The Forced Separation of Mothers from their Children is an issue of Poverty

House of Lords & House of Commons Lobby. The Parliament. London. UK

Inside the House of Commons

Amy Hills-Fletcher

Legal Action for Women launched a dossier on 18th January detailing how the push to increase adoption in England, a policy that was set in motion by Blair’s government in 2000, is punishing women on low incomes. Labour MP and Shadow Minister for Children & Families, Emma Lewell-Buck, sponsored the launch of this research document at an event in the House of Commons. There was a panel of campaigners from grassroots organisations, academics and a woman who’s daughter had had her child taken into care. I went along to the meeting and was moved, shocked and outraged by what I heard.

The research that was launched was conducted by Dr Andy Bilson, Emeritus Professor of Social Work at the University of Central Lancashire. In his presentation, he highlighted that there had been a huge adoption push by Labour in 2000 so that by 2005, adoption had increased by 40%. Before going to this meeting, I had never deeply considered the reasons why children are taken into care – adopting children who are in ‘dangerous’, ‘neglectful’ families: what is the issue?

The problem comes when you delve deeper into the statistics of which children have been adopted, are under Special Guardianship or have been taken into care – they are staggering. You are 11 x more likely to be in care if you are in the poorest 10% of people in England and, out of this poorest 10%, 1 in 30 children are in care.  There has been a dramatic rise in the amount of children who are classified in need of investigation but at the same time an increase in investigations which find no abuse.

Given that there has been such an adoption push since 2000, which has only increased under the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition and the current Tory government, surely this means an overall decrease in children who are in care? In fact, the statistics show that the number of children in care is also increasing alongside adoptions and, despite the adoption push, there has been no improvement in safeguarding children.

What Dr Andy Bilson’s research has found is that poverty is being classified as emotional abuse and neglect by the state. Over 90% of children come from families living below the poverty line, who are then adopted by largely middle class families – this is social cleansing and does not solve the issue at hand. Additionally, 40% of the women who formed part of Dr Andy Bilson’s research were black and/or immigrants who were often in very vulnerable circumstances.

The research also shows that rape and domestic violence are the most common underlying factor for children being taken into care. Women are not being protected by the family courts, despite claims that men are the ones losing out in these battles. Women who are suffering domestic abuse and rape in the home are being told by the family courts that they are failing to protect their children and therefore that they are not fit to look after them – this is the state’s solution. Rather than funding women’s services and building safe council housing so that women have the opportunity to get out of violence in their homes, the social services are often being used as an arm of the police and are not helping vulnerable women living in poverty. What’s more, women have reported being afraid to go to A & E to get medical treatment for injury caused by domestic abuse as they are terrified social services will try to take away their children – this is a criminal failure by the state to help the most vulnerable in our society.

One speaker at the meeting highlighted how this was exemplified by what had happened to girls in Rotherham who had been put into care due to abuse. This abuse had then carried on in care and later on when they had children, the state take their children away from them. This is not a solution to the wider issue of poverty. Rather than funding proper public services and removing the zero hours contracts and criminally low paid work that so many women are forced to survive on, the state would rather pay thousands of pounds towards keeping children in care away from their mothers. These women’s situations are as a result of poverty that has been facilitated by the state. Essex County Council pay £54,000 a year for one child to be in care – why can this money not be used to help mothers to get out of abusive relationships and not have to rely on zero hours contracts whilst attempting to pay for child care?

The terrifying reality of what is happening to social services is exemplified by the Children & Social Work Bill which is currently going through the House of Commons. This will enable councils to ‘opt out’ of statutory child protection and pave the way for further privatisation in the social care sector. Privatisation is happening alongside devastating cuts to schools, hospitals and community services – we must stand together to oppose this at all costs.

Mothers are bearing 85% of austerity cuts and 1/4 of low income mothers go hungry to feed their children. If the state put a stop to this life destroying, ideologically driven austerity and increased wages and gave mothers the support they need ,they would enable families to get out of poverty and put a stop to the practice of equating poverty with emotional abuse and neglect and allow children to stay with their families.