Written by Elizabeth Graham
The Child wellbeing and Protection reading group met on the 8th October at the University of Stirling to discuss ‘Haunted futures: The stigma of being a mother living apart from her child(ren) as a result of state-ordered court removal’, an article written by Lisa Morriss (2018) from the University of Birmingham. Nine people attended the group, some with a social work, legal, social science background, and all with an interest in childhood, well-being and protection.
Lisa Morriss’ role as a research associate on projects concerned with child protection compelled her to consider the impact that child protection measures has on birth parents, with a particular focus on birth mothers. The article is extremely visceral and at times it is very easy to forget that these experiences belong to a much bigger picture that may include neglect or abuse. It was expressed by some members of the reading group that some points of the article were very explicit and that there perhaps needed to be some portrayal of practitioners for a more holistic account of services, like Pause, within the article. For example, one group member expressed how social workers generally do encourage women to make and attend GP appointments to request birth control. Moreover, there was some debate within the group about the 26 week maximum limit for a case to be concluded in England and Wales, with one side claiming that the limit is more in line with paperwork being served and the other expressing that some cases can be heard in different courts in different locations to ensure proceedings are concluded within this timeframe.
If we were reading an article representative of the social workers experiences, or the children’s experiences this would bring new perspectives and would also evoke different emotions, which is important to bear in mind. However, a real strength of this article is that it lets readers know that it is also equally ok and equally important to explicitly focus on the mothers’ experiences. Including all of these other factors or experiences does not change the fact that these women are in mourning for a child that is still alive but forever lost to them, but it may detract from it. It allows us an insight into one of the horrendous consequences of keeping a child safe and makes us question what it is about wider societal structures that contributes to the circumstances that leads to the need for the child to be removed.
The group also discussed how this article may be relatable to mothers in prison, whose role as a mother is changed or paused or terminated. It highlights constructs of parenthood but more specifically motherhood and how if a child is removed, the woman is almost cast aside like a redundant mother, a failed mother, an unsuccessful woman, no longer part of the workforce that is motherhood. What this creates is a situation which leaves vulnerable women even more vulnerable and angry, hurt and self-destructive. I cannot speak for the others in the group, but I certainly left feeling sad and frustrated that women existed in this place of hurt, rejection and eternal grief. I felt the hopelessness and the desperation and the sorrow and the heartache. But I also felt the hope that by writing this article, Lisa Morriss has brought the experiences of these women to the forefront.