This is a post by Sarah Phillimore.
On April 4th BBC’s Woman’s Hour discussed the issue of mothers who repeatedly lose their children into the care system and the decision made by some to ‘flee’ the jurisdiction, sometimes with the financial and emotional support of an organised network of people.
"Up until I was 37 weeks pregnant I was fighting to keep my baby in the UK, but then there was a shift. It was huge, drastic, frightening and life-changing." My story about Runaway Mother Zara @bbcstories https://t.co/kThyWpzKxT and @BBCWomansHour this morn at 10. https://t.co/NE6EC9IinE
— Ena Miller (@little_eeee) April 4, 2019
This prompted some further discussion online. I have already written in some considerable detail about the issues that arise from this; see the posts set out in Further Reading below.
The conversation on line was very useful for clarifying some thoughts and questions about where we go from here.
A typical reaction to hearing the story of ‘Zara’ on the Woman’s Hour podcast was of shock and sadness. Why should any mother have to go through this? Just what is the scale of the problem and what can we do about it?
A number of parents asserted to me that ‘lots’ or ‘the majority’ of parents who left the UK ‘settled well’. I pressed them to help me understand what actual numbers informed this statement – and what happened to the minority who did not settle? The parents were not able to answer and seemed to find my questions an attack on their integrity and intelligence, which I did not understand. I was asking for the raw data that informed their confident assertions. After a few hours of such to and fro it became clear that no one knows the numbers. And that has been the primary issue that causes me concern about all of this.
One person provided screen shots of a group operating in Egypt which explained to parents
…. remember summer is blisteringly hot here. Not like a summer holiday. We want only mums who will fight to the end whatever the conditions to protect their child… medication to cope with withdrawal from drugs we can get… (winking face emoji)
Even that brief description suggests the risks to parents and children, many already vulnerable, are huge. Rather chillingly, one parent commented:
Genuine neglect, abuse and incapability cases never survive long… unless you can survive for 6 months with no income, don’t bother…
Those who offer money to send people out of the jurisdiction appear to undertake no risk assessment, keep no records and don’t record the progress abroad of the fleeing parents. We urgently need to understand the scale of the problem. The ‘fight’ rhetoric is worrying and will obviously be appealing to desperate parents. As one commented via Twitter
And they wonder why we run when you have tried everything else – you have noting to lose
What is the scale of this problem?
One parent (who had left the jurisdiction and was now parenting her two youngest children, despite losing the older ones to the care system) suggested that about 50 parents ‘on average’ left the jurisdiction. One parent wondered if a higher number of parents who already had dual nationality would leave the jurisdiction – but that, interestingly has not been my experience.
One person commented that the following three questions need to be asked
a) Why do parents flee
b) why do other countries not consider the same parents to be a danger to children?
c) what the hell is going on?
I think these are all essential questions to be answered. The problem is, that we need proper data in order to try and answer them. I would like to know:
a) how many parents leave the jurisdiction each year to avoid care proceedings?
b) What countries do they go to
c) how many ‘do well’ and settle
d) those who don’t do well – what happens to them and their children?
One parent suggested that I make a FOI to various LA to see how many port alerts they issued for parents. That could be useful information but it won’t answer my questions above. What does seem to be key here is getting more information about how other jurisdictions operate. Clare Fenton Glynn has done some useful work on this but I am not aware of much else that could help to answer the questions.
One parent suggested that the key difference was that no other jurisdiction recognises ‘risk of future harm’ in the way we do – I accept that this is a concept that causes many unease and which we investigated at #CPConf2018.
As one person commented:
… if process wasn’t adversarial from the outset there would be no need for mums to hit [social media] and look about fleeing… ban SWs from scaring mothers by saying ‘have any more, we’ll take that too”…
I would be grateful for any other suggestions about how we can collectively move forward to have sensible discussions about this. We need some hard data and we need to keep asking some hard questions. We need to know a lot more about how other countries operate. Although I do not have firm data, It cannot be right in 2019 that parents feel they have no choice but to uproot themselves from their own country and put themselves and their children at serious risk of harm.
— Change Social Work UK (@Letter4Change) July 26, 2018
Mums on the run April 7th 2019 post by ‘Annie’ member of The Transparency Project and a mum who nearly ran.
Helping parents leave the jurisdiction – what happens when you don’t know the whole story, or you don’t care? August 2015 Child Protection Resource
Keep on Running September 2016 Child Protection Resource
Keep on Running Part II April 2018 Child Protection Resource.