Sunday the UK Telegraph posted a horrifying story about a single mother whose children were taken from her permanently, and who is barred under pain of imprisonment from approaching within 500 meters until they are eighteen years of age. This happened despite her having no history of child abuse or neglect, no troubles with alcohol or drug addiction, and no mental health issues. As best I can tell, she was guilty only of a slightly unconventional lifestyle and having faced some temporary issues with childcare: issues that she appears to have handled competently. I can find NO evidence in this story of anything that would have justified removal of her children from her care, let alone permanent severing of parental rights.
Frankly, if this had been the Daily Mail, the Sun, or the Mirror, I would have discounted the story because it makes no sense whatsoever. But this is the Telegraph, one of the UK’s least sensationalist and most highly respected news organizations.
The thing is, we do not know her name or those of her children. The UK Family Court that did this also banned identification of the parties involved. Neither the mother nor the reporter can identify the individuals involved under pain of what we in the United States would call contempt of court. In other words, the UK Family Courts operate in secrecy and without any effective public oversight. Parents whose rights are violated are often out of luck. Children whose rights to the love and care of their parents are denied them, as was the case here, are also out of luck.
A good friend of mine here in the United States had extremely difficult experiences with two of our Children’s Protective Services in two states. In the first case, as an eight-year-old girl she was removed from her mother’s custody and given to her father against her will. In the second case, her pre-teen daughter, who was troubled and had been running away, was put in foster care and remained there for over eighteen months before being reunited with her family. Our foster care system in the United States is barely functional in many places.
But (and this is so important) it does not operate with no effective oversight. Parents accused of child abuse or neglect are charged in open courts. Our courts may order that certain details about the case be kept quiet to protect the children, and may issue gag orders for the duration of a case. They cannot forbid the parents to appeal their decisions to a higher court, however, and cannot issue gag orders that extend past the end of a case. Perhaps most importantly, the same organization that attempts to remove the children does not also run the courts!
The reporter who wrote this story began it as follows:
“Eileen Fairweather has investigated child care scandals for the past 20 years. But even she was shocked by the way an increasingly Stalinist state has torn apart one woman’s family.”
I’m a firm believer in the Godwin Principle: comparing somebody to Hitler or the Nazis is usually the end of the argument, and the person who resorts to the NAZI name calling usually looses the argument. I consider Stalin as evil as Hitler, and would normally consider this a Godwin violation. In this particular case, however, it sounds appropriate.