'THE UK SOCIAL SERVICES' "They may
get want they Want" "They may get what they
But, they will get what they Deserve! L.Bevan
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DAILY MAIL - WEDNESDAY, 11th
Denise Robertson Letter
DAILY MAIL - SATURDAY, 7 TH
Daily Mail By Steve
Doughty Social Affairs Correspondent
"YOU'RE NOT CLEVER ENOUGH TO
HAVE CHILDREN - SO WE ARE TAKING THEM AWAY"
The photographs on the sitting
room walls are of happy times in a young family’s
life. In pride of place
are snapshots of a heartbreakingly pretty toddler the very image
of her mother at the same age.
her growing up playing on a slide, sitting on here mums knee and
smiling into the camera. More recent pictures show the new
addition, a little brother, still a baby shaking a rattle and
gazing at his father.
Yet this is
all the parents have left of their children. For the three year
old girl and eleven month old boy were taken away from them by Essex county council last October and they
have not seen the children for nearly six months.
In three weeks
time, their son and daughter will be adopted by a new “forever
mummy and daddy”, as the social services appallingly saccharine
jargon puts it, and contact with their birth parents will be
reduced to twice yearly letters and photographs.
terrible crime did this couple commit to have been punished so
cruelly? Did they beat their children? Was there sexual abuse?
Were the children left roaming the streets?
No. But the
reasons for the brutal fracturing of this family are just as
shocking. For these parents have been judged to be “too slow”
intellectually to have children.
authority has ruled that the youngsters were at risk of neglect
because their mother didn’t follow proper routines, took too long
to brush their teeth and change the baby’s nappies, left the
little girl to play alone, had difficulty learning how to cook
simple meals and did not encourage her daughter to sit on a
the father was criticised for being too rigid in his routines with
the children, and for becoming irritated by interference from the
who assessed the couple admitted that the children were loved,
kept clean, well-dressed and fed-but still recommended that they
be removed because the parents were not intelligent enough to
understand the children’s needs.
has, of course, had a devastating effect on the couple, who cannot
be named in order to protect the children’s identity, and raises
the most fundamental human question of what makes a fit parent-and
do social workers have the right to make such
In this case,
the mother, who is 28, has an IQ of 60 and was diagnosed as having
a mild learning disability as a child. She went to a special
school and learned top read and write, but is candid about the
difficulties she has in understanding simple ideas.
explains that she likes to have written instructions so she can
absorb them at her own pace, but she takes a full part in our
discussions about the children. The father who is 37 and her
partner of ten years has also been described as having learning
difficulties despite expert assessments to the contrary
He is an
unsophisticated gently spoken man, but takes his responsibilities
as breadwinner and father very seriously. He has worked for a
large manufacturing company for 22 years, and does much of the
house work and cooking.
He has a
detailed grasp of the chain of events that have destroyed his
family, recalling myriad names, dates and official decisions with
together in their two bed-bedroom council flat, their distress is
palpable. The mother says;” I want my children back. Without them
I can’t live, really”.
social workers say they have taken them because I don’t have a
routine for the children, it isn’t fair. They say I can’t do the
things the way they want me to.
They think I
am stupid-but I am not. I have always taught my little girl about
road safety. They think she will overtake me and be looking after
me, but she loved to help with the baby and everything.
to control her emotions as she recalls the day her children were
take from her.
took them, I went barmy I had to go into hospital because I was so
upset. We have been trying to get them back ever since.
“But they told
us the children are having a new forever mum and dad and that our
little girl doesn’t like us anymore and is not asking for us-and
that she is drawing pictures of her new forever mum and dad, not
us. It really upsets me.
adds” They took the children away because they thought our little
girls development was delayed and her need were not being
“They said she
was slower than others her age-she was slow in walking and her
speech was late developing, but she talked in the end and once she
started walking she was soon running. Children develop at
different rates, don’t they?
“But they said
her needs were not being met and she wouldn’t reach her full
potential if she stayed with us.
The case was
heard in the family courts, which operate in complete secrecy.
There powerful courts which deal with thousands of families each
year, sit without jury or public scrutiny to protect the
is that parents are left fighting desperate battles behind closed
doors. Those who protest or challenge this draconian state of
affairs are threatened with imprisonment, as a lone county
councillor discovered when he took up the couple’s
council took out an injunction to silence Barry Aspinell when he
began investigating the case, but he refused to be cowed. The
liberal democrat councillor risked going to prison for contempt of
court in order to bring the case into the public domain, and last
week, he won the battle to discuss it.
He said “There
has never been any accusation of harm to the children. This is
about the parents IQ.I think it is absolutely disgraceful
and heart rendering and the local authority has allowed a section
of its operations to make a judgement on people like that. I have
called for a full enquiry into this sorry business as a matter of
councils general scrutiny committee looked at whether it had been
over zealous in placing children with adoptive parents last year
after national concerns were raised about the growing number of
adoptions. It reported that Essex “meets or surpasses all national
did, however concede there was room for improvement in how the
council dealt with both parents.
Smith-Hughes, chairman of the general scrutiny committee, said” It
is clear that in placing the well-being of children at the centre
of the adoption process in line with national policy, more can be
done to explain the process to both parents. I am glad such
improvements are being put in place”.
But it appears
that for this couple, nothing can stop the final adoption hearing
later this month. The couple know there is little they can do, but
are adamant their story should be told.
was born a healthy 7lb 13ox in June 2001.The couple had been
together for six years, but the baby was unplanned, they admit, a
developed post-natal depression following a difficult birth, and
was put on anti depressants to help her cope. But she claims she
settled down well to motherhood with the help of her partner and
It was when
the baby was three months old that Essex social services got
involved. There were concerns about the child’s weight-gain. And a
social worker was asked to join the learning disabilities team and
health visitors in keeping an eye on the family. But within twelve
months, there were ten different professionals
been too much interfering, too many people watching us says the
surprisingly, being under such daily scrutiny began to take its
toll on the couple. Initially they co-operated with the
authorities-even welcoming two social workers into the family home
between 7.45am and 5.45pm every day for three weeks-but they
felt totally betrayed when the official reports on their behaviour
were, they say, both inaccurate and unfair.
completed in June 2003 said that both parents had “some degree of
flatly denies that he ever had a disability, and the error was
reluctantly acknowledged by the local authority almost a year
There was a
great detail about the mother’s bathroom habits, while a whole
section on how long she took to brush her teeth in the morning and
the effect this would have on their child.
it repeated allegations that the father had a tendency to lose his
temper with his partner, although the claims were based on
It also stated
that the police were called once by a neighbour who claimed to
have heard shouting and the baby screaming inside the flat. Essex police confirmed that they had
responded to the call but” had no concerns at the house, there had
been no signs of a disturbance and no one was making any
report concluded that the child was loved and her parents wanted
the best for her.
But the mother
was accused of failing to provide” adequate stimulation to allow
her to reach her full potential and there was a warning that if
the child had that stimulation she may well overtake her mother in
her abilities and become her carer. Whatever happens the parents
The child was
put on the at risk register by social services two months later
under the scrutiny of “neglect”, and the authority applied for an
interim care order for the girl in march 2004.
later, with the mother pregnant again, a group of professionals
involved in the day-to-day care of the family met to decide
whether to put the couples unborn son on the at risk register as
meeting a support worker said a second child would not be any more
stressful than any other mother, and one of the health visitors
said that the couple were coping quite well with the right
support, but the mother lost confidence when she was put under
constant scrutiny by experts.
The issue of
the fathers temper was raised again, but one local authority
worker said that the anger-management sessions arranged by the
council was discontinued because “he did not have a problem” and
another pointed out that he had lost his temper only when
frustrated by interference in his family. Then, in an astonishing
voice face, the meeting voted by four to one to take the girl off
the at-risk register and take no action on the unborn
chairman of the meeting was outraged by the decision and demanded
that his dissent be recorded, saying later it was the wrong
decision and “the couples disability does impact on their ability
to parent their children.
He then called
on another meeting less than a month later, on the basis of a
second assessment report, and took another vote. This time the
professionals decided by four votes to two to put both children on
the at risk register.
who went to many of the meetings to discuss their children’s
future, are at a loss to explain how things changed so
meeting last April, the father says, a lot of people were
supporting us and our little girl was taken off the at risk
register and they voted not to put the baby, who wasn’t even born,
on the register. But a month later, the children were put back on
the at risk register. How can this happen?
took a turn for the worse. A social worker called at the flat to
tell them court proceedings were being started to remove the
children from them altogether, and on October 8 last year they
were taken away.
says “They were taken into council care at the court hearing. The
judge said neither of us had done anything wrong. I was told it
was because I had jogged routines- I didn’t do things in the right
“They took the
children away while we were still in court and they were being
looked after by their grandmother.
takes up the story as his wife begins to cry, saying “There were
two social workers waiting outside my mums door for the verdict.
When the doorbell went, my little girl ran to the door because she
thought it was me.. My mum was too upset to put them in the car,
so the social workers did it.
“It was about
ten days before we saw them, and then we had contact for only
one-and-a-half hours every week at a family centre. It was very
difficult for us and out little girl. The poor thing didn’t know
what was going on.
thread of contact was broken in November after, driven to
distraction, the mother pulled the social workers hair at the end
of a traumatic visit. She says; they wouldn’t let us take photos
of the children and they were criticising me for everything I did,
and I had enough so I pulled her hair. I hear she is still off
with stress and we have not seen the children since.
council said in a statement yesterday that its priority in every
case was to ensure the well being of the children concerned,
pointing out that cases can be complex and that the court takes
the final decision.
It adds “The
view of Essex county
council is that a loving and secure family gives a child the best
possible start in life. The vast majority of the work of our
children’s social work team is to support families through
difficult times to keep them together.
“In a very
small number of cases, this simply isn’t possible. The story of a
child who is adopted or fostered rarely has a happy beginning, but
so often this gives the child the opportunity and security that
only a loving home can provide”.
leaves the couple struggling to understand what they have done
wrong and to cope with the thought that they can never be parents
says quietly;” Last November the community nurse told us that any
baby we had would be put on the at risk register and taken
adds;” We don’t want any more babies, I only wanted two
will never be forgotten. The couple sent presents for their
daughter and son at Christmas, but were not allowed to see them
says;” Christmas was horrendous, We gave the children a loads of
presents-two big sack loads, but we didn’t know that they got them
until a few weeks ago. It is their birthdays next month, but we
can’t see them. It is too much to bear.
We have heard
our little boy has had a brain scan, but we don’t know why because
they won’t tell us”
adds;” In court, they said our little girl would have a better
life, but I said she had a good life with us”. We went to Clacton
to a holiday caravan and on day trips to parks and a farm
“We were just
told that they were going to be adopted and that was the end of
it. Our only contact is a twice yearly post box, when we can send
a letters and get pictures of them. That makes me so upset because
I don’t really want to do that. I miss them and I wonder what they
The Editor of the Daily Mail
makes a judgement on future articles by the public
perception/response of/to such articles. The feedback is
one indication. E-mail Fiona Barton
telephone Fiona on her direct line: 0207
11th July 2005
Thank you for your e-mail. I have lost count
of the number of letters, phone calls and e-mails we have received
this year concerning problems that viewers have encountered with
the family courts and social services and was grateful that you
took the time and the trouble to let me know about the work of
I do believe that there is now a faint glimmer
of hope that changes will begin to happen. There is now a growing
movement (which includes yourselves, Unity Injustice and The
National Society for Children and Family Contact - 0870 766 8596)
which seeks to address the kind of problems experienced by so many
people. I have seen a number of articles and reports in the press
recently and I am also aware that a group of concerned solicitors
are also keen to investigate the mounting number of cases
involving the questionable decisions of the courts and social
services in many child welfare cases. I sincerely hope that as a
result the training, practices, and decision-making processes are
clearly re-assessed. Of course when change does happen - as I
believe it must - it will come too late for so many people who
will have had their families ripped apart and/or damaged
irrevocably by the negligence and mishandling that has existed for
far too long in some quarters.
I have been terribly moved and inspired to
know that are so many people - either working collectively or on
their own - who are trying to bring about change in the family
courts and social services systems. Please feel free to keep me
updated with any developments or news that you think might
interest me - I am most keen to be kept informed.
Every best wish