Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Request for Support For Breastfeeding in the UK

This is a request for support on behalf of a breastfeeding mother and her infant, in the UK.
It is also about supporting a wider issue - that of the status of breastfeeding within the UK.
Apologies for the length, and detail, of this case - but it is vitally important that the details are made clear.
In June 2007, Essex Social Services took the decision to remove an exclusively breastfed infant from its mother's arms, without benefit of a court order, or discussion with the mother. They sent a team of social workers out into the streets, located the young mother and baby, and physically removed the baby from her arms, driving off with the baby in a car. They left the mother alone in the street.
She had not known they were looking for her, prior to complete strangers arriving in front of her, and pulling her baby from her arms. She immediately reported the incident to the police, such was her shock.
The mother, Miss W, was exclusively breastfeeding her infant, Baby E, who was five months old. Social Services did not offer any care or support to Miss W, in terms of her medical needs on having her baby removed with no warning, or extend any information on how she should deal with her engorged breasts or how to extract her milk for her baby. Miss W's mother arranged a breast pump and lactation support the next day, and Miss W began a regular pumping regime to maintain her supply and to collect expressed milk for her baby, no mean feat for a distressed 18 year old living on her own.
4 days later, Miss W was allowed a short access visit with her baby. During this supervised visit, Miss W began to breastfeed Baby E, who was frantically rooting at her mother's breast. Social Services requested she did not do so, as the baby had only just learned to cope with a bottle, and having access to her mother's breast would 'confuse her'.
Miss W breastfed her baby, with her family's support, and continued to do so for several weeks, during the access visits. She was not permitted daily access with her baby. This entire sequence - removing a breastfed baby without regard to the breastfeeding needs, either of the infant or the mother, and not allowing regular daily access for breastfeeding, contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights, a fact that appears not to have worried Essex Social Services. Miss W also requested her pumped milk be given to her baby - a request Social Services did not facilitate. They have since stated that she should have been responsible for collecting and delivering the milk to her baby - even thought Miss W didn't know where her baby was.
It also goes against regular Government assurances that breastfed mothers and infants will not be separated unless in the most extreme of circumstances. Gradually, despite the best attempts of the Miss W and her family, Baby E began to refuse the breast, and is no longer receiving her mother's milk.
Whilst the removal of the baby had occurred without a court order, and whilst the family succeeded in engaging a solicitor in that first week, the baby has not been returned. The secrecy in the Family Courts system, has meant that the family have had to stand back, silently, and fulfill all requests made to them, by Social Services, in the hope of Baby E's return. Baby E had been placed on the Child Protection Register a few days prior to the removal, for unfounded, and unproven, allegations of potential harm that cannot be discussed due to the secrecy. They were however, allegations, and Baby E had never come to any harm in any way, and the allegations for the Child Protection Order are not a feature of subsequent paperwork by Essex Social Services. In short, the reasons cited for the protection order, do not appear at all in subsequent arguments for keeping the baby from her mother.
What does appear in subsequent arguments however, is that Miss W has demonstrated to Essex Social Services that she does not understand the needs of Baby E, and has no bond with her. Specifically, they cite Miss W's insistence on breastfeeding her baby, as evidence that she does not understand the needs of her baby's health and well being. They actually draw attention to the incident where, on the first access visit after 4 days of being separated from her baby, she carried on breastfeeding her baby despite Social Services' request that she do not do so, and state that this incident is part of the evidence that the baby should not be returned to her.
This is the exact wording in the report:
“I think Miss W would not be able to offer sustained and committed care to Baby E at the moment because she is too immature to meet Baby E’s needs as a priority. Miss W is ‘headstrong’ and is likely to take advice she thinks is right regardless of any advice that might be given, an example of this is breastfeeding Baby E when the Social Worker had advised her that this would probably disrupt Baby E’s ability to take the bottle.”
“Miss W told me that when she attended for Contact after Baby E was removed from her care she used to breastfeed her despite what she had been advised. Miss W refused to accept that breastfeeding Baby E at this time might have been confusing for Baby E.”
At the emergence of this detail in the confidential reports into Miss W and Baby E, Miss W and her family felt that they had no option but to break their silence and ask for support from the wider community. They have been in touch with many statutory and voluntary agencies throughout this nightmare, and have continued to slog along in the hope that the mess would be sorted. However, given how proud the family were that a young, troubled and not always even tempered young woman had successfully exclusively breastfed her baby despite her problems, and that this success was being cited as reasons to keep the baby from her.. they felt they could stay silent no longer.
The family are not convinced Baby E will ever be returned to them, but feel that they must speak out in order to prevent this happening to other breastfeed infants in the United Kingdom.
If you wish to help, we ask that you contact the following County Councillor who has the responsibiity to liase between Government and Essex Social Services:
Cllr Tracey Chapman
Children Schools and Families
Essex County Council
County Hall Market Road
Chelmsford CM1 1LX
phone (Essex County Council): 01245 430430 and ask for the Cabinet Support Office
fax: 01245 438420 (mark for Cllr Tracey Chapman)
you may wish to consider cc'ing to
Ed Balls
Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families
Department for Children, Schools and Families
Sanctuary Buildings
Great Smith Street
phone: 0870 000 2288 FAX: 01928 794248
Gordon "Every Child Matters" Brown
10 Downing Street
FAX: 020 7925 0918
We ask that write in the first instance to express your concerns over the breastfeeding issues this case has raised.
If you are a medical professional, with skill in the areas of lactation and in understanding the bond of the breastfed infant, we ask you specifically state to all concerned your professional opinion of the actions of Essex Social Services in the this case, and your professional opinion of the statement that by breastfeeding her baby during access visits the mother did not understand the needs of her infant.
(Given the secret nature of Family Courts, direct appeals on behalf of the family will be ignored, and you will receive a letter back stating the family's circumstances can not be discussed. For this reason it is vital that if you write to support, you state clearly you are discussing the actions of Essex Social Services, and the serious implications of any Social Services department making negative judgements upon breastfeeding an infant. You should stress you are engaging in the wider issue of the breastfeeding relationship being so disrupted, and the precedent being set about breastfeeding itself being cited in such a way.)
You may also wish to mention the issue of Baby E's Human Rights, and how they have been ignored by Essex Social Services. This is not an isolated case, and the UK courts have already judged that this behaviour - removing an infant from the mother's breast without care to ensure daily access for breastfeeding - does not meet the imperatives of the European Convention on Human rights (*In the matter of unborn baby M; R (on the application of X and another) v Gloucestershire County Council. Citation: BLD 160403280; [2003] EWHC 850 (Admin)
In the past, letters such as these, from experienced medical professionals as well as concerned individuals have had an effect on outcomes.
Letters from countries outside the UK appear to carry a great deal of weight at Downing Street. You do make a difference.
Please cc any and all correspondance to the Victoria Climbie Foundation as they are supporting the family and are collecting evidence on behalf of Baby E.
In particular, you may wish to comment on your feelings, professional or otherwise, on the status of any 'Social Worker' who feels qualified to advise a young mother to sacrifice breastfeeding in favour of using a bottle. You may also wish to discuss the importance of the breastfeeding relationship in general, and in particular how important it was for Miss W to breastfeed her baby on that first access visit, as this will not only be useful to the family, but will help establish the needs and rights of all breastfed infants. At the moment, this statement - that the baby should not have been breastfed after an enforced seperation in order to protect the baby for bottle feeding - stands uncontested: we must ensure it is contested to the best of our knowledge and ability. Other infants may need this protection in the future.
If you wish to help the family directly, as opposed to bringing attention to the appalling actions of Essex Social Services and the implications for all statutory and voluntary agencies within the UK , you should contact:
The Victoria Climbie Foundation
28 Museum Street
LondonWC1A 1LH
phone: 020 8571 4121 fax: 020 8813 9734
This link will take you to a petition in support of the family at the Foundation's website.
If you are resident within the UK, we ask you also contact your local MP to register your views on this matter.
Likewise, if you feel you need to have more access to details of this case, in order for you to make an informed choice on the facts, you will have to approach the Victoria Climbie Foundation - as the Family Courts secrecy prevents anyone doing so openly.
Finally, and thank you for making it this far down this request, please propagate this message as widely as you can, in the appropriate forums: this family wishes the wider community to know what has occurred here, and have few opportunitites to tell their story. Please pass their story on.
Thank you.
"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." Martin Luther King


Anonymous said...

This is a shocking story, my heart goes out to all concerned.

Emily said...

On what grounds was the baby removed from the care of her mother?

Morgan said...

Hi Emily,

On the Monday, under pressure from Social Services, the Miss W had signed a written agreement that she and her baby would stay with her own mother, the baby's grandmother. On the Friday, Miss W and her Mum had a row, and Miss W stormed out of the house in a huff, to calm down. She went to a friend in the first instance, to have a rant about her Mum not understanding her, and was planning to go to her own grandmother's home for some tea and sympathy - she lived a few streets away. Obviously, she took her baby with her.

Her Mum was upset, and phoned the social worker for some sympathy. The social worker called an alert, phoned the police, and sent other social workers into the streets to find the baby, despite Miss W's Mums shocked protestations that this was completely inappropriate.

So, the official reason cited for removing the baby was "you signed an agreement to live with your mother and you have broken that". Although at no point had Miss W actually moved out - just gone out with the baby to visit a friend.

No, I'm not making this up.

Emily said...

but that's utterly _insane_!!! Was Miss W supposed to be living with her mother and never leaving the house?! Social Services are waaaaay out of line on this - they're so far out of line they can't even _see_ the line. The family courts in this country are a f***ing joke.

Is there an appeal? I understand if you can't talk about it.

Morgan said...

Hi Emily,

Legal proceedings are still ongoing. I understand from Mor Dioum at the Victoria Climbie Foundation, that a family meeting is finally being done to try and resolve this. However, this should have taken place in the first week and as a first resort, not as a tag along several months later.

I'm hoping Mor will be able to drop in and comment himself - if he works out how! As you can see, it's taken BabyE's grandmother - chelsea-girl - a couple of posts to 'get it'. :-)

Of course, this terrible ignorance of breastfeeding, and human rights, still stands in that judgement, and Essex Social Services must take these issues on board regardless of what happens.

Emily said...

i've just realised that Baby E must be a similar age to my own son. he's 10 and a half months. i can't even imagine what i would do if someone took him off me.

what did the police do?

Jo said...

I am astounded that social services have been able to do this and seemingly get away with. As a breast feeding mother, I know how important that close bond is between mother and baby. My heart really does go out to you all.
Is there anything specific you want put into emails sent to the various places? I will send my thoughts on this. It is an utter disgrace.
Wanted to add congrats to miss W for managing to breastfeed for so long, no mean feat. What a travesty that it has been cut so unnecessarily short.
Good luck for the future, I really hope that you are reunited with your baby very soon xx

chelsea girl said...

Thank you for your kind comments. I will pass them on to my daughter.

Baby E's Grandma

Morgan said...

Hi Jo,

Thank you for your support, it will mean a lot to Miss W and her family, who have been left alone with this sorrw for so long.

If you could highlight to the government members you are writing to, that exclusive breastfeeding for the six months life is a major reccomendation from WHO/Unicef for the health of the infant, and ask how and why government officials at Essex Social Services felt it appropriate to ignore these reccomendations?

Do state you require an answer to these questions - this is not about just raising the issue, but ensuring that an adequate response is forthcoming. They act 'In Our Name', after all.

As a breastfeeding mother, you could also speak of the nature of the injury that has been inflicted upon this infant, and the mother. Something in your own words will be more powerful than anything I might suggest, as you will be speaking from your own voice and authority as a mother.

Also, if you hold any qualification in breastfeeding support - peer supporter, La Leche League Leader, Midwife, IBCLC, MD etc - please highlight in your professional opinon why it is not just appropriate for a seperated mother to breastfeed her infant on access visit, but the most desired outcome. A few words on the distress and pain being experienced by the baby in such a scenario, backed by evidenced based research, would be highly appropriate.

Many many thanks.

Anonymous said...

chelsea girl, could you apply for temp custody till this is sorted out?
I'd much rather know Miss E is in your care than the States..being someone who was living in the system during most of my childhood, I would have been safer with a teen mum in a bad mood.
Where I come from, child services work on keeping families together, but it's the opposite from where you are.. children here are being neglected and abused and child protection aren't doing anything about it.. too many kids are dying because of this.
Ripping a child from her mothers breast absolutly astounds and disgusts me.
I hope there is light at the ned of this dark tunnel for you and your daughter and granddaughter.

VK said...

This is truly appalling. I'd like to know whose interests are social services acting in, because it is certainly not in the interests of either Baby E or Miss W to be separated like this!

I was in a violent relationship, with 4 children who were also being assaulted and I couldn't even get social services to engage at all because they could not see the risk. Now we are out of the relationship, the family Court is pushing visits with their violent father as being in the children's best interests!

I am guessing that Family Courts and Social Services have no idea of current research and are definitely not basing their protocols or actions on anything other than warped and biased personal opinion. It is time that these people were educated. I will certainly be drawing this to the attention of everyone suggested.

My heart goes out to Miss W and Baby E. This is outrageous and probably a criminal attack on a young woman and her baby.

Morgan said...

Hi VK,

Thanks you for your comments, and I do share your outrage. (I also have amazing amounts of respect and admiration for women who are strong enough to escape violence, and I also applaud your courage in mentioning it so openly. :-))

Whose interests Essex Social Services were acting under, is the heart of the question, is it not? When we, as an electorate, put our power, and trust into politicians to oversee our social interests, we expect a minimum standard of both services, and management of them, do we not?

Until this case was brought to my attention, I hadn't taken on board fully the hue and cry over Family Courts and the problems that occur when Government takes its eye off the main event, so to speak. I've seen so many cases now, such as the one I link to above, where after a formal adoption Social Services have admitted they didn't process in accordance with guidelines... but too late for the lost children who cannot be returned. All they get is a note in their adoption file telling them it was a huge mistake and that their parents fought for them at the time.

Thankfully, there are agencies helping, and there to help, and Miss W has had some excellent support from groups such as FASSIT and AIMS.

Also, thankfully, some of the support available is at a political level, with our Members of Parliament stepping into the fray - as they should.

In terms of your own situation, you may want to consider contacting John Hemming, MP, at "Justice For Families", I will post the URL at the end of this.

Thank you again, for your comments. So few people can take it on board that things go wrong in this way... there is always the thorny old 'catch-all and get out of thinking about it' phrase - "always more than meets the eye..." - to comfort everyone that it Just Can't Be True. It's only when others speak up and say "Actually, this happened to me..." that some ears open... so your words are a huge boost. I know Miss W and the family will be grateful for your support.

Hopefully, with enough awareness of the breastfeeding issues, and enough letters coming in from those people with the precise medical and scientific knowledge to outline clearly how harmful it is to treat breastfeeding babies in this manner... we will raise awareness enough to stop it happening again.

Again, many thanks.

Anonymous said...

omg this makes me so angry i am in canada and they did the same thing to me and my son was 6 months old and i fought tooth and nail and got him back 11 months later and i wasn't aloud to breastfeed either!!!!! he was actually at my breast when they came into my home and took him from me.
the things they said about me were not true either and i went to great lengths to prove it and i did i won he is now almost 5.
i hope this mother never gives up and does what ever she can to get baby E back!!
it won't be easy but she can do it i will pray for you and my heart goes out to the family!!!!

GillianWright said...

I'm so shocked and disgusted by this story, i breastfed for 17 months and know how hard it can be, i think it was amazing that an 18 year old was breastfeeding, she was doing far more than most young mums do for their baby, the person who took the baby was completely heartless and ignorant and the reasons for taking the baby were trivial so it was out of order.All families row, it was a great over-reaction.A baby who has been breastfed will NEVER forget how to feed from the breast as it is inbuilt in them from birth and it would not have been confused, obviously these people are anti-breastfeeding and there needs to be something to stop this kind of thing happening again,the baby was not being put first in this horrible incident.In this bottle-feeding culture there has to be something to protect breastfed babies as your baby needs you a lot and your breasts are not taps that can be turned on and off!

Morgan said...

Dear Gillian,

Thank you for your comments. Miss W has already said how much these sort of comments mean to her, and it's good for her to know that other mothers are reaching out to her in this manner.

We just shouldn't be treating breastfeeding babies like this, should we? As you say, they know what to do when it comes to breastfeeding: it's a primal, hard wired instinct that they are born with.

The out dated viewpoint that babies did not remember trauma has been so clearly refuted by science and psychology, you do have to wonder at the decision to treat Baby E in this manner, at such an important point in her life.

As the legal precedent I quoted stated, there is awareness that breastfeeding babies who are removed form their mothers, need to have daily access to them to continue to breastfeed.

Let us hope Essex Social Services have the courage to embrace this Human Rights issue, and ensure that in the future, all social workers understand the situation fully, and can act in accordance with the baby's funadamental needs and well being.

Anonymous said...

This has been on my mind since I read it - has there been any progress in the interim?

Morgan said...

Hi Vonnie,

In terms of Miss W and Baby E, there is nothing can influence the outcomes of their situation, until the courts process underway is finished. My understanding is that this continues on, and there is a meeting planned for December. Should anything positive occur, and the family are allowed to dicuss the details, I will update everyone.

The family have felt heartened by the support they have received, however, and, in particular, it has helped Miss W with the distress she feels over missing her daughter's first birthday and first Christmas.

In terms of the status of breastfeeding within Essex Social Services, a form letter has been sent out to all who contacted them. This letter states that Essex follows Government guidelines in reference to breastfeeding, but it does not state what those guidelines are.

I am unaware of anyone receiving a response that has actually answered the question of what the guidelines are.

Equally, no one has had any response, as far as I am aware, that addresses the issue of social workers deciding in general, that breastfeeding an infant is against the infant's best interests.

If I do hear of anyone who received a more specific response to their requestion for information about breastfeeding guidelines at Essex Social Services, I will update everyone.

Mrs Y said...

This is appalling. So few 18 year olds breastfeed these days, Miss W should be being applauded, not being treated in this dreadful manner. That she even tried to keep up her milk production, to continue breastfeeding during those visits, clearly demonstrates that Miss W is a very fit mother indeed. Essex SS should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for this one.

Rest assured, this story will fly around the Internet and all us so-called 'breastfeeding nazi's' and mother earth's will rally support for Miss W and raise public awarness of this terrible incident.

Morgan said...

Hi Mrs y

Thanks for your support in sending out this family's story.

The family themselves cannot be aided by letters etc, as now they are in the secret Family Courts system, nothing will influence the decision on the status of Baby E.

What will help this family, and other families in the future, is for the status of breastfeeding to be crystal clear in the minds of all social workers when they act in such proceedings. The priority in any breastfeeding baby's welfare, should be access to the mother so they can do what they do best: breastfeed.

All support, from every area, for breastfeeding, and for Essex Social Servics to be made aware of the importance of breastfeeding for the health and welfare of the infant, and the mother, is very welcome.

Anonymous said...