Refuge from Rape: Erioth Mwesigwa

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 She said nothing at the second meeting either but she looked a little less wary and withdrawn.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’s story
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.

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 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
outside the family court on 8 March

Cris whole crowd.JPG
Launch of LAW’s Dossier, House of Commons, 18 January 2017

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!


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SUFFER the little CHILDREN & their MOTHERS A dossier on the unjust separation of children from their mothers

By Anne Neale & Nina Lopez for Legal Action for Women

Download the dossier here.

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Interview with Anne Neale on London Live here.

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How poverty, care and adoption are related – Letters The Guardian

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.

Julia Carter
London

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

 

 

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Suffer the Little Children

Stopping the forced separation of children from their mothers
& the privatisation of child protection

 

Wednesday, 18 January 2017 6-8pm

Committee Room 11, House of Commons, SW1A OAA

  Westminster    All welcome.
(please allow time to go through security)

Kindly sponsored by Emma Lewell-Buck MP for South Shields
Shadow Minister (Education) (Children and Families)

 

Speakers:

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.

Children demo Photo

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 ‘undeserving poor’ have lost their council homes; lost their benefits and lost their community services; why not make it easier to lose their children too?

 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.

Called by: Legal Action for Women
law@allwomencount.net  020 7482 2496  http://legalactionforwomen.net

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Guardian article: Children unnecessarily removed from parents, report claims

Dossier indicates drive to increase adoptions is punitive for low-income families and alternatives exist

The research found a 65% rise in the number of children that are separated from their parents since 2001.

The research found a 65% rise in the number of children that are separated from their parents since 2001. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The push to increase adoption in England is punishing low-income women, who are increasingly losing their children due to poverty, according to research by Legal Action for Women.

A report to be presented at the House of Commons on Wednesday contains new research from the legal service and campaign group, which suggests the policy of increasing adoption has not reduced the number of children in care – as it was intended to – but has increased the number of those separated from their parents.

Dr Andy Bilson, emeritus professor of social work at the University of Lancashire, has been analysing the data gathered between 31 March 2001 and 2016. He found the number of children from care living with adopted parents or special guardians, has increased from 87,090 to 143,440 – a rise of 65%.

His research found adoptions have risen by 40% over the past five years, compared with the five previous years, but over the same period the number of children in care rose by 7.5% to 70,440.

“This is very unlikely to be due to an increase in abuse,” said Bilson. “The vast majority of this is about neglect or emotional abuse, often through witnessing domestic violence.

“Both of these can be better dealt with through family support and responses to poverty and deprivation. We are more willing to spend money on someone else looking after these children than in making sure the parents make a good job of it.”

Bilson’s research is part of the dossier of evidence collected by Legal Action for Women to be presented at the House of Commons on Wednesday. The report, Suffer the Little Children, examines what the group calls “the unjust separation of children from their mothers.”

It finds the number of looked-after children in England is the highest it has been since 1985; one in five children under five are referred to childrens’ services, one in 19 are investigated and adoptions are higher than in any other European country, and now stand at the highest level since data was first collected. More than 90% of adoptions are done without the consent of the family, the report states.

The report examined the cases of 56 women, all of whom came for help to fight for their children. Between them the women had 101 children; 71% of the women had suffered rape and/or domestic violence, 47% did not have a lawyer and 39% had mental health problems.

Anne Neale, one of the report’s authors, said: “Charges of neglect are used to punish, especially single-mother families, for their unbearably low incomes.

“The fundamental relationship between mother and child is dismissed as irrelevant to a child’s wellbeing and development, and the trauma of separation, and its lifelong consequences, are ignored.

“Mothers who are victims of domestic violence are refused help, blamed for ‘failing to protect’ their children, and punished with their removal.”

The report highlights the secrecy of family courts, where adoption decisions are made in private hearings, in which mothers are prevented by law from talking about the loss of their children.

Donna Clarke, whose granddaughter was taken from her teenage mother and handed to adoptive parents, will speak on Wednesday at the launch. She said families were being punished for living in poverty. “It is a form of social cleansing,” she said. “Vulnerable people are having their children taken away. It is all about them judging the risk of significant harm but if they spent the money on putting in the support that was needed many of these families would be able to keep their children.”

Clarke’s granddaughter was adopted when she was 13-months-old after spending the first five months with her biological mother, a teenager with learning difficulties. The baby was sent to a foster parent at five months while adoption proceedings got underway. The baby’s grandparents asked to be considered but none were deemed suitable and the child was given to new adoptive parents.

Clarke is able to write and receive two letters a year from the adoptive parents to keep in touch with her granddaughter. Her son – the baby’s father – and the baby’s mother, have gone on to have other children whom they are successfully caring for.

The drive to increase adoptions began under Tony Blair’s government in an attempt to reduce the numbers of children in long-term care. It was continued under David Cameron, who said that the children and social work bill – currently in parliament – was designed to “tip the balance in favour of permanent adoption where that is the right thing for the child – even when that means overriding family ties.”

In a 2013 high court ruling, Sir James Munby, the president of the high court family division, said the political drive to hasten and increase adoption should not override due process and break up families unnecessarily.

 

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UPDATE on CHILDREN & SOCIAL WORK BILL

Dec: Labour MPs oppose push for adoption.

Jan: Opposing privatisation – write & call MPs.

Launch of our evidence – Wed 18 Jan

Dear Friends,

Warm greetings for the holiday and the New Year!  SOME GOOD NEWS in these troubled times:

At the CSW Bill Committee meeting last Thursday, Labour MP for South Shields, Emma Lewell-Buck, put forward our proposed amendment to DELETE CLAUSE 9from the Children & Social Work Bill. Drawing on our briefing, she made an excellent speech, opposing this clause on the grounds that it prioritises prospective adopters over relatives or other carers and could lead to children being prematurely placed with prospective adopters which could pre-judge the outcome of legal proceedings, causing unnecessary pain and distress to all concerned.

For the first time during the passage of this Bill, the devastating consequences of the push for adoption was highlighted. She attacked austerity and pointed to the latest research by Dr Andy Bilson, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, which shows that prioritising adoption results in MORE, NOT FEWER, children taken into care, so that there are now more children in care than in the past 30 years, with shocking implications for their health and well-being.

The government minister defended Clause 9, saying that “Where the making of an adoption order is being considered, in most cases the child will already have been living with their prospective adopters for between six to 12 months.”   This confirms the inherent bias in favour of adoption and against a child being returned to their parents or other relatives.  We must continue to oppose it.  The Committee voted 8 to 5 against Mrs Lewell-Buck’s amendment (the government has a majority on the committee).  But the push for adoption, which has been policy for decades, was challenged for the first time and this is a significant victory for all of us.  See her speech below as reported in Hansard.

In JANUARY (Tues 10, Thur 12 and Tues 17), the Committee will discuss the government’s plan to allow local authorities to “OPT OUT” of their statutory duties, opening the way for PRIVATISING CHILD PROTECTION – profiteering from taking our children away from us.

It is urgent to make your voices heard against this.  Many mums and other carers have already written in to members of the Committee – one member told us privately she had been “bombarded” – but MORE IS NEEDED.  We need MPs to get many more letters from concerned mothers and other carers, social workers, and anyone who objects to this profiteering from our children’s pain and trauma.

We are continuing to press for a new clause demanding that SUPPORT FOR CHILDREN SHOULD INCLUDE SUPPORT FOR MOTHERS AND FAMILIES.

As we said to the MPs, 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 . . .  The cost of looking after a child in care is estimated at £35,000 a year. Yet, children who have been in care are four times more likely to attempt suicide and experience mental health difficulties.  If that money was made available to impoverished mothers and families, many fewer children would be taken into care.  The Bill should include provisions to support loving mothers and families who are struggling so children can be spared the tragedy and trauma of separation.

Please see our evidence from five women’s organisations to the Committee with our objections.  Women Against Rape have also submitted evidence about victims of domestic violence and their children.

If you haven’t already, please write your own letters to MPs and make a submission to the Committee – see here for how to do it or phone the MPs offices if you are short of time.

Please do this early in the New Year, and NO LATER than Monday 9 January so the Committee hears your evidence when it starts meeting again.

Here is a list of the MPs on the Committee to email and/or call.  We suggest starting with Labour, the SNP and the MPs on the Committee.  Let us know what responses you get.  See our Model letter here.

STOP PRESS: 18 January 2017, 6pm, Committee Room 11, House of Commons –LAUNCH of Legal Action for Women’s Suffer the Little Children Dossier documenting cases of children unjustifiably separated from their mother or kinship carer, adopted by strangers, put into care or in the hands of violent fathers.

For more information contact: Anne Neale or Kim Sparrow

LAW@allwomencount.netSMSD@allwomencount.net

Tel: 0207 482 2496

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Children and Social Work Bill, Hansard (part) 15 December 2016

  • Clause 9: Adoption: duty to have regard to relationship with adopters

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

·        Mrs Lewell-Buck
We believe that clause 9 should be deleted from the Bill, because under its provisions prospective adopters could be prioritised over relatives or other carers. That completely 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 that is then used to undermine the child’s prospect of going back to his or her birth family, extended family members or friends, who love the child and have been trying to do their best to keep them in their care.

A premature placement with prospective adopters could prejudge the outcome of legal proceedings, causing unnecessary pain and distress to all concerned. It diminishes a child’s right to a family life, risks the early separation ​of siblings, and inflicts trauma and grief on children and their primary carer, who more often than not is their mother, as well as on other loving family members, especially grandparents.

The clause is a prime example of the Government’s obsession with adoption to the detriment of all other forms of care. The time and money that the Department has spent on adoption is staggering, with more than 20 policy changes since 2010. Back in 2012, the former Education Secretary, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (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.”

And Lord Nash said in the other place, in the proceedings on this Bill, that

“the Government are strongly pro-adoption.”— [Official Report, House of Lords, 14 June 2016; Vol. 773, c. 1114.]

What the Government should be doing is strongly advocating whatever care is right for each and every individual child, and not what they believe is right.

·        Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con)

Does the hon. Lady acknowledge that the evidence shows that long-term stability is obviously important, and that part of that includes the option of adopting? It is not just adoption that is being promoted; that is but one string to the bow for the Government’s weaponry, if you like, although “weaponry” is the wrong word. Can she not see that adoption is just one part of the Government’s approach—albeit an important part—and that evidence also supports this approach?

·        Mrs Lewell-Buck

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. However, the clause singles out adoption for special attention; the issue needs to be looked at in the wider context of overall Government policy relating to children in care and plans for permanence.

·        Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)

The Government probably have the right intention in trying to put the emphasis on the permanence of arrangements for children, but the point my hon. Friend is making about the singling out of adoption is that adoption has a history, which is also negative.

Anyone who has read the book about Philomena Lee’s experience or seen the recent film of it will know how adoption can be misused, and there is a history to adoption in this country that is not always positive. When we consider the issue of adoption, we should always think about the best interests of the child and not risking lapsing back into bad old habits and bad old days, when adoption was misused and abused in this country.

·        Mrs Lewell-Buck

My hon. Friend is right—adoption should not be the only option for a child. It is lazy to think that. That approach does not take into account all the other options that are there and that are in the best interests of the child.

·        Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con)

To the best of my memory, “Philomena” is a film set in the 1950s in the Republic of Ireland, so it has nothing to do with the ​Government of the United Kingdom. If the hon. Lady is really suggesting that her opposition to the clause should be based on the adoption policies of the Republic in the 1950s, parents interested in adoption may look rather askance at that.

·        Mrs Lewell-Buck

I think I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. However, I will not dwell on the point, because I think he has missed the context of what we are trying to describe here.

·        Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend agree that our concerns are based not on the history of adoption in the 1950s but on the discriminatory application of adoption proceedings, which often means that children from poorer families and certain ethnic groups and cultures are more likely to go through the adoption process more speedily? If the clause is not removed, it will make that even more likely.

·        Mrs Lewell-Buck

If the Department had spent this much energy on social worker recruitment and retention and invested in family support and early-years help, we might not be where we are now, with the highest number of children in care since 1985.

The Professional Association for Children’s Guardians, Family Court Advisers and Independent Social Workers commented on the Department for Education’s adoption policy paper this year. It said:

“We note the Policy Paper does not address how to prevent children entering the care and adoption systems in the first place…We are concerned that despite the intention to ‘strengthen families’, no more is said on this point and that there is no discussion of support for disadvantaged families despite the worrying increase in the numbers of children subject to care proceedings.”

·        Edward Timpson

Will the hon. Lady accept that the adoption paper is about adoption, and that there is another Government paper—we have referred to it previously in Committee—called “Putting children first”, which deals with all children who are going through the care system? It is not unusual for a Government to put forward different policy papers that cover different policy areas.

·        Mrs Lewell-Buck

I completely agree, but if the Minister lets me continue with my point, he will see where I am going with this.

The professional association continues:

“The scale of reduced spending on early intervention in children’s services and the way this leads to greater costs elsewhere is well analysed”

in a number of reports.

“The key point…is that by significantly reducing early preventive work, more public money has to be spent on costly proceedings, foster care, mental health provision, adoption agencies and so forth, which potentially could be avoided by better focused spending at an earlier stage…We strongly warn against an ‘evangelical approach’ to adoption, whereby it is perceived as a good in itself. This perception is contrary to the majority view of European and western thought and jurisprudence, and it fails to appreciate it represents a serious and draconian step and a measure to be considered only ‘when nothing else will do’…We strongly advise against performance indicators that positively promote an increase in adoptions as these inevitably lead to a distortion of professional activity in favour of adoption at the expense of other choices”.

·        Steve McCabe

The Minister pointed out that there has in the past been a misuse of special guardianship orders—they were used in a way that was never intended, and the Government acted to address that. Does my hon. Friend feel that it would further the Government’s intentions for the clause if the Minister assured us that he planned to give clear guidance to local authorities stating that the evidence presented to the court on the relationship with the prospective adoptive parents and all other options must be absolutely balanced? In that way, we would not be in danger of thinking that one measure was being inadvertently promoted above another.

  • The Chair

Order. Before I call the hon. Lady to respond to that remark, may I draw her attention to the fact that this is a very narrowly worded clause about the duty to have regard to the relationship with adopters during the adoption process? I encourage her not to range too freely about why adoption is not necessarily a good thing.

·        Mrs Lewell-Buck

Thank you for that advice, Mrs Main. I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. If the Minister can allay my hon. Friend’s concerns in his comments, we may not have to press the amendment to a vote.

The professional association states that “further tinkering with” the Children Act 1989

“could be unwise and the thin end of the wedge of social engineering.”

More children are adopted in the UK than in any other European country, and 90% of adoptions are without parental consent. One of the major arguments put forward for speeding up adoptions is that it would reduce the number of children in care, but the opposite has been the case. Dr Bilson, emeritus professor of social work at the University of Central Lancashire, has found that adoption policies, rather than reducing the number of children in care, have led to a 65% increase in the number of children being separated from their parents. He feels that that is unlikely to be due to an increase in abuse, because child protection findings of physical and sexual abuse have fallen since 2001, yet child protection plans have increased since 2010.

The majority of such plans are about neglect or emotional abuse, both of which could be better dealt with through family support and responses to poverty and deprivation, which lead to children being over 10 times more likely to be in care or on a child protection plan. Dr Bilson’s research shows that over the past five years, the local authorities with the highest adoption rates also have the largest increases in the number of children in care. In those local authorities with the lowest rates of adoption, the number of children in care had fallen. In other words, prioritising adoption results in more children, not fewer, being taken into care.

11.45 am

For some children adoption is the best outcome, but the policy of adoption above all else works on the premise that children will be better off with wealthier parents, rather than on the premise of making all efforts to let them remain with their birth families. Putting the work in to keep children at home is hard social work. It costs time and energy, but in the long run it is worth it if it benefits the child.

Women Against Rape has highlighted that children are increasingly being removed from mothers who are victims of violence. Rather than providing them with the protection, resources and support they need to enable them to rebuild their lives safely, they are accused of failing to protect their children and often end up losing them as a result. Domestic violence is now a more common reason for the state removing children than mental illness or drug and alcohol misuse. Professor June Thoburn said:

“In many other EU countries, it is much easier for families to access support if they need help. Great emphasis is placed on helping families to care for children safely at home and maintaining family links if in care. But in “austerity” England, family support services are closing, thresholds are high, and social work is being defined as a narrow child protection service.”

In January, the Council of Europe highlighted the impact of austerity cuts on social services. In particular, it criticised England for its child protection focus and the removal of children who have been subject to domestic abuse, particularly in the context of policies promoting non-consensual adoption.

  • The Chair

Order. The hon. Lady is ranging widely off clause 9, which is titled “Adoption: duty to have regard to relationship with adopters”. I ask her to bring her comments back to that. I have allowed quite a lot of latitude.

·        Mrs Lewell-Buck

Thank you, Mrs Main. I will of course sum up very quickly.

The damage caused by the adoption targets is not being considered in the Bill, but it must be. Evidence reported just this week by The Guardian shows that local authorities are using targets, sometimes combined with financial incentives. It is worth remembering that adoption is far cheaper for councils than foster placements, because once a child is adopted, they are off the council’s books for good. Adoption is also cheaper than providing services that might ensure that vulnerable parents can care for their children, but what of the money being saved? What about the lives of those destroyed by the separation?

The Bill is concerned in part with improving the situation of care leavers, which is important, but we make a mistake if we focus on their needs without considering why so many children are being taken into care and what we can do to reduce that. It cannot be right that we are talking about resources for corporate parents while saying nothing about resources for children and families who have been impoverished by austerity policies. The Government need to take a serious look at the patterns and trends in child protection, adoption and fostering, but instead they have continued on this damaging path of pro-adoption, and they are using a small clause in the Bill to strengthen that further. I hope the Minister will explain in his response why, despite evidence to the contrary, they are continuing on that path.

·        Edward Timpson

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her contribution to the consideration of the clause. Mindful of the narrow nature of the clause, I say from the outset that the Government have always been clear that the right permanence option— whether that is adoption, special guardianship, kinship care, residential ​care or even long-term fostering—will always depend on a child’s individual needs and circumstances. As the law clearly states, the child’s welfare is the paramount consideration, and that is as it should be. That is why I have to say to her that it is a little depressing to see the same arguments and rhetoric on the Government’s plans for children in care, saying that we only have eyes for adoption. That is simply not borne out by the facts.

·        Mrs Lewell-Buck

Will the Minister give way?

·        Edward Timpson

Perhaps the hon. Lady will let me explain. This Government introduced the first ever legal definition of long-term fostering; none existed previously. We brought in quality standards on residential care a number of years ago, and 79% of children’s care homes are now rated good or outstanding. The hon. Lady has already alluded to the work that we do with care leavers to make sure that during the period when they leave care they have much better support.

What we are trying to do with adoption, however, is tackle two issues, which Tony Blair tried to tackle in the late 1990s and early 2000s—not in the way he did it, which was by setting national targets, but by ensuring that when adoption is right for children they can be adopted and by making sure that when that happens it is without unnecessary delay. I do not think that anyone would argue it is acceptable for children to have to wait an average of 26 months from the time of entering care to move to an adoptive placement.

Those are the issues we have been tackling. What we are doing is not based on an ideological fantasy. We know from the research of Professor Julie Selwyn that adoption has a huge number of benefits for the children it is right for. It has the lowest breakdown rate of any permanent placement—about 3%, with special guardianship orders at about 6%. I have seen from my family the huge benefits that adoption can bring, but I have also seen from my family the huge benefits that long-term fostering can bring. I know from personal experience that each child will need to follow a different path.

What we are doing is not a mission to try to ensure that every child who comes into the care system ends up being adopted; we are trying to stay clearly focused on making sure that, where it is right for a child, that is exactly what happens. In the past couple of years, on the back of the Re B-S judgment, there has been a fall in the number of adoptions, not a rise. That is because we have to face up to the fact that there are still people who believe that adoption is not the right course of action for children. I am saying that we should not stand in the way in cases where it is right for them.

·        Mrs Lewell-Buck

Would the Minister share something with the Committee, to support his argument? His Department has made 20-plus changes to adoption since 2010; how many changes has he made to other areas of care, and what is the comparative cost? If adoption is not seen as the gold standard, surely other areas of care will have the same number of policy changes and the same spending.

·        Edward Timpson

I am afraid I disagree with the hon. Lady’s premise. It is not the number of things that are done, but whether the things that are done have a discernible impact of the kind that we want, and achieve ​the outcomes that we want to be able to celebrate. I do not accept that the amount of activity created is directly comparable to commitment or achievement of objectives.

I want to make it clear that local authorities’ decisions on the most appropriate permanency option are based on the child’s needs. That is what the law says. That is what the Bill does in making sure that those needs are given full and thorough attention when courts consider not just adoption but all permanent options. Clause 9 will ensure that courts and adoption agencies consider the relationship between a child and their prospective adopters when deciding about the adoption of a child in cases where the child is already placed with the prospective adopters.

That is an important point. It is not a matter of children who have no relationship with the prospective adopters, and have not met them or had time to get to know them. It is about those who are already placed, where there is already a relationship. The relationship between a prospective adopter and a child placed with them will clearly be a fundamentally important and relevant consideration when a court considers whether an adoption should be granted, because, ultimately, it is a court’s decision, based on the best interest of the child, and with their welfare as the paramount consideration.

In the past two years there have been a small number of cases in which decisions have been taken to remove children from settled adoptive placements in favour of alternative arrangements with relatives who have come forward at a late stage. That may have potentially serious implications for the child, given the disruption to the attachments the child is likely to have already formed with their carers. That needs to be taken into account when making that final decision.

Where the making of an adoption order is being considered, in most cases the child will already have been living with their prospective adopters for between six to 12 months. During that time, the prospective adopters and the child will have established a relationship, and the child may have built a significant attachment to their carers. I have met adopters who have told me just that. The Government believe it is important that that attachment should be considered in the balance when final decisions are made about a child’s adoption.

That is not to say that prospective adopters are prioritised over birth parents or other family members in those considerations. The existing legislation already makes it clear that the court is also required to consider the relationship that the child has with their relatives, including their mother and father, and the relationship they have with any other person the court considers relevant, such as close friends or wider family. That express and mandatory requirement is not changing, so there is no hierarchy here—just a fair, balanced consideration of each of the significant relationships a child has, based on their own needs.

I also point out that the court is required to consider the wishes and feelings of family members when making an adoption decision. In addition, the court must consider the value to the child of the continuing relationship with their relatives. That is already clearly set out in the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which was introduced by the last Labour Government, so relationships with the birth family and the child’s relatives are therefore central to the court’s considerations.

·        Steve McCabe

The Minister was talking earlier about the drop in the number of adoptions. One of the factors for that may have been that local authority departments misinterpreted the court rulings as advice to slow down the number of adoptions. They are easily influenced by such things. Is it the Minister’s intention to offer some guidance to local authorities in the terms he has just stated, so that it is absolutely clear to them what their responsibilities are and what the intentions of clause 9 are, and how that has to be weighed against all of the other considerations he has just referred to?

·        Edward Timpson

I am happy to look again at what the guidance might say and what might be appropriate to reflect the change in the law in this small area. The primary legislation that is relevant to these cases is clear. I am on the record, not only in this Committee but on previous occasions, making it clear that it has to be a decision based on that child’s needs, taking into account all of the usual factors set out in the welfare checklist and so on. I am happy to look at that. On that basis, I hope hon. Members feel reassured, and that the clause can stand part of the Bill.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Division 8

15 December 2016

The Committee divided:

Ayes: 8

Noes: 5

Question accordingly agreed to.

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MODEL LETTER to MPs re Children & Social Work Bill, Jan 2017.

Use your own experience and the points below to make your case.

Dear …MP,

I am (a mother/grandmother/dad/teacher/carer…) writing to raise my grave concerns about the Children and Social Work Bill with you as you are sitting on this Committee.

I am deeply worried about this Bill which aims to privatise child protection – a huge financial incentive for more working class children to be taken into care.  Under the Children Act, children and families have the fundamental right to have their feelings and wishes taken into account in decisions that affect them.  This is increasingly being ignored in favour of speedy adoptions.

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.

Families need urgent help and support so that children can remain with those who love them, not private companies profiteering from breaking up families causing lifelong trauma to both children and their mothers.

The cost of looking after a child in care is estimated at £35,000 a year so we know there is plenty of money for children.  Despite recent exposure of multi-national companies like Serco and G4S having to withdraw from providing children’s services because of dangerous and violent practices under their watch, the government is pushing hard for this legislation to be passed. They also know that children who have been in care are four times more likely to attempt suicide and experience mental health problems.  If money was made available to support impoverished mothers and families, many fewer children would be taken into care.

This Bill is being debated as the government lowers the benefit cap threatening the survival of tens of thousands of families; 500,000 children may be facing homelessness. Many families are struggling with benefit cuts and sanctions, zero hour contracts, cuts in wages and services, escalating rents and debt. The children in any family experiencing financial and other difficulties are vulnerable to being taken into care and put up for adoption as parents are accused of “neglect” if they are unable to keep a roof over their heads!

We ask MPs to defeat government attempts to privatise children’s services and to demand financial support to keep families together rather than spending millions tearing them apart. We ask MPs to defend children, the mothers and families who love them. There is condemnation of the ongoing trauma inflicted on children who were taken from their mothers in the 50s, 60s and 70s. But the same is happening now and will get much worse with this Bill. We hope that you will represent our concerns by opposing this Bill.

Your name, address etc

 

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STOP PRIVATISATION in CHILDREN & SOCIAL WORK BILL – CALL MPs now.

This bill is being discussed right now. It aims to privatise child protection services and speed up forced adoptions. Please write to the MPs on the Committee in the table below urgently with your objections.  See our briefing below.

There are already more than 70,000 children in care, the highest number for 30 years. We must stop more children from poor families being unjustly taken into care away from their mothers and communities. Labour is opposing the privatisation and we hope others will too.

This is a list of the MPs on the Committee to email and/or call. We suggest starting with Labour and the SNP.  Let us know what your responses you get.

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MP   Email Party Parliament office Constituency
Thangam Debbonaire thangam.debbonaire.mp@parliament.uk Lab  020 7219 0974 Bristol West0117 3790980
Kate Green kate.green.mp@parliament.uk Lab  020 7219 7162 Stretford and Urmston0161 749 9120
Emma Lewell-Buck emma.lewell-buck.mp@parliament.uk Lab 020 7219 4468 South Sheilds0191 427 1240
Steve McCabe mccabes@parliament.uk Lab 020 7219 3509 Selly Oak Bhm0121 443 3878
Tulip Siddiq tulip.siddiq.mp@parliament.uk Lab 020 7219 6276 Kilburn
Phil Wilson phil.wilson.mp@parliament.uk  Lab 020 7219 4966 Sedgefield01325 321603
Stella Creasy stella.creasy.mp@parliament.uk Lab (co-op) 020 7219 6980 Walthamstow020 8521 1223
Marion Fellows marion.fellows.mp@parliament.uk SNP Wip  020 7219 5784  Motherwell and Wishaw01698 337191
Maria Caulfield maria.caulfield.mp@parliament.uk Con 020 7219 5946 Lewes 
Suella Fernandes suella.fernandes.mp@parliament.uk Con 020 7219 6504 Fareham 
Simon Hoare simon.hoare.mp@parliament.uk Con  020 7219 5697 N Dorset
Seema Kennedy seema.kennedy.mp@parliament.uk Con 020 7219 4412 S Ribble
Anne Main maina@parliament.uk Con 020 7219 8270 St Albans01727 825100
Huw Merriman huw.merriman.mp@parliament.uk Con 020 7219 8712 Bexhill on Sea & Battle01424 736861
Amanda Milling amanda.milling.mp@parliament.uk Con 020 7219 8356 Cannock Chase
Robert Syms symsmp.office@parliament.uk Con 020 7219 4601 Poole01202 739922
Edward Timpson timpsone@parliament.uk Con 020 7219 8027 Crew01270 501725
Michael Tomlinson michael.tomlinson.mp@parliament.uk Con 020 7219 5844 Mid Dorset 7 N Poole
Helen Whately helen.whately.mp@parliament.uk Con 020 7219 6472 Faversham & mid Kent 

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