THE BLOG

Mother and Child - The Forgotten Two-unit Family

16/12/2015 09:41 GMT | Updated 15/12/2016 10:12 GMT

On Monday, Lancaster University released figures showing that the number of newborns subjected to care proceedings more than doubled from 802 in 2008 to 2,018 in 2013. In one sense, the staggering jump reflects lessons learned from the tragic child neglect cases brought to light in 2009, for which 'incompetent' social workers were blamed.

However, while taking newborns into the care system at birth may seem a safer bet than working with vulnerable women who need professional help to look after their newborn babies, the figures simply cannot reflect healthy practice. The trend may avoid traumatic dealings later on, but it can hardly be called preventative.

The disproportionate increase suggests that the decision to remove a baby at birth does not recognise the mother and the child as a family unit. Instead, the assumption is that there is no intervention - not social services nor natural bonds with wider kin, that can keep the family together. The mother and child are seen as a toxic combination and birth is a timely opportunity to sever the two.

This position perpetuates the destructive culture that divorces pregnancy from childbirth. The report notes that many of the vulnerable women find themselves in a cycle of care proceedings and pregnancy, and the very reasons driving the mothers own vulnerability are never addressed.

Like all social justice endeavours, the care system needs to be a system of second chances and seeing as the natural progression of pregnancy is childbirth, preventative measures need to recognise the eventuality that each pregnant women is already, a potential mother.

There are, of course, cases where women are unfortunately ill-equipped to mother, but repeated removals are traumatic and often see vulnerable women disengage with the very support systems which are trained to help reverse their social problems and assist careful consideration for future pregnancies.

Like in older children, this problem of babies being born into care should be addressed through the family stability agenda which maintains that where possible, the best outcome for troubled families is remaining together.

It must be wider recognised that mother and child constitute a family and giving women a second chance, with help and support from the state, the voluntary sector and wider kin, might enable them to encounter the responsibilities of motherhood and break the cycle which is placing unprecedented numbers of babies into the care system.

This is certainly not the easy option, but charities such as Safe Families for Children are designed to offer temporary care from voluntary 'host' families to allow troubled families time to pause and seek the stability of the family.