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Only six couples sign up for Hodge's £1m mediation scheme

By Patrick Hennessy, Political Editor

Daily Telegraph - 3rd April 2005

A £1 million government project aimed at mediating between warring parents has attracted just six couples in its first six months.

Margaret Hodge, the children's minister, now faces accusations that she introduced the Family Resolutions pilot scheme simply to try to ward off protests from the Fathers4Justice pressure group until after the general election, expected on May 5.

The project, which came into force last September, was aimed at separated couples embroiled in legal disputes over their children.

advertisementOperating at courts in Brighton, Sunderland and London, couples taking part are encouraged to agree on a parenting plan and are offered mediation services as an alternative to lengthy and painful court battles.

Ministers expected at least 3,500 couples to join the scheme which, if successful, was to be implemented in courts across the country.

A parliamentary written answer from Mrs Hodge, however, has revealed that only 25 couples were referred between September and March, with only six of them attending the "parent planning" stage.

The scheme, which cost an estimated £1 million to set up, now appears close to collapse. When the pilot was announced, fathers' groups, which have staged protests about access to children, were unhappy that mediation was not being made compulsory. Theresa May, the shadow minister for the family, said last night: "The Government has wasted large amounts of taxpayers' money on a ploy to buy off criticism from angry parents. Ministers were told by the judiciary, politicians and parents' groups that this was doomed to failure.

"It is clear that Mrs Hodge was more intent on heading off criticism to avoid this being an election issue than addressing the failings in the family justice system.

"Parents and grandparents will be rightly outraged at such a cynical move. Every week, parents are losing contact with the children they love. It is a great shame that the government should play politics with such an important issue."

The scheme involves coup-les being shown a video of children aged 12 to 15 talking about their parents' divorces. There is also role play among fathers and mothers to show what sort of behaviour can trigger anxiety in children.

Ministers said last night that the fact that only three courts had been chosen for the pilot project helped to explain the low number of parents entering the scheme.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said the pilot would be fully evaluated before a decision was made about whether and how it would be rolled out nationally.

"The cost to the good citizens for their indifference in public affairs is to be ruled by evil men"

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