MOTHERS AND CHILDREN: SUPPORT NOT SEPARATION
Proposals to the Labour Party National Policy Forum from Support not Separation Coalition, co-ordinated by Legal Action for Women
- Put more cash into keeping families together rather than taking so many children into ‘care’, causing lifelong trauma to children and their mothers. This can be done first of all by implementing Section 17 of the 1989 Children Act and provisions for disabled mothers in the Care Act 2014. At present much more money is spent on taking children into ‘care’ resulting in long-term foster ‘care’ or forced adoptions than in meeting the legal entitlements of mothers; when mothers do seek support their children are targeted for removal.
- Mothers need support not ‘intervention’. To improve children’s lives in the early years, a Labour government must first improve the income level of families, starting with single mother families Women have paid for 86% of the austerity cuts. Low and frozen wages, zero-hours contracts, cuts in benefits and services (including afterschool play and youth clubs), benefit sanctions have added enormously to the pressure on low income mothers. About 25% of families are headed by single parents, 92% mothers. Single mothers are twice as likely to live in poverty though most are employed. Their impoverishment has had a huge impact on children, 4.5 million of whom are living in poverty and more likely to be taken into ‘care’. The number of children ‘in care’ is the highest in 35 years.
- A living wage for mothers, especially single mothers, would lift mothers out of poverty, and raise the status of their caring work and its social contribution.The welfare of children depends almost always on the welfare of mothers. Scrap Universal Credit, the two-child benefit limit, the bedroom tax, the benefit cap and other policies which create a hostile environment against claimants. Reinstate Income Support for single mothers.
- Support for victims of domestic violence. Women need access to resources, including housing and benefits, to leave violent men. Children must stop being taken from mothers experiencing domestic violence and needing protection and help to escape it. Children are not to be punished for having a violent father or step-father by being deprived of their mother, who is most often their only protector.
- End violent fathers’ presumed entitlement to contact and residence of children. See Victoria Derbyshire investigation and the letter signed by over 120 MPs. At present children are being forced to see or live with fathers they are terrified of, with a known record for violence, violating their human right to be safe. Mothers who try to ensure their children’s safety and refuse to coerce them into seeing their violent fathers are accused of ‘parental alienation’ and punished with loss of contact or residence.
- Open the family courts to public scrutiny. Their secrecy has not protected children; it has protected biased decisions causing significant harm to children. Courts can protect children’s anonymity and still be open – criminal courts are in rape cases. Family courts in a number of countries and in a number of states in the US have been open for years; New York state opened its family courts in 1997 and has found it “100% positive with no negatives”.
- Reinstate legal aid for family courts so mothers have legal support and children are not given to violent fathers.
- Reinstate and support Home Start and Sure Start.