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when *should* social services take kids away from parents?
The circumstances surrounding the removal of two children from the
care of their parents, seemingly because the mother has a mild
learning difficulty, are truly disturbing.
The children, a 14-month-old boy and his sister who is approaching
four, were removed by a local authority on the advice of social
In the appalling saccharine jargon of the State, these children will
eventually be adopted by a new 'forever Mummy and Daddy'.
Their birth parents will have no future contact with the children,
barring occasional pictures and videos.
No, this couple do not stand charged with neglect. The children were
loved and well looked after. Their parents' behaviour does not begin
to mirror cases of those who have left their children for dead and
where social services, through incompetence or fear of political
correctness, have failed to intervene.
The mother did, indeed, go to a special school, has an IQ of 60 and is
judged to be 'slow', something she acknowledges. This, it seems, was
enough to have her children removed.
The decision was taken at a family court without a jury or public
scrutiny. A local councillor was threatened with an injunction, which
carries a possible prison sentence, if he pursued the case.
It also emerges that while in the care of social services the younger
child developed a potentially life-threatening condition that drew in
police. Two families have decided against adoption. The children now
face a childhood in care.
This case smacks of social engineering of a most sinister nature. Let
us not forget that secret tribunals, condemning people to an
unthinkable fate because of mental and physical disability, were a
hallmark of dictatorships.
The welfare of the child must be of prime concern. But other countries
hold child hearings in public. To do otherwise is to risk
unquestioning acceptance of the 'professional knows best' culture.
Government policy has encouraged local authorities to put children up
for adoption rather than supporting parents with learning
difficulties. Are we certain that this played no part in the thinking
of the 'professionals' who have condemned this family to a life of
There should an an immediate independent and public review of this
case and the workings of the family courts.
When love is not enough
Social workers are not child snatchers; they separate families only as
a last resort, writes Felicity Collier
Thursday August 11, 2005
It is always tragic to read stories about parents who have lost their
children as a result of care and adoption proceedings brought by local
authorities. Having your children taken away from you when you have
done nothing wrong is a parent's nightmare. Such stories inevitably
fuel mistrust in social workers and suspicion that the "system" is
stacked against parents and families.
A high court judge ruled yesterday that an Essex couple must give up
their two young children for adoption. The case has been seized on in
the national press as evidence of a bias against parents with learning
disabilities, as the mother involved has an IQ of 60. The Daily Mail
described the couple as "victims of the child snatchers". Everyone
working in a local authority social services department knows this is
very far from the truth - every day, social workers work incredibly
hard to enable children in need to be brought up by their parents
without state interference. When this is not possible, rigorous tests
must be applied in court before care orders are made.
The sad reality is that some parents are simply not able to provide
the care and attention necessary to keep their children safe and to
meet their developmental needs. These parents, who might have learning
difficulties, may love their children greatly and simply not
understand, or not agree with, the assessments of social workers. In
such cases, the public, sensitised to believe that children are only
removed when they have suffered serious abuse and culpable neglect,
are deeply suspicious.
Recent research by Professor Tim Booth, of Sheffield University, shows
that 15% of 437 local authority care proceedings in Sheffield and
Leeds involved parents with learning difficulties and 75% of these
children were placed away from home, almost half of them being
adopted. It is important to remember that these cases will only be the
tip of the iceberg and that there will be many more where the local
authority will be providing high levels of support to parents with
learning difficulties to enable them to care for their children. Such
support can involve daily visits by care staff, help with taking
children to school and with practical domestic tasks, as well as
ongoing advice and monitoring. Of course, as with any profession,
there will be occasions when social workers do not have the necessary
skills and expertise. It is my belief, however, that such cases are
likely to be very rare and, with proper legal representation, would be
identified by a court.
We must remember that children need a great deal more than love if
they are to thrive. They need parents who are alert to the everyday
dangers faced by babies and small children, both in the home and in
the street - from a misplaced iron to an open stair gate and wandering
out unsupervised into the street. Of course all children have
accidents from time to time, but demonstrating the capacity to be
aware of the risks and to take remedial action is one of the
dimensions social workers will be looking at when assessing whether to
intervene. The guidance on the assessment of children in need is very
clear and the framework is robust.
Children also thrive when they have warm and reciprocal relationships
with their caregivers, when they are able to have friends, to go to
school and have some sort of daily routine that helps them to make
sense of their lives. It is of possible to support a parent with many
of these responsibilities but there are some families in which, short
of 24-hour support, children will be at risk of significant harm. This
is where family courts, and children's guardians, will appraise the
risks for the children's development and decide whether sufficient
services are available to avoid removing them from the family.
The government is committed to ensuring that children who are unable
to return to live with their birth parents enjoy the care of a
permanent and stable family. Where appropriate, this should be
achieved through adoption. For other children, the permanence of
long-term foster care, or care within their wider family and kinship
network, will be more appropriate. While adoption is a permanent legal
option, and removes the legal relationship between children and their
birth parents, it does not necessarily mean there is no further
contact with h latter. Many children who are now adopted enjoy some
contact with their birth parents and maintain the link throughout
I hope people recognise the very difficult challenges local authority
social workers face every day, that the balancing act they perform on
our behalf to ensure children are safe and do have good enough futures
is not a simple one.
· Felicity Collier is the chief executive of the charity the British
Association for Adoption and Fostering.
There is no sound, no cry in all the world
that can be heard unless someone listens ..
The Outer Limits
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