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.