New research published in The Sociological Review, claims that women who have had their children forcibly removed through child protection proceedings live in a constant and critical state of trauma, which creates further inequalities for families and society as a whole.
The study says that this unique form of trauma affects women in four ways: mothers are forever haunted by the loss of their children, forced into silence because of the stigma attached to non consensual adoption, unable to get back on their feet because support services are missing, and live in constant fear of future children being removed by the Family Court.
Researching Reform is hugely excited to see this new body of work emerging, which mirrors our own concerns exactly, as our readers will know. For clarity, we should explain that while Moriss does not explicitly call “state ordered court removal”, forced adoption, and she may have her reasons for this as the term is still considered controversial, in reality that is what court ordered removal amounts to, whether a child is placed within a care home, foster home or adoptive home.
The article, produced by Lisa Morriss, a social work academic at the University of Birmingham, was first published online in June under the title, “Haunted futures: The stigma of being a mother living apart from her child(ren) as a result of state-ordered court removal.”
Morriss explains why she chose to focus on the idea that mothers who had experienced forced adoption were haunted by the process:
“My engagement with ghosts began when the stories of the birth mothers and children began to haunt me…. but [this] enabled a transformative recognition that the mothers may also be understood as being haunted. .. women who have had their children removed exist in a state of haunted motherhood, suspended in the shadowlands where the living and the invisible coexist, and temporality is both disrupted and merged.”
“State-ordered removal disrupts the expected future for both the children and their birth mothers. For the mothers, this is a unique form of loss and trauma as their child has not died but is living elsewhere, often for the entirety of their childhood.”
Moriss also explains that mothers who have experienced forced adoption feel deep shame, as they believe the world sees them as unfit mothers. These mothers are unable to address the stigma itself due to court imposed restrictions which often forbid parents from saying anything about their cases, leaving them powerless and living in an ongoing state of trauma. Lisa argues that Family Court reporting restrictions gag parents, who then cannot express or process their feelings, as a result. She calls these restrictions ‘testimonial quieting’, or a stigma which mafinests itself as a “governmental form of classification and badging with the power to silence and constrain the (m)other.”
Moriss suggests that creating narrative spaces for mothers wanting to share their stories could help parents to heal. She says these spaces could also be viewed as, “a political act, countering the stigma caused by pathologising individual mothers and making visible how structural inequalities and governmental policies impact on the lives of the most vulnerable families in the UK.”
Another issue Moriss touches on is the lack of support available to mothers who lose their children to non consensual adoption. The article sums up this terrible oversight:
“Children’s Services do not remain involved as there is no longer a child of concern, and the Court does not monitor the provision of any of the services, be these mental health or drugs related services, recommended during the proceedings. The women involved in these cases tend not to meet the stringent criteria to access mainstream Community Mental Health services. Thus, they are left to deal with the trauma and loss of a child on their own, particularly as they may be ostracised by family and friends due to the stigma and shame of state-ordered removal.”
The article goes on to mention the impact of interventions at an early stage, which could bring future removal of children to an end, where support is timely and effective. It also outlines how the policy of state ordered child removal, which is actually forced adoption, heightens social inequality and leads to a greater burden on the state. Moriss explains:
“Once their child is removed from their care, the mothers also lose any child related benefits. Furthermore, women living in social housing are at risk of losing their home once their child or children are removed due to the under-occupancy penalty (also known as the ‘bedroom tax’) which was introduced as part of the Welfare Reform Act 2012. In these dire circumstances, it is perhaps understandable that the women (re)turn to drugs and alcohol, remain in violent relationships, or indeed, become pregnant again as a way to ameliorate their grief.”
Moriss also mentions the controversial Pause project, which the government has chosen to roll out nationwide, and we share her views here too. In her article, she talks about the requirement by Pause that all women engaging in its counselling programme must agree to having a Long Acting Reversible Contraceptive (LARC) implanted inside them for the 18 months in order to take part. Of the requirement, Lisa says:
“[Mothers] cannot access the well-funded resources without consenting to the LARC as this is deemed necessary to the ‘success’ of the project, which is predicated on working with women at a time when they do not have a child in their care or are not pregnant. Here the implication is that ‘it is not deprivation and inequality which need to be “reduced”, but the poor themselves’… For Pause, success is measured in the numbers of babies not born and these calculated numbers of unborn babies are awarded a monetary value, and are used as a primary measure of the success of the programme.”
There are some deeply moving quotes, and poems from mothers who have lost their children, within the article. Moriss shares this poem from a woman who was engaged in the Mothers Living Apart from their Children project:
We aren’t classed as mothers.
We have no rights.
We don’t feel we have a job as a mum anymore.
Our homes are dead…
Being a mum never goes away in our hearts and mind.
We have feelings.
We have a heart. Shock anger, emotion, crying, powerless…
Where are they now?
We have to let them know some way we’re still here for them.
This poem, from another mother explains the deep pain forced adoption causes:
in the stillness we listen
her words splintered with tears…
they hold each other laugh cry
they use ordinary magic
to keep the room safe
strong and clever women
who understand what it is
to be broken.
And these mothers express their hopes and dreams about seeing their children :
“She told me she looks like the princess from Disney’s Tangle. She can write her own name, knows her colours, can ride a bike. Now when I’m out, I find myself searching for a little girl with blond hair. Social Services wouldn’t let me have the photo the foster carers took of her.”
“I dreamed of getting my girls back. … But in my dreams it was always my four year old and two year old I got back. Last year after letter box contact with my girls, I finally got a photograph. … They were babies and now they are beaming young mothers themselves. So, that makes me a grandma and I can only hope I will be able to play a big part in their lives as I couldn’t with my girls.”
The material for the research was gathered during an 18 month period, whilst Moriss was working as a research associate on two national projects focusing on child protection cases in the UK. She was tasked with reading legal bundles and Family Court case files. The data collected was then placed into a series of boxes and catalogued. Whilst she was not able to quote directly from the files she read, she has added thoughts from mothers engaged in a selection of programmes and also features one mother whom we suspect many of us will be familiar with, who she describes as, “‘Annie’, a birth mother who writes and presents on her experiences of being subject to the child protection and Family Court process.”
This is an astounding piece of research, both for its depth of insight and its courage. Moments like this are what have motivated us to keep campaigning for over a decade. Forcibly removing children from parents prevents closure and causes severe trauma for parents, and children. It also negatively impacts society in profound and lasting ways. It’s time the government looked at changing how it structures its adoption policy, and, crucially, replacing forced removal of children with consensual adoption, providing proper support for vulnerable parents, and where possible protecting those connections and bonds, rather than breaking them.
Many thanks to Dana for alerting us to this development.