Submission to the Public Bill Committee on the Children and Social Work Bill

By Legal Action for Women (LAW) on behalf of LAW; Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP); Global Women’s Strike (GWS); Single Mothers’ Self-Defence (SMSD); Women Against Rape (WAR)                                                                                                       

12 December 2016

The following submission is being submitted on behalf of the five women’s organisations listed above based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre, which for years now have been working with mothers whose children have been taken from their care, are under threat of being taken, or are fighting in the family courts to ensure they are protected from domestic or other violence. We focus on self-help and hold monthly meetings attended by mothers and other primary carers from different backgrounds and situations. Many have been victims of rape and/or domestic violence.

Summary

  1. We are opposed to New Clauses 2 and 3 (NC2, NC3) proposed by Edward Timpson, which re-introduce the Clauses removed by the House of Lords and allow local authorities to “opt out” of statutory child protection measures so that they could be outsourced and eventually “run for profit”.
  2. We propose a New Clause 8 which would ensure that resources were given to loving mothers whose impoverishment, age or inexperience has made them vulnerable to claims of ‘neglect’, thus enabling children to stay with their families and reducing the very high numbers currently being taken into care.
  3. We propose that Clause 9 is deleted, on the grounds that there should be no prioritising of adoption over resources to enable children to stay within or return to their families.
  4. We support amendments (18-25, 30) proposed by Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck.
  5. We support amendments 16 and 17 proposed by Stella Creasy, Caroline Lucas and Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck regarding unaccompanied refugee children.

1.1 We oppose: NC2/3 Power to test different ways of working.

1.2 We are extremely concerned that there must be no provision for local authorities to “opt out” of statutory child protection measures so that they could be outsourced and eventually run for profit. The clauses to privatise child protection services were thrown out in the Lords and we are outraged that they are being re-presented. They are opposed by families and social workers alike but our views have not been sought (there has been no consultation on this) and we have been ignored when we spoke out.

1.3 As we said in a letter to the Guardian (25 October), children in difficulty will be put on the market:

The national child abuse inquiry was set up in response to a massive survivors’ movement to examine how and why local authorities and others failed to protect children.
Even before it started, the government wanted to exempt these institutions from public scrutiny… removing statutory protections from the most vulnerable – children in custody and in care. Given the history, this amounts to a rapists’ charter.

1.4 While the government has denied that it aims to privatise child protection, the Children’s Social Care: increased capacity and diversity report published after a two-year delay by the Department for Education (DfE), provides clear evidence that the Bill’s opt out has nothing to do with ‘innovation’ as the government claims, but with lowering corporate liability: “The large, broadbased outsourcing companies we spoke with said they were highly averse to reputational risk and would be unlikely to be early entrants to this market. In order to address this, government would need to be clear about the levels of responsibility, liability and accountability they would require from companies taking on the delivery of children’s services.”

1.5 Private companies are behind this Bill. Isabelle Trowler, chief social worker for children and families is among its chief promoters. She co-founded Morning Lane, a private company working with 25 local authorities. KPMG, which partners Morning Lane, has been awarded a £2m government contract. When questioned, Trowler dismissed it as ‘peanuts’. But the children’s social work budget is estimated at £6.5bn, and Credit Suisse and others are behind private companies like Frontline, which are already training social workers. The DfE has admitted that there were ‘errors’ in handling Trowler’s conflict of interest.

2.1 We propose New Clause 8 (insert after Clause 7)  

2.2 NC8: Local authorities must provide resources for preventive measures for children in need so taking children into care is not prioritised over meeting the child’s needs within the family. Central government must allocate sufficient resources to local authorities so that the measures provided in Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 result in practical support, including financial help, to children and their families. There must be regular monitoring of the process by which local authorities implement the full range of their responsibilities which aim to support families so that children can remain safely in their care, as outlined in Section 17. 

2.3 80% of women in the UK have children. We do our best to support and protect them, often in difficult circumstances and with little or no help. Many of us are struggling with benefit cuts and sanctions, zero hour contracts, cuts in wages and services, escalating rents . . .

2.4 The cost of looking after a child in care is estimated at £35,000 a year. If some of that money was made available to support impoverished mothers and families, many fewer children would be taken into care.

2.5 This should be a priority given that many children suffer greatly from having been in care. They are four times more likely to attempt suicide and experience mental health difficulties. They are also much more likely to have their children taken away when they become mothers, perpetuating a cycle of trauma and discrimination. Baroness Armstrong: Six out of 10 mothers who had children sequentially removed were teenagers when they had the first child. Of these, 40% were in care, or had been looked after in the care system, during their own childhood.

2.6 The law says that: No court should deprive a child of contact unless wholly satisfied that it is in the interests of the child that contact should cease and that is a conclusion at which a court should be extremely slow to arrive.” But instead the number of children in care continues to rise – over 70,000 children are being raised away from their families and communities. This is shocking and not in children’s interest. We find also that children’s wishes and feelings are often not taken into account, except in the most tokenistic way.

2.7  It is also assumed that care is safe for children but that is not necessarily the case. There are between 450 and 550 cases of proven abuse every year in foster care and between 250 and 300 cases of confirmed abuse a year in residential care with an average of two and three proven cases per 100 children. ‘More than two out of five foster carers in proven abuse cases had been subject to previous allegations – yet they were still caring for children.’ These are ‘proven’ cases, so the number of children abused in care is far greater given that most wouldn’t have reported or may have been disbelieved as recent scandals into child abuse have shown. In our experience many children are removed from their parents without just cause. There are many reasons for this: the lifelong consequences of separating children from their biological primary carer (usually the mother, often a single mother) and their family environment (other parent, siblings, grandparents) are not given the weight they deserve; the importance of bonding is disregarded despite overwhelming evidence; mothers are judged harshly and denied financial and other support which would enable the family to stay together; domestic violence victims are blamed for ‘failing to protect their children’ rather than given help; and the risk of children suffering abuse in care is not considered despite the many scandals showing that it is widespread. Increasingly children are taken not because they suffer ‘harm’ but because their birth family – usually a low income and/or teenage mother, or a mother with learning difficulties – is accused of ‘neglect’, a term open to interpretation and prejudice. In our experience, many are families of colour, immigrant and/or disabled, who are discriminated against on that basis too. In fact, figures show that children of colour are disproportionately taken into care.

2.8 There is another major reason: politicians continue to recommend that children should be taken away from mothers and families whose only ‘crime’ is to be young, poor, inexperienced and/or who have a disability or learning difficulty.

 

2.9 In 2012, then Education Minister Michael Gove said: I firmly believe more children should be taken into care more quickly . . . I want social workers to be more assertive with dysfunctional parents, courts to be less indulgent of poor parents, and the care system to expand to deal with the consequences.

 

2.10 While Gove is no longer in government, this Bill indicates that other ministers share these views. Despite the recent condemnation of religious institutions during the 40s, 50s and 60s forcing many thousands of teenage and single mothers to give up their children, politicians continue to recommend that children should be taken away from mothers and families whose only ‘crime’ is to be young and poor.

2.11 This Bill is being debated as the benefit cap is lowered. 116,000 families are threatened who may no longer be able to pay their rent, and 500,000 children could be affected. No one knows how many will then be taken into care or adopted as parents are accused of ‘neglect’ for no longer being able to keep a roof over their heads!

 

3.1 We oppose and want deleted: Clause 9 Adoption: duty to have regard to relationship with adopters.

3.2 Clause 9 could be used to prioritise PROSPECTIVE adopters over relatives or other carers. This contradicts the Children Act 1989. It could lead to children being prematurely placed with prospective adopters (even before the conclusion of court proceedings), in order to build a relationship with prospective adopters which is then used to undermine the child’s prospect of going back to her/his birth family and the prospect of mothers, grandmothers or other relative or friend who may have had difficulties but love the child and are struggling to keep the child in their care.

3.3 The government’s promotion of adoption as the ‘gold standard’ has led to more and more children being taken from their biological families often unjustly and at great cost to their safety and welfare. There are currently over 70,000 children in care, the highest figure since 1985.

3.4 In 2000 the British Association of Social Workers (BASWA) warned that having targets for adoption would result in children not returning to their birth families. Evidence shows this is happening. There has been a 34% increase in care applications in the last year. An analysis of government statistics by Professor Andy Bilson, University of Central Lancashire, shows that over the last five years (2011-12 to 2015-16) 22,580 children were adopted, a 40% increase over the previous five-year period. Despite the extra children adopted, the number of children in care went up by 5% to 70,440. The rate of children leaving care to adoption varies across the country from 30.5% in Bolton to under 3% in Kensington and Chelsea. Professor Bilson’s analysis shows that the third of local authorities with the highest adoption rates over the last five years had the largest increases in children in care whilst in the third with the lowest rate of adoption the number of children in care actually fell. In other words, prioritising adoption results in more, not fewer, children taken into care.

4.1 We support amendments 18-25 proposed by Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck which would strengthen the obligation on local authorities to take into account children’s wishes and feelings when making decisions about their lives.

4.2 We support amendment 30 proposed by Mrs Emma Lewell Buck which acknowledges that care leavers may have needs as young parents.

5.1 We support amendments 16 and 17 proposed by Stella Creasy, Caroline Lucas and Emma Lewell-Buck. It is urgent that unaccompanied refugee children receive the same statutory protections as all other children and that all legislative measures must accord with the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

ANNEXE 1

GRANDMOTHER AND TWO MOTHERS SPEAK OUT AGAINST FORCED ADOPTIONS

Danielle: My grand-daughter was forcibly adopted from her loving and supportive, vulnerable and poor family in the name of child protection, using the spurious charge of her being ‘at risk of significant harm’. They wanted my grand-daughter adopted at birth and took her mum to court just days after giving birth by caesarean.  The judge didn’t agree and said she could go to a Mother & Baby unit. But it was a horrible place where she was totally isolated: she was not allowed to see her family or me or my son; she wasn’t allowed to go out with the baby, and everything she did was monitored. But even so the baby was doing fine and developing normally and was a happy contented child.

She suffered serious trauma by being removed at five months from her birth mother to whom she was securely attached and in whose care she was thriving. Amazingly she managed to form a secure attachment to the foster mother who asked to be her special guardian and to bring her up maintaining direct contact with her birth family. But if the foster mum had adopted she would have had to stop fostering for a year which she couldn’t afford and social services wouldn’t put out any money to help her. So once again my grand-daughter suffered enormous trauma by being removed at 18 months and given to adoptive parents. She was not protected and instead suffered emotional harm at the hands of the social services.

Over 90% of children forcibly adopted come from families that are below the poverty line who are then placed in middle class families despite counter arguments that child abuse and neglect is not a class issue. But taking our children is a form of social cleansing.

Both my son and the baby’s mum have gone on to have other children who they are caring for successfully, after social services could find no reason to intervene. But it’s my grand-daughter who is growing up not knowing what a loving and caring family she was taken from – we are not allowed any contact with her.

Suzanne: I have two young children. Their father was violent, prone to drinking and angry outbursts. Once when he was attempting to rape me, I stabbed him with a pen in self-defence. Another time I ran out of the house to call 999 and left the children inside. The final straw came when he raped me and I reported it to the police. I took out a non-molestation order which he contested. The family court directed me to remain on good terms with the father in relation to his contact with the children, despite the seriousness of the situation. I tried to do as the court directed.

During the rape investigation, I took the children abroad to keep them safe but returned with them after social services pursued me via the high court. The children were then taken into care, and I was allowed supervised visits observed by social services. The rape investigation continued during this time and social services began proceedings to take the children away permanently, claiming that I was aggressive (because I had stabbed him with a pen), that I shouldn’t have left the children in the house with him while I called the police, and that I was ‘emotionally unstable’ (at the same time I was going through a rape investigation and trial). I was accused of being ‘un co-operative’ when I disagreed with social work reports.

My ex-partner was tried and convicted of rape and serious sexual assault in 2013 and sentenced to five years. My parents trained to be the children’s long-term foster carers and passed with flying colours, but a family court judge ruled in favour of adoption by strangers because the grandparents ‘wouldn’t be strong enough to cope with [my] demands’. The grounds for removing the children from me permanently included: ‘failing to protect’ my children from witnessing violence; anger issues, mostly based on my behaviour as a teenager many years before, and a personality disorder (which had been misdiagnosed 17 years previously, again, when I was a teenager); lies by social workers observing my visits.

I was recently diagnosed on the autistic spectrum, but I couldn’t find a lawyer to put this to the family court as new evidence, along with evidence about how much my circumstances have changed as a result of being free from the violent relationship. … Being on the autistic spectrum has left me at a disadvantage in navigating my way through social services and the family court system where my character and capabilities were completely misjudged and misunderstood. As a result, two much loved children are growing up with no contact with their mother or their grandparents, who had always been a big part of their lives.

Emily: I am a Black British woman. When I got pregnant, social services already knew about me because I had been a victim of rape when I was younger. I was diagnosed as having learning difficulties but I was given no support; I had no help from my family and the rapist was not pursued. The day after the baby was born, social services applied for a Care Order claiming the ‘child [was] not receiving care that would be reasonably expected from a parent, citing my ‘unidentified mental health’ and ‘minor learning difficulties’.

I had three independent reports contradicting the diagnosis of ‘global learning difficulties’ which social services used to put my baby up for adoption. The woman judge dismissed these and all the evidence I had showing I had successfully finished two parenting courses . . .I was really determined to do everything social services asked me to do, but they had already decided that I was an ‘unfit’ mother . . .

I eventually contacted Black Women’s Rape Action Project and they found me a new solicitor.  But social services had built an overwhelming case against me . . . I have never had the opportunity of looking after my baby and I am not allowed any contact with her.  All this has made me severely depressed.

Persons responsible for the submission:

Cristel Amiss (BWRAP bwrap@rapeaction.net)

Nicola Mann (WAR war@womenagainstrape.net)

Nina Lopez (GWS gws@globalwomenstrike.net)

Anne Neale (LAW law@allwomencount.net)

Kim Sparrow (SMSD smsd@allwomencount.net)

All can be contacted by phone on 020 7482 2496 and are based at the
Crossroads Women’s Centre, 25 Wolsey Mews, London NW5 2DX

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