Urgent call for investigation and reform in response to allegations involving court-appointed assessor

In light of revelations naming long time court-appointed ‘Child and Family Consultant’ Jim Sheehan in various newspaper articles alleging that he purposefully placed children in harm’s way, SiSi is extending solidarity and support to anyone impacted by the involvement of Jim Sheehan in their family life. We are asking the government to initiate an investigation into these allegations.

Today we are calling on the government to invite UN Rapporteur Reem Asaleem to Ireland to meet with survivors of intimate partner abuse and child advocates. SiSi urges the government to open our justice system to the scrutiny of the UN Rapporteur for Violence Against Women.

We believe that this process will lead to a meaningful way forward so government agencies like Cuan can evolve in partnership with survivor ‘experts by experience’ and bring the voice of women and children hidden by and at the mercy of the family courts; to become established as an essential component in the fight to eliminate violence against women and girls.

SiSi was founded by a group of survivors of intimate partner abuse in 2018. We came together to find mutual support from one another.  All our founding members were victims of ongoing post-separation abuse levied through the Family Courts. Surviving this journey involved being let down in some inexplicable ways by state agencies who had previously been held in regard as protectors of children and families and vindicators of civil rights.

Many of us were cast into a life of repetitive trauma, facing endless court dates and visits with court-appointed experts. Concurrently we desperately tried to protect our children from emotional, physical, sexual, abuse and neglect. We did this while financial abuse was ongoing. While our roles as carers were taken for granted by upholders of legal policy and practice. We endured often blunt force injuries from legal instruments levied against us.

When we were assaulted at access handovers, we were rarely protected by An Garda Siochana, in fact the routine answer was: ‘it’s a civil matter and you need to go back to court, we cannot interfere in a court order, we will end up in the High Court ourselves if we do’. When in desperation we begged social workers to help us protect our children from situations our children reported as terrifying and abusive, we were rarely supported. Our children’s experiences were verified by a decision-maker in an office somewhere. The bravery of children who spoke truth to power or ran away from danger was dismissed as secondary to the importance of an ongoing relationship with a person some children disclosed was obscenely abusing them. Strange hypotheses were invented by court-appointed experts to justify their ongoing intrusion into and direction of family life.

Little by little all our efforts to leave unhealthy abusive relationships were curtailed.  as tThe overarching premise being that the world will fall apart if these children do not remain in situations the courts deem essential for their future wellbeing. How could this happen? [1] 

In recent years, Deputy Bernard Durkan is the only TD to bring the goings-on of court-appointed experts in family law matters into a democratic forum. SiSi commends his steadfastness and the manner in which he has articulated to the floor of the house, the reality of what so many families are forced to endure. For years SiSi members have met with politicians, both in government and opposition and none have cared enough to achieve what Deputy Durkan has.

For too long Ireland has had an idealistic approach to tackling domestic sexual and gender-based violence. There has been very little in the way of evidence-based approaches and common understanding between services for victims and the family courts. However, most victims of DSGBV are either women or children. Rather than be supported to live free from abuse, she  they ends up being coerced into continuing in an untenable situation. Life for victims of post-separationpost separation abuse becomes a dangerous game between survival and meeting obligations to endure as levied by family court decisions[2]  based on the deeply flawed recommendations of expert reports.

SiSi is privileged to be included in spaces where Justice and Family Law reform are discussed and we have been platformed to speak where the survivor voice is essential to influence reform. However, until now this has been an added burden to survivors as we have not been supported as an organisation financially by the state. Our survivor support and engagement methods have been supported fractionally by the HSE for a finite period of time. Philanthropy was our main benefactor but we have been forced down the route of becoming a charity and stall-wartedstall warted by the process.

Our hope was that the new agency Cuan would want to work with survivors and to engage in a meaningful way with our members to hear our collective experiences and to implement reform from the outset in collaboration with those most impacted by the massive investment currently dispersed among services long overdue additional resources. However, currently, these reforms are underway very much without us. It is our hope that a proactive Minister for Justice will forge ahead with courage to bring survivors into the fold and to acknowledge the necessity for this at every level.

SiSi has submitted to the Department of Justice on many issues and yet our expertise is queued behind long-established and unfortunately ineffective well-resourced organisations. SiSi has petitioned various bodies to highlight the dangers posed to victims/survivors of DSGBV in the family courts through the abusive use of unregulated experts since our inception. Yet our experience has been kept at a distance and filtered through a series of excellent but indirect reports.

SiSi remains committed to fostering constructive engagement with the government to urgently address the serious allegations and contribute to systemic reform in the interest of survivors and their families. We look forward to progressing appropriate action from our government to address these grave concerns as highlighted repeatedly by survivors.

This is a poignant paragraph. I tried to improve the clarity for a general reader but it needs more work.

How about such rephrase to soften the language: 

For too long, Ireland has approached domestic sexual and gender-based violence with a fragmented strategy. Responses lack evidence-based approaches, hindering understanding between victim services and family courts. The disproportionate impact on women and children emphasizes the urgent need for action.