped from their abusive partners find it extremely difficult to protect their children from ongoing abuse because they are required by the court to comply with an order for contact. In three-quarters of cases when courts have ordered contact with an abusive parent the children suffered further abuse. The courts fail, in many cases, to take domestic violence seriously, despite the introduction in April 2001 of Good Practice Guidelines recommending that the dangers are highlighted at an early stage so the safety of the child and resident parent is secured before, during and after contact visits.
The courts need to recognise that child abuse is more than broken bones and black eyes, not all child abuse is as obvious, emotional abuse also leaves deep, long lasting scars. Some signs of child abuse are subtler than others, making a child feel worthless or stupid, controlling a child by stony silence or a harsh comment makes their world an unpredictable, frightening place.
It is often claimed that research shows that contact is good for children. In fact the evidence is contradictoty. This is shown in two uk studies, one (Dunn, 2003) reporting unequivocal findings that more contact was associated with fewer adjustment problems in children, the other (Smith et al, 2001) finding no effect. International research tends to show that it is the nature and quality of parenting by the contact parent that is crucial, not the contact itself:
A key issue for debate, therefore is whether the current law should be amended to include a safety clause of supervised contact until the children are of an age where they can decide if contact progression is appropriate, which would result in the safety and well-being of children and their resident parent instead of the law which at the moment compromises this by allowing an abusive partner ordered contact.