An important, and potentially groundbreaking report, has been published by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which argues that children should not be separated from mothers who are sent to prison – because that separation violates the right to family life.
The conclusion in the report follows a landmark case in the European Court of Human Rights which found that a forced (non consensual adoption) had also violated a child and mother’s right to family life.
Harriet Harman MP, who is the Chair of the human rights committee told Politics Home that imprisoned mothers should not be separated from their children, because the effects of that separation are life-long and deeply damaging to children. The report suggests creating legislation which requires judges in criminal courts to consider the best interests of children whose parents are being tried for crimes.
She went on to say, “The Right to Family Life, set out in article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, states that “Everyone has a right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence”. It is this right that is violated when a child loses their mother to imprisonment.”
That same logic must be applied to children who are forcibly removed from their parents during child protection proceedings, and who arguably may be separated from their parents for their entire childhoods, not just a few months, or years.
While this site is not arguing that children should remain in homes where their lives and wellbeing are at risk, we are advocating for more intelligent forms of child protection policy which understand that removing a child from a parent – particularly without parental consent – is a direct violation of a child’s right to family life, and that there are far better ways of addressing welfare problems than outright separation.
This is hugely significant in the case of adopted children, who like children of parents sent to prison, suffer similar setbacks as a result of family separation.
It is not a coincidence that a large percentage of adopted children seek out their birth parents at some point in their lives. This reality must be acknowledged and understood as an important phenomenon and a deeply damaging effect of removal.
If children of parents who have committed crimes can be allowed to have contact with their parents, the same must be allowed for children who are removed from their families during child protection proceedings.
The myth that parents who have children taken from them inside the family courts are evil or without any love for their children also has to be addressed. In the ten years we have been assisting parents, most of the cases we come across involve parents in need of support – support which would make it very easy for these parents to keep their children at home.
Will the government acknowledge that child protection policy also needs to be reviewed?