The aim of the Mothers Apart Project was to develop a multi-agency workshop for professionals responding to mothers separated from their children.
Mothers apart is a term that is used by women in the charity, MATCH Mothers who often experience nightmare scenarios of losing their children to their abusers when family courts and social services become involved, and prioritise children’s relationships with abusive men over the safety of women and children.
Mother-child separations often occur in a context of domestic abuse, particularly coercive control. It is common for mother-child relationships to be targeted by abusers who utilise grooming and conditioning strategies involving the use of children to cause psychological/emotional harm to mothers. Exploitation of institutions and manipulation of the children, professionals, friends and family are key tactics in such strategies. In the family courts, there is a contradiction between violent men and men as fathers, which means that mothers can be blamed for failing to protect children when they are in an abusive relationship, yet also blamed for failing to encourage contact between children and their fathers when they leave the abusive relationship. When family courts blame mothers in these ways, women can lose custody of their children when an order is made for the child to either go into care or be placed in the care of the father.
The Mothers Apart Project was central to a doctoral study funded by a Faculty of Health and Life Sciences PhD studentship at Coventry University. Ethical clearance was granted for this project number P26848 entitled: Developing training for professionals working with mothers separated from their children in a context of domestic and sexual violence and abuse. The principal researcher and project leader was Laura Monk and the supervisory team comprised Professor Erica Bowen (Director of Studies), Professor Sarah Brown and Dr Emma Sleath.
The overarching aims of the project were to raise awareness of the needs of mothers who become (or are at risk of becoming) separated from their children, improve responses to these needs and inform practice. The needs of the children in many cases would be best met by first meeting the needs of their mothers. As Liz Kelly said at the Women’s Aid 40th Anniversary National Conference: “Woman protection is frequently the most effective form of child protection”. In the spirit of keeping mothers and children together in the aftermath of violence and abuse, mothers apart and interested professionals were invited to inform the planning and development stages of a training programme aimed at best practice in responding to complex needs. A workshop was trialled in 2015 at Coventry University. This was a community based action research project that involved and empowered the communities who were the potential beneficiaries of the training developed in this study. Methods of data collection for this project included interviews, focus groups, planning groups, autoethnography and an evaluation of the training.
I was inspired by Pat Thomson’s blog, patter, which is a great resource for PhD students. The blog is a mine of information that influenced my decision to blog about my research project. As a past mother apart myself, the Mothers Apart Project is close to my heart and I am committed to creating real change. I was not an academic helicoptering in to study a community only to leave once the study was complete without achieving anything positive for the community members. I want to thank the charity, MATCH Mothers, that I have been a member of for over ten years by giving something back. This charity is an amazing community of incredibly brave women who offer their strength and support to each other in terrible circumstances of becoming separated from children. Please consider joining if you are a mother apart and please donate if you wish to offer much-needed financial support.
I hope you check-in again soon and I welcome your feedback.