Friday, March 07, 2008

Don't punish domestic violence victims by taking their children away

John Hemming MP, Chairman of Justice for Families and LibDem MP for Birmingham Yardley, has written to the Minister for Children, Kevin Brennan MP and Minister for Justice Bridget Prentice MP calling for the government to stop punishing women who are victims of Domestic Violence by taking their children away from them.

"The Government recently published," he said, "a report which looked at the reasons for care proceedings. If we ignore, for the moment, the fact that some concerns are not well founded when investigated properly, it is quite illuminating to see what the figures are. This report only covered 386 cases, but it does give a rare glimpse behind the secrecy of the Family Courts."

"The report reveals that 51.1% of women who have had their children removed had it done so in part because they were victims of Domestic Violence. The argument the authorities use is that the children are subject to "emotional abuse" because of seeing mother and father fighting. Without disputing the fact that there may be circumstances in which children may need to be in a place of safety because of this, it is wrong to take the children away permanently because mother is a victim of abuse. This creates a situation in which mothers are frightened to report Domestic Violence because if they do so then they will suffer the permanent removal of their children. We should be dealing with the abuser rather than punishing the victim."

"The report reveals some of the other reasons used for permanent removal of children. 58.7% - not doing what the social workers say, 59% inconsistent parenting/emotional abuse, 52.4% chaotic lifestyle (the dirty kitchen issue), 26.4% missing school, 37.2% not doing what the doctors say or missing appointments, 17.4% mum was in care"

"We need a better consideration of when it is appropriate for the state to intervene and remove children permanently from their parents. In essence the current interpretation of S31 a) of the 1989 Act allows intervention in a very large proportion of families and it is therefore the outcomes are pretty random. We should not just remove children, for example, because their mother herself was in care."

"One of the reasons greater openness about Family proceedings is needed is to work out exactly when the state should intervene. The danger in the current system which allows draconian intervention in a large proportion of families is that we end up missing the children at risk of significant physical harm whilst spending time with families who haven't done the washing up when the social worker visits."
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