£4 BILLION – the current outstanding child maintenance bill

£4 billion.

This is the outstanding arrears of child maintenance owed in England and Wales. According to a report by the charity Gingerbread called Missing Maintenance, the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) estimates that only £467 million will ever be recovered.This leaves nearly one half of single parent families, the vast majority headed by women, living in poverty.

The current Conservative government is in the process of closing the Child Support Agency (CSA) to replace it with the Child Maintenance Service, which charges women £20 for the privilege of opening a file and then a sum each month if some semblance of the maintenance is actually paid. The new vaunted system has seen only 53% of the families registered receiving maintenance with 90 000 people having not paid during one three month period. There is already nearly £53 million in unpaid maintenance. Many of the families will receive only negligible amounts of money, as the DWP does not require the full maintenance to be paid in order for the account to be registered as compliant. Realistically, a father of 4 earning £70 000 a year can pay only £5 a month and still be included within the 53% statistic.

Equally problematic is the fact that the Child Maintenances Service is actively writing to the primary caregivers to request they ‘forgive’ the debt owed by non-paying fathers – as though the primary caregivers of children, who are overwhelmingly women, can neglect to pay rent, council tax and the credit card debts they rack up buying groceries knowing these debts will be ‘forgiven’. As Polly Toynbee makes clear,

Some 90% of CSA cases have now been transferred over to the CMS, but only 13% of mothers affected have decided to pay the new fees and apply to the CMS: the DWP must be pleased, as it had publicly estimated that 63% would pursue their claims. All the pressure in official letters is to deter mothers. The £20 fee may be a mild block, along with charging fathers 4%, but the evidence suggests mothers just give up when prodded by these letters.

Charging mothers to use the Child Maintenance Service is simply a way for the government to abdicate responsibility. They are very clear that the sole purpose is to force more parents into dealing with child maintenance themselves. In doing so, they have refused to recognise the reason why men, and it is overwhelmingly men, refuse to pay maintenance: it is both a punishment and a form of control over their former partners. This is male entitlement writ large by men who do not care about the welfare of their children.

We need to start calling the refusal to pay maintenance what it really is: financial child abuse. Forcing your children to live in poverty because you cannot be bothered to support them or refusing to punish the mother are not the signs of ‘good fathers’. It is the hallmark of an abusive father.

It is not difficult to implement child maintenance policies that are effective and ensure that men cannot hide their assets. Placing the Child Maintenance Service under the heading of HM Revenue & Customs so that child maintenance is garnished directly from the salary of the non-resident parent. This coupled with actual punitive policies for those who refuse to pay, such as a fee for every missed payment, interest accrued on outstanding payments, and the use of enforcement agents (bailiffs) to confiscate personal property, and, potentially, criminal proceedings would see an immediate increase in the number of men who start to pay their maintenance. Canada’s maintenance enforcement program has the right to suspend the driver’s licenses and passports of men who are in arrears recognising that the legal obligation to pay maintenance being higher than the desire to vacation in Hawaii.

There is a quote bandied about in discussions of child contact and child maintenance that says ‘children aren’t pay per view’, as though children were nothing more than a possession to be passed about. As with Women’s Aid campaign, Child First: Safe Contact Saves Lives, we need to stop talking about children as possessions and start talking about children’s rights.[7] Children have the right to live free from violence. Children also have the right to live outwith poverty.

The erasure of men’s financial responsibility for their children, supported by government policy, is an absolute disgrace. It is, simply, state sanctioned child abuse.

 

Gingerbread’s Missing Maintenance Report

Child First: Safe Contact Saves Lives Petition

 

 

How to identify a school you shouldn’t send your kids too.

A school in Gustine Texas has forced around two dozen kids, segregated them by sex and then forced them to pull down their pants after feces was discovered on the gym floor. The school’s defence, via Superintendent Baugh of the school district, appears to be that they only made the kids pull down their pants just a little bit.

Because there is totally an acceptable amount of lowering underwear that schools should be able to force children to do.

I am completely flabbergasted by this. I cannot believe that any adult with even a modicum of respect for children could even think about doing this, never mind actually following through with it. And, this is without getting into the issues of child protection and the possibility of the child acting out due to child sexual abuse or a developmental delay that results in children being unable to understand the consequences of their actions. I find it very hard to believe a neurotypical child who has never experienced abuse would do something like this. Even if this turns out to be a bet between children, there is clearly an unhealthy power dynamic occurring.

The parents have gone to the media and are demanding that the school be held accountable. I’d be tossing around words like sexual assault and threatening to sue the school. I’d also be looking for a new school for my kid because children have the right to bodily autonomy. They shouldn’t be exposed to this type of abusive behaviour. Because, it is abusive.

Granted, finding feces on the gym floor isn’t a highlight of anyone’s career in education and a school in this situation does need to find the child responsible. They need to find the culprit to appropriately support the child. Demanding children lower their underwear is disgusting behaviour – and this without getting into the issue of child sexual abusers working in schools. To be honest, I’d be wondering if the teachers whose idea this was and those who participated were child sexual abusers. I certainly wouldn’t trust them near children.

What if they had found the culprit this way? Does the school believe public humiliation is an appropriate punishment? Or, that mass humiliation as a communal punishment is anything but piss poor teaching? What if the child had done it as a cry for help because of sexual abuse in the home? Or, that the gym teacher was sexually abusing them? Or, the caretaker staff were? What if this was an accident following long-term bullying of the child by other students? What if it were incontinence caused by long-term anal rape?

There are so many other questions that arise from a school who does this that I could spend the next 7 hours listing them. What they all boil down to is that any school who thinks this is appropriate isn’t a safe school for children.

Lena Dunham and the importance of appropriate language.

I am not a fan of Lena Dunham. Her type of humour has never appealed to me and this is without acknowledging the very valid criticisms of her work from Women of Colour. Dunham’s casual racism has been well documented and isn’t something we can pretend doesn’t exist just because, as feminists, we think women’s representation on mainstream television is important. We can believe it is important without ignoring issues of racism (or classism, homophobia, sexism). After all, it’s hardly an accurate representation of women if you create a television program based in New York with mainly white women. Disney isn’t capable of producing television which isn’t full of white middle class kids. Feminists should be held to a higher standard.

When I first read the passages from Dunham’s book listed online, I honestly didn’t even know where to start deconstructing them. At best, they demonstrate some truly problematic behaviour – even if the only problematic behaviour turns out to be what she was written. It is possible that Dunham, who describes herself as an unreliable narrator, has written events that perhaps never happened. Even if it turns out to be all exaggeration, their inclusion and the language used is a problem.

Here’s the thing: children exploring their bodies isn’t new and it isn’t always a sign of an abuser. Baby boys frequently play with their penis when they discover it feels nice. Little girls play with their vulvas for the same reason. Some children are also obsessed with sticking objects in their noses and ears that I’m not overly shocked that a one year old might stick marbles in their vagina as Dunham claims her sister did. I’m also not surprised that a one year old might think it funny to be found out. Children wanting to look at each other’s bodies isn’t exactly abnormal either. There is a power difference between a 7 year old child and a 1 year old baby. This power differential in siblings cannot be underestimated (and I say this as as oldest child).  Abusive or manipulative behaviour isn’t uncommon in children either. It doesn’t mean the child is an abuser – or will grow up to be abusive.

What I do find shocking is Dunham’s language when she discusses her treatment of her sister: trying to kiss her and masturbating in the bed beside her. The behaviour Dunham describes isn’t necessarily abuse but the language used in the text is deeply problematic. It is also not unusual for children who have experienced sexual abuse to engage in these types of behaviours. This may be only poorly written descriptions of childhood exploration but it would inappropriate for a teacher or social worker not to raise it as an issue of concern if they had known. I don’t mean every example of this type of incident must go to a full children’s panel but it does necessitate some investigation.

The language used is hyperbolic. It isn’t the language I expect from an adult feminist who understands the power of language. Dunham is a comedian: words are her financial security. To write about these incidents in the manner she did, Dunham has left herself open, at best, to valid criticism from survivors of child sexual exploitation. At worst, Dunham has admitted to grossly inappropriate and abusive behaviour to her younger sibling. I also have to wonder if Dunham asked permission of her sister to write about these incidents. If she didn’t, then Dunham has used her position of power to once again cause her sister potential harm and embarrassment.

This line in particular is deeply worrying:

“anything a sexual predator might do”

Whilst it’s not commonly used in the UK, the term sexual predator has a specific legal meaning in the US and Dunham will have known that. Dunham, regardless of whether or not she calls herself a reliable narrator, will be well aware of the context in which she wrote this text. Even if Dunham felt it necessary to discuss her behaviour as a child towards her sister, this language is unnecessarily inflammatory and, frankly, utterly ridiculous.

What I also find incredibly problematic is the response from some that Dunham can’t have been sexually abusive to her younger sister because she’s a feminist. It is entirely possible for a woman who self-defines as a feminist to be abusive. It is possible for them to be sexually abusive to other women. Labelling oneself a feminist does not preclude taking responsibility for the consequences of our words.

It may be that Dunham made much of this up in order to sell more copies of the book – it certainly wouldn’t be the first time a celebrity  has exaggerated their behaviour in order to get more attention.  Whatever scenario this turns out be, Dunham needs to step up and take some responsibility for her actions and the consequences of her words.

Dear BBC, Khloe Abrams was killed by her father.

Liam Culverhouse, of Northamptonshire, pled guilty in a Nottingham Crown Court to the charge of causing or allowing the death of his daughter.

Khloe Abrams died at the age of 19 months from a serious trauma following a brutal assault by her father Liam. Khloe died from her injuries 18 months after her father assaulted her. Khloe was an infant and her father caused her such serious trauma that she spent the last 18 months of her life in a hospice in Loughborough, Leicestershire.

This is the story of Khloe’s brutal murder at the hands of the one man who should have protected her but you wouldn’t be able to tell from the BBC’s coverage of the casehere

There are 333 words in the BBC article.

Exactly 37 words refer to Khloe.

Exactly 36 words refer to the criminal case and plea from Liam Culverhouse.

A further 34 words refer to the case refer to Khloe’s mother Clare Abrams.

In article of 333 words, only 107 words refer to the actual death of a baby at the hands of her father.

The BBC devoted the other 226 words to coverage of Liam Culverhouse’s career as a soldier in Afghanistan.

The death of a baby at the hands of her father isn’t considered as important as her father’s career as a soldier.

Liam Culverhouse survived an attack in Helmand province in 2009 that resulted in the death of 5 other soldiers. It is possible that the trauma Culverhouse suffered was directly linked to his violent behaviour which resulted in a brutal attack on his 7 week old daughter. But, this isn’t what the BBC wrote about. 

There is an actual discussion that needs to be had over the increased violence and self-harm perpetrated by returning soldiers who have PTSD. We all know soldiers are more likely to commit suicide, they have higher rates of violence against partners and children and they have higher rates of substance misuse. The failure to support returning troops and the subsequent impact on their families and friends is a disgrace to our nation. This is an important story to tell.

It is entirely possible that the violent assault on Khloe by her father was caused by PTSD. It is also possible that Culverhouse was simply a violent man.

The BBC doesn’t even bother to investigate these issues; instead it has written an entire article on the death of a baby by glorifying the military career of her killer.

We need to have a real conversation about PTSD in returning soldiers. We need to talk about self-harm and domestic violence. We need to talk about sexual violence. We need to talk about why our government still has no real programs in place to deal with PTSD and male violence within the Armed Forces.

We need to have these conversations honestly. Erasing the crime committed by a man who happened to experience a traumatic event is not an honest conversation. It is just another example of a man’s responsibility for violence being eradicated.


Khloe Abrams was brutally assaulted at the age of 7 weeks. Her death is the fault of her father. This is the story the BBC should have reported.

[Thank you to EVB_Now for bringing this case to my attention]