When a couple brought their newborn son to a hospital with a fractured arm, Coventry social services were called in on suspicion that the child might have been injured by his parents.
The mother was arrested, handcuffed and detained for nine hours, fearing her child might be taken away. Although not charged with any offence, the couple remain on police bail, preventing them leaving the country.
The child was taken by his Irish grandmother to Ireland, where is he supported by a family. Social services are still attempting to get an order through the courts for the grandmother to return to England.
This is just one case study of “forced adoption” – a term used by critics of the practice of removing children permanently from their parents and their subsequent adoption.
Aside from Croatia, Britain is the only EU member state that practices forced adoption and for some, it is a secretive system that allows social workers to separate children from loving families without proper justification and with little concern for their interests.
But for others, adoption is only carried out when it is in the child’s best interests to do so – and criticism of the social care system is merely a consequence of the incomprehensibly difficult task of removing children from their parents.
There are 92,000 “looked after” children in the UK – meaning cared for by the state – according to NSPCC. More than half of these children in England and Wales became looked after because of abuse or neglect between 2012 and 2013 but critics say they have had their sons and daughters taken away for less.
Ian Josephs, who runs the Forced Adoption website, has helped hundreds of families in this situation.
Speaking to IBTimes UK, he explained lots of parents feel they are punished without having committed a crime.
“No baby or child should be removed from parents and put into care unless one of the parents has committed, or at least been charged with a crime against children,” he said.
But the argument for forcible adoptions is that if left too late, the child may be at risk or serious harm or even suffer death.
However, another problem lies in determining if and proving that, particularly in cases of emotional abuse, there is sufficient evidence to take the child away.
Critics state there are a number of procedural issues surrounding forced adoption. Some argue that due to increased funding for social services units – that effectively place a greater number of children with adopted families – there are financial incentives for local authorities to secure adoptions.
Moreover, some argue there is a demonisation of parent’s embroiled in care proceedings. More than 90% of families where children are forcibly adopted live below the poverty line – despite counterarguments that child abuse and neglect are not class issues.
Around 45% of the parents have mental health problems, which often go undiagnosed, unassessed or untreated, before proceedings take place.
Once a child is placed for adoption, neither the parents nor child have any recourse open to them to reverse the process – even when evidence comes to light that shows that the reasons for the adoption were flawed.
Currently, families subjected to forced adoption may also be prohibited by court order from publicly discussing their case and attempting to contact their children.
“Most parents who contact me say they have done nothing wrong and if they speak the truth, they shouldn’t be punished by the state by having their children confiscated – nor should they receive gagging orders to stop them complaining publicly and breaching their freedom of speech,” said Josephs.
Speaking at a conference for the charity Children Screaming to be Heard, Josephs stated that when children are taken into care, gagging orders isolate children from family and friends.
“Even if parents have done committed a crime, the children haven’t – we shouldn’t treat them like them have,” he added.
Introduced in April, the Children and Families Act 2014 seeks to reshape the adoption system – in particular, to get children placed with adoptive families more quickly.
But while adopting is necessary for children in danger, there are a number of solutions that don’t punish the families of children who are not.
Such solutions include pre-proceedings intensive support, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and specialist family support services.
Rather than bonuses for placing children in care, they could be used to support families remaining together.
The dad of seven set up a website and receives “around a thousand” calls a year from mothers.
Britain is the only EU country allowing forced adoption. Last year, 1,860 children were adopted without parental consent.
Mr Josephs, 82, features in an ITV documentary on Tuesday. He is shown advising a woman called Mary with previous mental health issues who has two children in care and is expecting another.
Mary, who now raises her child in France, said: “The social services here are helpful and supportive, the opposite of the UK.”
Mr Josephs says he ploughs through piles of documents before agreeing to help.
He said: “Adoption shouldn’t go ahead if a mother is begging to get her child back. They should be given a fair chance.
“Social services used to only take children away if a parent was convicted of cruelty. Now social workers are feared and hated.
But one GP who works with social services said: “People think they are right to help a mother but they do not have all the background to a case.
The documentary, which shows secret filming of social workers and police taking a child away, also features retired Court of Protection Judge, Sir Mark Hedley who claims there is “increased pressure” on social workers to intervene because of cases like Baby P.
* Exposure: Don’t Take My Child is on ITV on Tuesday at 10.40pm
A senior judge has said there is a “highly defensive atmosphere” in social services about “future disasters” meaning that social workers are under increased pressure to intervene into the lives of families.
The comments from Justice Sir Mark Hedley come as the chief executive of campaign group British Association of Social Workers said its members were working in a ‘climate of fear’ and often had to ‘play it safe’.
The concerns are investigated in a new documentary, to be aired on ITV at 10.35pm on Tuesday 15th July, called Exposure: Don’t take my Child.
The programme examines how and why social workers are increasingly prepared to remove children from their birth parents through forced adoption.
There is a highly defensive atmosphere around both in social services and in the state generally about future disasters like that happening again.
That has meant I think that there is increased regulation, there is an increased pressure on social workers to intervene where they might not have done so in the past.
The number of court orders required to place a child into the adoption process has increased by 95 per cent in the last three years, while new laws introduced this year mean it is likely there will be more cases.
But most often, the stories remain shrouded in the secrecy of family courts where journalists are barred from reporting.
Exposure focuses on the parents who claim to have been unfairly dealt with by the system, alongside insight from leading social workers and legal workers.
It is a climate of fear, a climate where people cover their backs, a climate where people want to try and do their best by families but also know that they’ve got to… play this game safe, safe for them as an organisation, safe for them as a worker – not just safe for the child.
– BRIDGET ROBB, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION OF SOCIAL WORKERS
It looks at whether child protection following the death of Baby P in 2007 is increasingly geared towards the permanent removal of children as opposed to supporting families to stay together. It also hears concerns that the new legislation will put social workers under pressure to act quickly.
The time limits now imposed for formulating a care plan have raised concerns that an adoption order is likely to be made in shorter time – potentially making it more difficult for birth parents to get their children back.
Secretly filmed footage by the father of one child shows his newborn baby being forcibly removed from the arms of his mother by social workers and police just hours after its birth.
The decision was made before the baby was even born and the father describes how powerless he felt when the authorities came to take the child away.
They’re just saying they’ve got an order, they’ve got to follow it. They’ve got to follow their orders.
You feel there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
You feel powerless, useless, you know worthless. And then they started pulling my wife’s arms.
And that was it. As soon as they got the baby, they were out of the flat. Goodbye, leave you to it. All I could do was hold my wife.
– FATHER OF A REMOVED NEWBORN BABY
Barrister Martha Cover has specialised in child law for 25 years, and believes there have been incidences where the law on secrecy has been taken too far.
The purpose of the legislation that protects the confidentiality of children’s proceedings and the identity of children’s and their families, is to protect them but by a side wind it has had the effect of also protecting poor local authority practice, poor social work, and inadequate experts, poor expert reporting to the courts.
– BARRISTER MARTHA COVER
For parents, it can be extremely difficult to get their child back from care once they are approved for potential adoption.
One woman, who asked to remain anonymous, endured a 12-month fight for their return.
Her children are still under a year-long supervision order and she says she fears that social services could try to take her children away again.
I am frightened in case I am judged, I am judged on the way they look.
If there is a mark for when they got scratched, I was worried in case they thought that I had done the scratch.
I write everything down, any accidents that happen, I write it all down.I take pictures. They are so quick to use anything against me. So quick.
– A MOTHER WHO FOUGHT TO GET HER CHILDREN BACK
Such long battles to get children back are less likely to happen with the new Children and Family Act now in force.
The Act, championed by Education Secretary Michael Gove, who was adopted himself, gained Royal Assent in April this year and sets a target of just 26 weeks from when a child is taken from parents and a care plan is approved.
The Department for Education says decisions to remove children from their families rest with the courts and should only happen when they are sure children are suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.
But Bridget Robb, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, believes the Government is now erring on the side of taking children away from their parents.
The rhetoric of this Government is much harsher than previous Governments, in terms of supporting adoption in contrast to the support given to birth families.
And that is new, it is harsher.
It fits very well with the language about welfare, and language about, call it almost an underclass of people, who are not fit to look after their children.
– BRIDGET ROBB, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF THE BRITISH ASSOCIATION OF SOCIAL WORKERS
Conservative parliamentary candidate Lucy Allan reveals how she found herself desperately trying to clear her reputation as a fit mother after suffering a bout of depression.
She had to act quickly and funded a legal battle to force social services to concede her son was not at any risk after her GP called in social workers.
I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, I know what happens next.’ Because you do not leave a child in a family in those circumstances. You just do not.
They had ticked a box on their file, saying that this child was at risk of significant harm from his mother, and that is a permanent record and has to be disclosed, should I seek a CRB check for any work with children in the future.
It was a big legal battle, we had solicitors, we had a top QC and that’s the sort of resource that is not available to everybody.
– CONSERVATIVE PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATE LUCY ALLAN
The despair parents can find themselves in has spawned an unofficial network that helps mothers flee British social services.
Multimillionaire Ian Josephs, now a resident of Monaco, told Exposure about his work advising and personally funding the travel costs of expectant mothers to leave Britain because, he believes, they have nowhere else to turn.
Even grandparents hoping to keep children within their families can find they run into difficulties.
Anthony and Alison were desperate to adopt their grandson when social services decided their daughter was not a fit mother, but after Alison missed two meetings with social workers, a decision was taken to continue showing the child to prospective adoptive families.
The minute we have to go he heads down, he becomes this shut off little boy, who’s confused.
He tends to want to cling near me, thinking I am going to take him away now, take him home. And that doesn’t happen.
And so each time we see him, this is what we have to face. It’s so hard. I really miss him. I really do, I really do miss him.
– GRANDAD ANTHONY
They now have visiting rights, but they all still feel the heartache of saying goodbye when they have to leave.
Judge Gareth Jones said social services were not above the law
He suspected proper procedures were not followed in order to save money
The mother won an injunction to have her son returned to her immediately
Barrister David Abberton said social services had acted unlawfully
Anglesey County Council claimed that it acted in good faith
Judge requested the case was made public to push council to improve
A judge has blasted social workers who he said illegally withheld a nine-year-old boy from his mother.
Judge Gareth Jones said that social services were not above the law and that he suspected proper procedures were not followed in order to save money.
Now the mother – who won an injunction to have her son returned to her immediately – is seeking damages from Anglesey County Council in North Wales.
Her lawyer, Frances Jones, today confirmed the child had been returned to his mother immediately after the injunction was granted.
She said: ‘As the mother’s solicitor I am delighted to have played a part in bringing the child home.
‘We are now continuing with the claim for damages.’
The child was taken in as a temporary case while the mother received treatment in a psychiatric unit but was not returned to her for five months for which there was consent.
When she came out of treatment she withdrew consent and asked for her son back.
However social workers refused and put him in foster care.
But they did not make applications for a care order first – so rights were denied.
Their barrister David Abberton took the issue to court and said social services had acted unlawfully.
Judge Gareth Jones, sitting at the family division of the high court in Mold, agreed and asked for his judgement to be made public so that lessons could be learned.
The court heard how the child had been taken to hospital with pneumonia in March of last year and the mother had a short stay in a psychiatric ward.
On release from hospital the boy was placed in foster care and in April, when she was back home, the mother asked for her son back.
The judge said that once the mother indicated her consent for the child to be in care had been withdrawn, the local authority should have asked itself very carefully on what statutory basis it continued to place him with foster carers.
Mr Abberton argued there was simply no legal basis at all which breached their client’s human rights to a family life.
Under fire: The mother is seeking damages from Anglesey County Council in North Wales
Anglesey County Council claimed that it acted in good faith and said the placement was for the child’s welfare – but accepted that social workers had not followed the correct procedures.
The judge said that once the mother’s consent was withdrawn the authority should have gone to court to apply for an emergency protection order or an interim care order.
In the absence of any application to the court, the mother was entitled to remove the child from care at any time, he said.
The authority had acted unreasonably by failing to initiative such applications.
‘By failing to do so, they were essentially maintaining an unlawful position,’ he said.
The judge said that he was ‘extremely critical’ of the council’s conduct.
No one dealing with the child had asked themselves under what lawful authority the child was being placed in care.
‘Social services are not above the law and they, like everybody else, is subject to it’
Judge Gareth Jones
‘The social services department of Ynys Mon Council in that respect, it seems to me, were acting beyond the proper control of that local authority’s legal department,’ he said.
They had failed to take proper legal steps, its failure to apply for orders meant that there was no judicial over-sight, the child was deprived independent representation to look after his interests.
Judge Gareth Jones sad that he had previously voiced his concern about a health board case which involved Anglesey council.
‘I have a suspicion, and it is only a suspicion, that this local authority may have fallen into the temptation of withholding the commencement of public proceedings for reasons of economy. I hope very much that this is not a correct suspicion.
‘If that suspicion was well founded, that to my mind would be wholly unacceptable.’
The judge said that the authority needed to carry out an urgent review of its internal procedures and he said that key personnel in positions of authority in social services and the children’s services department needed to be fully informed by the legal department of the legal framework in which they operated.
‘Social services are not above the law and they, like everybody else, is subject to it,’ he declared.
The judge said that Anglesey Council needed to demonstrate to the public of Ynys Mon that it is ‘able and competent’ once again to administer its local authority function without outside intervention.
It had ‘failed abysmally’ in the present case to demonstrate to the public that it could discharge its functions in a proper manner.
He said he hoped very much that the lesson would be learned for future cases .
The judge said the matter should be made public because if the public at large and those in authority were not aware of it there was no prospect of improvement.
To conceal matters when they went badly wrong served no public purpose whatsoever.
‘I see no reason why the court should connive in concealment of important information in cases of this kind,’ he said.
An Isle of Anglesey County Council spokesperson said: ‘Due to ongoing legal considerations, we are not in a position to comment on this matter.’
He said there were “serious and systematic failings” in the care by Worcestershire Social Services which saw the bright pupil have five social workers from three different teams, attend three different schools and be put in two foster placements in an 18 month period. She ended up being sent to live with an adult friend, Sally King, who was not given any advice or guidance on how to look after the teenager.
Mr Williams said that by failing to provide her with proper care – despite Miss Baker being known as a suicide risk – her “article two rights were breached”, which relates to the ‘right to life’ contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. This article has been interpreted to include the requirement of the state to ensure preventative measures are taken to protect citizens.
“I find that it would have been the simplest measures, and well within the power of the local authority, to have asked Sally King not to let Dana out of her sight and to arrange for visits on a daily basis by professionals,” said Mr Williams.
“In my judgement these simple steps would have avoided Dana’s death on March 3 and therefore I consider thatDana’s article two rights were breached.”
Mr Williams said from March 2011 the teenager was at a “real and immediate risk of death by suicide”, and this was known by those who cared for her.
But little was done because they were too busy and overworked, the inquest heard.
He added: “Her death was contributed to by a failure to have in place adequate measures to protect her from a known, present and continuing risk that she would kill herself.”
The inquest heard Dana had first confessed in a school English lesson about the relationship with Riat two years before she committed suicide in April 2009.
But Dana’s deputy headteacher said she had no response from social services or police for several days after reporting her concerns.
Vicki Blake, who works at Wolverley CE Secondary School, told the hearing she had noticed self-harm marks on the teen when she was just 14.
Gordon Robertson, a former county council officer, said there was a ‘large issue’ of capacity and big caseloads for him and other staff at that time.
Miss Baker was taken to hospital the night before she was found hanged after becoming distraught because her placement with the foster parents she called “mum and dad” was being ended.
In a final text to Mrs King from Dana before she killed herself, she said: “I’m so sorry. I didn’t ever want to lie to you but I promised I wouldn’t do anything in your house. I love you all. I’m so sorry.”
Since I wrote my last opinion piece in April 2013, I continue to practice in children law proceedings (both private and public) and read the article by Kitty Knowles in the Metroyesterday (2 December 2013) : ‘Social Services have a baby taken from mother’s womb’.
While it is inappropriate to comment on that particular case without being aware of the full facts and circumstances, it raises a very serious issue for practitioners involved in care work when psychiatric and/or psychological concerns are raised against one or both parents.
My discussion here centres around the attitude towards any mental health diagnosis, not with regards to the specific case mentioned above.
One would usually expect to see some Expert Reports commissioned during public law proceedings and it is the attitude of some professionals as to the lack of empathy in considering a particular diagnosis, with the effect of “writing off” of parents which is a growing concern in care proceedings.
I have vast experience of public law cases whereby following the receipt of an Expert report, with a diagnosis of either a Psychological/Psychiatric condition, that particular parent is very quickly written off as a possible carer by the Local Authority and other professionals involved in the case when there is clearly scope to consider a more holistic approach as to what support and care package could be provided to enable that parent to provide good enough parenting to the child subject to proceedings.
Further reminding us that if support is required to enable that parent to look after the child, a thorough analytical report is required setting out exactly what support is required, whether it can be provided and if not, why not. A holistic approach is required in care proceedings, with thorough and in-depth planning so as to allow the court to reach decisions as to a child’s long term care arrangements with a sound evidential basis.
All too often, professionals will read a psychological/psychiatric report and all too quickly assume its conclusions render that particular parent unable to provide good enough parenting to their child/children. We should keep it at the forefront of our minds that there is no such thing as perfect parenting and the test is one of ‘good enough’ parenting, which should be achievable with some support in place for particular parents that require it.
As an example, earlier this year, I had an expert report commissioned in a public law case which concluded both parents have personality disorders and the very nature of their particular disorders means they will struggle to deal with information from the local authority (and other professionals) if it is not presented to them in a particular way.
The expert recommended that parties acknowledge the diagnosis of the parents and ensure they communicate with them in an open and honest way, in order to achieve a good working relationship with them. (It had also been a part of that report that there is clear evidence the parents are able to communicate with some professionals; those that speak to them in an honest way and so the presence of this particular personality disorder did not mean it was an unworkable situation).
Sadly, I did not see any other professional take those conclusions into account and saw an overwhelming attitude that there was no time to put in the extra support needed in terms of explaining things clearly to those parents – leading, inevitably to a poor relationship between the parents and local authority, in particular, who the parents considered would always make decisions and tell them about changes rather than engaging them in open communication and decision-making regarding their children, for whom they still held parental responsibility for – alongside the local authority.
The refreshing judgments coming from the Court of Appeal, such as Re B-S and Re G, are simply reminding practitioners of the basic point that every child deserves to live with his/her biological parent if it is safe to do so. Practitioners and other professionals dealing with care work are supposed to be involved in the careful planning for these vulnerable children and in writing off their parent(s) simply because a psychological issue has been identified is surely providing that child a disservice. A truly holistic approach requires all parties to challenge any linear care planning put forward by local authorities and for there to be, in my view, a better understanding of psychological issues and indeed an empathy towards those suffering personality disorders (for example), who will need more support than others to provide that good enough standard of parenting.
The Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming says he plans to raise the case discussed in the Metro in the Commons and I think that most certainly should be done. He states that ‘[he worries] about the way these decisions about a person’s mental capacity are being taken’ and I too am concerned that unless there is a conscious effort by all involved in care proceedings to look beyond mental health issues, too many children will be stripped of the opportunity to live with their birth parents and that surely goes against the very premise of the Children Act 1989?
They claim that even if the council had been acting in the woman’s best interests, officials should have consulted her family beforehand and also involved Italian social services, who would be better-placed to look after the child.
Brendan Fleming, the woman’s British lawyer, told The Sunday Telegraph: “I have never heard of anything like this in all my 40 years in the job.
“I can understand if someone is very ill that they may not be able to consent to a medical procedure, but a forced caesarean is unprecedented.
“If there were concerns about the care of this child by an Italian mother, then the better plan would have been for the authorities here to have notified social services in Italy and for the child to have been taken back there.”
It will be raised in Parliament this week by John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat MP. He chairs the Public Family Law Reform Coordinating Campaign, which wants reform and greater openness in court proceedings involving family matters.
He said: “I have seen a number of cases of abuses of people’s rights in the family courts, but this has to be one of the more extreme.
“It involves the Court of Protection authorising a caesarean section without the person concerned being made aware of what was proposed. I worry about the way these decisions about a person’s mental capacity are being taken without any apparent concern as to the effect on the individual being affected.”
The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is an Italian national who come to Britain in July last year to attend a training course with an airline at Stansted Airport in Essex.
She suffered a panic attack, which her relations believe was due to her failure to take regular medication for an existing bipolar condition.
She called the police, who became concerned for her well-being and took her to a hospital, which she then realised was a psychiatric facility.
She has told her lawyers that when she said she wanted to return to her hotel, she was restrained and sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
Meanwhile, Essex social services obtained a High Court order in August 2012 for the birth “to be enforced by way of caesarean section”, according to legal documents seen by this newspaper.
The woman, who says she was kept in the dark about the proceedings, says that after five weeks in the ward she was forcibly sedated. When she woke up she was told that the child had been delivered by C-section and taken into care.
In February, the mother, who had gone back to Italy, returned to Britain to request the return of her daughter at a hearing at Chelmsford Crown Court.
Her lawyers say that she had since resumed taking her medication, and that the judge formed a favourable opinion of her. But he ruled that the child should be placed for adoption because of the risk that she might suffer a relapse.
The cause has also been raised before a judge in the High Court in Rome, which has questioned why British care proceedings had been applied to the child of an Italian citizen “habitually resident” in Italy. The Italian judge accepted, though, that the British courts had jurisdiction over the woman, who was deemed to have had no “capacity” to instruct lawyers.
Lawyers for the woman are demanding to know why Essex social services appear not have contacted next of kin in Italy to consult them on the case.
They are also upset that social workers insisted on placing the child in care in Britain, when there had been an offer from a family friend in America to look after her.
An expert on social care proceedings, who asked not to be named because she was not fully acquainted with the details of the case, described it as “highly unusual”.
She said the council would first have to find “that she was basically unfit to make any decision herself” and then shown there was an acute risk to the mother if a natural birth was attempted.
An Essex county council spokesman said the local authority would not comment on ongoing cases involving vulnerable people and children.