A mum who almost lost her child after she reported domestic abuse, responds to an article by Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, writing in Community Care about the new Domestic Abuse Act and what it means for social workers.
Dear Ms Jacobs,
I have read with interest your article in ‘Community Care,’ “What new domestic abuse legislation means to social workers” and I feel that I really must contact you. I could not agree more that no child should witness domestic abuse. Child protection social workers, however, have no duty of care towards the protective partner, only the child, and this is resulting in huge numbers of children being removed from mothers who have reported DV.
The situation is now so extreme that women are known to have died due to staying in abusive relationships for fear that social workers will take their children if they report the abuse. The threshold used in my own case is evidence that such fears are far from unfounded. The local authority wished my child to be taken from me, the lifelong primary carer, and placed with the perpetrator due to the fact that his abuse had caused me mild reactive depression which the social worker repeatedly referred to as “poor mental health”:
“[the mother] has made allegations of physical, financial and emotional abuse against [the father]; and if those allegations are found, that the abuse impacted on her ability to parent [the child]”.
I had escaped my husband, re-housed by the very same council on the ground of fleeing domestic abuse, with nothing more important to me than protecting my child. The very services which should have supported us and kept us safe very nearly completely destroyed us both.
I hope that my experience will help you to understand that social workers are not considering the best interests of children when it comes to DV. In this area, it is happening repeatedly that if a woman reports abuse the child is removed from her and handed to the perp. One friend attended a drop in session for women struggling with abuse run by her local council. Her baby and toddler were taken by police later that evening. This is a horrifying and perverse response to a serious problem and given these circumstances parents cannot be blamed for believing they have been set up to have their children taken for profit motives.
Abusers so commonly use the threat of involving social services to stop partners leaving them that this is written into the Freedom Programme / Recovery Toolkit. Domestic Abuse Services regularly attempt to educate social workers to understand that perpetrators of abuse can be charming and manipulative but the message is not getting through. A major issue is that the perpetrators can so easily persuade often young and inexperienced social workers that it is their partner’s mental health that is the problem. So readily is this accepted that it seems very little has changed since the Victorian era. It should be obvious that low mood or anxiety etc can been caused by domestic abuse but instead these issues evidence two of three of the famous social work ‘toxic trio’ issues and mean abused women have little hope of keeping their children in their care.
At this very moment I have a friend whose child was given to the violent partner by social workers. The maternal grandparents are still able to see their grandchild unsupervised and so they know that the child is now witnessing his father beating his new girlfriend. However, they know that if they report this to social services they risk losing all unsupervised contact just as the child’s mother did for reporting domestic abuse in the first place. Another friend lost her child when her violent ex lied to social workers about her when she tried to leave him. Children’s Services took little time to grant him the pleasure of supervising his victim with their children. For those who enjoy power and control this really is the pinnacle of achievement.
In all honesty I would have to say that since no beating could ever be more more terrifying or more painful than losing your child, domestic abuse victims are better off staying silent at this time in this country. Surely it is better for a child to at least still have their mother’s care and whatever protection she can give even if they have to witness their mother being abused than to lose their mother altogether and be left alone likely to become the next victim? Perpetrators do not want to look after the child, they only want to take the child to punish the mother. Once they achieve this with the eager help of social services it is easy for them to charm a new partner to take over the caring duties upon which the cycle of abuse starts over again and the child has been traumatised and protected from nothing.
I write in the sincere hope that there may be some way in which you could use your position to examine the responses of social services towards victims of domestic abuse. Until we can keep our children safe by being no longer victim blamed we cannot accurately describe ourselves as survivors.
Please help, I look forward to hearing from you.