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Why We Break Up Families – and How to Mend Them
  • Author
    • Polly Curtis
Regular price £10.99
Regular price Sale price £10.99




Meet the mother whose children were taken away, and the father who fought for his son. Listen to the radical social worker, the judge, the lawyer. See inside the homes of foster carers, adoptive parents and children in care. Because behind closed doors, a scandal is ongoing.

We now remove more children from their parents than ever before, more than any other western country. Not because of a rise in physical or sexual abuse, but because of complex factors that are overlooked and misunderstood.

Children's Care is a system where fathers are ignored, and mothers are punished for experiencing abuse. Rife with prejudices about race, ableism and class, determined by a postcode lottery. Blind to poverty and its effects on family life. And, at its very worst, an exercise in social engineering that can never replace parental love.

This is not a soft issue. Not a 'women and children' problem. It is a prism through which we can understand the deepest issues at play in politics, economics and society today, and it is happening behind closed doors.

Because of legal restrictions against reporting in family courts, the uneasy work of social care and the shame poured on parents, these problems remain out of our sight. They are the subject of horror headlines or stale statistics. But family life is at the heart of who we are as people, and it is they who can help us understand.

From North to South, rich and poor, Black and white, these are the people who know, first-hand, what is going wrong - and how we can fix it.

These are their stories.




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  • Published: Jan 12 2023
  • 196 x 124mm
  • ISBN: 9780349014517
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Press Reviews

  • Lemn Sissay, author of My Name is Why
    A riveting investigation into how society looks after its greatest and most valuable vulnerable asset: the child. Behind Closed Doors is a page-turner on one hand and a thoughtful meditation on the other: dispassionate, balanced and brave. Curtis goes where most do not and draws surprisingly frank testimony from judges, social workers, parents and children. Every parent, every politician, every social worker should read this brilliant book on our present state.
  • Hannah Jane Parkinson
    A fascinating and much-needed study into the UK's opaque and Kafkaesque child protection system. Curtis explores the stories beyond sensationalist headlines and gives voice to the children and parents so often reduced to statistics. Whether it is shadowing a judge, explaining the difference between public and private family proceedings, or interviewing politicians, Curtis walks us through every aspect of the care apparatus. Behind Closed Doors is equal parts characterful, narrative drive and impeccably researched guide. Much in this book is shocking and surprising, some is motivating and inspiring: all of it is vital. A book which should be read by anybody who has ever been a child.
  • Hilary Cottam, author of Radical Help
    We have invisibly re-written the rules of family life creating one of the biggest child removal systems in the world. In this balanced, forensic and compelling book Polly Curtis shows what is happening to the most vulnerable families in Britain, how we are all complicit and what we could do about it. Everyone should read this book.
  • Mariana Mazzucato, UCL Professor, author of Mission Economy
    Gandhi claimed that 'The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members'. This book, by one of Britain's best journalists writing about social justice, provides a damning indictment of just that: a dysfunctional society that is punishing victims instead of investing in the roots of the problem. Anyone interested in the social and economic solutions to the system that is failing children and their families must read this book.
  • Oliver Bullough, author of Moneyland
    This extraordinary book reveals a hidden side of Britain we should all know about. It's sympathetic, and passionate, and an absolute must-read.
  • Ian Birrell, winner of the 2020 Orwell Prize for Investigating Social Evils
    An important book that poses profound questions for our society
  • Jacqueline Wilson, author of The Story of Tracy Beaker
    A must-read book. It's a brilliant examination of the Care system, with thoughtful suggestions of how it can be improved. Polly Curtis is refreshingly honest, sensitive and never shrill.
  • Matt d'Ancona, Tortoise
    One of the most important books on British society for many years. It is rigorous, evidence-led and clear-eyed. But it is also immensely readable, thanks to her ability to weave humanity and public policy into a fine narrative. Curtis's book is much more than a study of children, families and social services: it is an MRI scan of society as a whole and its interconnected dysfunctions. In its scope, originality and potential impact, I can only compare it to Richard Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy (1957): it deserves the widest possible readership.
  • Eve White

    Reaction, 2022
    Unflinching yet compassionate reflection of the UK's care system . . . Essential reading on possibly the most important and overlooked responsibility of the state.
  • Yvonne Roberts

    Meticulous . . . Curtis excavates the truth
  • Books of the Year

    An impressive balance between empathy and investigation... Curtis doesn't only highlight the problem - of thousands of families being broken up due to institutional fears and failings - but also proposes solutions that are persuasive and practicable