Senior Lecturer in Social Work and Social Science, Lancaster University
Director of the Child Focused Research Centre - Social Work, University of Brunel:
This year's Family Justice Council 6th Annual Debate focused on birth mothers who appear and re-appear before the courts following successive pregnancies, only to find infants once again removed on a permanent basis. Bringing together academics, practitioners and policy makers, the debate raised questions about whether this group of birth mothers are being failed by national agencies who ought to do more to respond to this group of women as 'vulnerable adults'. Given the dearth of published research with this focus, the range of speakers brought invaluable insights from pilot studies and regional practice initiatives. Challenging questions were posed about the responsibilities of agencies post care and adoption proceedings, given the complexity of mothers' rehabilitation needs. Whilst the focus of the debate might be considered to 'swim up-stream' against a national agenda focused on the plight of infants caught up in a sluggish family justice system, speakers raised pressing moral concerns about the iatrogenic effects of successive removals upon both mothers and infants. Pilot research findings drew attention to the fact the many birth mothers were first pregnant as teenagers and from an early age appeared trapped in violent and sexually coercive relationships. Speakers argued that the issue of successive removals does raise difficult questions about matters such as the limits of professional intervention in respect of reproductive rights; but nevertheless, it is imperative that a better understanding is gained of why history repeats itself in this way.
The full version of this article appears in the April 2013 issue of Family Law.