Disabled mothers have had to take it upon themselves to start defending their basic rights

Disabled mothers protesting outside the central family court over social services
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A campaign group led by chronically ill and disabled mothers has launched a ‘Charter of Rights’. It is in relation to how social services and family courts treat them and their children. However, the charter shouldn’t be needed in the first place – as all the campaigners are ultimately calling for is the respect and implementation of their fundamental human rights. Sadly, with discrimination in social and child services rampant, these mothers and their allies have little choice.

Social services: providing a wholesale marketplace for children

As the Canary documented in a series of articles:

The state’s adoption of children has effectively become an industry in recent years. However, not all mothers and caregivers are subject to social services taking their children from them. This is because the state is disproportionately targeting women the system marginalises – be it due to ethnicity, class, disability, or chronic illness. It shows that systemic racism, ableism and classism pervades a service that is supposed to support children, not snatch them from their mothers. And the driver for all this is private profit.

In the articles, we looked at how:

However, one campaign group is fighting back against this discrimination with a plan that outlines just what needs to change.

A disabled mother’s charter

The Disabled Mothers’ Rights Campaign (DMRC), part of campaign group WinVisible (Women with Visible and Invisible Disabilities), has drafted the charter. Organisations that have endorsed it include:

  • The Alliance for Inclusive Education.
  • Camden Disability Action.
  • Inclusion London.
  • The English Collective of Prostitutes.
  • Global Women’s Strike.

Women with lived experience of disability and social services have created the charter. It covers:

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  • What support the state should provide chronically ill and disabled mothers with.
  • The promotion of their human rights.
  • Ensuring social services and courts’ systems are accessible and public.
  • What councils, social services, and the family courts must do to end the discrimination and abuse of power disabled women face at these institutions’ hands.

If you speak to women affected by social services, it becomes clear just why this charter is so sorely needed.

Forced adoptions due to disability: not the exception

5News did an investigation with Support Not Separation and DMRC. It found, for example, that social services are 54 times more likely to take the children of learning-disabled parents into care. 5News also found:

in the last three years, almost five-and-a-half thousand times where a parent’s physical disability was a factor in a child being taken into care.

One person 5News spoke to was Jean. Social services took her two-year-old daughter off her in a forced adoption. However, they failed to consider Jean’s chronic illness, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, when making the judgement – and an appeal later said social services should have done so.

Jean’s daughter Tye told 5News:

I’d grown up being told I was adopted. I had always been told you [Jean] weren’t capable of looking after me… that you just wouldn’t have been a good parent.

This was clearly not the case. Jean and Tye are now reunited:

So, rightly, DMRC said in a press release that the charter is “urgently needed”. This is, according to the group, also at a time when:

  • Disabled families are disproportionately targeted by cuts in support services, poverty-line benefits and the cost of living crisis, in particular disabled single mothers and Black and Brown families.
  • Poverty is conflated with ‘neglect’ and children are removed from loving families, with over 82,000 children now in ‘care’…
  • Profiteer companies such as the Hesley Group are charging councils millions each year running residential homes where children who are disabled /of colour are neglected and abused.

A sorely-needed charter

The charter has six very clear points:

Women with disabilities have a right to family life – to start a family and keep our children.

DMRC said:

Our children have a right to be raised by their mother and family, and not be denied her love and care due to disability prejudice.

“We have a right not to be discriminated against”.

DMRC said the state and system must not discriminate against mothers:

just for being disabled, of colour, immigrant, LGBTQI+, working class, single, on benefits, survivors of violence and abuse, or [because] we grew up in care.

“Support services under the Care Act and Children Act must be obligatory”. 

DMRC said:

We must be given information about how to get that support, and get non-discriminatory assessment of our needs as a family.

“All meetings and hearings in ‘child protection’ and/or family court proceedings must be made accessible”.

DMRC said this was:

so we can have our say.

“Court hearings must be open to the public”.

DMRC said this was:

so courts can be accountable for the treatment we are receiving.

“Mothers, overwhelmingly the primary carers, must never be cut off benefits”. 

DMRC said:

We support the call for a Care Income for the work of raising children. Child poverty is state neglect not mothers’ neglect.

You’d think these six points were fairly standard and already in place in the system. However, evidence of the sort 5News found, and the work of groups like Support Not Separation, show they aren’t. So, mothers and campaigners had little choice but to take action.

‘Privatised child removal’

Tracey Norton from DMRC told the Canary:

We have come together to make the situation of disabled mothers and our children visible. The universal bond between mother and child must be respected and supported financially, and in every way, not the privatised child removal industry which disproportionately takes children who are disabled/of colour and targets disabled mothers as harmful.

Another organisation supporting the DMRC charter is the Chronic Collaboration. It campaigns around chronic illness and intersecting issues. The group previously protested outside the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) and at parliament. Its founder Nicola Jeffery is a chronically ill and disabled mother who has lived experience of battling social services and the courts to keep her child. She told the Canary:

This much needed charter along with its five demands are crucial in firstly highlighting the discriminatory proportion of disabled mothers that are having their children taken into care, and secondly the complete lack of financial support disabled mothers can be subjected to – often leading to state-sanctioned poverty.

The charter and its demands, as simple as they may seem in an open, democratic country are so often being neglected here in the UK, and around the world. This has led to constant discrimination against disabled mothers with an often-automatic, systemic attitude that disabled women are unfit mothers – and are therefore penalised simply for asking for help or support.

Social services: not fit for purpose

In the end, the Charter of Rights serves to outline just how the system should treat chronically ill and disabled mothers. DMRC has done an excellent job of drawing together people’s lived experience and turning it into an accessible, succinct call to action. However, the group shouldn’t have had to do this in the first place.

The fact that in 21st century Britain, chronically ill and disabled mothers – along with other marginalised yet apparently ‘protected’ groups – are treated in the same way as they were in the times of eugenics, is damning. Sociologist Angela Frederick argued in a paper that the legacy of eugenics for marginalised women persists to this day. However, she summed up by saying:

Despite the gains of the disability rights movement, disabled women still receive undue scrutiny about their right to mother. Instead of asking whether or not disabled mothers should have children, we should be asking how we can help their families to thrive.

Surely, this and the system’s adherence to DMRC’s charter aren’t too much to ask?

Featured image via Disabled Mothers’ Rights Campaign

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