Submission to the Public Bill Committee on Children and Social Work Bill
from Women Against Rape 12 December 2016
We have already expressed our concerns about this Bill as part of a joint submission to the Public Bill Committee made together with Black Women’s Rape Action Project, Global Women’s Strike, Legal Action for Women and Single Mothers Self Defence. However we want to draw particular attention to the situation faced by victims of domestic violence and their children.
We would want to see a new clause (mentioned in our joint submission) to provide financial and other resources for mothers and children to be able to stay together rather than incentives for private companies to separate children from their increasingly impoverished families. This is urgent for victims of rape and domestic violence to be able to report to the authorities without fear of losing their children as is so often the case.
Domestic violence and child protection:
1. In our experience, children are increasingly being removed from mothers who are victims of violence rather than providing them with the protection, resources and support they need to enable them to rebuild their lives safely with their children.
2. The charity Family Right’s Group reported an 803% rise in inquiries in which domestic violence was a factor between 2007-08 and 2012-13. Domestic violence is a more common reason now for state removing children than mental illness or drug and alcohol misuse.
3. In 78% of cases we have been dealing with, children were removed or were under threat of being removed after the mother suffered violence. Even when she tried to escape violence or after the man was imprisoned for rape, his violence was used as a reason to separate already traumatised children from their mother — another trauma with lifelong consequences.
4. The mother’s and children’s account of domestic violence are often disbelieved or ignored. HMIC documented recently how the police have not responded properly to children at risk of serious violence.
5. Instead of redressing these wrongs, the Bill takes no account of children’s wishes and feelings even when they have witnessed violence from their father against their mother and want to stay with her. They are not asked how they feel and who they want to live with.
6. Mothers are in a catch 22 – should they report domestic violence to the police or not? Mothers who report are referred to social services and may have their children removed. Mothers who don’t report risk being accused of failing to protect them from witnessing domestic violence. Either way mother and child are being punished.
7. A double standard operates in removing children from their mothers. In family courts a child’s contact with the father is prioritised; children are forced to see their father, often no matter what violence he has committed. See press release and report by Women’s Aid about Nineteen Child Homicides many of which could have been avoided, had the children not been forced by court orders either to live with or have contact with their violent fathers.
Speeding up removals and adoption for profit, not protection:
8. Protecting vulnerable women and children should be a priority for the government. We are completely opposed to government amendments which seek to remove statutory protection in the name of ‘innovation’, effectively privatising children’s services. Institutions are currently being investigated for the mass rape and other abuse of children in care – removing statutory protections and privatising children’s services is a charter for rape.
Victimising children and mothers on low incomes:
9. Benefit cuts and sanctions are making mothers more vulnerable to violence and cutting off women’s means of escaping violence.
10. According to the Women’s Budget Group, women are the target of 85% of the cuts to benefits and tax help by 2020.
11. Refuges have won exemption from the benefit cap, but what about victims not in refuges? The cap is going to hit 116,000 households with up to 500,000 children impoverished.
12. We don’t know how many of these impoverished children will be taken into care under the guise of neglect as their mothers live in insecure housing and are skipping meals to feed their children.
13. While mothers are judged harshly and refused support, institutions which have been shown to be negligent or complicit in the widespread sexual and other abuse of children continue to be promoted as preferable.
14. We support the addition of a clause to provide financial and other resources for mothers and children to stay together.