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
SUPPORT NOT SEPARATION
A coalition to end the unwarranted and damaging separation
of children from their mother or other primary carer
Tuesday 11 July 6-8pm
Wilson Room in Portcullis House, Westminster, SW1A 2JR
Westminster tube Wheelchair accessible
(Please allow time to go through security.)
Organisations and individuals directly affected.
Hosted by Emma Lewell-Buck MP
For information contact: Legal Action for Women
firstname.lastname@example.org 020 7482 2496
The unwarranted removal of children is not an aberration of the past or The Handmaid’s Tale of the future. Thousands of mothers are being labelled ‘unfit’ and treated as mere surrogates right now.
Parliament, 18 Jan 2017
MP Emma Lewell-Buck speaking, Jan 2017
Protest outside family court
Successive governments promoting adoption, financial and other pressures on social services, family court secrecy, and cuts in legal aid have led to a 65% rise in children taken into care – 143,440 in 2016! Since the publication of our dossier Suffer the Little Children and their Mothers in January and monthly protests outside the family court, more primary carers are speaking out.
The welfare of the child is central to the Children Act 1989. But the lifelong trauma suffered by children separated from their primary carer is often ignored by decision makers. Vague charges of ‘neglect’ and ‘future emotional harm’ are used to remove children, especially from low income families. Mothers who are single, young, of colour, immigrant, disabled, have suffered domestic violence and/or need help with depression or isolation are targeted. With nearly four million UK children (28%) living in poverty, the potential for social engineering is huge.
We are determined to change this. Labour’s manifesto commitments to keep child protection services out of private hands, “refocus social care to work with families … to prevent children becoming at risk of going into care,” and increase support for kinship carers are important steps in the right direction.
Support Not Separation is co-ordinated by
Members so far include:
Black Women’s Rape Action Project
Global Women’s Strike
Milk of Human Kindness
Movement for an Adoption Apology
Scottish Kinship Care Alliance
Single Mothers’ Self-Defence
WinVisible (women with visible & invisible disabilities)
Women Against Rape
Mothers, grandmothers, children who suffered historic separation, former social workers, the founder of a support service for the children of prisoners, teachers and other professionals.
Hundreds of people around the UK have written to prospective parliamentary candidates about ending the deliberate policy of destitution faced by people seeking asylum in Britain. The responses show a big difference in the approach of the main political parties.
The Conservatives stood by their policy of deliberate destitution. One typical response justified the current weekly income of £36 per person for someone seeking asylum by saying
“. . . research was undertaken into the actual cost of particular essential items including food stuff, clothing, toiletries, household cleaning stuff, non-prescription medication as well as travel and communication. They even went on to claim that “ . . . asylum support payments provided to larger household groups comfortably exceeded what is necessary to meet essential living needs.”
Minimum income standards research shows that a single person needs £328 a week to cover material needs and allow participation in society.[i] Benefits for UK nationals of £73.10 a week for a single person are “incapable of providing a healthy diet as well as other necessities.”[ii] People seeking asylum are living on half that amount. The assessment of “essential living expenses” referred to has been widely criticised as it did not allow for toys for children, assigned only £3 a week for travel and claimed that no money was needed to maintain a social life of any kind. Before the election was called, the Conservative government were to cut all support to “failed” asylum seekers including families.
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.
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