Parents with learning difficulties in England are more than 50 times more likely to have their child taken into care than other parents, an investigation has found.
Channel 5 News worked closely with the disabled women’s organisation WinVisible and fellow campaign group Support Not Separation (SNS) on the investigation, which was broadcast last night (Wednesday).
The results are based on freedom of information responses from 116 local education authorities in England.
In 5,820 cases of a child being taken into care, social workers had been concerned that the parent had a learning difficulty; and in 5,405 cases, social workers had been concerned that the parent had a physical impairment.
The investigation found that 8.1 per cent of all children taken into care were removed from their family home after social workers identified their parent’s learning difficulty as a factor of concern during an assessment.
Channel 5 News said that, as estimates suggest that only 0.15 per cent of adults have a learning difficulty and are parents, this means they are more than 50 times more likely to have their child removed than a parent without learning difficulties.
Anna, a parent with learning difficulties, has had all three of her children adopted, with the youngest adopted last year when just nine months old.
Anna told the programme: “I find it really upsetting and I’m hurt because I’m not going to see my children now until they are 18.
“I feel like there is a lot of people out there that have got their kids and got a chance because of the support they got, so I wish I had the right support.
“I wouldn’t have any more children, because since having my third child I’ve realised I can’t keep putting myself through it, it’s too much pain and it’s hurting.”
WinVisible and SNS said the results of the investigation confirmed the “discrimination and hostility” faced by disabled mothers, single and working-class mothers, and mothers of colour, who “face an uphill battle to stop social workers and the family courts taking our children from us”.
Tracey Norton, coordinator of WinVisible’s Disabled Mothers’ Rights Campaign, told Disability News Service: “The research helps to quantify the discrimination that we have been protesting against, which wrecks the lives of disabled mothers and our children.
“Councils refuse mothers the support we are entitled to under the Children Act and the Care Act but spend many more millions on taking our children from us and placing them in institutions run mostly by private companies profiteering from our pain.”
She said that mothers with learning difficulties, mothers with invisible impairments such as ME and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and autistic mothers, were being targeted, “especially if we are working-class and those of us who are mothers of colour are particularly vulnerable as we are more likely to have a disability and ill health due to health inequality”.
She said: “Disabled children removed from their disabled mothers, despite never suffering any harm in their mothers’ care, are four times more likely to be abused in care.”
She added: “Disabled mothers and single mothers generally are more likely to be living in poverty, and social services use our poverty as ‘neglect’ to remove our children.
“Living costs are higher for disabled mothers, made worse if our child also has a disability, and we often have to cut back on food to feed our children.
“We must be able to ask social services for the financial and other support we are entitled to but many of us do not because we know we will be judged and discriminated against and our children removed.
“No child should ever be removed because government policies have impoverished their mothers.”
WinVisible and SNS are calling for an overhaul of children’s social care to prioritise support for mothers and other primary carers to keep children and families together.
They are also demanding a “care income” for mothers (and other carers) who care for and raise children.
They say there are now more than 80,000 children in state care, with millions of pounds being poured into the private companies that dominate the fostering and adoption industry.
And they say that some multinational companies charge councils up to £1 million a year to keep a child in care, while mothers and children “are impoverished and discriminated against, refused the support we are entitled to”.
Anne Neale, from SNS, said: “Our experience is that mothers are targeted for child removal by sexism, racism, disability discrimination and pervasive class bias in the ‘child protection’ system and in family courts.”
Channel 5 News spoke to Jean, who has a physical impairment and had her baby taken into care 18 years ago and was then adopted at the age of two.
She told 5 News: “Every appointment that I went to, the first thing that was put on the table was the abortion paperwork. All I had to do is sign it… but I don’t believe in abortion.”
After her child was born, she was “still fighting social services to try and be able to look after her, get the right help and support I needed to do what everybody was telling me that I couldn’t”.
Her child Tye is now 19 and although Jean won an appeal five years after the adoption, she was not allowed any contact with Tye because the adoption order could not be overturned.
Tye found their birth mum on Facebook last year and they have now met face-to-face for the first time.
Jean said: “Time was stolen from us where we’re being punished for something that was not my fault.
“And we now have a lot of work to try to do, to try and get to that normal parent child relationship.”
Tye said: “That was a good 18 years. That’s my whole existence. I can’t get that back. But I could have had her growing up.
“I could have had someone that fought for me relentlessly, and I didn’t get that, and I should have.”
Andy Bilson, a professor of social work, told 5 News: “It’s difficult in an environment in which there is massive reductions in support and in services.
“Social workers are busy and they’re making decisions quickly… increasingly what they do is take what appears to be a safe option, which is to remove the children.”
The Department for Education told 5 News: “We want every child to be in a loving, stable home that’s right for them, and any instance of a child being removed from their parents is deeply distressing.
“In most cases children are best looked after by their families and courts will only remove children as a last resort, when it is in the child’s best interests.
“These decisions are based on the needs of the child, and local authorities cannot discriminate based on any protected characteristic, including disability.
“We are bringing forward wide-ranging reforms to children’s social care to ensure families receive appropriate and timely decisions from family courts and to make sure we have a system that works for all.”
Picture: Protesters outside the Court of Protection
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