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Council accused of 'victim-blaming' mothers

A child abuse victim has accused authorities of "victim blaming" troubled mums by urging them to use contraception.

Last year, Derbyshire County Council agreed to become the latest body to roll out the controversial Pause Programme.

It aims to work with women who have had several children taken away from them by social services.

They have issues including histories of domestic and sexual abuse and drug and alcohol addiction – among others.

However, to receive support from health and social services, the women must take a long-acting and reversible form of contraception.

They can choose from three options, an injection, implant or coil.

Women taking part in the programme would be asked to start contraception after being on the council’s programme for 12 weeks in order to continue receiving support.

The council aims to help 48 mums over four years and prevent 25 children going into care.

It says that 80 Derbyshire women had 262 children under the age of five taken into care during the five years up to March 2018.

The highest number of children removed into care from one mother was eight. One had seven and another had six taken away.

Now a Derbyshire woman who was sexually, physically and verbally abused for much of her childhood by members of her own family has told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the project appears to “victim blame” mothers like herself.

She said that she has had two children taken away from her by social services during the 80s and 90s and that the traumatic situation was linked to abuse from a relative.

The woman, who is legally entitled to lifelong anonymity, says that when she read about the Pause programme, she felt it “shamed” abused mothers.

She says it placed the blame on the victims as opposed to the abusers themselves.

The anonymous mother says: “I was very distressed when I saw the article about the Pause programme.

“Many of these women will be in this situation not as a result of their own choices, they are not making conscious choices, as the council puts it, and they are often in this position as a result of abuse.

“We should be protecting these women, not victim-blaming. Derbyshire County Council is victim-blaming these mothers.

“I was sexually assaulted at age 14, I was depressed for much of my childhood and my mother was neglectful. I should have been cared for.

“I didn’t want any of it and I didn’t want my children taken into care and I am sure that is the case for many of these mothers too.”

In April last year, as the council approved the Pause programme, Jane Parfrement, the authority’s director of children’s services, said that women who are repeatedly having their children taken away from them and put into care are making an “active choice”.

She had said: “It has been seen as controversial but Pause is there to give these women the time to address these issues.”

Responding to the anonymous mum’s accusations, a Derbyshire County Council spokesperson said: “Our Pause programme in no way takes a victim-blaming approach.

“The programme is voluntary and women make a decision to take part only if they wish to do so following a four-month lead-in period where every aspect of it – including the contraceptive element – is explained in a sensitive and non-judgemental way with support from a Pause key worker who visits them at least once a week or, in some cases where necessary, every day.

“If women choose to take part during this four-month period they are counselled and supported to ensure they fully understand exactly what the scheme involves, the kind of support they would receive plus more detail about the contraception element.

“Following the lead-in period women decide whether they want to continue with the programme and start contraception, or leave it.

“Pause is a highly intensive specialist programme for a small number of women at high risk in chaotic lifestyles.

“They are referred by specialists only as a result of meeting strict criteria to prevent the distress and psychologically traumatic effect, for them and the unborn child, of multiple pregnancies resulting in child care proceedings.

“But even where such a referral is made, the woman still makes the final decision about whether she wants to be part of the programme.”

The council stresses that “taking a pause” from “unplanned pregnancies” is only one of the support measures that makes up the programme.

It also includes support into training and employment, support with drug and alcohol misuse, eating well, better health and counselling from a range of professionals.


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