New campaign calls out discrimination against disabled mothers

New campaign calls out discrimination against disabled mothers
  • The Disabled Mothers’ Rights Campaign has launched a new charter, calling for an end to discrimination against disabled mothers in the UK
  • It follows an investigation that found that parents with learning disabilities are 54 times more likely to have their children placed in care than other parents
  • Institutional care and adoption should be “last resort”

Parents with learning difficulties are 54 times more likely to have their children removed and placed into care than other parents. Disabled single mothers and mothers with invisible impairments such as ME are at particular risk of having their children removed by social services, especially if they are working class and of colour. 

These are some of the findings of an investigation based on freedom of information requests from more than 100 local councils in England, along with research by The Disabled Mother’s Rights Campaign and Support Not Separation (SNS). The campaigners say these parents are disproportionately impacted by the cost of living crisis and cuts to support services, and are therefore at the greatest risk of having their children removed as social workers frequently conflate poverty with neglect.

The campaigners are now launching the Disabled Mothers’ Rights Charter, calling for disabled mothers to have the right to family life they are entitled to, and outlining what councils and family courts must do to end discrimination against them. 

“Many social care and health professionals treat us as unfit mothers,” the Charter states. “Often we are pressured to have an abortion, even up to the birth. Deaf mothers are wrongly told that we are a risk as we can’t hear the baby cry, blind mothers that we can’t breastfeed if we can’t see the baby, mothers with mobility disabilities that we can’t run after our children. 

“If we have learning disabilities, we are 54 times more likely to have our children taken away. We experience worse discrimination as single mothers, women of colour, immigrants, victims of domestic violence, and for other reasons. Yet we have raised children safely and successfully, including with help from family or friends.”

Forced adoptions in the UK

SNS is a coalition of organisations and individuals that includes mothers who have experienced the trauma of forced separation from their children. As well as providing support and legal advice, SNS campaigns for institutional care and adoption to be used as a last resort. 

Research by SNS published in 2021 documented the experiences of more than 200 women, including women who are single mothers on low incomes, women of colour, immigrants, women with a disability, women who have been through the care system themselves, and who have been victims of domestic violence. Out of the 219 mothers featured in the report, 10% have had their children forcibly adopted. 

They cited the example of a disabled mother who had suffered domestic violence whose child was forcibly adopted after she requested help. Years later an appeal court ruled that her treatment had been unacceptable, but it was too late to overturn the adoption. 

Writing for NADJA in August last year, Anne Neale and Nina Lopez of SNS said that, “the Children Act 1989 (Section 17) and the Care Act 2014 provide financial and other support to keep children in the family. But in practice requests for help are often used to label mothers “unfit” and take their children – especially if the mother is a victim of domestic violence.” 

The campaigners have also raised the alarm over private care homes that charge local councils millions each year to operate residential homes where neglected and abused children, especially those who are disabled or from ethnic minorities, reside.

The rights of disabled mothers

The Charter is calling for all disabled mothers who ask for support from councils to get it under the Care Act and Children Act, and for accessible meetings and family court hearings. 

It also demands that mothers, who are predominantly the main caregivers, never face benefit cuts, and  supports the proposal for a care income to recognise the value of care work and that child poverty is a result of state, rather than maternal neglect.

Tracey Norton, coordinator of DMRC says: “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.” 

For more information on The Disabled Mothers’ Rights Charter visit WinVisible’s website

Featured image: Photo by Freepik


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