WED 5 APRIL – PROTEST OUTSIDE FAMILY COURT
STOP TAKING CHILDREN FROM THEIR MOTHERS!
12.30-1.30pm – See you there!
On 8 March 2017 we held our first protest outside the central family court in London. About 100 people, mostly women, took part and a number of mothers spoke about their struggle to keep or get back their children. See this very good short video of our protest.
We will be holding monthly protests on the first Wednesday of the month from now on.
JOIN US TO DEMAND:
· An end to sexist judgements which deny the bond between mother and child, and downgrade the crimes of violent fathers.
· Fathers who are violent should not have unsupervised contact.
· An end to the secrecy of the family courts; there must be public scrutiny.
· Legal aid for all family court matters; no mother should have to represent herself.
· An end to institutional discrimination on grounds of income, race, nationality, disability, religious affiliation and/or occupation.
· An end to forced adoptions.
· Courts and social services must prioritise keeping children with their mother or other primary carer wherever possible. The state must support mothers doing their best for their children.
· 80% of UK women are mothers. Women are primary carers in 90% of households.
· 28% of children live in poverty
· There are more children “in care” now than at any time since 1985
· Children from poor areas are 10 times more likely to be taken into care than those in rich areas
· Domestic abuse features in 70-90% of cases in the family courts yet less than 1% of child contact applications are refused – violent fathers who request contact nearly always get it.
· One in five children are now referred to children’s services yet the proportion of identified cases of abuse by parents has dropped from 24% to under 8%
· Adoptions are at their highest point since complete data collection started: 90% of adoptions are without parental consent.
Legal Action for Women
Single Mothers’ Self Defence
Suffer the little Children & their Mothers:
APPEAL from LEGAL ACTION FOR WOMEN
– a grassroots legal service
Are you a lawyer, a former social worker or legally trained? Can you help us to stop the unjust separation of children from their mothers?
Legal Action for Women’s new Dossier Suffer the Little Children & their Mothers, documenting women’s struggle for justice in the family courts in England, was launched in January at a packed meeting in the House of Commons. Publicity about it in the Guardian sparked a correspondence over two days: CoramBAAF challenged Prof. Andy Bilson’sresearch quoted in the Dossier and this was followed by several responses supporting our findings.
We are now receiving calls and emails from all over the country from mums and couples who are fighting to stop adoptions, get children back from care and stop violent fathers having contact or residence of their children.
We are a grassroots legal service with a well-established track record. We are based on collective self-help, providing information and support so people can decide how they want to fight their case. As cases often involve more than one issue, we work with other organisations based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre, such as Black Women’s Rape Action Project, Women Against Rape, Single Mothers’ Self Defence and WinVisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities). Our insistence that no case is “hopeless” and that something can always be done has won LAW recognition from lawyers, as well as civil rights and community organisations.
Fighting to win asylum from rape: the case of Erioth Mwesigwa
SIAN EVANS 20 February 2017
When Erioth Mwesigwa came to the self-help group we help coordinate, she said nothing. She said nothing at the second meeting either but she looked a little less wary and withdrawn. But then she started chatting to other women in the All African Women’s Group in North London. By the time Erioth came to her fourth meeting she was standing up to report on the help she had given a woman who was under threat of losing her child. Within six months she was speaking about asylum seekers being denied health care at a meeting to save the NHS in Camden Council’s Chambers — such is the power of collective action.
Erioth was imprisoned and raped by soldiers in Uganda over 30 years ago because her husband was suspected of opposing the president. He escaped and was given asylum in the UK. Erioth didn’t. After she escaped from prison she hid with her godfather until she was recognised. She fled from his home, but her godfather was killed by soldiers who came to find her. She was hidden in an orphanage by a priest where, until she was recognised and had to flee again, she never left the compound. More discoveries and more escapes followed until in 2002 she ran out of places to hide. Erioth was being ordered to trap her husband into returning to Uganda. Friends warned her she would be killed and organised for her to come to England.
After nearly 14 years living in the UK, Erioth was detained in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre.
Protest outside Central Family Court: Value the world’s mothers and children – part of International Women’s Strike events on International Women’s Day 8 March 2017
See video & article in The Independent here
At the protest we handed in an Open Letter to Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division of the High Court of England & Wales asking to meet with him to convey our concerns about the discrimination mothers face in the family court. See our letter below:
Dear Sir James Munby,
Valuing Mothers and Children
We write to respectfully request a meeting with you.
We are mothers and organisations struggling against the unjust separation of children from their mothers, and today, International Women’s Day, we are protesting outside the Family Court. We are deeply concerned about the rise in the number of children being taken into care, forced to have contact or live with neglectful, vindictive and violent fathers, or adopted against the wishes of their mothers and of the children themselves. Continue reading
Children & Social Work Bill – Victory against the government’s “opt out” clauses
When the Children & Social Work Bill went back to parliament for Report Stage, the government backed down on the clauses it had wanted which would have allowed local authorities to opt out of statutory child protection responsibilities! As we said when we started campaigning against the Children & Social Work Bill last July, these measures had nothing to do with “innovation” as the government claimed, but would have been a huge incentive for greater privatisation of children’s services, leaving the most vulnerable and traumatised children even more unprotected from market forces. At a time when more children are in care than any time in the past 30 years, and given how many inquiries are now going on into rape and other violent abuse of children in “care” (including forced removal to Australia and hidden graveyards in Ireland) this “opt out” had to be stopped.
Determined opposition, including from mothers, grandmothers and families who kept up the pressure which won the victory when the House of Lords threw these clauses out and then tried to stop the government putting them back in, made all the difference. Emma Lewell-Buck MP, Shadow Minister for Children, did a great job in opposing the government in parliament. We need more of it, including from those established children’s charities and voluntary sector, as well as professionals and academics, who were not prepared to speak out against privatisation. Those of us determined to stop so many children being taken into care will not be silenced!
Important follow up to LAW’s Dossier
Suffer the Little Children & their Mothers
See news coverage and join rally
Since the successful launch in Parliament of Legal Action for Women’s (LAW) dossier Suffer the Little Children & their Mothers, there has been a breakthrough exchange in the Guardian and new developments on the Children and Social Work Bill.
Sandra Laville reporting on the Dossier, Rising adoptions penalise poor families but don’t cut numbers in care, says report, said that “The push to increase adoption in England is punishing low-income women, who are increasingly losing their children due to poverty . . .”
John Simmonds, Director of policy, research and development at the adoption agency CoramBAAF, wrote on the letters page, disputing “the data and data analysis at the heart of this set of findings”.
There were a number of responses to this, titled How poverty, care and adoption are related. They included Dr Andy Bilson, emeritus professor of social work quoted in the Dossier, who stated: “research shows that children living in the 10% of most deprived communities are almost 11 times more likely to be in care than in the least deprived communities.”
And Anne Neale and Nina Lopez, authors of the Dossier, who referenced the Children and Social Work Bill which “would extend . . . lucrative privatisation by removing statutory protection for children in care. The lifelong trauma of separation on children and their birth families is not considered. How is this cruelty in the best interest of children?”
See also the October 2016 letter from five women’s organisations, including LAW, which opposed not only the Bill’s ‘opt out’ clauses removing statutory protections, but the drive for adoption and privatisation: Family support at risk from children’s bill. And an interview with Anne Neale on London Live
Following widespread opposition, Prof Eileen Munro, the prominent adviser the government quoted to justify their clauses, has now come out against them, Government adviser walks away from child protection plans.
MP Emma Lewell-Buck, shadow minister for children and families, continues to lead opposition to the clauses and to the drive for adoption in the Commons. She spoke at the launch of our Dossier drawing on her own experience as a former social worker.
This will be followed by a Speak Out outside Parliament, 12-2pm, called by the Global Women’s Strike.
Please join us. These clauses must be defeated! Children must be protected from the profiteering of the private sector. Brutal, unjust separations must end!
John Simmonds raises two issues in his letter (25 January). First, he questions the “data and its analysis” cited in the article (Rising adoptions penalise poor families but don’t cut numbers in care, says report, 19 January) without outlining his concerns. I have published a spreadsheet showing sources of data, assumptions made, and the calculations (bilson.org.uk/calculations/) so that he, or anyone else, can see them. Second, I make no claim that there is an explicit policy to address poverty through adoption. I do show that a policy of increasing adoption to reduce the number of children in long-stay care leads instead to an increase in care. The government doesn’t provide statistics relating adoptions to levels of poverty, but research shows that children living in the 10% of most deprived communities are almost 11 times more likely to be in care than in the least deprived communities. It is thus highly likely that adoption is concentrated in these poor communities.
My most worrying finding is that if local authorities are grouped into thirds based on high, medium and low levels of children leaving care to be adopted, then high-use authorities increased children in care by 10% in the past five years, middle use increased it 6%, and in low use it fell by 3.2%. We need research to look at the link between increasing numbers of children in care alongside rising use of adoption. But it is already clear that policymakers should not assume that increasing adoption will reduce numbers in care.
Dr Andy Bilson
Emeritus professor of social work, University of Central Lancashire
I have enormous respect for John Simmonds but I suggest that his response to your article on the rise in adoption from care fails to take account of a key element in the process. Of course, the courts are usually rigorous in their application of the “best interests” test, but they are often applying this months or even years after the crucial decisions about child protection and family support have been made. If those decisions were taken in a climate of (i) pressure to remove children to avoid public criticism, (ii) pressure to consider adoption as the best solution at a relatively early stage, and (iii) serious cuts in family support services, then the courts might well find – and frequently do – that the passage of time has cut off options that might have been better for the child in an ideal world. The clock cannot be turned back, but we should be looking seriously at the consequences of current policy and practice, and at what might be the alternatives. Having been present at the meeting to which John refers, I am aware that the data are being contested, and I hope this process will lead to robust conclusions that we can all get behind.
Dr Nigel Thomas
Professor of childhood and youth research, University of Central Lancashire
As a former family magistrate I was involved in many cases where we made the decision to remove a child from her parents for adoption. I do not believe that the decision was ever made on the basis of the poverty of the natural parents. However, it was frequently made on the basis of the parents’ or mother’s mental health and/or drug addiction. Intuitively, I suggest that these factors are correlated with poverty and unemployment, and also that their effect is more severe where people are materially deprived.
While by law adoptions should only happen when “nothing else will do”, as John Simmonds says, by the time of a final court hearing (often months or years later) social services have already shaped the case against the mother in favour of adoption. Judges usually follow their recommendations, and when they don’t social services fight to get their way. A teenage mum we tried to help was taken to court two days after an emergency caesarean so her baby could be removed immediately. When the judge refused, she was isolated from her support network in a mother and baby unit, under constant critical observation. Not surprisingly, although the baby flourished, her mother was deemed unfit and the child was adopted against the family wishes.
CoramBAAF disputes the connection between poverty, increasing levels of adoption and children in care, but offers no explanation. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has just reported worsening ill-health among children in poverty. Yet time and again social services scrutinise working-class mothers, triggering child protection intervention when the obvious problem is poverty.
In our dossier Suffer the Little Children and Their Mothers, the mothers whose children were adopted were all on low incomes, half had been teenage mothers, half were women of colour, half were survivors of rape or domestic violence. One mother with a learning disability had her first baby adopted at birth, never given a chance to care; a young couple who asked for advice about a mark on one of their children’s faces ended up in the high court without a lawyer unable to stop their adoption; a woman raped by the children’s father (who was convicted) was accused of failing to protect them, and the children were adopted by strangers in preference to their grandparents.
Fostering and adoption produce millions in profit for private companies. The children and social work bill now in parliament would extend that lucrative privatisation by removing statutory protection for children in care. The lifelong trauma of separation on children and their birth families is not considered. How is this cruelty in the best interest of children?
Anne Neale and Nina Lopez
Legal Action for Women
See also: John Simmonds letter https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jan/24/children-poverty-and-difficulties-of-adoption
Suffer the Little Children
Stopping the forced separation of children from their mothers
Wednesday, 18 January 2017 6-8pm
Committee Room 11, House of Commons, SW1A OAA
Westminster All welcome.
Kindly sponsored by Emma Lewell-Buck MP for South Shields
Cristel Amiss Black Women’s Rape Action Project
Dr Andy Bilson Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of Central Lancashire
Donna Clarke fought not to have her grandchild adopted
Dr Anna Gupta Senior Lecturer in Social Work, Royal Holloway University of London
Nicola Mann Women Against Rape
Anne Neale Legal Action for Women
Kim Sparrow Single Mothers’ Self Defence
Suffer the Little Children – a Dossier by Legal Action for Women documenting mothers’ struggle in the family courts in England – will be launched at the meeting. The Dossier could not be more timely as the Children and Social Work Bill is now in the Commons and a public outcry has exposed the treatment of mothers who have suffered domestic violence by the family courts.
There are now more children in state “care” than at any time in the past 30 years. New research shows that local authorities with the highest adoption rates also have the highest increase in children in care. Prioritising adoption over support for families has led to a 65% increase in the number of children separated from their parents. Mothers on low incomes, single mothers, of colour, immigrant, with learning difficulties, teenage mums … are particularly vulnerable. Women who suffer rape and/or domestic violence are most likely to have their children removed.
Following the recent public outcry, the government is looking to stop violent men question the mother in family courts. This would be a welcome change but much more is needed to stop the horrendous sexism mothers increasingly face.
The Children & Social Work (CSW) Bill is now going through the House of Commons. The government is determined to re-impose measures overwhelmingly rejected by the House of Lords, which would allow local authorities to “opt out” of statutory child protection, opening the way for privatisation. This coincides with the lowering of the benefit cap, with its devastating impact on as many as 500,000 children whose families are being further impoverished. No-one knows how many more children will then be taken into care as parents are accused of “neglect” for no longer being able to keep a roof over their heads, especially if private companies can profit from such separations! Given the abuse of children in care that continue to be exposed in Lambeth, Rochdale, Rotherham . . . and in juvenile detention centres run by G4S and others, this is a frightening prospect. Together for Children, a consortium of over 40 children’s charities, women’s groups, social work organisations and others, are also opposing the opt out clauses.
A child protection social worker has warned about the government’s latest plans:
| The Public Bill Committee on the CSW Bill will be discussing the opt-out during its public sessions on Tuesday 10, Thursday 12 and Tuesday 17 January. Please join us if you can – updated information here.
We must act together to oppose this social cleansing precipitated by austerity policies and insist that MPs vote against the “opt out” measures. Mothers, grandmothers and other carers working with Legal Action for Women and other self-help groups are fighting back.