Reunited after forced adoption: a disabled mum and her child speak out

Following on from our post on Wednesday about the Channel 5 news feature looking at unjust removals of children from disabled mothers by social services, we’re sharing the full length interview with mother Jean Eveleigh and her child Tye, who is now an adult.

The segment was produced with the help of Legal Action for Women and the Disabled Mothers’ Rights Campaign.

The entire interview is worth watching, and there are several very powerful moments during the segment. We were left heartbroken by many of the memories they shared, including Jean’s routine of calling up social services every time a terror attack took place in the UK, to find out if her daughter had been in the vicinity at the time of the event.

You can watch the full interview here.

Channel 5: Disabled mothers who lost their children to care speak out about discrimination inside Britain’s family courts

Channel 5 News is airing a documentary at 5pm this afternoon about the discrimination faced by disabled mothers in Britain’s family courts which can lead to the removal of their children. The documentary consulted with Legal Action for Women (LAW) and the Disabled Mothers’ Rights Campaign.

The following is a press release issued by the two organisations:

We worked with Channel 5 News on its news feature today which found that parents with a learning disability are 54 times more likely to have their children taken into care.  This confirms our experience of the discrimination and hostility faced by disabled mothers, and other single, working class and mothers of colour who face an uphill battle to stop social workers and the family courts taking our children from us.

Ch5 spoke to a mother and daughter, now reunited after forced adoption, who are part of the Disabled Mothers’ Rights Campaign – the full interview will be on our blog after 6pm.  Jean said, “Time was stolen from us where we’re being punished for something that was not my fault. And we now have a lot of work to try to do, to try and get to that normal parent child relationship.”

Tye told 5 News, “That was a good 18 years. That’s my whole existence. I can’t get that back.  But I could have had her growing up. I could have had someone that fought for me relentlessly, and I didn’t get that, and I should have. It’s infuriating.”

Tracey Norton, coordinator for the Disabled Mothers’ Rights Campaign, run by campaign group WinVisible told 5News: “A Social worker is automatically looking for safeguarding, and disability is seen as a safeguarding issue when it shouldn’t be.

“Our message is that we want money for mothers, particularly disabled mothers, so that we can care for their children in the community, so that we can get the right resources that they need, and the children don’t need to be taken into care. And it causes trauma that’s never ending. It will never, ever go away for either the child or the mother. It’s lifelong. “

Anne Neale from Support Not Separation adds:

Our experience is that mothers are targeted for child removal by sexism, racism, disability discrimination and pervasive class bias in the “child protection” system and in family courts:  Of 248 mothers with 446 children we worked with over the past two years, 94% were single mothers, mostly on low incomes; 40% were women of colour and/or immigrant; 42% had mental health issues and 17% had a physical disability, which was used against them.  83% had suffered domestic violence; nearly all were fighting over contact with their children and over half the mothers had had their children removed.”

There are now over 82,170 children in state “care” and millions are being poured into private companies which dominate a fostering and adoption industry.  Some multinationals charge Councils up to £1m a year to keep a child in “care”.  Given these figures the problem cannot be reduced to  cuts: the problem is that mothers and children are impoverished and discriminated against, refused the support we are entitled to.  It’s easier to take our kids than to challenge the child welfare industry. 

We are calling for a complete overhaul of Children’s Social Care to prioritise support to mothers and other primary carers to keep children and families together and demanding a Care Income for mothers (and other carers) who do the work of caring for and raising children.

For information & interviews: 0207 482 2496/07925195758

Many thanks to LAW for sharing this press release with us.

Today: join the Children and Families Truth Commission Zoom-meet

Britain’s first parent-led Truth Commission looking at children’s social care is holding its monthly Zoom meeting today, Tuesday 24th January from 5pm to 6pm.

Attendees can get involved with the work of the commission and ask its members any questions they wish about the commission during these calls. We’d love you to join us.

This month we’re holding our regular session for families affected by the child protection system, in which we share updates about the Commission’s work and ask for your feedback and suggestions.

In addition to our usual agenda, we will also be asking families and all other attendees what you would like the commission to focus on in 2023.

During the event you will also be able to ask the commission’s lead Michele Simmons, and commission team members Simon Haworth and Natasha Phillips (Researching Reform) questions about the commission’s current projects.

The call will take place today from 5pm to 6pm on Zoom.

If you would like to attend the event, please email the team at truthcommissionuk@gmail.com. The team will also give you information about how to access the conference.

Please confirm you would like to attend the event in your message, and let us know if you are a care-experienced child or parent, social care stakeholder, government affiliate, academic, journalist or member of the public.

We look forward to welcoming you.

Additional links:

Children and Families Truth Commission publishes guide about registered intermediaries for family court cases

The Children and Families Truth Commission (CFTC) has published a guide offering information about registered intermediaries, who can be used to help families going through the family courts.

The guide has been written by Gem (not her real name), a parent with family court experience, who is an expert on the use of registered intermediaries and how they can help families communicate with people in the court process, and understand the process itself.

You can open the guide by clicking on the image below, or you can access it through the Commission’s Guides Page.

The leaflet can also be read alongside the Commission’s Rights Booklet, which has information about how to protect your rights and your child’s rights during child protection investigations.

The commission would like to thank Gem very much for writing this guide for the commission.

Come and join the Children and Families Truth Commission’s next Zoom-meet

Britain’s first parent-led Truth Commission looking at children’s social care is holding its monthly Zoom meeting on Tuesday 24th January from 5pm to 6pm.

Attendees can get involved with the work of the commission and ask its members any questions they wish about the commission during these calls. We’d love you to join us.

This month we’re holding our regular session for families affected by the child protection system, in which we share updates about the Commission’s work and ask for your feedback and suggestions.

In addition to our usual agenda, we will also be asking families and all other attendees what you would like the commission to focus on in 2023.

During the event you will also be able to ask the commission’s lead Michele Simmons, and commission team members Simon Haworth and Natasha Phillips (Researching Reform) questions about the commission’s current projects.

The call will take place on Tuesday 24th January from 5pm to 6pm on Zoom.

If you would like to attend the event, please email the team at truthcommissionuk@gmail.com. The team will also give you information about how to access the conference.

Please confirm you would like to attend the event in your message, and let us know if you are a care-experienced child or parent, social care stakeholder, government affiliate, academic, journalist or member of the public.

We look forward to welcoming you.

Additional links:

Temporary accommodation for children under section 20 agreements can be used instead of care orders, Court of Appeal says

An interesting judgment has been published, which says that voluntary accommodation for children engaging with child protection services can be provided and used instead of care orders, and for as long as needed.

Lady Justice King’s judgment should be read with caution, because while it says that families are able to use this form of accommodation long-term instead of a care order, it also suggests that local authorities could use these agreements to move a child across to a care order – which when done a certain way is illegal.

Section 20 agreements allow children to stay in local authority accommodation for a variety of reasons, including needing a break from their parents (or respite for the parents), and in situations where a professional takes a legitimate view that a child may need to be removed temporarily from her or his parents for their emotional and physical wellbeing.

The agreements came under fire in 2015 after councils were found to have been using them illegally to secure care orders: councils were telling parents that they could not remove their children from the accommodation, and that they had to sign the agreement by law, which was incorrect. The then president of the Family Division, James Munby, issued guidance on the agreements to try and stop the malpractice.

Furthermore, parents were not being told that the agreements were voluntary, required their full and informed consent, and that children could leave the accommodation whenever they wanted and without notice. They were also not being told that they had a right to get the agreement reviewed by a lawyer or trusted friend before signing. Parents can remove their children whenever they want from the accommodation, also without notice.

An additional section of the judgment seems to imply that whenever a disagreement between parents and the LA arises prior to an adoption order being made, the LA has an automatic right to “trump” the parents – but this is not correct.

Parents keep parental responsibility for their child throughout care proceedings and child protection investigations, and only lose it when an adoption order is made. If a care order is made in court, parents and the LA share PR, EQUALLY. Any critical disagreement about a child that cannot be resolved has to be resolved by a judge in court. The LA doesn’t have a blanket “trump” card.

The misunderstanding seems to stem from Section 33(3)(b)(i) of the Children Act 1989, which says the following about instances where a child becomes the subject of a care order:

(3) While a care order is in force with respect to a child, the local authority designated by the order shall—
(a) have parental responsibility for the child; and
(b) have the power (subject to the following provisions of this section) to determine the extent to which [F1—
(i) a parent, guardian or special guardian of the child; or
(ii) a person who by virtue of section 4A has parental responsibility for the child,] may meet his parental responsibility for him.
(4) The authority may not exercise the power in subsection (3)(b) unless they are satisfied that it is necessary to do so in order to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.

While case law has confirmed that issues like vaccination are generally in the hands of the LA in this context, there are clearly exceptions to the LA’s power, particularly where a disagreement about whether a proposal by the LA is in the best interests of a child, which can be challenged under Subsection (4) above.

And while the section says the LA has parental responsibility for a child in this context, it doesn’t clarify that it SHARES that PR equally with the parents.

There is a helpful summary of the case on Local Government Lawyer, (LGL), an extract of which we’re adding below:

The Court of appeal has allowed two appeals which concerned the interplay between care orders and the voluntary accommodation of children under section 20 of the Children Act 1989.

In Re S (a child) and Re W (a child) [2023] EWCA Civ 1, Lady Justice King, with whom Lord Justice Warby and Lord Justice Arnold agreed, considered whether and in what circumstances, the threshold criteria having been established and there being in place an agreed care plan, the court should decline to make an order under section 31 CA 1989 and instead make no order in accordance with the ‘no order’ principle.

Re S was an appeal against the order of HHJ Atkins of 24 June 2022 whereby he ordered that a child S, aged 9 years, should be made the subject of a care order in favour of a London borough.

Re W was an appeal against the order of HHJ Coffey dated 16 June 2022 whereby she ordered that a girl W, aged 15 years, should be made the subject of a care order in favour of a county council.

The children in each case were beyond parental control, a finding which Lady Justice King noted “does not necessarily mean that the parents are culpable in any way”.

The appellants argued that the children could be accommodated on a long-term basis under section 20.

In Re S, the grounds of appeal filed following the making of the care order by HHJ Atkins were summarised by Lady Justice King as follows:

i) The judge wrongly concluded that a section 31 CA 1989 order was necessary and proportionate on the basis that there was a ‘significant risk’ that S’s father may withdraw his support for section 20 accommodation in the future, S’s father has been difficult to contact and communicate with and there have been contact difficulties in the past.

ii) The judge erred when stating that the issue was ‘do the local authority need to share parental responsibility?’.

iii) The judge attached excessive weight to the certainty that would be provided by a care order. He failed to express a view as to whether section 20 CA 1989 orders could be used for long term accommodation.

iv) Judicial guidance would be of benefit as to the test to be applied where it is submitted that the section 1(5) CA 1989 ‘no order’ principle should be adopted in preference to section 31.

In Re W, the grounds of appeal against the order of HHJ Coffey were summarised as follows:

i) The judge erred in determining that the proper use and purpose of section 20 CA 1989 is for short-term and temporary accommodation when the provisions of the CA 1989 do not restrict or qualify the use of section 20 CA 1989 accommodation in such a way.

ii) Having determined the above, the judge erred in attaching substantial weight and reliance on that determination as the primary reason for making a care order.

iii) The judge erred in considering that she was able to influence or fetter the local authority’s exercise of its parental responsibility during the care order or, in the alternative, placed weight on this consideration as part of her welfare and decision-making evaluation.

iv) The judge erred in concluding that the no order principle and least interventionist approach was rebutted in the circumstances of this case and in failing to identify, or identify properly, the welfare benefits to the child of her parents retaining sole parental responsibility.

Lady Justice King said it was helpful to understand not just the limits of a section 20 order, but also how it differs from a care order.

Deirdre Fottrell KC, acting on behalf of the appellant in Re S, had summarised it by saying that a section 31 care order is the more “draconian order” and more “interventionist”.

“This is undoubtedly the case as not only does a local authority acquire parental responsibility pursuant to section 33(3)(a) CA 1989 when a care order is made, but also under section 33(3)(b)(i) CA 1989 the local authority may ‘determine the extent to which a parent may meet his or her parental responsibility’ for the child in question,” Lady Justice King said.

Lady Justice King summarised the parameters of section 20 accommodation:

i) Parents may ask the local authority to accommodate a child as part of the services they provide for children in need: Williams & Another v London Borough of Hackney [2018] UKSC 37, [2018] AC 421 at para. [41].

ii) A local authority cannot provide accommodation if any person who has parental responsibility and is able to provide or arrange for accommodation to be provided for the child objects: section 20(7).

iii) There is no statutory limit upon the duration of an order for accommodation made under section 20. That this is the case was confirmed in Williams v Hackney LBC at para.[49].

iv) Whilst a person with parental responsibility may not surrender or transfer any part of their parental responsibility, they may delegate it by arranging for some or all of it to be met by one or more persons on their behalf: section 2(9) CA 1989. In agreeing to the making of a section 20 order a parent is ‘simply delegating the exercise of her parental responsibility to the local authority for the time being’: Williams v Hackney LBC at para. [39].

v) Any person with parental responsibility may at any time remove the child from the accommodation: section 20(8).

vi) If there is a child arrangements order naming a person with whom the child is to live and that person agrees to the child being accommodated, then no other person with parental responsibility may either object to the placement under section 20(7) or remove the child from the accommodation under section 20(8).

Lady Justice King went on to consider the leading authority on the use of s.20 CA 1989, Williams & Another v London Borough of Hackney [2018] UKSC 37, [2018] AC 421, in which Baroness Hale had set out nine points in relation to the proper use and effect of orders under section 20 [see paras 38 and 49].

Baroness Hale had concluded her analysis by saying that:

“50. Thus, although the object of section 20 accommodation is partnership with the parents, the local authority have also to be thinking of the longer term. There are bound to be cases where that should include consideration of whether or not the authority should seek to take parental responsibility for an accommodated child by applying for a care order”.

On the improper use of section 20, Baroness Hale had emphasised at para [51], that ‘section 20 must not be used in a coercive way; if the state is to intervene compulsorily in family life, it must seek legal authority to do so’.

Researching Reform has written extensively about Section 20 agreements, so anyone looking for more information can type Section 20 into the site’s search bar, and everything pops up. We are adding a checklist we published below, for anyone wanting a quick recap:

  • Section 20 arrangements are voluntary – this means that the local authority cannot place a child in alternative accommodation unless parents agree to the arrangement.
  •  You are entitled to be fully informed – the local authority must offer you as much information as you need, in a clear and accessible format
  • If you have parental responsibility for a child, you can remove your child from accommodation provided by or on behalf of the local authority at any time
  • If a child is 16 or 17, they can leave the accommodation without parental consent
  • Always ask for a S.20 arrangement to be put into writing – something this important shouldn’t be set up on word of mouth. If anyone refuses to put this agreement in writing, tell them you have the support of the President Of The Family Division
  • Children have a right to be heard – any child who wants to express their wishes and feelings in writing is entitled to do so under a S.20 agreement, and to have those views taken on board by the local authority
  • A S.20 arrangement should never be used to secure care proceedings – local authorities do not have the right to put you off terminating a S.20 by giving you the impression that it’s final or compulsory

A university investigating the outcomes of reunification programmes is looking for people to take part

Alliant International University, which is based in San Diego, has created a survey for families who were involved in reunification programmes.

The university researchers are looking for children whose parents divorced and who later attended a reunification programme. The flyer for the survey says participants must be 18 years old and over and must have had court involvement in relation to their contact arrangement.

The survey was shared by SHERA Research Group, an organisation which calls itself a “collective of multidisciplinary professionals” working in “health inequalities, law and domestic abuse research and support organisations.” They say that some of their members are survivors who want to remain anonymous for safety reasons.

Information about members of the SHERA group can be accessed here.

Details about the survey were shared by SHERA on Twitter on January 17, which said: “Opportunity to participate! Alliant University is seeking participants for a study investigating the outcomes of reunification programmes. You must be 18 yrs + and the Court must have been involved in making custody decisions.”

For those who wish to take part, the survey can be accessed here.