A conference taking place today welcomes the attendance of social care experienced children and their families.

The all day conference, titled ‘A Strengths Based Model of Practice – Working to Achieve Outcomes’ is being hosted by local authority Neath Port Talbot, in Wales, which says it has created a framework for creating a family-friendly approach to children’s social care.

The local authority say they want to work towards a more humane form of social work practice which includes respecting families’ rights and ensuring their voices are heard during children’s social care cases.

A spokesperson for the event said:We have all worked through the challenges of Covid over the last 18 months and feel that now more than ever we need to work towards our goal of genuinely working together with families, carers, professionals and communities in order to make a difference to people’s wellbeing.”

Neath Port Talbot hope to do this through their “Friend Not Foe” initiative, which has launched with a guide for social workers on how to record information accurately, work with parents meaningfully and to focus on families’ strengths rather than their weaknesses.

Researching Reform has been invited to speak at this event to explain why the Public Law Outline reforms came about, and how the current use of the outline sets parents up to fail. To do this, we will be sharing the very generous feedback many families and children have given us over the last few weeks, and we will be reading anonymous extracts from some of the testimonials we received as well.

The organisers for the event confirmed that families were welcome to attend the event after we asked whether they would be invited to join.

The conference starts at 9am and finishes at 5pm, and attendees can listen in whenever they want. During the afternoon care experienced families including those from the Parent Advocate Network (PAN) will be speaking about their experiences of children’s social care.

The event is being hosted through Microsoft Teams and people can attend by clicking on this link: Click here to join the meeting.

Very many thanks to all the families who shared their experiences with Researching Reform for this event, and please let us know what you think of the “Friend not Foe” guidance Neath Port Talbot has produced.

Some of the testimonies of families who so generously gave their time to send through their experiences of children’s social care proceedings are added below:

“The PLO creates an adversarial system which pits parents against LA, so no incentive to work collaboratively. Mistakes are not corrected during the process. One more note regarding time scales – I again can’t help but feel that documents were very deliberately withheld from me throughout. I had no idea of the very numerous lies told about me until the very end, just a few days before the final hearing. This gives no time to recover from the shock of the misinformation, let alone obtain and provide counter evidence.”

“Families not being notified of meetings in advance, some being told of meetings with only 10 minutes to spare.”

“Professionals using the time limit to bar alternative therapies or allow other avenues to be explored, or using filing documents out of time as a way to delay proceedings and push for the outcome they desire due to time pressures and other factors rather than what is in the best interests of the children and their families. Families being blamed for working outside of the timelines even when social care staff are to blame. 

Even with extra time it doesn’t make a difference. The 26 weeks we should have had have taken nearly two years and even now they are saying it’s not enough. We are due for judgement this month but the LA are still against us including the guardian who has barely spoken two words to us. The LA is accusing us of causing autism and have delayed the case by not submitting documents on time. Even with the guardian accepting the LA have worked outside of guidelines and boundaries we are still being blamed.”

“The process causes acute problems for parents with a disability or mental health condition, some support services are rolled out with oppressive and overbearing cultures. I was put into a foster placement with my daughter and it was so intense there and very overbearing.” 

“During our process we had a SW who at first threatened legal proceedings, she said we would be “guinea pigs” for the new PAMS process and she was starting the PLO process. After a few weeks she noted that she was very happy with our improvements and did not want the case to go to court.

On the PLO agreement which I may still have a copy of, there were about 6 points and one of these was to complete a PAMS process. We engaged well throughout and we worked with SS and families and the feedback was we met all the points for improvement and were doing well.

In this time the PAMS had started we were assigned 2 “independent” assessors and they stated it would last 12 weeks, 4 weeks of assessing 4 weeks of coaching and 4 weeks of assessing to see how we had improved.

The main assessor was very delayed in organising some of the sessions which delayed the progress for some time and when we challenged she tried to blame us. Then the promised coaching did not go ahead in the middle 4 weeks because of terrible management of the process. 

Then a new locum SW took over.

She disregarded all the positive changes reported by the previous SW and stated she wanted the case to go to court and each time we challenged her the reply was if you don’t agree let’s take it to court.

Near the end of the 12 weeks the necessary work had not been done and after the promise of independence, the SW did get involved and successfully pushed for an extension of the 12 weeks.

The assessors promised the PAMS process was ideal and would be tailored for neurodiversity but was not at all.

During the last couple of weeks of the extension they did some very hurried coaching with us and there was no period of post coaching assessment.

We are autistic and relied on clear up front detail and expectations not last minute changes.

A week before the report was due, the SW phoned me at work and told my assessment was glowing but my wife had done badly and then spent 30 mins just slagging off her parenting.

I tried to challenge this then the last evening [name withheld] and her assistant assessor came round, and the SW was very verbally aggressive and told us we had “failed”.

The PLO had just stated we had to complete the PAMS and nothing about pass or fail.

We were given zero opportunity because this feedback and coaching was right at the end, to act on or to make changes.

We were then told that all the other points on the PLO we had met did not count and because of the PAMS fail she would go ahead with care proceedings.

We had no emotional support during or after these proceedings and my wife already had trauma from her own childhood in care.

During these proceedings the psychologist said we are autistic we needed specialist support and it was against human rights to remove our boys without this support. 

So we won the case.

The PLO must be clear it must be adhered to and the SW must look at the outcome based on the whole agreement and not just influence one part to get her chosen outcome.

It should be managed by someone independent and support should be given to those going through it .”

“The PLO is being manipulated to enable LA-desired outcomes.”

“We had no doubt we were being set up to lose. The SW would write complete lies in her reports such as the children had no age related toys to play with, the house was cluttered etc, and she would refer to me as the perpetrator and that I was derogatory towards women. She even claimed that I had said in a meeting that I believed a woman’s place is at home doing the cooking and cleaning and that I didn’t think women should have a job. Of course I had not said any such thing. The SW then claimed my partner attended a meeting at 9.30am in the morning smelling of alcohol. This was complete lies and after 4 months we proved it yet nothing was done about it. 

Our case dragged on for 15 months for no apparent reason. During that time we completed a 6 week Triple P parenting course, a 6 week Whoops child safety course and a further 4 week Triple P course. it was all a waste of time as none of it was even acknowledged by the Judge. My Barrister said to me “The judge wont be interested in any of that, she will concentrate on the main concerns”.  It’s obvious social services are putting parents on these courses to give them false hope of getting their kids back. It’s all a Scam. They knew from the first hearing what they were going to do with the kids.

No parents get a fair hearing in the family courts. It just feels so rigged once you realise it’s an adversarial arena. It’s like murder on the Orient Express but there are no stops and no way to get off the train. Parents are guilty till proven innocent only you have no way of proving your innocence when they don’t want to hear what you have to say.”

“The Section 20 agreement was unlawfully obtained in our case by way of spending 1 hour  threatening us with the Police if we didn’t sign it. It’s supposed to be voluntary. In our case it was obtained by force.”

“Currently going through it but from what I have heard today, they have already made their minds up. They are going to panel to decide outcome, 6 weeks before my parenting assessment is completed, 4 weeks before my courses finish and 4 months before final court hearing.”

“Parents are ignored when it comes to PLO elements which require their engagement and timely notice. Lack of preparation time also handicaps parents who cannot respond fully to filed documents, questions and more, or hand in evidence which shows errors in filed or current documents. Many parents feel this is done on purpose to avoid pushback and allow LA’s proposals to go through almost uncontested. Parents not being given information, records and data they are entitled to in law.

Having the out of timescale card used, is horrendous. How many parents were told they would get the help and support needed, early on, only to not get that support or all of that support, only to have it used against them at the end of proceedings. It’s sadistic.

Worse still when it was/is the parent pushing for the support needed from the start, only for this to go completely ignored or to instead have it reversed and used against them in a way to punish rather than accept addressing the support the parent’s needed/needs. Surely this shows that yes, parents are adequate and intelligent enough to recognise this.”

“A large percentage of mothers are faced with a psychologist reports which state 6-12 months are needed to complete therapy work he or she have outlined. Knowing full well adoption decisions have a time limit of 26 weeks.

A parent asking for extensions for this to take place is met by a social worker always telling the courts that even after completing the work does not mean the parent will be suitable to parent the child pushing the idea that the child will have been dangling in the system a further length of time unsure of its future thus damaging the child further. This is contradicting behaviour by social services and one must ask why the child is not placed with extended family to lessen the damage foster care causes a child.”

“Prior to the PLO we were working on what was asked of us under CP. Despite us both having disabilities, we were not given any reasonable adjustments or assistance in decluttering the home. As soon as Covid hit the UK and we went into lockdown we were excluded from meetings and therefore had no idea why it went to PLO. We were given no set timeline to work toward. Yet made to feel as though we were non-compliant.

The PLO letter was delivered on a Friday despite them knowing full well of my fragile mental health. I was unable to access any support and made my first suicide attempt. In fact, the manager was very dismissive of my mental health and said to my husband whilst I was in the room “Here is your wife’s safety plan as we fully expect her to go off the rails again.”

“The parenting assessment ran over and inaccuracies were not amended.”

“I cannot recall what was in the PLO. I knew that once it went to court it would be game over. No one explained anything to us. Solicitors were not interested. All the professionals knew the rules of the game but did not share any information with us, we were the pawns. Due to Covid we were not seen at all at first hearing. Solicitor did all the talking until I asked to read something to the judge. Otherwise, we would have been invisible. It was very impersonal. No integrity. No justice or fairness. No support. We just became part of the conveyor belt.”

“Set up by the social worker telling you you are doing a fantastic job, then change in procedures even when we are “cleared” you will never be supported by services it will go on for years (a lifetime).”

“Breaking parents to the point of no return damaging physical and mental health.”

“I never had a PLO. I still ask and have had no response to how the PLO was ever skipped in my case. I have evidence of all of this. What shocks me is how many people who may have previously had quite long involvement with mental health services, get told they have a diagnosis (often BPD) which no one outside of Court says they have. It’s all massively set up.

Social workers appear to get a kick out of psychologically abusing parents. They provoke a reaction and use the child as a weapon, knowing how much it kills the parent.

Since my son has been home (nearly 14 months), not one bit of family support has been provided. My son left care with a profound vocal and motor tic and trauma from the restraint and seclusion that was used against him, and hid by the LA.”

“I felt harassed and bullied. I did everything asked on the PLO. I was not offered any help no assessments was done on myself and my 2 sons, 1 who has learning disabilities the social worker told me my 4 year old was the ideal adoption target as he was so lively sociable and chatty. She even told me after court that no one wanted my oldest they only wanted my 4 year old.

My sons have been separated. My eldest sent to live with his father who assaulted him then he was moved in to a care home he was held face down in a ground hold, after this he was moved to another home where he was sexually assaulted by another child there. Since I questioned them they have made my contact very difficult. I see my youngest 6 x a year for 2 hours my eldest 1 hour a month yet there fathers and siblings get more contact than me.”