Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sunday evening

Had a good Skype video call to Maurice in Auckland yesterday evening, possible now that he's got broadband. Skype now has 330 million users and accounts for 7% of international calls, but the wonder is that anybody at all pays for international calls via landline when they can have it for nothing on Skype.

A theme has been running through my head for the last week, and I could only remember that it was a slow movement from one of Bach's cello suites. This evening I played my 33 rpm Tortelier Suite No 4, and it was the Sarabande. Try the sarabande at Mournful, aching, regretful - what was the trgedy immortalised here?

I was shocked to receive the following story of heartless cruelty to a victim of domestic abuse and her three-year old child. Surely in a rich society like ours there ought to be a safety net to prevent this kind of thing happening, but particularly with Baby P all over the media, you'd imagine local authorities would be more concerned about the danger that a violent man would attack the child as well as the spouse. Clearly there is a general problem here, that Ministers need to address, and I have copied this story to Baroness Morgan of Drefelin, the Minister in the Lords who deals with domestic violence

In my professional role, as a worker with victims of domestic abuse, one of the most maddening problems we deal with is trying to assist women who have ‘no recourse to public funds’. Some are asylum seekers, who may have gone through the applications system and may be waiting for a judicial review. Often they may be waiting years for the Home Office to deal with the huge backlog of cases that is currently in existence.

Other foreign nationals may have married a Brit, but do not yet have a residence qualification, as they have not lived here for the required two years, in order to be eligible for public funds.

It is usually impossible to get these ‘No Recourse’ women into a refuge as these cannot take women who have no funding. This is a source of enormous frustration for DV advocates. Women often are given no option but to return to the violent partner and we, as advocates, can only stand by helplessly.

However, there is the 1989 Children’s Act and the amended Section 17 which states that Social Services have a duty of care to protect all children. So a route that is sometimes followed by DV advocates is to get social services to fund first bed and breakfast places and then emergency housing through the local borough.

I was fairly confident therefore when I got a call, through my Zimbabwean networks about a young Zimbabwean woman, age 22, who was 7 months pregnant, with a 3 year old, that this would be the route to getting help for her. When I got the call, she was very distressed, it was late and she was at Shoreditch police station. The police there did their best to support her. They were trying to get the housing department to put her in a B&B for the night. The girl was extremely distressed though – her husband had the day before thrown her against the wall and put his knee in her stomach and had only stopped further violence because the 3 year old had intervened, screaming at him, to protect her Mum. She was taken to a ‘safe’ house (Zim) for the night, staying on a sofa, with her child..

This was clearly a child protection issue. I felt fairly confident that Hackney Social services would take this on because of that. When I went to see the young woman, I went through the risk indicator checklist developed by CAADA (Coordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse). The score made it clear that she was in a high risk situation. This should mean that her case goes forward to a MARAC (Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference) for discussion and her protection prioritised. She could not go back to the flat, even though he was arrested, as the mother-in-law who was part of the abuse was also living there.

The next morning, I accompanied her to the Social Services office in Hackney and left her there. I told her she that she should explain the situation to the social workers and that they had, due to child protection laws, a duty of care to her child, at the very least.

She sat there all day, filled in many forms and the social worker assigned to her Michael Robinson, did his best to help her. But when he went to his managers he was told that Hackney could not help her and he was instructed to put her out on the street, together with her child. By the time he was told this, it was 5 PM and it was cold and raining outside. In spite of this, and Z’s extreme distress (and the effect on her 3 year old, who had by now wet herself in distress), he had to follow his manager’s instruction. She pleaded with him to help and asked where she was to go. He opened the door and told her to leave. I rang her and she was very distressed and sitting huddled at a bus stop with the child not knowing what to do or where to go. I left work and came and picked her up in my car and took her for the night to my one bedroom flat, where she and the child slept on the sofa for the night.

Meanwhile I also got hold of one of the midwives at the Homerton Hospital where she was being seen, who was shocked that the social services could have put her out on the street. Because of her intervention social services agreed to look again at the case and said she should come again next morning.

Next day she again presented herself there and sat there all day again. Then a manager came down to talk to her. Again, by then, she was distressed and crying. The female, white manager gave her a lecture that she should never have come to this country without sufficient funds to support herself in this situation. The best thing for her (apparently) was to go back to Zimbabwe as soon as possible (I.e. Zimbabwe where the hospitals are closed down, there are no medicines, few doctors and domestic violence goes completely unpunished). This to a 22 year old who had married in Zimbabwe and prior to her arrival 7 months before had never lived outside of Zimbabwe. The manager told her again to leave and ushered her out onto the street. After work, I picked her up from the bus stop and brought her back to my one bed flat for the night.

Shocked at the way the Social Services had dealt with her, I phoned someone in the Zimbabwean community. Soon there were several offers to take her in to their homes by ordinary Zimbabweans, one in Cardiff, one in Bedford, one in Barking. The problem though was the pregnancy and her being treated at the Homerton hospital – she couldn’t be too far away from there. The social services department had given her such little support, we had to give up on them. So much stress had put a strain not only on her and her three year old but also on the unborn child too.

Therefore, she stayed for a few days rest and recovery before taking her on to the next safe house. She has moved since then to another one and says (although grateful) she is tired of moving. She is in negotiation with her husband to return to him currently. She feels she has no choice as he will support her financially, and she hopes he will not abuse her again, that he will have had a shock by the police arrest (the police meanwhile have decided not to press charges as there were no ‘visible’ injuries. Meanwhile he has been violent to her on a regular and escalating basis for the last 3 years). All this happened in the same week that the baby P story was in the papers.

I am writing this story as I would like someone to take note. To take note of an injustice that is happening in this country right here, right now. It is appalling that a seven month pregnant, 22 year old girl with a three year old child in tow, a resident of Hackney and fleeing violence, can be rejected by social services as a case outside their remit. And put outside their office at 5 pm on a cold wet winter’s evening with no where to go. Furthermore, to add insult to injury, that she can be given a lecture by a manager on how she should never have come to this country.

I am writing this story as I personally think it is an outrage and a shame on British justice –do we think we are better than Robert Mugabe?

It’s not just this case either – there are many other foreign nationals who are being sent back to violent husbands. It was just lucky in this case that the Zimbabwean community stepped in to help, that this girl happened to ring someone who tapped in to that network.

I have dealt with several Eastern Europeans, for example, who have had to go back to their husbands. The worst of this case is the way this young Zimbabwean woman was dealt with by Social Services and I wanted to draw this to your attention.

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