US moves to stop children being taken into ‘care’ because of poverty.
When will the UK do the same?
On 28 January, Congresswoman Gwen Moore (Democrat, Wisconsin) introduced the Poverty Is Not Child Neglect Act to ban federal funds from being used to separate families through the child welfare system solely because of poverty. She tweeted her 54m followers and released this statement:
“For far too long and too often, impoverished families have been punished for their hardships by being separated through the child welfare system. Instead of punishing and separating families because of poverty, we can and must provide struggling families with the resources to thrive. During this economic recession, eight million Americans have been pushed into poverty. And systemic inequities have caused the recession to have an uneven and unjust impact on families of color: the most vulnerable who were already more likely to come into contact with the child welfare system. This critical moment makes this issue even more urgent, giving us an opportunity to reform our child welfare system to ensure families are not separated because of poverty and can stay together by connecting parents with the support they need.”
This is the first step towards a victory for the thousands of mothers, starting with women of colour, who have been struggling for decades to stop their children being taken into ‘care’ under spurious reasons, victims of a growing sexist and racist child protection industry. Also in the UK, mothers have been campaigning to stop their children being taken into ‘care’ and forcibly adopted. While poverty is not given as the reason, the facts speak for themselves. 86% of austerity cuts targeted women, especially single mothers; 93% of households affected by the benefit cap had children, 72% were single parents; a majority of workers on zero-hours contracts are women, often single mothers. So five million children are in poverty – over 50% in parts of the UK. Every year thousands of children were taken from their families – 78,150 were in ‘care’ in England in 2020. Children in the poorest neighbourhoods are 10 times more likely to be in foster or residential ‘care’ than those from affluent areas, punished for poverty. Many are children of colour whose parents are further impoverished by racism. (Black African and Black Caribbean children in particular are more likely to be in ‘care’: one child in 30 for children of Caribbean descent compared to one in 100 for white children).
Struggling mothers are blamed not helped. Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 exists to prevent such trauma by supporting families to stay together, but the money is not forthcoming. Neither are provisions in the Care Act 2014 to support mothers with disabilities. Instead, around £238,212 a year is spent keeping one child in institutions (three quarters run for profit), and £46,124 in foster ‘care’ (39% privatised). No wonder the six biggest private providers made profits of £219m last year (more than 20% of income for some). Privatisation provides financial incentives to break the bond between mother and child, breaking the hearts of both. Mothers who report domestic violence are more at risk of having their children taken into ‘care’ or even given to their abusers.
We have been lobbying parliament to amend the Domestic Abuse Bill to provide resources for children to stay with their mothers, their first protector. This includes prioritising implementation of Section 17 and support for mothers with disabilities. And why not pay mothers and other primary carers a care income for their work so the family can stay together? It would save lives, trauma and shameless profiteering.