In UK, if you abuse your children, they will be taken from you
Mr Daniel (not his real name) had been calling our office number at AFRUCA Manchester throughout the weekend trying desperately to speak to one of our social workers.
The night before, the police and the local authority children’s services had visited his house and removed his four children because he had used a belt to beat his son.
Daniel’s story is symptomatic of the increasing number of cases referred to us daily at AFRUCA Safeguarding Children, a UK charity working with children and families in Black communities across the country. Newly arrived parents, especially those on a student visa who had relocated to the UK might find themselves at risk of losing their children to the country’s child protection system due to the very strict compliance with child protection legislation expected of parents and carers.
Many Nigerians are relocating to the UK as people seek avenues to escape the harsh economic, political and security situation in Nigeria. At the same time, the UK government is encouraging more foreigners to study in the UK, especially in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic when international student intake was reduced considerably. International student fees are a high-income earner for UK universities and the government. People coming to study on a student visa pay on average a yearly fee of £15,000 – amounting to at least £30,000 per student on a two-year post-graduate programme. Hence there is an awful amount of pressure on international students to work the 20 hours per week allowed in order to raise enough income to pay their tuition fees and for subsistence.
There are other financial burdens taken on by international students – for example, the immigration health surcharge which can cost between £200 and £400 a year per individual.
The financial pressure is considerably higher when students arrive in the country with their family members, including children – a pattern quite common among Nigerian students who are possibly using the student visa route to permanently relocate their families abroad. Financial difficulties can lead to undue stress for the family and impact parenting capability.
The culture shock experienced on arrival can be a huge problem for many people, as they contend with differences in cultural and social norms and legal obligations. This is more so in how children are brought up and cared for. Newly arrived parents could get themselves into trouble if they continue with many of the cultural practices which are deemed “normal” in their home countries like Nigeria but illegal in the UK. Hence, what is seen as the correct way to bring up children in Nigeria, could be regarded as child abuse under the UK’s very strict child protection system.
International students without access to support from friends and family members will struggle with child care – especially if they combine study with work. Leaving children home alone is a child protection concern in the UK and is seen as a form of Child Neglect. It means that children are put at risk of significant harm without any adult to protect them.
Many Nigerian children have been removed from families due to child neglect. We have had cases at AFRUCA where parents have left children alone so they could go to work, and neighbours have noticed the pattern and informed the local authority Children’s Services, who alongside the police, have visited the home and removed the children before the return of the parents.
Another form of Child Neglect is not caring for the children’s well-being, perhaps because parents have been working and studying and are unable to cope or are experiencing financial difficulties. This includes children going to school hungry, or not eating during school lunch because their parents had not provided them with a meal or money for a school meal. This is an indicator that children might also not be fed at home. In this instance, the school might inform Children’s Services who will make a visit to the home to ascertain the environment in which the children are living.
Nigerian families who are not aware that certain cultural practices like female cutting or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are illegal in the UK could be committing a crime if these practices are carried out or if there are suspicions that children could be at risk of harm from these practices. A young Nigerian couple got themselves into trouble after they told a Health Visitor who came to inspect their newborn baby girl their family practised FGM. The newborn baby and her two-year-old sister were promptly removed for fear they would be at risk of Female Genital Mutilation.
A Nigerian family relocated to the country with their four children and also brought their “house-help” with them. A neighbour noticed the young girl – about 11 years old was always working in the garden, and he could hear her cry and shouted at by the adults in the house. He informed Children’s Services who visited the property, removed the five children as they were all deemed at risk of harm, but also charged the parents for Modern Slavery and Child Trafficking.
However, the key reason Nigerian families are in contact with Children’s Services is when children are removed due to Physical Abuse. Known by different names: “punishment”, “beating”, “discipline” and so on, children who have experienced these forms of abuse would be removed. Many parents have been left distraught when picking up their children after school, they have been informed they could not do so as children had made a disclosure and Children’s Services had been informed. Additionally, as other children in the family are seen to be at risk of significant harm, they would also be removed and placed in foster care, away from their parents.
Based on its statutory and legal duties, removing children from abusive parents and placing them in foster care is the local authority’s first step in ensuring the safety and protection of children. Children put in foster care would be sent to live in another household with someone appointed by the local authority for this purpose. In many instances, when multiple children in a family are taken by Children’s Services, they may be separated and placed with different foster carers, sometimes in different parts of the city.
Removal of children by the State can be a huge source of trauma and distress for parents and children. Aside this, the involvement of many practitioners in the family becomes the norm, as parents are required to attend a range of professionals’ assessment meetings and the family court. All this can be a major source of stress, worry and anxiety. The family court process can be very long and can take months or years. This can result in parents being unable to complete their studies or continue working – defeating the whole purpose of relocating to the UK in the first place. Sometimes parents are not allowed contact with their children – which heightens the anxiety both parents and children experience.
Children can also spend months or years in foster care, away from their parents and other siblings – which can be devastating for parents with resultant physical and mental health difficulties.
It is therefore essential for those relocating to the UK with their children to be aware of this massive and important focus on the well-being and protection of children. In the UK, the best interests of the child is paramount. There are no shortcuts to child protection – if you abuse your children according to the law of the land, they will be removed from you and placed in foster care.
Our role at AFRUCA is to work with parents where children have been removed to help them gain new knowledge and understanding of how to keep children safe, protect them and ensure their well-being. Even though we work in all Black and Ethnic Minority communities across the country, by far, the majority of our service users referred by Children’s Services across the country are Nigerians. This means many Nigerian children have been separated from their parents and are living in foster care. Some of these children would not return to their parents as they might be deemed incapable of looking after them.
Statistically, children who spend a long time in foster care do not have positive outcomes. They may end up with disrupted education, at risk of further abuse or criminal exploitation, or be involved in other forms of crime and criminality – leading to time in youth offending institutions and prison.
Hence it is of utmost importance for those relocating to the UK to be aware of the issues involved in relation to Child Protection. The UK authorities do not take kindly to child abuse or child maltreatment of any sort. Education about UK child protection laws, what constitutes child abuse and how to ensure the protection of children are all important aspects of preparation for relocation. Any parent who fails to take this into consideration will be doing so at his or her own risk.
AFRUCA produces a range of educational material which can be accessed on our website at www.afruca.org for parents and others to read and educate themselves so they do not fall foul of UK law on child protection.
Ariyo OBE is the Founder and CEO of AFRUCA-Safeguarding Children, a UK charity promoting the well-being and protection of children in Black communities.