Disabled Mothers’ Rights campaign: joint response to Independent review of children’s social care

Logo The independent review of children's social care.  Three colour diamond shapes.

To: The Case for Change – Independent Review of Children’s Social Care

Evidence submitted 13 August 2021 by Legal Action for Women which co-ordinates Support Not Separation, and by the Disabled Mothers’ Rights campaign of WinVisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities).

Introduction

The Support Not Separation Coalition includes organisations of single mothers, women
of colour, women with disabilities, rape survivors, breastfeeding advocates,
psychotherapists, men and social workers. We defend mothers and children against
unwarranted separation and the devaluing of the mother-child relationship. We are in
contact with hundreds of mothers and other primary carers, and children, family law
professionals, organisations and concerned individuals.

In January 2017 Legal Action for Women published our Dossier Suffer the Little
Children & their Mothers
which documented 56 cases of mothers fighting in the family
courts to stop violent fathers having unsupervised contact or residence of children,
and against children being taken into care and/or adopted. In July 2021 we updated
this research based on the experiences of 219 mothers of 411 children.

The Disabled Mothers’ Rights campaign brings disabled mothers together to tackle the
discrimination we face as we are labelled “unfit mothers” and accused of “neglect” or
worse when we ask for the support we are legally entitled to; and to press for change.

This evidence is based on extensive collective self-help and campaigning, and includes
input from a former social worker who has been involved in answering the questions.
We run monthly self-help meetings where mothers share their experiences and a
number of organisations contribute their expertise. They are: All African Women’s
Group, English Collective of Prostitutes, Global Women’s Strike (GWS), Women of
Colour GWS, Single Mothers’ Self Defence, WinVisible (women with visible and
invisible disabilities) and Women Against Rape.

Chapter 1
What do you think the purpose of children’s social care should be?

The purpose should be to support children by supporting their primary carer and
protector, overwhelmingly the mother, and to recognise that the bond between
mother and child is the child’s first and most crucial relationship. It must prioritise
implementing Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 with a view to keeping families
together, and the Care Act 2014 under which adult social care has a duty to provide
support for disabled mothers who have caring responsibilities for a child.

Treating children as separate entities from their mothers (as Children’s Social Care
does) ignores that supporting mothers is the best way to ensure children’s health and
well-being. For example, the only way to address child poverty is to address mothers’
poverty, especially single mothers who are among the poorest and most likely to be
targeted by children’s social care. If mothers had even half the money paid to foster
carers, many fewer children would be in “care”.

Unless the significance of the mother/child bond is acknowledged and supported,
social care professionals will continue to dismiss and/or ignore the trauma of
separating children from their mother or other primary carer. The increasing numbers
of children in “care” will continue to rise, with their future “outcomes” significantly
damaged, as the Review recognises.

The trauma of separation from mother and siblings, and of being uprooted from all
that is familiar, invariably outweighs the difficulties children may face within their
families, the majority of which could be overcome with proper financial and practical
support. Many children taken into foster care repeatedly ask to go home and run
back home at every chance, and many of those adopted spend much of their adult
lives searching for their birth families – both face lifelong trauma as a result of this
forced separation.

Children’s social care should provide the support families ask for, rather than what
they decide is appropriate, which invariably means intrusive and degrading monitoring
and prejudicial judgements. (See case study 12, Ms W)

CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) was created as an official agency to “independently advise the family courts in England about what is safe for children and in their best interests”.

That is not our experience. We have seen CAFCASS believe and back fathers who use the family
courts as a way of continuing their coercive control over mothers and children. In
fact, misogynist domestic-abuse deniers are embedded in CAFCASS. The “pro contact
culture” and the use of “parental alienation” allegations against the mother, which the
Ministry of Justice’s Harm Report found so damaging, are promoted.

CAFCASS/children’s social care has encouraged and condoned the practice of
removing children from victims of domestic violence, accusing them of “failing to
protect” the children. Men know this and tell their victims: “If you complain I’ll call
social care and they’ll take the children from you”. Women often stay in violent
relationships precisely to protect their children – they must get support and resources
to safely escape the violence with their children. The contribution of CAFCASS to the
rising numbers of children in care must be examined by the Review.

Chapter 2
What is the role of the Children’s Social Care system in strengthening
communities rather than just providing services?

The only way to strengthen communities is to provide services. The Review must
challenge government policy which has resulted in 4.3 million children living in
poverty, which in turn has fuelled the child removal industry.

Women have borne the brunt of austerity policies over the past decade. Families,
particularly single-mother households, are struggling to feed, clothe and house
children because of low wages, zero-hour contracts, extortionate private rents, high
levels of unemployment, cuts to benefits, the total benefit cap which targets single
mothers unable to do waged work, benefit sanctions, Universal Credit waiting time
and ending the £20 COVID increase, the two-child limit under Child Tax
Credits/Universal Credit, and denying benefits to immigrants who have “no recourse
to public funds”. Ending these policies is essential in order to strengthen mothers and
communities and therefore children.

Support which goes directly to mothers should be the priority, rather than increasing
spending on Children’s Services. Unless the basic assumptions about what children’s
social care is for are challenged and overhauled, increased budgets are likely to lead
to even more children being taken into “care”.

How do we address the tension between protection and support in Children’s
Social Care that families describe?

Is a system which undertakes both support for families and child protection impeded in its ability to do both well?
The system which is supposed to support families does not. Time and again mothers
say they went to Children’s Services for help, none was available, but once they were
in the system, they were fast-tracked to “child protection”. (See case studies 6, Ms J
and 11, Ms V).

Mothers/families are deterred from asking for the help they are legally entitled to
(under Section 17 of the Children Act, for example) for fear of children being taken.
Unless the two systems are separated, this will continue, and families who need
support will not ask for it or will be punished when they do.

Disabled mothers in particular are terrified of asking for help for fear of being labelled
“too disabled” and “unfit” to look after their children. (See case studies 1, Ms C and
4, Ms G).

Disabled women are twice as likely to suffer domestic violence compared to
non-disabled women (Stay Safe East). When mothers in couples become disabled,
many fathers walk out as they are not ready to do the work of caring for their now
disabled partner. As a result many disabled mothers are single and have no partner to
share the care of the children.

What the Review describes as “risk aversion” (anticipating harm to children) has led to
a massive child removal industry which has a vested interest in getting more and
more children taken to grow the industry. The privatisation of foster care and
adoption services, as well as of children’s homes/residential care, has fed into this
“placement market” which is making huge profits out of children’s and families
suffering. Privatisation must be removed from Children’s Services (as the Review
suggests).

But returning institutions to local authority control will solve nothing until and unless
the priority is to enable children to stay in their families. That is the key to protecting
the welfare of children and drastically reducing the numbers of children in “care”. The
recent expose of decades of abuse of children in local authority run children’s homes
(see for example Lambeth, North Wales, Nottinghamshire . . . ) is child abuse by the
“corporate parent” which neglects, punishes and tortures children whom it supposedly
“rescued”. The same system that accuses mothers of “neglect” covers up the
extreme abuse and sexual violence of children when it is done by institutions and
even foster carers. We have come across agencies that used men as foster carers
despite having been told that they had a history of violence. Please note, there is
widespread sexism, class bias and racism within Children’s Services: children from
low-income families, including many families of colour and/or immigrant, are more
likely to be in “care”.

What do you think about our proposed definition of family help? What would
you include or exclude?

The definition of family help must begin with resources to mothers and individual
families. Funding more “skilled professionals” to be involved in family life is not the
support families need or want.

For example, victims of domestic violence do not want or need professionals involved
in “improving the relationship between parents” – they want practical help to escape
the violence with their children, and to access benefits, housing and support to rebuild
their lives. In the same way, disabled mothers do not want more professionals
making judgements about their parenting skills but do want practical and financial
help. The stress of poor housing and debt can only be “mitigated” by temporary help and a
change in government policy on housing.


Chapter 3
How do we raise the quality of decision making in child protection?

By recognising how crucial mothers/primary carers are to children’s well-being and
prioritising the support they need to care for their children safely.
Domestic violence must never lead automatically to child protection. The priority
must be helping the mother to be stay safe in order for her children to be safe.
Mothers are blamed for “failing to protect” the children from violence but the benefit
system is weighted against mothers getting support to leave violent men. For
example, the wait for Universal Credit has driven women escaping violence to return.
Even when mothers do escape, perpetrators can spend years continuing their reign of
terror using the family courts, which insist on the abusive father having contact, and
sometimes residence, of the children whom the mother was accused of “failing” to
protect.

Social workers retain all the power in the child protection system and are very rarely
held to account for the decisions they made and the terrible consequences these have
for people’s lives. So called “risk aversion” (the worry that the chid will be hurt unless
they are removed) has become an excuse for the most scandalous abuse of power
against mothers and children. The fact that some children, such as Victoria Climbié
and Baby P (Peter Connelly), were tragically killed as a result of not having been
removed from their families, does not explain why thousands of children are being
forced into contact, and even residence, with violent fathers against their wishes and
their mothers’ opposition and warnings. What we often face is social workers’ sexist
bias against mothers and favouring of fathers, or in some cases an unwillingness to
take on violent fathers and reject their lies – it is easier to blame the mother! None of
this justifies removing children who should not be removed from mothers who may
need help.

Mothers and families under child protection are put under intense scrutiny; social
workers never recognise how stressful this is; and challenging a social worker’s report
or proposals leads to allegations of being “difficult” which is then used as an excuse to
remove children. Social workers act as a law unto themselves, there is no
accountability while cases are proceeding or afterwards. (See case study 8, Ms Q)
How do we fill the accountability gap in order to take effective action to keep
teenagers safe?

Whether in relation to teenagers or younger children, the issue is that there is no
accountability demanded of professionals like there is of mothers. Hardly any social
workers, foster carers, police or other professionals are ever sacked because of abuse
of power or making decisions that lead to tragedy for children and mothers, including
those who have been responsible for years of sexual and other violence against
children in residential or other homes. Those in charge of Children’s Services where
abuse has been shown to take place repeatedly say they “didn’t know” and escape
blame. If they didn’t know, they should have!

Abusers must be sacked, prosecuted and never allowed to work with children again.
And so should professionals who dismissed what children’s and/or mothers’ warnings
and/or covered up or were complicit in the abuse. It is striking that the scandals in
Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford, Jersey, Lambeth . . . .have not led to the social
workers, police and other professionals involved in allowing or enabling the abuse of
thousands of children over decades being sacked and prosecuted. Instead, it is the
whistle-blowers who lose their jobs and are persecuted.

What can we do to support and grow kinship care?

The priority should be to keep children with birth families, but where this proves
impossible, kinship care should always be prioritised over care by strangers.
Kinship carers should be paid the same rate as foster carers. (See for example,
Scottish Kinship Care Alliance who have successfully fought for financial recognition for
kinship carers.)

Children should never be removed from one kinship carer to another just because
they have a higher income. The bond already established between the child and their
carer must always be prioritised, and the kind of social cleansing which is promoted
via adoption must not be allowed in kinship care.

Adoption: we strongly disagree with the promotion of adoption as the “gold
standard” for children in care and are horrified by the government’s new fund to
promote “diversity” in adoption. This funding should go instead to keeping children in
families who love and care for them.

There is much evidence about the life-long trauma and devastation suffered by
adoptees who are completely cut off from birth families and denied all contact with
them. We urge the Review to refer to the findings of research commissioned by the
British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and others who have documented this,
as well as the level of adoptions which break down – this is generally kept quiet in
order to justify policies that favour adoption. The wrongs of forced adoption recently
in the spotlight are not just historic, they continue today. (See case studies 9, Ms R
and 10, Ms T and also speech by Jean Eveleigh, below). The promotion of adoption
by successive governments must be stopped.

Given the clear evidence of positive outcomes and value for money of
programmes that support parents at the edge of care and post removal why
aren’t they more widely available and what will it take to make this the case?

Programmes for parents “at the edge of care” must prioritise keeping families
together (unless there is domestic violence in which case the mother should be helped
to leave with her children) and provide practical and financial support including
emergency housing rather than monitoring and investigation.

The monitoring of mothers with newborns which takes place in mother & baby foster
placements and/or in mother & baby homes is intense and brutal. Mothers are set up
to fail because the emphasis is on 24-hour surveillance completely cut off from any
family connections, rather than support which every new mother needs. No mother in
the community is expected to care for her children without the help and support of
others, be it grandmothers, other relatives and/or friends. Why are unrealistic and
degrading standards of coping alone applied to mothers in mother & baby homes?

Supporting a mother to keep her child is the best way of breaking the traumatic cycle
of multiple removals. Instead, programmes like “Pause” are promoted which, again,
blame the mother rather than the lack of support she faced and the brutality of a
system which prioritises child removal.

Funding should go into preventing children from being taken rather than grief
management for mothers whose children are taken.

Chapter 4
If we were creating care today that was good enough for all our children,
what would it look like?

In the first place, social workers would not assume that children are going to be in
care. Child protection must start with the assumption that mothers are the primary
carers and protectors and that they deserve our respect and support to overcome any
difficulties, starting with poverty.

Children’s Services would ensure that mothers or other primary carers have the
money and resources to look after their children – this would be in children’s best
interest. Unfortunately, at present, many social workers do not see this provision as
child protection nor as career-enhancing and most managers do not promote material
help.

Children’s Services would defend mothers and children against domestic violence.
Most family court cases involve domestic violence (70-90%), overwhelmingly against
women. The denial of domestic violence by the fathers’ lobby has influenced
CAFCASS and the family courts, and is shockingly promoted by them. For example, it
is now well-known that violent fathers, including rapists and child abusers are hiding
behind allegations of “parental alienation”, yet CAFCASS say: “We are increasingly
recognising that parental alienation is a feature in many of our cases”. The welfare of
children must come before social work and court decisions that put children at the
mercy of violent and uncaring men.

Social workers would be trained to know about the trauma a child suffers as a result
of being taken from mother, siblings and all that is familiar. For many, that trauma
lasts a whole lifetime, sometimes it carries on to the next generation. (Emma Lewell-Buck MP, former social worker and former Shadow Education Minister responsible for children and families agreed with us that the trauma of separation was not part of her social work training.)

Social workers would know of the great risk of children being abused or neglected in
“care” and this would be taken into account when decisions are made. Why are
children being removed from families when there is no guarantee that they will be
safe in “care”? On top of the trauma of separation, they suffer abuse at the hands of
strangers who know the children are entirely vulnerable as they have been cut off
from their mothers’ support and anything they tell their mothers during contact visits
is likely to be dismissed by the professionals who forcibly removed them.


How can care help to build loving lifelong relationships as the norm?

The “corporate parent” and the “care” removal industry rarely help to build loving
lifelong relationships. Every child who ends up in “care” has faced the trauma of
separation from their mother (including those taken at birth) and that can have a
long-lasting impact on their ability to form and maintain loving relationships,
especially when the trauma has been repeated several times over as they are moved
from one primary carer to another.

The level of contact which is most common when children are in care is six times a
year, often supervised. This is nowhere near enough to maintain a close relationship,
especially if it starts when the child is a baby. Such a minimal level of contact is not
in the child’s interest and mitigates against the possibility of reunion.
Social workers repeatedly put obstacles in the way of contact happening regularly
and/or impose such restrictive conditions on what can be discussed, how the mother
must behave, etc., that it makes contact feel more like an exam than an opportunity
to bond with children.

We have come across social workers who have told mothers, “I will make sure that
you never see your child again.” What was the mother’s crime? She did not relate
easily to social workers! Where is the legislation that entitles social workers to
remove a child on this basis? That they are allowed to abuse their powers in this way
tells much about what is wrong with children’s social care.
The assumption that contact with birth families disrupts foster care and adoption must
be overturned and a completely different approach taken, which recognises the child’s
wish to keep contact with those closest to them and enables reunification as soon as
possible, in accordance with the Children Act 1989.


What changes do we need to make to ensure we have the right homes in the
right places with the right support?

As we have said, social workers should not assume that children are going to be in
“care”; the priority should be to keep children with birth families but where this is not
possible, kinship care should always be prioritised over care by strangers.
In order to make this possible, resources need to be massively diverted to support
mothers and kinship carers. And social workers, CAFCASS and the family courts need
to radically change their thinking and recognise the New York court ruling (Nicholson
v. Williams, 203 F.Supp.2d 153 (2002)) that children are more traumatised by being
separated from their mothers than by domestic violence, and that domestic violence
should no longer be used as a reason to remove children from their mothers.

What role should residential and secure homes have in the future?

The problems with residential homes begin with the fact that three-quarters of
children’s homes are now privatised. To maximise their profits, private providers
charge huge fees – sometimes over £200,000 a year for a single placement with no
guarantee of how that money is spent! With little scrutiny, oversight or monitoring,
and therefore little accountability, it is no wonder that the Howard League for Penal
Reform reports that privatisation of children’s homes is “playing into the hands of
abusers” and putting children in danger of exploitation. Given that the risk of being
abused or neglected in “care” is so great, this current practice of sending children into
unregulated homes must end. (See statement by a care leaver attached).

Chapter 5
How can we strengthen multi-agency join up both locally and nationally,
without losing accountability?

The obligation on professionals (whether midwives, health visitors, doctors, nurses,
creche/nursery/playgroup workers, teachers, youth workers . . . to immediately report
any “safeguarding” concerns is driving a high intervention practice, especially against
low-income single mother families. It has become a massive deterrent to
mothers/families asking for help when they need it. Taking a child to casualty
because they fell over can trigger months of devastating separation, midwives asking
pregnant mothers if they have ever been in care can trigger intense scrutiny and
possible removal at birth, as can any reference to mental health issues in the past.
The possibility of children and mothers having supportive relationships with
professionals is significantly undermined. “Joining up” local and national multi-agencies will exacerbate these issues and is likely to lead to another increase in children being taken into “care” – just the opposite of what’s needed.

It is tragic that the movement of rape victims speaking out against child abuse has led
not to increased safety or scrutiny of the “corporate parent” who abused them or
didn’t protect them, but to an increase in corporate powers against children and
families.

How do we free up social workers to spend more time in direct practice with
children and families and reduce risk aversion?

Follow the example of Dr Andy Bilson’s work in Fife where they developed social work
that could support families, reducing the number of children in care by 70% in just
three years.

They invented new forms of support for children and families. They stopped
spending and wasting money on very expensive and damaging residential care
for children.

They made cash available to frontline workers to spend on helping families, in
order to prevent children coming into “care”. Each area office spent the
equivalent of the cost of one child in “care” for a year. There were seven area
offices, as a consequence the numbers of children in care went down by almost
250.

How can monitoring and inspection make the most difference to children’s
and families’ experiences and engender greater freedom and responsibility in
the workforce?

Given the scandals of abuse of children in residential homes – which in our experience
ranges from the cover-up of sexual abuse to workers with a callous disregard for the
emotional needs of children – there needs to be well-publicised protection for whistleblowers.

Wrongdoing/abuse needs to be exposed, including the responsibility of
senior staff, so that children and their families can get justice. They should be the
priority rather than protecting the industry. (See Edna’s Law for protection of whistleblowers, put forward by Compassion in Care).

Social workers must refuse to monitor children and families based on the use of
algorithms – with all its human in-built sexism, racism, class bias and other prejudices.
This is to enter the realm of mass surveillance with mass preconceptions: families of
colour, victims of domestic violence, disabled mothers, single mothers, low income
families are the most likely to be targeted, not for help but for child removal.

What will need to be different about this review’s recommendations
compared to previous reviews so that they create a tipping point for
improvement?

The Review must recommend financial support for mothers, especially single mothers,
since it is overwhelmingly mothers who are the primary carers for children, and the
abolition of all policies which have impoverished mothers – such as benefit cuts and
sanctions. There would be no child poverty if mothers were not poor. Family
Allowance, which later became Child Benefit and was first introduced in 1945, was
based on the recognition of mothers’ fundamental contribution to society and their
entitlement to society’s support in return. Such recognition has been eroded with
tragic consequences for children. A care income for mothers and other primary carers
would go a long way to restoring respect and support for mothers and the vital
mother-child relationship.

The Review must also recognise and address the systemic sexism, racism, disability
prejudice and class bias which run throughout Children’s Social Care. The system
must be overhauled in ways that prevent the “corporate parent” from intervening in
children’s lives in such harmful and destructive ways.


Case studies

  1. Ms C
    Ms C is a single mother with autism whose 10-year-old autistic child has been in care
    since 2018. She was a victim of domestic abuse and through her fear of the
    perpetrator, moved house a few times to escape him which in turn meant the child
    moving school. Instead of being supported by Children’s Services as a victim of
    domestic abuse, she was accused of neglecting her son’s education. Because she was
    also requesting a SEND school (“Special educational needs and disabilities”), she was accused of exaggerating her child’s needs and of having mental health issues without regard for the impact of the violence she had
    suffered. This was used as a reason for taking her child into “care”, yet once he was
    in “care” he was moved to a SEND school without question. After her child was taken, Ms C initially “failed” a psychiatric assessment and was diagnosed with “personality disorder” by a court appointed psychologist with whom she met once for 3 hours. Despite never seeing Ms C with her son, the psychiatrist
    claimed she was now a danger to him. When she subsequently appointed her own
    psychiatrist, she was given a more positive assessment and the label was removed.
    Social workers then claimed that she had “failed” a parenting assessment despite this
    not being raised before. Almost as if in retaliation against Ms C continuing attempts
    to get her child home, social workers contacted the university where she is studying
    to be a teacher, disclosing that her son had been removed because “she was a danger
    to him”, and sharing information about her medical evidence and psychiatric report –
    a complete breach of medical confidentiality, GDPR and Data Protection rules.
    Consequently, she now has a “fitness to practice” case brought against her by her
    university, adding to the stress and distress she endures since being separated from
    her son.
  2. Ms D
    Ms D was taken into foster care as a very young child and lived in various children’s
    homes. She was left traumatised by this experience. At eight she was adopted by a
    violent controlling woman who mistreated her, kept her out of school and made her
    cook and clean. Children’s Services never checked on her after she was handed over
    to her adoptive mother. As an adult, while still being forced to live with her adoptive
    mother and hand over her benefits, she became pregnant by a violent man. Her
    adoptive mother took complete control of the new baby, including refusing her access
    to any money so she could not escape. The grandmother refused to allow the child to
    go to school, and after this came to the attention of Children’s Services, they moved
    constantly, often staying in hotels whilst Children’s Services were chasing after them.
    Ms D had no idea that they were looking for her until the police broke into their hotel
    room and took the child away.
    Because Ms D did not know that Children’s Services wanted to talk to her, she was
    completely traumatised by the snatching of her child, now six years old, by police.
    She should have been assessed as a vulnerable person and given extra assistance in
    the court as she was clearly suffering mental distress and struggling to participate
    because of her traumatic childhood. After being separated from her daughter, her
    mental health deteriorated further and she was denied contact with her. When she
    first came to our self-help group, she was facing a court hearing where CS were going
    to stop all contact and remove her parental rights. With our help and support,
    including getting her some NHS mental health support, she has finally restarted
    contact with her daughter eight years after the child was taken. They are building a
    relationship despite her child being still in “care”.
  3. Ms F
    Ms F is a disabled woman who fled to a refuge after escaping from a very violent
    marriage. She was taken to court by Children’s Services who accused her of
    neglecting her children and threatened to remove her children. She fought hard and
    won this case but was then left with the father applying to court for contact and
    residence of the children. He used both her disability and the PTSD that she suffered
    as a result of his violence to claim that the children were not safe in her care – both
    the court and CAFCASS sided with him. The court-ordered psychiatric assessment
    diagnosed her with “borderline personality disorder” which her medical team
    challenged. Instead of supporting this mother, her full medical records, including
    mental health and personal counselling records, were requested by the father and
    CAFCASS so they could be further used against her. She has kept her children thanks
    to our support and the use of the self-help guide we produced on the basis on
    hundreds of mothers’ experiences of struggling to protect their children. Ms F
    complained of 30 instances where Children’s Services acted wrongly in their treatment
    of her and all 30 were upheld. Despite this, she remains in a long court battle over
    contact and residency of the children. Ms F is a woman of colour and we believe that
    racism as well as sexism and disability discrimination played a part in how she was
    treated.
  4. Ms G
    Ms G was disabled by a serious medical condition. She turned to Children’s Services
    for help when her child started losing weight and she was worried that she might have
    the same health condition. Instead of medically testing the child, she was put on
    Child Protection under suspicion of starving her daughter and being a “bad” mother.
    As her daughter continued to deteriorate, Children’s Services took Ms G to court
    saying she was making up her child’s medical issues and accused her of Fabricated
    Induced Illness (FII, which used to be called Munchausen’s By Proxy). From that
    point Ms G was only allowed supervised contact. In foster care her child continued to
    lose weight but nothing was done until she collapsed. Social workers did not tell Ms G
    her daughter was in hospital, trying to keep it secret, because clearly they had
    neglected the child’s medical care and the child’s further deterioration was evidence
    that Ms G was telling the truth all along.
    In fact, Ms G’s daughter was diagnosed with the same condition as herself and she
    had tumours in the throat that needed urgently removing. Ms G was not allowed to
    visit her daughter in hospital either before or after the operation. Social workers then
    tried to reduce her contact, saying her child was now settled into foster care and that
    Ms G “needed space” to manage her own condition. She went back to court but was
    threatened by Children’s Services that if she did not agree to the previous contact
    arrangements they remove ALL her contact with her daughter. Frightened and
    desperate Ms G agreed and was left with one day a month supervised contact.
    Tragically, Ms G passed away recently after being in hospital for some time, during
    which Children’s Services refused to allow her daughter to visit her, even to say goodbye.
  5. Ms H
    Ms H is an African immigrant whose three children were taken into care when the
    youngest was a baby in 2015. She was suffering undiagnosed post-natal depression
    and was accused of injuring the baby after she took her to hospital with a swollen leg,
    which was found to be broken. During subsequent court proceedings it was reported
    that the baby had 12 healed fractures, but it only emerged years later that the baby
    had a severe untreated Vitamin D deficiency which was almost certainly the cause of
    the fractures. Much later both the oldest child and the youngest were diagnosed with
    severe learning disabilities which made managing their behaviour difficult. Ms G had
    tried to tell social workers this but she was accused of being a bad mother.
    Ms H was given contact with the children only three times a year and, at the same
    time, a five-year ban was imposed on her to stop any applications for increased
    contact. This order (a section 91(14)), should only be granted in cases where there
    have been repeated applications to court – Ms H had made none, but Children’s
    Services asked for and were granted it. After we became involved, the racist
    treatment of the mother became obvious and we helped her go back to court. The
    original Guardian was shocked that contact had not progressed as she had envisaged
    in 2015. The Guardian supported Ms H’s application and asked for a plan where
    contact would progress to being overnight as well as unsupervised in the community.
    To counter this, the social worker made false allegations in court about Ms H, but her
    advocate had made copies of all email correspondence and when these were produced
    the social worker was successfully challenged and was removed from the case. Ms H
    continues to fight for overnight contact with her children in the hope of getting them
    home – so far contact has been increased from three times a year to every two
    weeks.
  6. Ms J
    Ms J is a single mother who asked for Special Educational Needs (SEND) support for
    her disabled child at school. Despite being entitled to this under Section 17 of the
    Children Act, as soon as she asked, she was accused of exaggerating her child’s
    illness. She was called to a Child Protection meeting where it was intended to take
    her child into hospital without her so that social workers could “prove” she was
    exaggerating his illness. Fifteen professionals, mainly medical, attended, including
    the safeguarding doctor who lied by saying that possible specialist treatment did not
    exist. When Ms J’s advocate pointed out that the treatment did exist and was
    available on the NHS, the safeguarding doctor claimed to have “forgotten” this and
    stormed out of the meeting. Social workers had said they were taking their lead from
    medical professionals and school but as soon as the doctor left, the school changed
    their mind and suddenly agreed with Ms J.
    Despite child protection being abandoned, Ms J was still not offered the services she
    requested or the treatment her son needed; given how she had been treated, she was
    too afraid to ask for them again. She felt it was better to try to manage in order to
    avoid further false accusations being made against her, especially since this could also
    jeopardise her nursing job. Her child was left without correct medical care, and she
    had to pay to see private doctors. The child was left struggling in school so we helped
    Ms J challenge the school to provide some support – as a result, she got some of the
    help needed. Ms J recorded every meeting both in school and with social workers and
    this helped her to challenge the child protection records and is now being used to
    complete the complaints procedure both against Children’s Services and the hospital.
    Ms J is a woman of colour and we believe that racism as well as sexism and disability
    discrimination against her child played a part in how they were treated.
  7. Ms K
    Ms K is disabled and her child has the same genetic condition. Both needed support
    at home and also in school. When Ms K asked for SEND support for her child, she was
    refused and put on Child Protection. Medical reports which backed what she was
    saying were misinterpreted by social workers, and she was accused of exaggerating
    her child’s illness as well as her own. Once on Child Protection, Ms K stopped asking
    for any help or support and after just three months, social workers moved the child to
    Child In Need which should have been done from the outset. Children’s Services still
    did not provide help so we helped her to successfully challenge the lack of support
    under Section 17 and therefore discharged Child In Need. The social workers had to
    apologise. Ms K was left with symptoms of PTSD as a result of being put under the
    unnecessary scrutiny of Child Protection – three years later she still struggles to
    access medical care for fear that she will be accused again of exaggerating symptoms.
    She fears that both her and her child will be unable to get the correct treatment until
    her child reaches 18. She is constantly afraid of a school “safeguarding” referral.
  8. Ms Q
    Ms Q has been in family court for years as a result of violence from her former partner
    against herself and also her children. The children refused to see their father because
    he used to hit them around the head with a brush and his hand. Despite this, on
    several occasions they were dragged out of their mother’s car by social workers
    enforcing contact. The children still resisted and this was classed as “parental
    alienation” – three vans of police turned up and dragged the children to their father’s
    car kicking and screaming. Residence was then transferred to the father, and he
    stopped all contact with the mother. Eventually Ms Q made a SARS request (Subject
    Access Request to see personal information held about you) as she was getting no
    information about her children, and she found that the school had made 121
    safeguarding referrals to Children’s Services since the children had been in his care.
    These had not been acted on. She applied to court again but the same judge as
    before intervened and blocked her application. However, contact started again so Ms
    Q was pleased to be able to see the children, although contact did not last long and
    was blocked shortly afterwards.
    Finally, Children’s Services took action against the father after he was accused of
    neglecting the children, including by not feeding them, and they returned the children
    to their mother under an interim care order – three years after they were taken. The
    family is slowly rebuilding their lives together after years of abuse and separation.
  9. Ms R
    Ms R was taken into care as a child after her mother was accused of not protecting
    her from being gang-raped when she was 10 (she was in the care of a relative at the
    time, but her mother got the blame). She returned home to her mother after two
    years but because she got no help after being raped and then separated from her
    family, she suffered mental health problems, including depression. When she became
    pregnant while still a teenager, Children’s Services went to court immediately after
    her baby’s birth and tried to take him away. The court refused and she was sent to a
    Mother & Baby unit and then to two subsequent foster placements, but eventually her
    baby was removed.
    It is extremely difficult for first-time mothers with a newborn to “pass” assessments of
    their ability to care when they are in placements cut off from family and support
    networks at a time when they need them most. Her history of being raped as a child
    and taken into care, and the subsequent depression, were used to claim that she
    could not be a good mother, even though her mental health had been stable since
    before she became pregnant. Family members who Ms R put forward to care for her
    son were not assessed as they should have been. After her first child was adopted,
    she went on to have another child: nothing had changed, but this time she was
    “allowed” to keep her baby.
  10. Ms T
    Ms T is a victim of trafficking from an African country and was given refugee status. Her daughter aged four joined her a year later but was taken into care a few
    months after the mother was referred to Children’s Services for support by an agency
    helping victims of trafficking. Social workers said there was possible risk of “future
    harm” to the child based on the fact that the mother was a victim of trafficking, had
    mental health issues and was in an abusive relationship. The man she was in a
    relationship with was fine until her daughter arrived to live with them, at which point
    he became emotionally abusive and tried to insist that she terminate her pregnancy
    with their child. Children’s Services did nothing to help her get away from him, and
    after her daughter was taken into foster care her mental health declined. She found it
    impossible to deal with any professionals because they were all determined to get her
    children adopted. Her son was removed eight days after birth. After proceedings in
    the family court, during which she spent almost £30,000 on solicitors’ fees and over
    £35,000 in barristers’ fees, her two children were adopted (by separate families and
    one of them by a white family). She applied for “post adoption” contact but was
    refused, mainly because she had fought against the adoptions all the way to the
    Appeal Court and the adoptive parents were concerned that she might try to “disrupt”
    the adoptions.
  11. Ms V
    Ms V is a disabled woman with three children, two who are autistic and have learning
    disabilities. Her husband is also autistic. After her oldest child was born it became
    clear he was autistic with additional needs. She became pregnant again and was
    struggling to walk and cope due to her own disabilities. She was told that she could
    apply for assistance from the local authority and get “care hours” under Section 17.
    She was assessed and granted 25 hours a week help and support at home. She then
    went on to have another child who also had additional needs. As soon as she
    mentioned this to social workers, they started accusing her of being a bad parent,
    saying that she needed to “learn how to parent” and that it was not their job to look
    after her children. The children were on Child In Need support (CIN), as is usual for children
    with disabilities. It is common for local authorities to push families from CIN to Child
    Protection in order to take away resources that Children’s Services are paying for.
    They blamed Ms V’s parenting skills, despite all previous assessments stating her
    children had high needs due to their disabilities. When she complained and disagreed
    with social workers, they started saying she was not working with professionals and
    falsely accused her of lying. They accused her autistic husband of aggressive
    behaviour when he became distressed in a meeting and refused to recognise that his
    behaviour was affected by the way they spoke to him.
    We attended meetings with Ms V and the social workers turned their anger against
    our advocate, threatening to complain about the help we were offering her. After Ms
    V complained about a teacher at school, they accused her of being dishonest and cut
    all her care hours despite opposition from her autistic son’s specialist consultant,
    saying it would be detrimental to his needs. Ms V had no option but to file for a
    Judicial Review of the Council’s decision and their assessments of herself and her
    family. To protect her children and defend herself from false allegations, she had
    recorded all meetings and all interactions with both Children’s Services and teachers
    without their knowledge. These recording proved that she had not lied and enabled
    her to successfully challenge the lies that were being told against her. Reports are
    now written more carefully, and she has been moved off Child In Need, but she
    remains without the help she desperately needs!
    Again, we believe that sexism, racism and disability discrimination have played a part
    in how this mother and her children have been treated.
  12. Ms W
    Ms W is a single mother of an autistic child who does not sleep and needs a great deal
    of one to one support full time. She has never been offered any services or support under
    Section 17 despite asking for help. Understandably, she is extremely stressed, mainly
    because her child is often awake all night screaming. When the neighbours started
    complaining of the nightly noise, instead of offering her night time support, she was
    put on Child Protection and accused of exaggerating her child’s needs. The stress she
    suffers, caused by sleep deprivation, has been described as a mental health problem
    rather than just exhaustion. When the neighbours report the noise her son makes in
    a weekly log, both the housing officer and Children’s Services endorse it as truthful,
    but when Ms C reports the same noise incidents social workers accuse her of lying and
    exaggerating.

Statement by care leaver at Support Not Separation webinar
Protecting our children, Defending our rights – UK & US
15 July 2021

“I spent several years in my teens in care from when I was 15 and a half and I don’t think I
will ever recover from the trauma and abuse I suffered. My mother has never hurt
me, but I was harmed in care.
You would think as a teenager my voice would be heard but instead, I was silenced
and locked up in a Psychological Unit. I was denied access to my friends and family
but also my lawyers so that I could not appeal my case and my phone was removed.
I spent my 16th birthday alone.

At 16 and a half I was sent to an unregulated home for adult drug users. I had no bedding
or food, and all the occupants were over 21. I was terrified. My first night became the
trauma that I lived every day and I slept with a knife under my pillow crying. The
police were called daily to serious fights, drug dealing and stabbings, and I was
constantly threatened but staff there to protect me ran away. I was terrified. I locked
myself in my room for the next year and I started to suffer panic attacks which
remain with me today. I started to self-harm to numb my pain. My friends were
frightened and stopped visiting.

I lived on bread and hummus bought on the £10 the social workers gave me weekly.
My dad tried to get food to me, but he was threatened that contact would be stopped
like they had done with my mum, so I just went hungry. I was denied all medical care
and a proper education.

When my grandmother died, social workers told me that if I went to her funeral, they
would arrest my mum as punishment. I cried alone in my room. At the Xmas social
workers refused to allow me a Xmas tree or the usual gifts from home. Birthdays
were spent alone.

I am disabled and the bathroom had no disabled access. This meant that by the time
I managed to get safely home to my mum, I had not had a shower in 2 years. My
clothes were covered in fleas.

I’m now home with my loving mum where I feel the warmth and love like a normal
family. I sleep in a warm bed with sheets and have hot freshly home-cooked food every day.

I love my mum and thank every day that she fought to get me home.”

Speech by Jean Eveleigh at Support Not Separation webinar
Protecting our children, Defending our rights – UK & US
15 July 2021

“My case started in 2002 when I found out I was pregnant after being told I wouldn’t be able
to conceive naturally. I was disabled and alone and didn’t know how I would manage. I
asked for a social worker, I thought their job was to support parents, especially disabled
parents to be able to look after their children themselves. I was so very, very wrong. For
the remaining four months of my pregnancy, I was being forced to have an abortion. I
refused, my daughter was born and they instantly wanted to remove her from me. It took
them 12 weeks to find enough grounds to be able to take her from me and I spent the next
two and a half years in court trying to keep her. Having two assessments where my physical
needs were completely ignored and only my mental health was being assessed.
In one of the assessments: my daughter by this time, was a toddler and I was told that I
wouldn’t be able to use my crutches to mobilise, because if I did I wouldn’t be able to hold
her hand or run after her or in any way be able to look after her while she was walking. I
had to choose between my daughter’s health and needs and my physical health. I didn’t
use my crutches, I tried my best to manage without them.
My daughter, as I say, was adopted and then a year and a half later my physical health had
progressed to the point that I was now wheelchair-bound and had received a diagnosis of a
progressive, degenerative genetic condition. I was able to appeal, as I had complained
about my physical health [not being taken into account] through the case and Social
Services had not been assessing this. Also the judge in my initial case had admonished
Social Services several times for not conducting proper assessments.
I won my appeal and was told that if Social Services had conducted all their assessments
correctly there is a possibility I would have been able to retain custody of my child, but we
will never know for sure. This judgment was ruled to also be placed in my daughter’s file
along with all the other court papers so that when she’s old enough, if she wishes to access
her file she will be able to see this. My daughter has just turned 18 and all the contact that
was ordered by the court has been cut, because she has said that she no longer wishes to
have contact with me. I have no idea when I will ever see her again. I’ve never been able
to have any more children, partly because of my genetic illness, which has a 50% inheritance
rate, but partly because I was so frightened of having to go through Social Services
proceedings again and losing another child. I decided that it wouldn’t be fair on any partner
I was with and I was not mentally or physically strong enough to be able to live through that
again.”

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