At the family court picket on 8 March 2017 we handed in an Open Letter to Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division of the High Court of England & Wales asking to meet with him to convey our concerns about the discrimination mothers face in the family court. See our letter below:
Dear Sir James Munby,
Valuing Mothers and Children
We write to respectfully request a meeting with you.
We are mothers and organisations struggling against the unjust separation of children from their mothers, and today, International Women’s Day, we are protesting outside the Family Court. We are deeply concerned about the rise in the number of children being taken into care, forced to have contact or live with neglectful, vindictive and violent fathers, or adopted against the wishes of their mothers and of the children themselves.
As you will know, the number of “looked after” children in England is the highest it’s been since 1985. The number of adoptions is higher than in any other European country, and 90% are without the consent of the biological family. Instead of reducing the number of children in care, the push for adoption has led to a staggering 65% increase in children separated from their parents.
This situation is likely to get worse as women are paying for 87% of austerity cuts and have lost jobs, services, legal aid, housing and benefits, even our lives, to callous cuts and sanctions. 80% of women in the UK are mothers and those of us who are single mothers, women of colour, disabled, asylum seekers, very young . . . are particularly vulnerable. Time and again social services scrutinise working-class mothers, triggering child protection intervention when the obvious problem is poverty. Recent research shows that children living in the poorest neighbourhoods of the UK are almost 10 times more likely to be taken into care or placed on a child protection plan than those from affluent areas. It is a grave injustice that when mothers ask for help and support, or leave violent partners, we risk losing our children instead. The family courts have been complicit in this grave and destructive situation.
We respectfully request to meet with you to discuss the following issues:
- Sexist judgements in the family courts which repeatedly downgrade, ignore or dismiss the bond between mother and child, and at the same time downgrade the crimes of violent fathers against women and children. The consequent insistence on children having unsupervised contact with fathers known to be violent, and in some cases being forced to live with them, has had devastating consequences. Despite the serious concerns expressed by your predecessor Sir Nicholas Wall nearly 15 years ago, this practice has if anything increased. As you know, at least 19 children have been murdered because of it in recent years alone.
- The lifelong trauma inflicted on children by separation from their mothers, siblings and grandparents is being ignored or dismissed. This is not in the best interest of the child and does not comply with the Children Act and court precedents that adoption should be used only as a last resort.
- The need for legal aid to be reinstated so no mother has to represent herself in the family court. While the government is making changes so women are not cross- examined by the men they have accused of violence, these are nowhere near enough.
- The need for family courts to open their doors to public scrutiny while protecting children’s anonymity. It is done for rape victims in the criminal courts, it can be done in the family courts. If the courts are no longer secret, fairness and protection of children are bound to increase.
- Institutional discrimination on grounds of income, race, nationality, disability, religious affiliation, occupation which pervade the family court system.
- The need for the courts to ensure that social services are instructed to prioritise keeping children in their families wherever possible, protect and value mothers and other primary carers. Mothers have every right to expect help from the state when they ask for it.
We enclose a copy of our dossierSUFFER the little CHILDREN & their MOTHERS.
We hope you will agree to meet with us at your convenience and that you share our concerns that children, and the vital relation between mother and child are not being protected by the institutions paid to do so.
Cristel Amiss,Black Women’s Rape Action Project
Lisa Longstaff,Women Against Rape
Nina Lopez,Global Women’s Strike
Anne Neale,Legal Action for Women
Kim Sparrow,Single Mothers’ Self Defence