By Andy Bilson
In October 2019 The Open Nest Charity hosted a conference in York consisting of a non-profit collaboration between a group of individuals and organisations who were concerned about some child protection practices that lead to the traumatic and permanent severance of parents and families from their children via adoption. A group convened by Denise Smalley and Amanda Boorman had carefully planned the conference and identified the need for a network to promote change.
PFAN is Born
At the conference mothers discussed their experiences of having children placed for adoption and how they are using their experiences to educate others. Adopted people talked about their experiences of adoption and what they feel services should focus upon. Adopters gave their experiences of positive open adoption and co-parenting in the best interests of adopted children. Parent and family allies discussed ways that working together across divides and creating safe spaces for dialogue can bring about positive cultural and systemic change. And this was where PFAN, the Parent, Family and Allies Network, was born.
Prior to this planning I had worked with a small group of people in Scotland who were similarly concerned at the growing oppression of children and families carried out, often with the best of intentions, in the name of child protection. I designed a website which included a statement of concerns. This was adapted and became the PFAN website with its statement calling for like-minded people to come together.
We are concerned at the way our society is increasingly moving away from providing help to parents and their children and instead increasing assessments, investigations and accusations of abuse.
We are concerned at the confusion between neglect and inequality and poverty which leads to growing numbers of children being put under surveillance, removed into care and adoption. Those in poverty face shame and blame and too little is done to reduce inequality, create better housing, fairer employment, better education, improved health …
We are concerned at the misplaced belief that society can protect children from future harm caused by ’emotional abuse’ by putting children and their parents under surveillance, or removing them into care and adoption instead of creating environments that support parents, particularly mothers, and reduce their difficulties.
We are concerned at the exaggeration of risk that is undermining childhoods and creating an atmosphere of fear.
This is why we want an end to child protection as we know it and for a fundamental change from child protection and rescue to child rights that strengthens family and community.
We believe that the current child protection system is oppressive, that it doesn’t protect children and that it undermines parents.
We hope to bring together gatherings of people who recognise this oppression including:
- professionals in social work, health, law, police and others working in the system;
- community members and activists;
- local and national politicians; and most importantly
- parents and children
We don’t claim to yet know the answers to a fairer, supportive system that will help parents and enable children to flourish but we know this is not just possible but important for everyone in society.
We have seen different ways of responding to family difficulties such as parent advocacy, community strengthening and children’s participation programmes that might be part of a solution …
AND we want to bring together like-minded people in gatherings to grow the solutions we need.
PFAN is growing
Since October almost a hundred people have signed up on PFAN’s website. We helped run a second conference in Birmingham in February 2020. The conference shared the experiences of engagement with parents in the United States and across the UK, that showed how parent partnership can reduce the need for children to be in care; develop better help for families; and create better cooperation and partnership between parents and social workers.
Speakers included a range of parents with child protection experiences, and also Hope Newton from Rise magazine in New York, Professor Andy Bilson, ATD Fourth World, Camden Family Group Conferencing and Southwark Parents Panel. Participants came from many social care organisations in addition to parents and other allies and we heard about a growing number of projects and initiatives where the voices of parents with child protection experience were being heard and partnership developed.
We want to grow our network and grow the pressure to replace our current system with one that starts from a right for help for families and communities to overcome difficulties. To end the hostile environment that families in poverty face. And to help develop solutions that will end child protection as we know it.