'I ran away to France to keep my baby'

Through the story of one woman, Zara, this article from BBC News highlights a growing trend of parents in the UK (particularly pregnant women) who flee to other countries in the fears that, if they stay, their children will be taken into care. When they flee, they are often made more vulnerable to financial and sexual exploitation, says Sarah Phillimore, a barrister who specialises in family law who is quoted in this article.

In Zara's case, she was pregnant with her third child and began to fear that the authorities would take her newborn into care, as they had done with her first two children. "Removal is just like losing a child. You feel compelled to be a mother and there's a child-shaped hole in your heart that needs filling. I've never really recovered," says Zara. "When I became pregnant for the third time it was a new beginning. I thought it was OK to move on and start again. I was living in hope," Zara says. "I wanted to be the mum I was never allowed to be, because of abusive relationships and my volatile family situation."

Zara's plan as she prepared to give birth to her third child was "to convince [the authorities] that she was capable of being a mother. But they had not given her a Yes or a No and the baby was about to arrive." Fearing that her child would be removed from her care, Zara began researching on the internet and found some online groups that ultimately convinced her to flee. She was invited by one of the members of the online group, a British woman living in France, to come stay with her and so Zara took off for France, where she was picked up at the train station by the woman she'd met online and taken to a situation that made her feel very vulnerable. Zara's bank card and passport were confiscated by the woman but she was eventually able to take them back and fled the woman's home. Zara remained in France for about a year and was able to keep her child in her care. However, she decided to return to the UK after about a year and, upon her return, her daughter was taken into care by the British authorities. "If I hadn't fled my child may not have been taken from me and I wouldn't have been labelled a flight risk. I wish I had never gone," says Zara.

Sarah Phillimore believes that families in the UK are finding themselves in situations like Zara's partly because of "a 'serious crisis' in social work - one that often leaves social workers without time to establish the trusting relationships that are needed when dealing with people who are 'frightened by a system they don't understand.'" "Every European country has a mechanism for non-consensual adoption; only the UK uses it with such enthusiasm," says Phillimore. "Families have the perception that places like France are perceived as more sympathetic and supportive - so they flee."