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Laura Keynes: Lack of faith in motherhood underpins the surge in newborns taken away at birth


New figures show a disturbing rise in the number of newborns taken into care at birth. In 2013, just over 2,000 babies were taken into care, compared to just over 800 in 2008. There has been a disproportionate rise in the number of newborns taken from their mothers. Why?

If you listened to the BBC report on Monday morning’s Today programme you might well think the answer to that question is simply ‘lack of contraception’. The BBC report highlighted something called the ‘Pause Project’, which works with women who have had numerous babies taken by the State. The Pause Project website states that it “aims to break the cycle of repeat removal” and helps these women “take control of their lives and to develop new skills and responses. To do this they are required to take LARC during the intervention”.

LARC stands for ‘Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptive’. In other words, an implant, injection, or IUD.

So, in order to access support, women are effectively coerced into temporary sterilisation. Where have I heard this before? Oh right, that would be the eugenics movement. ‘Positive eugenics’ means encouraging certain members of society to have more children, whilst ‘Negative eugenics’ seeks to prevent reproduction by the “obviously unfit”.

It’s not hard to see which kind of eugenics is going on here.

Eugenics got a bit of a bad press after Dr Mengele’s activities were exposed, but it’s back in Britain’s good books now. Screening tests for Down Syndrome? That’s eugenics. Three-parent embryos to eradicate mitochondrial disease? Yep, that’s eugenics too. It just goes by a different name these days, dressed up in the language of charity and compassion and do-gooding. Modern day eugenics is about preventing suffering in children by preventing them from being born in the first place.

Pause recently secured funding from the Department for Education to expand its services.

Now clearly, no one wants babies to be born into awful situations where they’re going to be abused and neglected, but listening to these women’s stories it seems that no one in government, social services, the family courts, or the charity sector is prepared to believe in the redemptive power of motherhood to turn these women’s lives around. Second chances aren’t given. One mother reportedly had sixteen babies taken from her at birth.

Surely, it’s only natural that a woman who’s had her baby snatched away is going to want to get pregnant again as quickly as possible? What she’s yearning for is something to live for; something to give her a reason to get her life back on track. Children can do that for a woman. Not always, of course, and the State can and does intervene.

But simply to write a woman off on the basis of her past mistakes, and to take every subsequent newborn baby from her on the assumption that she is still an unfit mother, is to display very little faith in motherhood itself. Motherhood can effect dramatic changes and make the most irresponsible teenager suddenly grow up and become a mature member of society. But only if given the chance.

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Laura Keynes
Laura Keynes
Dr Keynes is a Cambridge-based academic, writer and critic with two very young children. She writes for Standpoint magazine, the Catholic Herald and The Tablet. Find her on twitter @LMKeynes.

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