Did you know that the state is taking more children away from their families than at any time since the 1980s? This startling fact was featured in The Economist Magazine earlier this year, but what exactly is being done about it? Some argue that deep spending cuts since 2010 have made it harder for the poorest families in society to cope. Councils are required to provide emergency child-protection but not to teach parenting skills, offer respite care or other services that could help struggling parents before they become neglectful ones.
As a parent, could you imagine how you would feel if you had your children taken away from you? The trauma that surrounds a devastating experience like that? Particularly for the mother who carried that child for nine months and tried her best to provide care in a less than ideal, chaotic environment.
Unfortunately, society and the media rarely tell this side of the story. The story of the ‘forgotten mums’ who themselves have usually faced a lot of complex issues in their lives and have gone through, or continue to be, facing all kinds of distressing experiences.
No case is ever the same but there is a regrettable pattern that the women who have had their children removed were themselves part of the care system as children. The lack of a positive mother role model impacts their own motherhood journey. Many have also suffered abuse or have been let down several times by people, so they find it extremely hard to trust anyone.
Very often these underlying issues aren’t addressed and the women are left trying to cope with them alone, at the same time as grieving the loss of their child or children. To top it all off, society can be extremely harsh and judgmental on these women, when often they themselves are victims.
As a counsellor, these are some of the most complex clients we can worth with, but equally that means there is significant potential to make life-changing differences to them. Very often these women come to us when they are at their most vulnerable, with their lives in complete turmoil. They are suffering with the grief and loss, as well as trying to juggle a number of other big issues such as drug/alcohol dependency or an abusive relationship.
I am sure I am not alone in being motivated by seeing someone turn their life around – it is why many of us became counsellors, to help people overcome the issues that life throws at them. Giving these women a voice and being part of their recovery is incredibly rewarding. It is devastating to think of them being left to flounder without any support, which is sadly what can happen in areas where there is no provision for free counselling services. It is no wonder then that many go on to have successive children removed from their care.
There is an alternative and we can break this cycle through providing access to services such as inter-generational mentoring, where an experienced mother supports a younger one; or holding community sessions for women to join together and learn useful life-skills such as meditation and mindfulness.
I’d like to see more education in schools, particularly in areas of high deprivation where we know this is a problem. More collaboration between the public and third sector is also vital to speed up the time between problems being spotted and referrals being made. Earlier interventions can make all of the difference.
Controversially perhaps, in some parts of the country pilot schemes are running which provides women with access to long-acting contraception for up to 18 months, whilst at the same time providing one to one counselling and support to meet their housing or educational needs. Advocates of this approach argue that this leaves the women better able to care for any future children they may choose to have.
For me it is about not forgetting these women. When the system fails them as children it is easy for many of them to lose hope and enter the same cycle as their mother did before them. I hope that by shining a light on this very real problem society might all think a little differently about these forgotten mothers.