Who’s an unfit mother?
We need to be very careful before we decide to break up families.
She has 10 children by 6 different fathers, a couple of them known to be abusers. But is it correct that the authorities in Britain have removed this 33-year-old mother’s children and given some of them up for adoption, as reported in the Telegraph?

Governments and society surely do have responsibility for protecting children, even from their own parents if necessary. But breaking up a family – even as unusual a one as this – might not be the best way to deal with these situations.

Deciding that a parent is unfit is a difficult landmark to turn back from. In my opinion, despite her tricky circumstances, the fact that she had abusive partners doesn’t make this an unfit mother.  Nor even does the fact that she’s had so many children with different fathers.

Troubled, yes, foolish, yes, and in need of help, most definitely.

Where do we draw the line? If someone is a convicted criminal, does that make them an unfit parent? What if they are addicted to alcohol or drugs? Or, as in a previous story we wrote about, what if their children are obese?

If the child is not in immediate danger, there must be better ways to handle these cases than to remove the child from the home, parent and siblings.

What other options are there?

Simply providing information doesn’t really seem to work. My teenage son’s generation of South African learners have been bombarded with information about HIV, using protection and so on since primary school. But still the teenage pregnancy rate is shockingly high.

Or should we in fact institute the parenting test, preventing people from breeding by some government-operated mechanism?

Something about that scares me. Soon there would be means tests, or someone would decide that people who are not 100% healthy shouldn’t breed, or someone would bring race into it somehow.

Could social welfare organisations perhaps start a mentoring programme, where grandmothers who have successfully raised families are recruited to assist young mothers? In the situation where our extended families seem to be collapsing, can we recreate them artificially, to rebuild families instead of breaking them up further? It seems a place to start.

In your opinion, what is an unfit parent?

Read more by Adele Hamilton

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