By Dawn M. Sanders
Families with additional needs and limited finances face many extreme challenges.
Dr Pippa Murray, founder and director of IBK Initiatives (Inspired by Kim) a small organisation in Sheffield helping families with additional needs, said: “As families, we get put into a box by the system – education, health and social care… I object to being put into boxes…”
A press release put out by Legal Action for Women (LAW) ‘Suffer the Little Children’ illustrates how local authorities can take a harsh and hostile approach to families with additional support needs, on a low income or simply disadvantaged.
Documenting cases of 39 women, statistics highlighted in the report were: in 78% of cases, children were removed where the mother suffered domestic violence, which was not taken seriously or used against them by local authorities. In 22% of the cases the children were placed with their fathers, many of who were violent.
In the cases sampled, 40% of the mothers are women of colour and/or immigrants, 36% of the children were taken into care or adopted and 96% of adoptions are without parental consent.
As the Children and Social Work bill revisited the House of Lords on Tuesday 8th November, 2016 – fortunately being defeated, according to the press release, the UK has the highest adoption rate in Europe, with a 58% increase in 2014, up from 2010.
The case statistics in the above press release are just a snapshot of examples, the following are stories of resilience in overcoming unnecessary interference or failures – often by local authorities.
Penny Kelly, a 50-year-old single mum with autism, who had not been diagnosed at the time her son was born. Her son, now 8, also has Autism.
She said problems with social services began the day after she gave birth and was reported for seemingly being unprepared for the hospital. She also said the way she presented – her attitude and emotional state was unfairly judged.
“I wasn’t being helped by the wider community” – describing living in an over 40s council flat and not mixing with people of child-bearing age. “So in hindsight, I was very grateful for the midwife alerting me back into hospital.” Ms. Kelly described her son was dangerously dehydrated: “ But the ensuing service they provided afterwards was very domineering I found.”
“I was challenging to health professionals about breast feeding or bottle feeding and it was hard for me to judge whether their involvement was legitimate.”
“My overall feeling at that time was abject fear that I’d done something wrong. I feared no matter what I did that they were going to end up taking my son.”
Once, in a momentary panic as a Multi-Agency Support Team (MAST) worker appeared at an awkward time, she thought: “Oh my god, she’s caught me doing something wrong and bad.”
After a period of constant interrogation, she was diagnosed with Autism.
She tried to alert professionals to the fact her son was also autistic, but wasn’t believed. Ms. Kelly described social workers writing things down, then going away and discussing it. Her son’s nursery and school didn’t think him autistic, so she was dubbed deluded.
Only when an NHS psychiatrist diagnosed her son with autism, was she believed.
Dr Pippa Murray, has a daughter in her mid-30s and her son who passed away at 15, would be 33.
Kim had a range of impairments – the most prominent being intractable epilepsy. Despite his seizures recurring daily or several times a day, she said: “He came into my life and turned my life upside down in the most positive and beautiful way.”
A single parent at the time, Dr. Murray said how her son was failed by three schools – two being specialist. She took him for a specialist assessment, describing the assessment centre as: “Really, really distressing, because he was over the age of 5 it wasn’t usual for parents to be allowed to stay during assessments.”
Her son was non-verbal – using body language and facial expressions. So, when she didn’t want to leave him for further tests, as he wouldn’t be understood, that was the end of the relationship.
Despite years of shock and trauma, she said: “one of the gifts my son gave me is, If I look after today, tomorrow will look after itself.”
As Kim’s health worsened, Dr. Murray spoke of how the community and intensive care nurses rallied around in his last days.
However, a team for the terminally ill said, they couldn’t take her son on, as they didn’t know when he was dying.
She said: “This is ridiculous for a service that supports you in your last days.”
Dr. Murray’s journey manifested in the a for mentioned IBK Initiatives – turning Kim’s death into triumph to help others.
The Steven Neary case demonstrates local authority intrusion also affects adults.
This shocking case has implications for councils across the country. It revealed how London’s Hillingdon Council kept father Mark Neary in the dark and sought to remove his son permanently from his care. They nearly succeeded until a judge ruled the authority had used their powers unlawfully.
The Big Picture
When professionals get involved, Ms. Kelly said: “Your life is not your own.” As years of stress, fear and anxiety for her, induced by professionals have just recently subsided.
Dr. Murray described IBK Initiatives working with families who all have dealings with statutory bodies; education, health and social care.
She said: “The ‘overwhelming’ feedback we get from families, is their relationships with these agencies are distressing and sometimes completely unsatisfactory.”
As the author, I empathise with these stories. I too battle my local authority, who continuously undermines my parentability as a single mum with a severe visual impairment. I’m now fighting my son’s deprivation of liberties, as he is an adult with a dual sensory impairment. In my experience, many court-of-protection solicitors are stretched to capacity in cases involving parents and local authorities – a strong indication these scenarios are rife.
My local authority didn’t respond to requests for comments.
The Parents Against Injustice Network (PAIN), Parents Protecting Children and False Allegations Support Organisation (FASO) have all been set up and run by volunteers facing similar situations. They can be contacted for support and sign-posting.