Do No Harm – Report


An extraordinary meeting took place on 11 September 2018. It brought together a growing movement of mothers who are fighting to protect their children from being taken into ‘care’ or get them back.

Around 150 people, mostly women, filled Committee Room 14 in the House of Commons on, to listen to an in inspiring panel of speakers at the seminar Do No Harm organised by Legal Action for Women, co-ordinators of the Support not Separation coalition. We were there to gather and present evidence of the ‘significant harm’ caused to children by separating them from their mothers and families. See evidence below.  If you missed the meeting, watch it here.

The devastating pain of separation expressed by the panel reflected the first-hand experience of the many mothers and kinship carers in the audience, and was condemned by all those present.  A number of organisations of mothers and others fighting for justice in the family courts were represented as well as some lawyers, social workers, voluntary sector groups, and social justice campaigns.

People had come from Cambridgeshire, Cheshire, Devon, Dorset, Hertfordshire, Huddersfield, Ipswich, Isle of Wight, Kent, Kettering, Liverpool, Manchester, Norfolk, Northumberland, Somerset, Southampton, Suffolk, Surrey, Sussex, Wakefield, Wales, Watford, Yorkshire.

The seminar was hosted by Emma Lewell-Buck MP, shadow minister for children and families,and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. Emma Lewell-Buck, who spoke at the launch of SnSand is a former social worker, committed the Labour Party to end the drive for adoption and focus on support to keep children with their families. (Unfortunately, John McDonnell who shares this perspective, was stuck behind a broken down train from the TUC conference and unable to get back in time,)

Speaker after speaker described how the family courts pay little or no attention to the SIGNIFICANT HARM caused by separating children from their mother and wider family.  The harm of separation is not weighed up in the ‘Welfare Checklist’ (Children’s Act 1989) so professionals charged with protecting children are in fact harming them.

It was an emotional, angry and powerful coming together of a wide range of women and supportive men determined to win changes and stop these devastating unnecessary separations.

The meeting demanded an end to unwarranted separations, and financial and other support for families, especially single mothers. See speakers and contributions from the floor below.

We welcome all those who want to be involved and urge you to:

·         Fill in the Evidence Gathering questionnaire.
·         Join the SNS Coalition – see statement of aims.
·         Have a look at our new blog, sign up to get updates, circulate it among your networks and send us contributions we can post (remember, if it’s about your personal experience, please anonymise/change names and any identifying information).
·         We need volunteers to help fight cases, do research, help publicise what we are doing … please get in touch if you have any time.


NINA LOPEZ, chairing for Support not Separation:
We are here not to make careers, not to promote research for the sake of it.  We are here to get what evidence we need to make our case stronger, our campaigning stronger, to enable people to fight and to win their cases, and to stop this horrendous situation… If you downgrade the relationship between children and mothers you leave children in a very vulnerable position, and that is what we are trying to get the evidence for… The other issue we will be speaking about is poverty and social engineering, because it is largely poor families that are being targeted, it is largely single mothers…

Read more . . .

She introduced the speakers.

ANNE NEALE, Legal Action for Women, updated findings from our self-help case work with 80 mums since the publication of our Dossier Suffer the Little Children and their Mothers in January 2017.  Once again the evidence showed that working class single mothers, many of them women or colour and/or immigrant, victims of domestic violence, women with a disability or mental health problem, are targeted for child removal.
“So many of the justifications given to forcibly remove children from their families are perverse, and we know that separation often causes greater harm than the harm it claims to avoid. In saying Do No Harm, the law has the proviso that in any given case they do not have to make an order for separation, and that’s what we’re fighting for, Make No Order, Do No Harm.” Read more . . .

ANDY BILSON, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of Central Lancashire presented new research showing that 1 in 16 of all children in England having their fifth birthday in 2017 had been investigated under child protection legislation before that birthday. He also found that there was a wide variation in levels of children entering care – another “postcode lottery”.  He said:
It doesn’t have to be like that even with austerity cuts there is still money that could be better spent. When I was assistant director of children’s services in Fife over 30 years ago, we reduced the number of children in care by 70% in three years. One key thing we did to achieve this was to give each social work office a budget equivalent to the cost of keeping one child in care for a year to be used to support families. We also worked to change the culture of the social work department from one of child rescue to family support. Our programme was so successful in reducing numbers in care that the council made huge savings they could then use for improving children’s services and other aspects of social care”. Read more . . .

OLIVE HOWELL, won the return of her daughter after a four-year struggle.
My daughter was taken from me aged nine … It took four years to have her returned to me despite the court stating they wanted us reunited.  I believe this was institutional racism as we were never given a reason why she was taken and kept from me.  The “SIGNIFICANT HARM” they claimed she was at risk of is exactly what they caused her by removing her from me, and we live with the consequences today… the child I knew is now traumatized, anxious, confused”. Read more . . .

SHODA RACKAL, Breastfeeding Peer Supporter, described supporting a mother threatened with her baby taken at birth, after an older child was taken, and the shocking conditions of her six month stay in a residential assessment unit:
“The very opposite to what a new mother and child need”.  The mum says: “I was watched 24 hours a day on CCTV.  Every time I changed his nappy or was breastfeeding, if the baby cried or if he brought up milk, I was worried I would be accused of doing something to him.  I was always terrified….”  She succeeded in keeping the baby only because of a huge support network, including her sister and family and the Crossroads Women’s Centre.  Read more …

DR RADHA KOTHARIClinical psychologist:
In my research with the support of the Support not Separation Coalition we are taking the approach that the people most informed about how families can best be supported is the families themselves.  While I do not undervalue the expertise and knowledge of all professionals working with families and conducting much needed research, the families and mothers are the experts in their individual experiences …” Read more …

VICTORIA CHILDS, Psychotherapy and Counsellors Union, member of the Support Not Separation Coalition described how:
“The impact of removing children from their birth families is transgenerational, it creates an emotional imprint of trauma which operates on a historic level and damages the whole fabric of society far into the future… We need to be mindful that the very bonds of civilisation are forged in the womb and shortly afterwards in the symbiotic relationship between the baby and the mother – how we all learn to care for each other as humans is based on the quality and texture of that primary relationship – it is the basis of all subsequent social relationships.  The idea that we can tinker with this relationship is a perilous one.” Read more . . .

LISA LONGSTAFF, Women Against Rape reported on a landmark legal ruling from New York in 2004 which stopped the removal of children on grounds of domestic violence.  Leading experts on DV testified that even when the child witnessing violence had been harmed:
Removing the child from the non-violent parent was found more harmful, more traumatic.” One witness said that “removal under such circumstances is tantamount to pouring salt on an open wound.’” and comparable to the PTSD suffered by soldiers. Similar understanding and a similar ruling are urgently needed in Britain. Read more .

DONNA MASONa grandmother who lost her granddaughter to adoption.
In the name of child protection my only granddaughter suffered great harm and was deeply traumatised.  She was forcibly adopted using the spurious and impossible premise that she was at possible risk of future emotional harm… People believe that because cases go through the court that there are safeguards. In fact, this is not how it works.  If you are poor, working class, in need of support, services, housing or have been in care it can be used as proof that you are not fit to be a parent.”  Read more . . .

EMMA LEWELL-BUCK MP told that in 2017 the Government changed legislation so that prospective adopters can be prioritised over relatives.  Under the Children and Social Work Act children can be prematurely placed with prospective adopters before the conclusion of court proceedings, undermining their prospect of going back to their birth family, inflicting trauma and grief on children as well as on loving family members.
Labour do not believe that punitive welfare policies imposed by the state resulting in the inevitability of poverty for so many is neglectful parenting.  Labour do not believe that those who have endured domestic abuse should be doubly punished by having their children removed from their care. I will always fight to protect families and give children and their mothers the absolute best start in life regardless of their background, postcode, or circumstances…”  Read more . . .

Contributions from the floor included Jean Robertson-Molloy whose Movement for an Adoption Apology succeeded in forcing a debate in parliament in July. They were disappointed that while the Minister and other MPs recognised the injustice of forced adoptions in the 50s, 60s and 70s, they refused to acknowledge that mass forced adoptions are still going on despite access to the family courts.

Micheleine Kane of the Scottish Kinship Care Alliance, sent a long message spelling out what families in Scotland are up against: “When our adult children die, bereaved parents are expected to leave our grandchildren for social services to take rather than take them directly into the safety of our families. If we do what comes natural and protect our grandchildren, we lose the right to social service support both financial and other for these children…What harm is that causing a bereaved family and a scared child at one of the most difficult and traumatic times of their life?”  Read more …

A member of Fiightback, a national network of mostly mums which supports those wrongly accused of FII/Munchausen by proxy, spoke about what they were going through: as a disabled first-time mum with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, her baby was taken at birth for adoption because she was denied the help she needed to look after him.

SnS points out that the number of children torn from their families because they or their mothers have a disability or a learning difficulty is huge. Instead of getting the support they are legally entitled to under Section 17 of the 1989 Children Act and the 2014 Care Act, disabled families are targeted.

The circumstances we see that have led to Child Protection interventions and the unwarranted removal of children include: ● mothers objecting to an uncaring or violent father having overnight contact with young children often still breastfeeding ● asking social services for help for a disabled child or needing support with their own health needs ● post-natal depression ● being wrongly accused of non-accidental injury ● siblings quarrelling ● having a drink while on an evening out with the children ● having a ‘chaotic’ or messy house ● being caught in an irrelevant lie to get out of a vulnerable situation ● children going to school hungry and many other crises of poverty which are interpreted as ‘neglect’ – increasingly common as austerity cuts have impoverished mothers and children, especially from single mother families.

While mothers are under the most perverse scrutiny, local authorities are not.  Once they have the children there is no scrutiny.  Scandal after scandal has exposed the sexual abuse and other violence suffered by children in care, and the terrible ‘outcomes’ for care leavers are widely acknowledged; yet this is never taken into account when decisions to remove children from their families are made.

As the meeting closed, a member of CAGE announced the forthcoming publication of a report showing how anti-terrorism Prevent policies are being used to remove children from their families.