Photo: Gizmodo

Friday, November 18, 2011

Shattered Families

A dramatic report has woken me from my blogging slumber. "Shattered Families" outlines research carried out by the US based Applied Research Center. It found that over 5000 children were currently in foster care after their parents had been either detained or deported by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This despite countering US Immigration and Child Welfare laws and policies, not to say international conventions,  based on the assumption that families will, and should, be united, whether or not parents are deported (NB: the US is alone with Somalia in not having ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child).

One mother deported to Mexico and separated from her 9-month old son, waited over a year to be reunited with him - by which time he had spend more time in foster care than with his birth mother. This family was fortunate. After a year, Child Protection Services draft a permanency plan, an outcome of which can be parental rights being terminated and the child being put up for adoption despite the parents possibly being in a position in their country of origin to be reunited with their child.

This is not the first time I have heard of children being separated from their detained parents. Under the UK's previous labour government, social workers were encouraged to remove children into foster care to force undocumented migrant families to return to their country of origin. The policy was overturned, largely because social workers refused to remove children who were not at rosk of harm.

And in my time working with families in chronic poverty in the UK, I saw too often children taken into care due to a lack of commitment, understanding and resources to keep families together. Yet when family-support organisations, such as ATD Fourth World, provided a long-term accompaniment to parents, they were able to demonstrate to social workers and family courts their capacity to care provide a safe and caring environment for their children.

It needs child welfare professionals, family advocacy organisations and also neighbours of these families to speak out against such practices which, as the report and video below state, shatter families.


  1. Thanks Matt, very interesting video on a truly barbaric system. The effect on the families from this seperation is truly devastating.

  2. Good post Matt. I've reposted this in my FB newsfeed so it will get fairly wide reading, I hope.

    Cheers, Dad

  3. I've now also watched the video and am horrified at the callousness of the US authorities. Horrified but unsurprised. That said, I doubt if it is all that different in many other countries, in most corners of the world. The question I have to ask is what, if anything, are the UN Convention on the Rights of Children doing about all this?

  4. Thanks Paul and Zephyr for comments. The UN Committee on Rights of the Child can't do anything as US is not a party to the Convention!

  5. Comment received on my email...

    "Even today families living in poverty in the UK are seeing their children removed when there is no accusation of harm, just a suspition that the child may be neglected in the future. This is especially true when the assessment is done pre-birth, and the baby removed immediately after birth, when the parents have not yet had the chance to demonstrate their parenting skills. It is so unjust."

  6. Good post. I still believe that we have to force reform of the family courts system in the UK, which is weighted so heavily against families. For starters there should be much more onus on the social services being accountable for the quality of their preventative work and not merely their assessment of risk of harm. Families should have the means to call alternative expert witness and have the local authority properly cross examined, and the burden of proof should be raised in line with the potential consequences of the court's judgement. I'm sorry but placement is akin to a life sentence for parents and children alike, it should be the very last of last resorts when all else has failed or there is unambiguous risk of serious harm.