1 April 2020
The corona virus doesn’t respect class, even the Prime Minister got it. But the poorer we are the more vulnerable we are.
Millions of families are being thrown into further poverty by Covid-19. The 4m children already living in poverty have been joined by millions more as jobs and incomes are lost on a massive scale. Children from poor areas are 10 times more likely to be taken into “care” by children services conflating poverty with neglect. Of families whose children are taken, 75% are single mothers. Many are families of colour who are likely to have the lowest income. Now, children not in school are likely to go hungry as they do in the summer holidays without the school meals they depend on, and food banks are closing for lack of donations.
The Coronavirus Act has alarming powers: it allows local authorities to Suspend their duty of care to vulnerable children and adults. This has far-reaching and potentially lethal implications. Assessments or reviews of the needs of children with disabilities under the Care Act 2014 and the rights of families to apply for support under Section17 of the Children Act may be suspended altogether. Rather than providing support to the poorest families, the government proposes to employ more social workers to do less work. There is no recourse to complain if and when needs are not met. We fear a huge increase in children taken into “care” and in domestic violence as women’s escape routes are cut further.
Children in the “care” of the state will be even more cut off from their birth families. The closure of contact centres and lack of supervising staff has led to the suspension of all face-to-face supervised contact. Without supervision, remote contact is also denied in many cases. Families desperately worried about their children and children terrified about what might happen to them, will be denied the contact they rely on. In the most devastating cases, mums whose children have been forcibly adopted have been denied their last “good-bye contact”. We are concerned that adoptions will be fast tracked as legal representation is curtailed – very worrying since 90% of adoptions are without the consent of the birth family.
Less scrutiny of conditions for children in foster care or institutions. Social workers are not classed as key workers so are working from home and conducting home visits by video link. This means even less monitoring of what is happening to children in (often privatised) foster care or institutions. This is very worrying considering the many scandals of child rape and other abuse while in “care”. Children won’t even get birthday gifts from their families as social workers stop home visits. What will happen if foster carers or staff at residential units become ill?
About 200,000 children in the UK live with kinship carers – usually grandparents, who are vulnerable because of age and underlying health problems. They should be self-isolating – impossible with children to feed. Without financial and practical support they may have difficulty coping and this may be used as an excuse to take their children.
Domestic violence has increased with the lockdown. More children and their mothers will be at the mercy of violent men. Already 70-90% of cases about child residence and contact involve domestic violence. Mothers are reporting that controlling coercive fathers are using the virus as an excuse to stop children’s contact with their mothers. This contravenes Ministry of Justice guidance which says that where a child is normally going between two households, that can continue. Courts are struggling with technology so hearings are postponed, leaving children and mums with nowhere to turn.
Mothers fear what this father has boasted about on facebook: “I picked my kids up and brought them back home to me…there’s now no way I’ll be taking them back until it’s all over, it could be months maybe years so it’s happy days for me.”
For the past years CAFCASS, the agency created to protect children, has been under public scrutiny for recommending that children have contact with their violent fathers. Families Need Fathers, one of a number of misogynistic groups of domestic violence deniers, who claim to be victims of “parental alienation”, announced that they had contacted CAFCASS and that CAFCASS had agreed to review Child Arrangements Orders. No mothers’ groups have been contacted about this!
Will the family courts continue to function during the lockdown? The MOJ has issued guidance about cases being heard via video link but the technology to make this possible has not yet been installed. And not everyone can be connected from home, leading to serious miscarriages of justice as cases go ahead without key people. It’s difficult for lawyers to take instruction from their clients. But what of the many mothers who are unrepresented, especially at appeals, because of the legal aid cuts? How will they deal with the court bureaucracy and their own paperwork?
In the US, children of front-line health workers are being removed from their care on the grounds that they pose a danger to their children! This must not be allowed to happen here! No key worker should have to choose between doing their job and keeping their children. Essential protective equipment must be provided as a priority.
A Care Income for single mothers and other primary carers whose indispensable caring work is invisible and devalued. Mothers must be able to afford to care for their children and keep them safe during this crisis. Poverty is not neglect and no child should be taken into “care” or forcibly adopted because parents can’t afford food or clothing or housing.
Appropriate emergency housing for women and children escaping domestic violence.
A freeze on rent, mortgage and utility bill payments until further notice.
Universal Credit should be paid immediately from day one. The two-child limit and overall benefits cap must be abolished.
Schools must provide free breakfast and lunch every day during this crisis for all children who need it. The government allowance of £3 a day per child is not enough.
Resources must be provided for children in state “care” to have regular on line contact with their birth mothers, siblings and other family members.
Children’s contact with fathers who have been reported for violence should be stopped.
The work of caring for people of all ages is always crucial but this pandemic has brought home how essential it is to survival. If mothers were paid for our caring work we could care for our children safely at home. See statement from Global Women’s Strike.