This week’s story highlights the often disorganised and emotional responses to vulnerable families, which can lead to professionals losing sight of the real issues in a case and instead choosing to take a defensive stance to protect their local authority’s decisions, even when they are poor ones. Crucially, this kind of behaviour deeply affects the Voice Of The Child, whose wishes and feelings go unheard, causing them significant emotional harm.
1. Could you give a brief summary of the facts of your case?
I’m a single father who before his son was taken into care was the sole and primary carer. It was incredibly difficult juggling work and parenting on my own and on a couple of occasions I was forced to leave my nine year old son in the house on his own for a few hours. The incidents were reported to the police and I was charged with child neglect, although the charge was later dropped. Nevertheless my son was taken into care. He was routinely pin ponged backwards and forwards from my care to state care and then foster care – initially returned to me because I protested relentlessly but found himself back in care because I refused to let the poor handling of our case go. I chose to seek compensation for my son’s removal and shortly after that, the council involved changed its mind about revoking the care order. I’m still fighting to get my son back.
2. What went wrong in your case?
The evidence used to take my son into care was contradictory and based on factual errors. For example, a video of police raiding my home was used as evidence that my home was in disarray, but the video does not show a badly kept home. This was confirmed by one of the judges in the case, who said the video was completely at odds with the police report. I later received an apology from the CPS. This, however, didn’t stop the situation. I was also diagnosed with a mental health disorder linked to my culture and religion because I dared to complain about our treatment, which I found irrational and offensive. Three other, independent doctors also examined me and found no evidence of any mental health disorder. My son also desperately wanted to stay in my care, but his wishes and feelings were continuously ignored. After some time in foster care, he was a changed person. He began to show signs of aggression and depression after he became addicted to a violent video game, which I was blamed for even though he was not in my care. I also found the more I complained, the more our contact was reduced. I now only see my son 4 times a year.
3. What happened after you alerted the professionals to the errors?
They refused to look at the evidence properly. Anything I said which flew in the face of their decisions or perceptions was ignored and treated as a hostile act. It’s an unnaturally defensive environment which seems to focus on the best interests of the agencies, rather than the child.
4. How do you feel the errors were dealt with?
They weren’t, except to say that they were met with deep resistance.
5. What do you think could have been done differently?
I could have been offered some support as a single, working parent. Someone could have helped me find a way to juggle my work with my parenting responsibilities. Instead I was treated like I was subhuman, and below normal levels of intelligence – I’m a classically trained musician, who speaks several languages.
6. What message would you like to pass on to the child welfare system?
I think the system needs to bin ‘emotional harm’ and ‘future emotional harm’ as the criteria used to take children into care and that only in exceptional circumstances, and only through the criminal courts, should the state have the power to remove children from parents. I would also like to see the police receive greater funding to deal with serious crimes against children rather than allowing social services to be involved in the first instance. Social workers should be directed by the police in an investigation. All the money this would save could be spent on helping families and support parents to find work. I would like to see a bonus system in place for social workers too, every time a social worker manages to keep a family together.