Invasion of the baby snatchers

Every bloody story is about baby snatching at the moment. Even when it just ISN’T.

Like this one, in the Graun of all places : The benefit cap is supporting state child abuse, by a spokeswoman for Women Against Rape.

This is frustrating, because the ostensible topic – the problems caused by the benefits cap for women (or men – not that you’d know it) attempting to flee domestic abuse (including rape) – is a really important one. It’s a legitimate and significant point of concern if the benefits cap is preventing women from leaving or compelling them to return to abusive relationships, with all the risks that entails for both them and their children. Women have enough difficulty leaving violent relationships without making things worse – and the mechanics of leaving (how will I eat, where will I sleep, what about the kids’ schools, how will I manage on my own?) is a really big deal.

As I say, a good premise for an article, nicely opened with an explanation of a current legal challenge about the benefits cap by a family adversely affected by it. And then it all goes a bit wonky. The shouting about how 19,000 children were “forcibly adopted” in 2012 is indicative. Whoops, did I say nineteen THOUSAND? I meant nineteen HUNDRED. Silly me, says the author. Sloppy (Sloppy fact checking by Lisa Longstaff, and / or sloppy by John Hemming MP who appears to be the original source of this wildly inaccurate figure).

Indicative also is the statement that there is an “assumption [in the family courts] that children must be removed if their mum is a victim of violence: that their mothers have not protected them“. There just isn’t. That isn’t the law and it isn’t the practice either. Sometimes those of us working in the system wish there was more support available to facilitate mums to leave nasty partners, and to help them stay away, but the provision of such services is not within the courts’ gift – and there is no presumption. In fact the presumption is in entirely the opposite direction – children should remain with their parents if at all possible, can only be removed if necessary on safety grounds, and if there is a risk of significant harm (I’m summarising the law, but hopefully doing so more accurately than the CiF article). So, no presumption, but it is sometimes necessary to remove children.

What this article does is fail to permit victims of domestic violence any agency, any responsibility for their actions in response to domestic violence. Domestic abuse is wrong. Victims should not be re-victimised by their subsequent treatment as a result of it. They should be afforded services and support including financial assistance and legal aid to enable them to move towards a safe, independent violence free life for themselves and their children.

BUT. They don’t stop being parents with a responsibility to protect their children just because they are victims of domestic violence. Victims of domestic violence usually (not always) have choices. Limited choices most often. Excruciatingly difficult, seemingly impossible choices in many cases. As a parent you have to make the choice that best protects your children – and I say that acknowledging that no parent always achieves that. Sometimes there is nothing a victim can do to avoid violence or protect themselves or their children (or what they can do is not enough). But the reality is that sometimes women do not make the right choices – they go back, they choose the same type of abusive partner again and again. They don’t spot the signs. And they can’t protect their children. Often they are doing their best – because the effect of domestic abuse is to make women vulnerable to more domestic abuse. But doing your best doesn’t make them any safer. And one responsibility of the state is to protect children whose are at risk from domestic abuse where their parents cannot. So sadly that sometimes means that the children of victims of domestic violence have to be removed. However I have seen many cases where a victim learns how to be protective and is able to keep her children, and keep them safe.

The reality is that domestic abuse support services – refuges and survivor training and counselling programmes are underfunded. The reality is that notwithstanding that most women are signposted and offered some support to escape and to learn to make better decisions next time around, but it is a long slow road and some victims get stuck, unable to break the cycle. Their children are at real risk of becoming either victims or perpetrators of abuse as adults. Courts do not remove children because their mothers are victims of dv. They remove them if they can’t be kept safe. Those are tough but necessary decisions.

The article describes a number of examples of women who have had their children removed for reasons entirely unrelated to the benefits cap – this is where one begins to suspect it’s not really an article about the benefits cap at all. And at least one of the examples, put forward as an example of the wrongful punishment of a victim of domestic abuse, appears to be a pretty good example of the failure to protect that forces Local Authorities to try and take action to protect children.

There are unattributed remarks about these cases such as “Her refuge worker told us this is part of a drive to meet adoption targets which several solicitors also suspect”. Do I even need to explain why that is weak? Sadly, I do. Because people are reading this stuff, published in a respected newspaper, and seeing that an MP is espousing similar arguments. And that the MP has participated in a programme aired by the BBC. Why not accept it hook, line and sinker?

Ok, here’s why it is weak : 1 unidentified sources. 2 unidentified sources may be crackers, well meaning but misinformed, or have an agenda. 3 Adoption targets are an urban myth. Domestic violence and the long term harm it causes to children are real. Ask Women Against Rape how many women victims of domestic abuse witnessed domestic abuse as children, how many perpetrators of that abuse witnessed abuse as children…. (on which topic take a look at this which I came across coincidentally after my first draft of this post – sorry, paywall).

So, whilst the article rails angrily against the court system that so say snatches children to satisfy adoption targets, it is the Government not the courts who are responsible for the benefits cap that the article is apparently about. At least it wasn’t suggested that the benefits cap was designed as a pump primer for the state baby snatching machine…

It’s aggravating to have to be so critical of an article that sets out to tackle such an important topic, from an organisation that does good work in an area which is so important, for women, for children, for society in general. But it does the cause such a terrible disservice. There is very little evidence in the article that supports the basic proposition that the benefits cap is preventing women from leaving their violent partners (although the logic of it is obvious) – none of the case studies are on point. What a missed opportunity.

This article is like the mangled wreckage resulting from a head on collision between a potentially good article about the pernicious effect of benefits cap on victims of domestic abuse and some secret courts / baby snatching juggernaut. It’s horrid. Look away.

38 thoughts on “Invasion of the baby snatchers

  1. As a rape survivor and a child abuse survivor I was totally outraged by the article, I even complained on twitter about this “Women against Rape” association (which is quite unknown by the other rape and abuse charities, by the way). I hope I didn’t misunderstand what was written in it, by are those people actually saying that the benefit cap forces women to stay in abusive relationships? *falls down in shock* I don’t care about Hemming and associates, they are famous for spouting the snatching babies theories, I care about a charity that should “support” women and their rights, fight for them not against them! What is all that silly nonsense about benefit caps and snatched babies? What about caring about victimblaming attitudes and low conviction rates, which are the REAL reasons why a woman stays in an abusive relationship? So women who are not on benefits are free from any DV or rape?
    Pfft… Really.. As someone said on a forum a while ago, enough of this Poirot nonsense, we want action and people defending our rights not mad conspiracists distracting the audience from the real issues!

    • “What about caring about victimblaming attitudes and low conviction rates, which are the REAL reasons why a woman stays in an abusive relationship?”

      What? Victims of DV and rape are staying in abusive relationships because they’re worried about what other people might think or they’re worried that their abusive partner won’t be convicted? That might be used as a rather tenuous argument for not going to the police, but that’s not a reason to stay in an abusive relationship.

      • they may well be worried that they will be unsupported / unprotected or that people will not understand their experience. Which is rather proved by your comment.

  2. I agree with all of this EXCEPT your comment that we should ‘look away’ at the end.

    The fact that a supposedly responsible newspaper prints this kind of dangerous garbage is very depressing; I would expect it of the Daily Mail, but this is just sad.

    I think the time for looking away is over. Now that this stuff is all over mainstream media we have got to engage and do something about it.

    • Northern Lights

      Yes, time to look away is over. Still shocked about seeing a charity that labels itself “against rape” and then supports a campaign to keep children with their abusive parents, no matter what the abuse was… Any abused human being, and I mean any, knows that it takes years for any abuser to change, IF they change (which nearly ever happens). Why doesn’t Hemming donate some of his wealth to DV and abuse charities instead of financially supporting this?

  3. “However I have seen many cases where a victim learns how to be protective and is able to keep her children, and keep them safe.”

    Can you provide an actual source instead of anecdotal evidence?

    Other than that not a bad article.

    • No, I am referring to my direct experience of my own clients and of parties in cases in which I have been involved. They categorically do not always lose their children.

      • Still seems hearsay without official government stats to back them up with. Hopefully with the new transparency guidelines the public will get a better picture of how things work. If the mother or father DV works both ways willing chooses to stay in a violent relationship then SS doesn’t have much of a choice in the matter.

        • It’s not hearsay. I can say from my own direct knowledge that I have been involved in a number of cases where the outcome has been children remain with parent as a result of the court being satisfied changes have been made and the parent can keep them safe. I can’t give you stats, granted, but it ain’t hearsay.

          • Without solid evidence as proof it is as much anecdotal as the families involved claiming wrong doing. In other words he said/she said. Which is why I am hopeful that the new guidelines will be taken seriously so that justice can be seen to be done by the public.

            I am not saying you are not correct about your clients, I am merely giving my reasons on why I need a larger “official” sample size to determine the effectiveness of the court in such matters.

          • Yes, I can’t help you with proportions or statistics, but what I was trying to rebut was not specific case studies but the broad and unevidenced assertion that there is a presumption of removal of the children of victims of dv. There isn’t and I have seen that with my own eyes. Children are removed following dv, but not always and not automatically. I can’t be more precise than that.

        • Are you saying that all women leaving DV have their children removed? Can you provide official govt stats for that?

    • Sadly, my own direct experience also shows many examples of women who keep on going back to violent ex partners, even after care proceedings have been issued, even after she has a non molestation order out against him.

      this is because ‘domestic’ violence often reflects a very twisted dynamic between two people who remain attached to one another, no matter how unhealthy or unwise that continued relationship is.

      this is hardly the fault of the family courts and children can’t wait in risk of exposure to further violence for their parents to sort themselves out.

      What we need is more attempts to help people understand at a much earlier stage in their lives – before children certainly – that it is not true that ANY relationship is better than no relationship, men should not feel they can use their superior physical strength to intimidate and women should not be accepting it when they do.

      • It’s also the case that many women go from one abusive relationship to another.

        Which reminds me of a tale now over fifty years old. I had a relation whom I first met when I was eight, and I could see at once and at that age that his wife bullied him. if you spoke to him she answered for him; if he ever did get a word in first she corrected him, loudly and rudely. And if you think about it that is a form of DV – just not one which concerns the criminal court.

        And then she was diagnosed with cancer, probably far too late and treatment has become much better since; in any event she was dead within three months. At the funeral he put on an impressive act of being a grieving widower – but it was an act and even at age nine I was not taken in.

        And eighteen months later he married again, and there will be no prizes for guessing that his second wife was just like the first. It seems to be hard-wired into some of our species, male as well as female.

  4. The Grauniad is the mirror image of the Daily Hate Mail, distorted only by using longer words (and thanks to electronics it can now usually spell them) and having better table manners. It is equally tendentious and equally untrustworthy; and you have just proved it.

  5. O and I would also be very interested to know what Women Against Rape think about the views of Ian Josephs – particularly his view that women should think carefully before reporting sexual abuse of their children to the authorities.

    Because as far as I am aware John Hemming has never chosen to distance himself from that advice in particular or Ian Josephs in general.

    interesting bedfellows.

  6. It is breathtaking how you manage to persist with the propaganda that women and children are victims of domestic violence and men are perpetrators. There may be scant services for women victims, but there are NONE for men. If they’re in an abusive relationship there is nowhere they can go and no-one who will believe them.

    All victims of domestic violence are victims, not just women.

    • Brian,
      Can I refer you to the first sentence of pa 3 of the blog post, in particular the words in the first set of parentheses “This is frustrating, because the ostensible topic – the problems caused by the benefits cap for women (or men – not that you’d know it) attempting to flee domestic abuse (including rape) – is a really important one. ”

      Although I have not carried through references to both men and women all the way through the blog post this is because generally I assume my readers are bright enough to get it the first time around. I don’t believe that domestic violence is all by men on women and have said so a number of times on this blog before – it’s more complicated than that. I do think that the dynamics of violence are gendered, as are most intimate relationships and society in general. And I do think that violence is predominantly men on women. But I agree men are victims of domestic abuse as well as perpetrators and that where they are victims they have a particularly hard time finding services (and in being believed).

      • To quote you:

        “But the reality is that sometimes women do not make the right choices – they go back, they choose the same type of abusive partner again and again. They don’t spot the signs. And they can’t protect their children. Often they are doing their best – because the effect of domestic abuse is to make women vulnerable to more domestic abuse.”

        “The reality is that notwithstanding that most women are signposted and offered some support to escape and to learn to make better decisions next time around, but it is a long slow road and some victims get stuck, unable to break the cycle. Their children are at real risk of becoming either victims or perpetrators of abuse as adults. Courts do not remove children because their mothers are victims of dv.”

        You don’t even recognise male victims. The reason is the same reason that Sherlock could be slapped around the face by a woman in “His Last Vow” (12 minutes in) and the nation considers it entertainment.

        Women in this society consider men to be punch bags and expect the male population to put up with that.

        The reality is that everyone, including yourself, concentrates on the female victims of domestic violence, and the male victims are completely invisible. That doesn’t make the any less victimised.

        And then there’s the children. Children are just as likely to suffer domestic abuse at the hands of their mother as they are at the hands of their father.

        • Well Brian, don’t tar all women with the same brush there.

          I did use the word women without an “and men” several times in the blog post as I’ve already explained and acknowledged. I have and do acknowledge male victims. Quite apart from this post there are a number of other blog posts where I do so. I sometimes forget that not everyone has read every post and perhaps hope that I don’t need to repeat points I have made elsewhere.

          On your last paragraph – I’m not disputing what you say necessarily, but I wonder if you have some evidential basis for that or if you are referring to a particular research study or set of statistics?

          • NSPCC

            http://www.nspcc.org.uk/Inform/research/statistics/child_homicide_statistics_wda48747.html

            “The statements below are quoted from Home Office research into homicide statistics in England and Wales. The figures are based on statistics that record the gender of the known or suspected perpetrator combined with statistics that record relationship of the victim to the principal suspect.

            “Killings of children by a natural parent are committed in roughly equal proportions by mothers (47%) and fathers (53%), but where the child is killed by someone other than a [birth] parent, males strongly predominate”.

          • Thank you. I thought I had seen something along those lines but was unsure where.

      • In the US Dannon aired a commercial during the superbowl in 2012 which shows graphic violence in a domestic setting. You can still see it here:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5nk5QCRnDs
        This is mainstream media – people think it’s funny. Now reverse the roles, would you find that funny?

        • O.M.G. I didn’t find it funny that way round! What were they THINKING? Please tell me it got banned…

          • No it didn’t

          • Of course it didn’t. They are crazy about free speech over there. Please tell me that the advertisers realised it was a really bad way to market their product? No, I’m guessing that they didn’t drop it voluntarily either. *sigh*.

  7. What about the treatment of mothers in violent relationships when it is those same mothers who are the perpetrators of the violence? What then? Do the agencies club together, remove the child and make the father the resident parent? What do the courts do when a fathers submits a C1A form listing incidents of violence against him? Is Practice Direction 12J invoked? Do they even explore change of residence as a possibility?Like hell they do. I’ve been smashed around the head and can speak with personal experience. Courts and agencies do sweet FA. Allegations of DV by a father to a court are just as likely to rebound on him, as make their mark.

    There is zero recognition that women are violent other than lip service. In fact, you will probably scratch your heads and wonder whether such a scenario could ever plausibly exist. Worse, you may even attempt to put some gloss on it as though a violent mother was merely defending herself against some higher male controlling behaviour or abuse. But get this. Parents with care, resident mothers, can be violent too. Female violence by mothers, however, is never apparently a concern to social services or other agencies which claim to engage with DV. All agencies fob men off when they make allegations of DV affecting them, their children or their father-child relationships.

    When men claim to have been targets of DV, that is taken with suspicion, as a possible sign of controlling behaviour in itself. The agencies will fob you off. The police will say to you, “Do you really want us to arrest her? i.e the mother of your children, as if somehow the feelings or desires of the person affected impinge on whether an alleged crime is to be investigated or not.

    The whole subject of DV makes me puke, bluntly.

    • Paul, I acknowledge that courts are far more used to dealing with allegations of dv made by women against men than the reverse, and that on occasion there is a tendency to view allegations made by men against women with some suspicion. But I don’t think the answer to your series of question is always as you suggest it has been in your own experience. By and large, in my experience, men are treated broadly equivalently to women in these regards – not always, I grant you, but often. I do think that there is an increasing understanding that domestically abusive relationships are not always bad cop good cop – and that sometimes partners are mutually abusive. There absolutely is an acceptance that women can be violent, although in my experience the patterns and triggers for violence are often different.
      You are right to be cross about the sorts of over-simplified / stereotyped understandings of abusive relationships – I think that some agencies, some individuals have a better grasp of these issues than others – consistency remains a problem.

      • You fall into precisely the same trap I highlighted, with your assertion that partners are sometimes mutually abusive. No doubt your assertion is true. However, in the context of the point I raised, your remark is irrelevant. I said that sometimes there is one-way violence directed by a female resident parent against a (non-violent) father.
        Such violence can be sudden, unexpected and impulsive and is all the more dangerous for that. The “system” cannot handle that reality so therefore it deals with it either as you do with your suggestion of it being mutual, or by justifying the violence as rational (the Women’s Aid approach) or by directly or indirectly denying such one-way female violence exists at all (read the Sturge Glaser report which provided the foundation for the courts’ approach to DV).

        One-way female violence on a non-violent male is a fact, irrespective of whether you call an oak tree a hazel or say the tree isn’t there at all. Reality can be uncomfortable.

        • Paul,
          Where are we disagreeing exactly? We agree that sometimes partners are mutually abusive.
          You said sometimes there is one-way violence directed by a female against a (non-violent) male. I agree that happens.
          I think you are referring to the section of my previous comment where I said “I do think that there is an increasing understanding that domestically abusive relationships are not always bad cop good cop – and that sometimes partners are mutually abusive.”
          I grant you that I have not said in terms that I accept that there is ALSO one way violence by women on men but you and I both know Paul that I have previously accepted that is the case. So let’s stop with the “you’ve fallen into the trap I highlighted nonsense”. You know my views. We don’t really disagree. Stop grandstanding.

  8. “Because people are reading this stuff, published in a respected newspaper, and seeing that an MP is espousing similar arguments. And that the MP has participated in a programme aired by the BBC. Why not accept it hook, line and sinker?”

    People get their information from numerous sources, and the voices of the child protection practitioners, as well as people who are comfortable with coercive social engineering, sound equally loudly. They sound clear and loud on social networks, and are given a lot of space in print and a lot of air time in broadcasts.

    In response to one of your previous posts, I gave a link to a BBC broadcast about the death of a child in foster care, which featured ONLY voices from the child protection industry, and not a single minute of air time given to the child’s parents. But if we look at the broadcasts such as “I want my baby back” (which you appear to find wanting in term of the journalistic standards), each features a speaker or two from the child protection industry. This is just one tiny example.

    The current government, so far as I know, includes at least two active champions of forced adoption.

    To sum it up, representatives of the child protection system are by no means silenced in public space!

    Why, then, does the general public often choose to mistrust the child protection industry?

    Can it be that for many readers what they hear from the likes of John Hemming agrees with what they probably have witnessed in the lives of their relatives, close friends, neighbours, or maybe experienced themselves? (I’m not talking about forced adoptions specifically, but about the interventions by social workers in general.)

    • Arhivistka, You did give a link. I published it. I confess I have not had time to view it but from your description it sounds similarly lop sided to the Panorama, albeit from a different perspective. You are right that there are a number of high profile “champions” of “forced adoption”, such as Martin Narey Adoption Tzar”. I’m not sure though that their views, or the views of Government can be taken as representative of those who work on the coal face of social work or who are regularly in family courts. There is lots of noise about high profile tragedies and the government’s response to it, but the reality of the difficulties that families face, the challenges professionals face in supporting them and helping them improve things, and the challenges of trying to achieve good outcomes for families in cases where the children can’t remain with their parents – those things get lost I think in the theatrics of the same high profile politicians or individuals. Unfortunately it’s not just about how loud you shout it’s about fairly representing reality and about basing assertions on evidence – this doesn’t always happen and its very difficult for the public to know what to believe – so they tend to accept what those in positions of status tell them. There have been some quite good programmes that have attempted to redress the balance (there was a BBC Documentary the name of which I forget, a couple of years ago which showed life as a CP Social worker in Bristol very well) but generally the commercial imperative to be “newsworthy” means that certain angles will predominate in the media at the expense of others.

      And as you say, for some what the likes of John Hemming may well make sense – social work is not always done well – but that doesn’t necessarily make it accurate or representative.

    • Unfortunately the ones agreeing with John Hemming are very often not witnessing any of the things he says, not even slightly.
      It is just assumptions they make. Anyone who experienced DV could trash the Guardian article and its comments below as pure nonsense.

      I fear that many readers are NOT informed at all.

  9. Great Article. Thanks for the info. Does anyone know where I can find a blank 2011 UK C1A to fill out?

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