Discrimination against mothers — new research

Support Not Separation — press release

WinVisible is part of the Support Not Separation coalition (SNS), against the unjustified removal of children from mothers, to end the trauma of separation, and for an end to the impoverishment of children and mothers.

We have contributed to this research from SNS, including through the Disabled Mothers’ Rights campaign work.

New research on the persecution of mothers & children by the family courts

Tonight (15 July), Legal Action for Women, which co-ordinates the Support Not Separation Coalition SNS, is releasing new research from its extensive casework. The findings will be presented at a webinar, Protecting our Children, Defending our Rights, UK/US, which will also see the launch of a comprehensive user-friendly Self-help Guide to the family courts for England & Wales.

Our sister organisation in the United States, DHS Give Us Back Our Children, which has been fighting similar discrimination in the “child welfare” system and is joining SNS, will announce their forthcoming Know Your Rights guide for California.

RESEARCH FINDINGS

The research is based on 219 mothers of 411 children who have come to us for help over the past four years. It follows our Dossier, Suffer the Little Children & their Mothers, published in 2017, which documented the devastating impact of legal proceedings that separated children from their primary carers, overwhelmingly mothers.

The findings highlight the targeting of children of low-income single mother families, especially of mothers who are victims of domestic violence, are women of colour and/or immigrant, and/or have a disability. Once women leave an abusive partner, they are punished by a state system that shields the perpetrator rather than the mother and the children she is struggling to protect.

HIGHLIGHTS
·       The overwhelming majority (94%) were single mothers (mostly on low incomes).
·       At least 76% of these had reported domestic violence (up from 71% in 2017). 
·       Nearly all were fighting over contact with their children. They were trying to stop violent fathers having unsafe unsupervised contact, or trying to re-establish contact with children who had been given to the father, or were in foster care or forcibly adopted.
·       Over half the mothers had had their children taken from them (a significant increase from 2017). In 30% of cases the children were living with the abusive father; 14% had children in foster care.
·       10% had children adopted without their consent.
·       44% were women of colour and/or immigrant women who faced both sexism and racism:19% women of colour, 12% immigrant women of colour, 13% white immigrant. 
·       44% of mothers had mental health issues, much of which was caused or exacerbated by family court proceedings often lasting many years.
·       19% had a physical disability and this was used against them.

No consideration was given to the trauma caused by separating children from their first and often only protector, and the abuse many children face at the hands of fathers with a history of violence or within the “corporate care” system.

Our research reflects the harsh reality of increasing state intrusion into family life (particularly low-income families headed by women), the devaluing of the crucial bond between mother and child, and the undue influence of the male supremacist fathers’ lobby. This treatment of women by the family courts harks back to a time before the modern women’s movement. It is of a piece with the de facto decriminalisation of rape and domestic violence, the impoverishment of women through cuts in benefits and shockingly low pay. Even forced adoptions are not, as the government claims, a thing of the past, but a present-day policy of punishment and social cleansing.

*  *  *  *  *  *

State intrusion is affecting a huge and increasing number of children and families. In March 2020 there were 80,080 “looked after” children in England, up from 72,670 in 2017. (Gov.uk

Children in the most deprived areas in the UK are 10 times more likely to be in foster or residential care or on “protection plans” than children in the least deprived areas. (Nuffield)

4.3m children were living in poverty in 2020, before the pandemic, compared to 4m in 2017. 49% of children living in single-parent families, overwhelmingly mothers, are in poverty.  46% of children from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds are Iiving in poverty, compared with 26% in white British families. (CPAG)

Mothers are denied money and other support they are entitled to under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 and, additionally, under the Care Act 2014 if they have a disability. A number of women we work with faced losing their children, including to adoption, after they asked for support; some were disabled and were accused of causing their children “harm” because they had to rely on them for help. As a result, many mothers are terrified to claim their rights.

While there is no money to keep children with their mothers, local authorities pay millions to the growing and lucrative “child protection” industry: £200,000 a year is spent on keeping one child in institutional care; £3,563 to £12,000 per week to keep autistic teenagers in Assessment and Treatment Units where solitary confinement and restraint are common.  (Mencap) 75% of children’s homes are now privatised and the number of children fostered via private agencies has almost doubled in the past 10 years. (Community Care)

*  *  *  *  *  *

Anne Neale from Support Not Separation says: 

Our latest research confirms the findings of the UK MOJ’s Harm Report which found that women face a number of barriers to reporting abuse in the family courts including “sexism, racism and classism”. Children are routinely forced to have contact or even live with violent fathers while protective mothers are dismissed as “parental alienators”. Women’s low incomes, our need for support to escape violent men and/or deal with a disability, including mental health issues caused by abusive partners and an abusive family court system – all are used to accuse mothers of “neglect” or causing “emotional harm” and remove our children . . .

But the movement of mothers and campaigners is growing on both sides of the Atlantic, determined to end state sanctioned child abuse, and to get the financial and other support we need to care for and protect our children.

*  *  *  *  *  *

A snapshot of cases from our research includes:

·       The children of a victim of domestic abuse were forced by the court to have contact with the father against their wishes. After one visit the father refused to return them home and stopped all contact with their mother, cutting them off from her protection and support. She has been fighting for 18 months to see them. 

  ·       A mother of three was taken to court and accused of “parental alienation” by a rapist ex-partner demanding contact with the children who did not want to see him. She was put through four years of traumatic court proceedings under threat of having the children removed before the father declared he no longer wanted contact and had thrown away all their birthday and Xmas presents. 

·       The mother of a severely autistic child asked Children’s Services for support under Section 17 but was put on “Child Protection” instead. She was being harassed by neighbours complaining almost daily about noise from the child. Social workers accused the mother of exaggerating her child’s condition and started court proceedings to remove him.

·       A victim of domestic violence was taken to court for contact by the absent father of her youngest child because he wanted a reference for a job working with children. When the mother told agencies about his history of violence, they ignored her concerns. When the child, who barely knew her father, refused to see him, she was forced into contact by the court, causing her great distress. After the court accepted evidence of rape to other children in the family, he was forced to withdraw his application.  We are pressing police to prosecute and denouncing the outrageous agencies which were more interested in profits than children’s lives.

·       A victim of domestic abuse faced sexism and racism throughout her long court battle against a violent ex-partner. She was accused of “parental alienation” because she backed her children who refused to see their violent father. A court appointed psychologist, who ignored her complaints of abuse, commented that she “did not remove her head-dress throughout the meeting”. The court finally decided that the children’s wishes should be listened to. 

·       A disabled mother who suffered domestic abuse was accused of “neglect” instead of getting support under Section 17 and taken to court by Children’s Services after fleeing to a refuge with her children. She successfully challenged them, making complaints about 30 instances of misinformation used against her and their failure to support her to look after the children. Not long after, the children’s father encouraged by social services started pursuing her for contact and residence of the children. ·       The six-year-old child of a mother with mental distress after having been adopted herself as a child by an abusive and controlling woman, was removed by social services. For years there was no contact. We were able to help her re-establish contact with tremendous results with the child who is now 14. 

·       A victim of trafficking had her children forcibly adopted. After being granted refugee status, she brought her child from Africa to join her. Not knowing anything about Children’s Services in England and Wales, she assumed they would help and approached them for support, which she was entitled to under Section 17.  Within months they had removed her daughter, and when her second child was born, he was taken at birth. Both children were then adopted, separately, including one to a white family. The mother is still in shock. We won’t know for many years what trauma her children have suffered.

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