In this case study charting the way in which the extended definition of Domestic Violence is being used in the early stages (that being the inclusion of controlling behaviour as emotional abuse, amongst other things) and the way social work is carried out over the country, we continue with the story of Mina and Mohammed (not their real names).
It’s been almost a week since Mohammed left the family home and installed himself in a hostel, as directed by social services. There have been no incidents during this time. Both Mina and Mohammed have been asked to sign agreements by the social worker (two agreements have now been put forward in less than seven days) but both Mina and Mohammed have politely declined to sign until they have spoken to a lawyer. The social worker does not explain to them that they have the right to do so. (The first agreement mentions that they can seek legal advice, in abstract). The social worker takes the paperwork away with her, for now.
Mina is struggling without Mohammed. Prior to him leaving the family home, he had been helping her with their three young children, two of them being under the age of four, and had diagnosed herself with post natal depression. The symptoms (for what, has not yet been confirmed) are not severe; Mina feels a little tearful from time to time and somewhat fragile. She has a support worker who comes during the day to help, but Mina does not feel comfortable with a stranger in the house. The support worker doesn’t stay round the clock, and Mina is left alone in the evenings. She would like to ask a friend to come and stay for a few days, but the social services vetting procedure for guests in her situation is invasive, so she doesn’t feel she can impose herself on her friends this way. Mina feels she is alone.
Sensing she needs to reduce her anxiety levels and protect her children from them, she sends her oldest child (who is twelve) for a sleepover with a good friend. She misses Mohammed a great deal and is finding life hard without the support he was offering her. The children are also repeatedly asking for their father. Mina has to cope with the anxiety of her children and her own internal worries, on her own. This will carry on indefinitely until the process ends.
The stakes are high: the more pressure the process places on Mina and the longer it draws out, the greater the likelihood of mental health issues coming into play (independent of any such issues which may or may not exist at this stage) and the more likely the children will suffer harm. In trying to explore possible abuse, the system places impossible pressures on families, pressures even the strongest families would find hard to experience without being affected.
In a bid to move pro-actively, Mina has already contacted an organisation to ask for help with legal aid and representation and has looked into which lawyers in her area might be able to help. Despite feeling frightened by what’s happening to her, she is determined to do what she can.