We have sent the following briefing to members of the House of Lords who have put amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill or told us they were following it. The Bill is being discussed this afternoon at 3.30pm in the Moses Room in the House of Lords and again on Wednesday 6 July at 3.45pm. Today they aim to get to the end of Clause 9 which is the one on adoption, which our briefing addresses.
We have been speaking to the Peers by phone and in person – we are going again today hoping to speak to them – and they have been glad for our information. We attach their emails and phone numbers (below) so you can help lobby them on the issues we’ve raised below and your concerns about the Bill. Getting letters and emails from a number of people would be very helpful so they know how concerned people are.
Leading on amendments to the Bill are Lords Watson (Lab), Lord Hunt (Lab), Lord Ramsbotham (Crossbench) and Baroness Pinnock (Lib Dem) – all details below.
If you want to know what they say in any of the committees meetings you can read the Hansard on the Parliament website.
Please let us know what response you get.
Children and Social Work Bill – Committee Stage 29 June 2016
We write to express our strong opposition to this Bill. We are glad that you and other Peers raised serious concerns at Second Reading and that these are reflected in some of the amendments to be discussed at Committee Stage starting today.
We would very much like to meet with you as a matter of urgency to discuss these issues and hope this can be arranged. Please see attached testimony from mothers and grandmothers about the tragedy of forced adoption, which this Bill promotes.
We are particularly alarmed at:
● this latest push for adoption as the “gold standard” over enabling children to live with their mother or other family member, especially grandparents;
● the disregard for children’s views, wishes and feelings about the people they love and want to live and/or have contact with, including parents, grandparents and siblings;
● the lack of support for mothers and kinship carers (family and friends) while prospective adoptive and foster parents are given help;
● the increasing levels of poverty so the children of low income families are much more likely to be taken into care;
● children in care are four times more likely to experience mental health difficulties;
● the potential privatisation of children’s services; the provision for local authorities to drop statutory duties; and the shift of power from parliament to the executive.
As one of the peers pointed out, it is never right to experiment on children – but this is what this bill does. Who is to benefit from it? Which private agencies stand to make money from children’s suffering?
A child protection social worker has warned that:
“The ‘undeserving poor’ have lost their council homes; lost their benefits and lost their community services; why not make it easier to lose their children too?”
We would like to stress that most of the mothers who come to us are victims of domestic violence, who instead of help are penalised by having their children taken away. This is unbearably traumatic for the children who are separated from the mother they love who is their first protector. In many cases residence or contact is given to the violent father as shown in the recent tragic murder of Ellie Baxter, who was torn away from her grandparents against her wishes and given to her violent father. At least nineteen children have lost their lives in this way.
We support efforts to improve the lives of care leavers. But the term “corporate parent,” while not new, is terrifying and its use is clearly being extended. The idea that the state and/or private companies should arrogate to themselves the role of a parent assumes that children can be cared for and raised outside of a loving relationship. Using the language of the market implies that children’s social care is a business. This must be opposed absolutely.
Clause 8 and 9:
We support the amendments which aim to extend the range of family members and friends who can be considered as kinship carers for children, and to ensure that children in care have contact with their siblings and grandparents.
However, we urge that in Amendment 8, 3B) the phrasing of the original Bill be retained: (i) that “the child live with any parent of the child’s or with any other member of, or any friend of, the child’s family”. It is vital that widest possible pool of people whom the child already knows be considered as carers, especially grandparents, before considering adoption by strangers. Cutting children off permanently from their birth families is always a draconian and traumatic measure with lifelong consequences; High Court judges agree it should only ever be used as a last resort.
The Bill comes at a time when:
· Adoptions are higher than in any other European country, with 96% of adoptions in England taking place without parental consent.
· More and more children are being taken into care – the number of “looked after” children in England is the highest it’s been since 1985. 1 in 5 children under five are referred to children’s services; 1 in 19 investigated; the figures are even higher if over 5s are taken into account.
· In 78% of cases we have been dealing with, the children had been removed or were under threat of being removed after the mother suffered domestic violence.
· 40% of the mothers who have come to us are women of colour and/or immigrant women, suggesting racism and other discrimination by social services and the courts.
Our Suffer the little children Dossier of 40 cases soon to be published documents the life-long traumatic impact on children and their mothers (invariably their primary carer) of being forcibly separated, whether through adoption, being taken into care or given to violent fathers. We are calling for a change in priorities so that financial and other resources are put into enabling children to stay with loving parents and grandparents. As distinguished campaigning journalist Richard Wexler from the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform in the US, warned: “There is no understanding of the harm of removal. For a young child, it can be an experience akin to kidnapping.”
On 7 June, 100 people crowded into a public meeting in the Commons to hear mothers, kinship carers, academics and campaigners describe the devastation caused to children and their families by unwarranted forced separation. They were extremely concerned about this Bill and vowed to campaign against it.
We urge you to take evidence from those most affected by this legislation, beginning with mothers and families facing the trauma of forced adoption or of children being taken into care needlessly.
Please let us know if you are available to meet.
Legal Action for Women
Single Mothers’ Self-Defence