Mothers need support – not separation from their children, campaigners warn

‘There needs to be a complete overhaul of the system to recognise the importance of the mother and child bond’

Camden New Journal 29 November, 2021 — By Isabelle Stanley

DISADVANTAGED mothers in Camden say their children were unfairly taken away due to a lack of support in protection proceedings.

The mothers have been brought together by Support Not Separation – a group which campaigns against the arbitrary separation of mothers and children – based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre in Kentish Town.

The group has worked with 300 mothers across the country since 2017.

One of the mothers, Martha, came to the UK as an asylum seeker.

When she arrived, she was placed outside of Camden far away from her family where she knew no one and could not speak the language. She says a lack of support and the language barrier resulted in her child being unfairly removed.

“I was given bad advice and they took my child, they lied to me about the help they would give me,” she said. “Everything was difficult because I was alone and I didn’t speak English. It made me really sad because the system was so hard.”

After her first child was taken away by an authority outside Camden, she moved here to be near her family. The Town Hall then attempted to remove her second child, but with help from the Crossroads Centre she managed to keep him and was placed in a mother and baby unit. He is now a thriving four-year-old.

She said: “It’s not fair what they do, it’s very, very bad. I never hurt my child, I was just emotional. I think it would be better to go to prison than to have social services involved – it’s terrible, there’s no support.”

Martha thinks her case demonstrates that with proper support, children can successfully remain with their mothers.

Anne Neale, a spokeswoman for Support not Separation, said: “If more mothers were properly supported, children could remain with them and avoid the lifelong trauma of separation. Instead of protecting victims of domestic violence, for example, mothers are often blamed for not being able to protect the child. Social services need to remove the perpetrator and support the mother, and, through her, the child.”

Camden Council recently reported that domestic violence was a factor in 70 per cent of their new child protection hearings in 2019/20. Ms Neale said: “Overwhelmingly the women who come to us, fighting to keep their children, are women of colour, single mothers, victims of domestic violence, have been in care themselves, are young or have a disability.”

In keeping with the council’s report, research by Support not Separation found that of 219 mothers who were in the family courts, three-quarters of them had experienced domestic violence, nearly all were single mothers and half were from minority background.

Ms Neale said: “There needs to be a complete overhaul of the system to recognise the importance of the mother and child bond. At the minute they take away children predicting ‘possible future emotional harm’, but the trauma of separation from the primary carer, usually the mother, is overlooked. This needs to be recognised and then the support given to the mother where she needs it.”

This week, research by the County Councils Network estimated that 100,000 children will be in care by 2025 – a 35 per cent increase from now.

Ms Neale said: “Private companies running children’s homes are making obscene profits of more than £250million a year. Camden spends over £1.5million a year on privately run residential children’s homes.

“We are calling on Camden and other councils to end the profiteering from children’s and mothers’ misery.”

A spokesperson for Camden Council said: “Nationally, Camden Council is one of the local authorities that invests the most in supporting families and consequently we bring fewer children into care.

“When it is not possible for a child to be brought up by their birth parents, we need to ensure the best available outcome for that child.

“Adoption is only considered when it is in the best interest of the child, all other options have been thoroughly exhausted, and nothing else will do.”

• We have changed the names of the mother to protect their and their children’s identities