NEW RESEARCH by Legal Action for Women which co-ordinates Support Not Separation was published on 15 July, at our well-attended and powerful international webinar Protecting our Children, Defending our Rights UK/US (watch this space for recording).
Anne Neale from LAW said:
‘We published our Dossier Suffer the Little Children and their Mothers in 2017 based on the experiences of just over 50 mothers. Soon after we started having monthly pickets outside the family court in central London and monthly self-help meetings. Lots more mothers (plus some grannies, aunties, and families) got in touch and the statistics we’re releasing are based on 219 mothers with 411 children.
· The overwhelming majority (94%) were single mothers (mostly on low incomes).
· At least 76% of these had reported domestic violence (up from 71% in 2017). Shows that once women leave a violent partner they are punished by a state system that shields the perpetrator rather than the mother and the children she is struggling to protect. Hearing more from mothers & WAR
· Nearly all were fighting over contact with their children. They were trying to stop violent fathers having unsafe unsupervised contact, or trying to re-establish contact with children who had been given to the father, or were in foster care as a result of hostile social workers and judges.
· Over half the mothers had had their children taken from them (a significant increase from 2017). In 30% of cases the children were living with the abusive father; 14% had children in foster care. And 10% had children adopted without their consent. This shocking figure gives lie to the idea that forced adoptions are historic, they are in fact a present-day policy of punishment and social cleansing
· 44% were women of colour and/or immigrant women who faced both sexism and racism
· 44% of mothers had mental health issues, also shockingly high especially once we know that much of it was caused or exacerbated by family court proceedings often lasting many years and that the more mums are traumatised by having their children removed, the more it’s used against them
· 19% had a physical disability and this was used against them.
It’s clear from our research that women’s low incomes, our need for support to escape violent men and/or deal with a disability, including mental health issues caused by abusive fathers and an abusive family court system – all are used to accuse mothers of “neglect” or causing “emotional harm” and remove our children. It reflects the harsh reality of increasing state intrusion into family life (particularly low-income families headed by women), the devaluing of the crucial bond between mother and child, and the undue influence of the male supremacist fathers’ lobby.
It was a big victory when the UK MOJ’s Harm Report found that women face a number of barriers to reporting abuse in the family courts including “sexism, racism and classism”. This supported all our experiences.
It’s great that the movement of mothers and campaigners is growing on both sides of the Atlantic, determined to end state sanctioned child abuse, and to get the financial and other support we need to care for and protect our children.’
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A snapshot of cases from our research includes:
· The children of a victim of domestic abuse were forced by the court to have contact with the father against their wishes. After one visit the father refused to return them home and stopped all contact with their mother, cutting them off from her protection and support. She has been fighting for 18 months to see them.
· A mother of three was taken to court and accused of “parental alienation” by a rapist ex-partner demanding contact with the children who did not want to see him. She was put through four years of traumatic court proceedings under threat of having the children removed before the father declared he no longer wanted contact and had thrown away all their birthday and Xmas presents.
· The mother of a severely autistic child asked Children’s Services for support under Section 17 but was put on “Child Protection” instead. She was being harassed by neighbours complaining almost daily about noise from the child. Social workers accused the mother of exaggerating her child’s condition and started court proceedings to remove him.
· A victim of domestic violence was taken to court for contact by the absent father of her youngest child because he wanted a reference for a job working with children. When the mother told agencies about his history of violence, they ignored her concerns. When the child, who barely knew her father, refused to see him, she was forced into contact by the court, causing her great distress. After the court accepted evidence of rape to other children in the family, he was forced to withdraw his application. We are pressing police to prosecute and denouncing the outrageous agencies which were more interested in profits than children’s lives.
· A victim of domestic abuse faced sexism and racism throughout her long court battle against a violent ex-partner. She was accused of “parental alienation” because she backed her children who refused to see their violent father. A court appointed psychologist, who ignored her complaints of abuse, commented that she “did not remove her head-dress throughout the meeting”. The court finally decided that the children’s wishes should be listened to.
· A disabled mother who suffered domestic abuse was accused of “neglect” instead of getting support under Section 17 and taken to court by Children’s Services after fleeing to a refuge with her children. She successfully challenged them, making complaints about 30 instances of misinformation used against her and their failure to support her to look after the children. Not long after, the children’s father encouraged by social services started pursuing her for contact and residence of the children.
· The six-year-old child of a mother with mental distress after having been adopted herself as a child by an abusive and controlling woman, was removed by social services. For years there was no contact. We were able to help her re-establish contact with tremendous results with the child who is now 14.
· A victim of trafficking had her children forcibly adopted. After being granted refugee status, she brought her child from Africa to join her. Not knowing anything about Children’s Services in England and Wales, she assumed they would help and approached them for support, which she was entitled to under Section 17. Within months they had removed her daughter, and when her second child was born, he was taken at birth. Both children were then adopted, separately, including one to a white family. The mother is still in shock. We won’t know for many years what trauma her children have suffered.