P4p Wales/Cymru Campaigning for Parents Rights in Family Law
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Essex Social Services

Daily Mail by Fiona Barton May 7th 05

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'THE UK SOCIAL SERVICES' "They may get want they Want" "They may get what they Need" 

But, they will get what they Deserve! L.Bevan [P4p] Full News Video 357kbps


Denise Robertson Letter to P4p


Daily Mail By Steve Doughty Social Affairs Correspondent



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.

They chronicle 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.

So, what 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.

The local 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 potty.

Perversely, the father was criticised for being too rigid in his routines with the children, and for becoming irritated by interference from the local authority.

Social workers 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.

That judgement 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 judgements?

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.

Surely, she 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 ease.

Sitting 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”.

When the 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.

She struggles to control her emotions as she recalls the day her children were take from her.

“When they 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.

The father adds” They took the children away because they thought our little girls development was delayed and her need were not being met.

“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 children.

The corollary 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 case.

Essex county 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 urgency”.

Essex county 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 requirements”.

The committee did, however concede there was room for improvement in how the council dealt with both parents.

Tom 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.

Their daughter 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 shock.

The mother 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 health visitors.

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 involved.

“There has been too much interfering, too many people watching us says the mother.

Hardly 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.

The first, completed in June 2003 said that both parents had “some degree of learning disabilities”

The father flatly denies that he ever had a disability, and the error was reluctantly acknowledged by the local authority almost a year later.

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.

More seriously it repeated allegations that the father had a tendency to lose his temper with his partner, although the claims were based on hearsay.

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 allegations.

The first 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 couldn’t win.

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.

One month 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 well.

At this 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 child.

But the 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.

The couple, who went to many of the meetings to discuss their children’s future, are at a loss to explain how things changed so rapidly.

“At the 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?

But matters 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.

The mother 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 order.

“They took the children away while we were still in court and they were being looked after by their grandmother.

The father 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.

That slender 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.

Essex county 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”.

Which still leaves the couple struggling to understand what they have done wrong and to cope with the thought that they can never be parents again?

The father says quietly;” Last November the community nurse told us that any baby we had would be put on the at risk register and taken away.

His partner adds;” We don’t want any more babies, I only wanted two anyway.

The children will never be forgotten. The couple sent presents for their daughter and son at Christmas, but were not allowed to see them open them.

The father 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”

The mother 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 place.

“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 think”

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 fiona.barton@dailymail.co.uk or telephone Fiona on her direct line:  0207 9386275 NOW!

11th July 2005

Dear Layton

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 parents4protest.

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

Denise Robertson


The Gulag Of The Family Courts by Jack Frost



The Parent Protest Group Campaigning for Parents Rights protesting against the Wales and UK Family Court's for Justice and Equality.

Exposing the truth to fight Injustice in Family Law

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