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 has 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 fulfil 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 wellbeing. 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 liaise 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 Officefax: 01245 438420 (mark for Cllr Tracey Chapman)
you may wish to consider cc’ing to
Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Department for Children, Schools and Families Sanctuary Buildings Great Smith Street London SW1P 3BT
phone: 0870 000 2288 FAX: 01928 794248
Gordon Brown (Every Child Matters)
10 Downing Street
email: Gordon Brown
fax: 020 7925 0918
We ask that you 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;  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 correspondence 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
London WC1A 1LH
phone: 020 8571 4121 | fax: 020 8813 9734 | email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King