The following article was brought to my attention by a family that has been struggling to get their children back from the Nova Scotia Children Services system. (I hope to be able to speak more on this particlur case in the future)
This is an article from the UK, but was brought to our attention because the same horrendous abuses and concerns are right here in Nova Scotia.
And we advocates can attest to the truth of this statement. There is more wickness going on in Nova Scotia then most people are willing to accept. Unfortunately, we citizens of Nova Scotia prefer to keep ourselves in denial - But this is a very dangerous place to be - At any time, anyone of our families can be affected - our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews etc.
If any of your relative have been, or are being, victimized by this system, please do not just automatically assume the worst of these relatives - Many good innocent families are being caught up in this corrupt web ! - They need your support - And you may be next!
Unfit to be a mother?
In the 60s, many women were forced to give up their illegitmate babies. Everyone now agrees that was a shocking practice. But a recent rise in the number of newborns up for adoption suggests we have found new reasons - or excuses - to take children from their parents. Kate Hilpern investigates
Tuesday January 15 2008
This article appeared in the Guardian on Tuesday January 15 2008 on p6 of the G2 comment & features section. It was last updated at 13:56 on January 16 2008.
Laura was about to give birth in hospital when the authorities arrived to take her baby. "The doctor just handed her over and that was that," she says. "All I wanted was to die," she adds, barely audible. Laura had been in a violent marriage. She left her husband when she was pregnant, but went on to have a breakdown. She says she had recovered by the time social services got involved, but they encouraged her to sign papers consenting to the adoption of her unborn baby. She refused. They insisted. She still refused. They said they would take the baby anyway.
Laura's daughter was initially cared for by foster carers and she was allowed to visit five days a week, although there was no opportunity to breastfeed. Once the adopters had been identified, the meetings were reduced to one day a week at a time and finally she was offered a "goodbye visit".
"My life will never be the same again," she says. "Somewhere out there is my baby and I don't know where. You can't explain the psychological effects of something like that. It's beyond words. It's beyond anything."
Government statistics show that 1,300 babies under a month old are now being taken into care and subsequently adopted, compared with 500 in 1997.
Others view the increase in baby adoptions as positive. Far better that children begin life in a loving adoptive family than risk multiple placements in and out of the care system, they argue. When you consider that the key reasons for today's babies being removed are drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence, this is clearly a danger. Then there's the Victoria Climbié case, where a little girl suffered horrific abuse and died under the noses of social workers - evidence that a rule of optimism can lead to fatal results. "There are likely to be more children living unsafely in the community who should be in care than the other way round," says Anthony Douglas, chief executive of Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service). "Only Poland and Italy take fewer children into care in Europe than we do. The UK public service is not a serial child-snatcher."
So which argument stands up? Are we repeating the mistakes of the past, or does the growth in baby adoptions demonstrate that we have learned from previous errors of judgment? And is there a "third way" - an alternative to adoption that is kinder to all concerned?
Adoption was first introduced in the UK in 1926. For the next 50 years it was used almost exclusively to avoid the stigma of illegitimacy. Half a million unmarried mothers had little choice (some would argue none) but to relinquish their babies, especially during the "sexual revolution" of the 1960s when adoption reached an all-time high. Many have experienced an unending grief. Even those who have had reunions with their adult offspring bear scars from the missing years.
"It ruined my life," says Padmini Staple, 58, co-chair of the Natural Parents Network. "I got pregnant at 16 and you can call it 'relinquishing' or 'giving up my baby' or whatever you like, but I had absolutely no say in the matter. Nobody ever suggested any alternative. When I had my son later on, I had postnatal depression and continue to suffer from depression to this day. Even though I'm now in touch with my daughter and I'm trained as a counsellor, I still have periods when I enter a huge black hole. I've talked to so many women like me. They've all been affected."
By the mid-70s, contraception, changing attitudes to illegitimacy and welfare benefits for single parents meant the number of babies adopted dropped drastically. Adoption shifted from being a service for childless couples to a service for children needing families. Indeed, baby adoptions in the past three decades have been set in a context not of morals, but of child protection. But perhaps even more alarming than the recent increase in newborn adoptions itself is the uncomfortably large minority of women who are claiming their babies are being taken with insufficient evidence of wrongdoing. [This is happening in Nova Scotia]
Lucinda, 40, is among them. "I started to drink quite heavily when I lost both my parents in quick succession," she admits. "It came to social services' attention two weeks into my daughter's life because someone reported me. I completely understand their need to get involved, but what I don't understand is why they took my baby away even when I'd turned my life around."
Lucinda says that a 14-week assessment in a mother-and-baby unit culminated in a recommendation that she should keep her baby, albeit with support - including the proposal that social services should pay for her to continue seeing the psychologist at the unit. "The support didn't happen and the psychologist didn't happen, so I paid to see her myself. I also paid to go into rehab for three months. But my baby was taken anyway [We are aware of similar cases here in Nova Scotia where people had to seek their own services after services were COURT ORDERED ordered BUT Children Services failed to set these services up for the parents] and as the care plan stands, she'll be adopted. I'm willing to do anything, including having a supervision order placed on me for a year. But it seems that once a local authority has made up its mind about adoption, they are like a dog with a bone."
Lucinda believes that if the adoption goes through, her pain will be similar to the mothers of the 60s. "I just hope that by then we will have woken up to the horror of what's happening now in the same way that we did after that period. But it will be too late for me."
Probably the most notorious recent case is that of Fran Lyon, 22, who was told last year by social services that her baby could be taken into care 15 minutes after it was born, with no chance to breastfeed. According to Lyon, who has since fled the country, the only reason was because, like many young girls, she had mental health problems as a teenager that are now "completely behind me". Her lawyer, Bill Bache, has described the practice of removing babies from such women as "a very sinister trend".
John Hemming, Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley and chairman of the Justice for Families group, is campaigning for a public inquiry. [ Wow a politician taking the lead! This is what we want here in Nova Scotia ! ] "We are getting three or four new cases referred to us each day," he says. [ Please contact Trevor Zinck NDP MLA ]
Like many people, Hemming believes the main problem is the adoption targets introduced by the government in 2000 to try to reduce the number of children in long-term residential care. [ This is exactly what has been happening in Nova Scotia! ] "What you wind up with is social workers under pressure to achieve these targets. They know older children are harder to place, so they find babies. I know of one children's services department that acted to prevent a mother moving from her local authority area to another so that they could get the baby to meet their own targets."
Hemming says the moral panic following Victoria Climbié is also significant. "It means social workers are finding it difficult to pull back legal proceedings as they develop. It also means that when parents ask for help from the system, the system is turning on them.
Social worker Rachel Bramble agrees. "Much of the reason why babies are taken into care quickly is due to reactionary systems that have been created by a government that fears the press coverage of a child death and so has become overcautious," she says. "Vast amounts of local-authority money are consequently spent on looking after children and care proceedings compared with supporting families - even though there is much said about supporting families."
Bramble became so appalled by the system that she left her social services job three years ago. [This happens here too! See the article Psychopaths Working in Children's Services ] In one case she dealt with, she says she suggested to the local authority solicitors that they could perhaps apply for temporary parental responsibility for a period of six months so that they could still be involved with the family but without care proceedings. "But they just looked at me astonished that I had suggested such a thing," she says.
Gina Gibb, 44, says she was refused the opportunity to even be assessed in a mother- and-baby unit. "I was fine when my first son was born, just a bit of baby blues. But when I had my second child, I had postnatal depression. After my third baby, I wound up with mental health problems. A social worker came to the house and said, 'Whatever you need, I'll help.' But she never came again until I had what's called a psychotic episode. Being pushed to crisis point was bad enough, but I was then accused of neglect and was told that if I didn't get better within a certain timescale, they would take my baby, which they did." [ We are very familiar with similar cases in Nova Scotia]
Gibb's mother rang the community heath service and finally Gina received some support. "I fought to get my baby back in court and won. But without that help that I had to seek out myself, I probably wouldn't have my children now. Yet I've had another baby since and I've proved I'm a good mum to all my children." Gibb now does charity work to try to change the way mothers are treated by social services.
As you might expect, local authorities are quick to deny wrongdoing, although not always. Chris Smith, 40, says he received a written apology from his local authority when his two young sons were adopted, but because adoption is legally irreversible he has been told he will never get them back. "They'd been living with my ex-partner, but she had some emotional problems. When it became clear she couldn't keep them, I said I would like to care for them, but social services said that I would fail to meet my children's emotional needs. They said that what levied against me quite extensively was my dishonesty about the fact that I have a half-brother and half-sister. They said I never told them about these half-siblings, whereas in fact they had been informed. Obviously this small issue wouldn't make a difference as to whether I could care for my children, but they felt it was proof that I was an untrustworthy individual."
Later Chris attended a family assessment centre and they too concluded that he was not capable of meeting his children's emotional needs. "A significant part of this was back to the dishonesty issue about my half-siblings. They said that I was clearly involved in a fight with the local authority and if I got my children back, I wouldn't be able to work with them."
A friend of Chris's happened to be a senior manager for social services. She had helped Chris write a letter of complaint during the process and an independent investigation ensued. "My solicitor asked for a copy of the findings but was refused. We finally got it after we'd lost the children and still didn't have the evidence in time to go back on appeal. That's when I got my letter of apology."
The impact has been unbearable, he says. "My mum died at 53 from a short, sharp illness and I thought nothing could ever be worse. On a scale of one to 10, that scores one and this scores 11."
Campaigners say that where parents are not together, fathers are all too often overlooked as potential carers. But being male is not the only thing going against parents such as Smith, says family law solicitor Sarah Harman. She believes that the time limit on appeals also leaves many parents unable to challenge adoptions effectively.
She adds: "I think there is a rather unhealthy relationship between some experts and some local authorities and the judiciary. Local authorities know that if they instruct Dr X, they'll say this mother has no hope of turning her life around and that the judge will accept it.
Harman has a further worry: "I've dealt with lots of cases where adoption was a good thing but I've also dealt with cases where I've been very frightened about the way the court process works. It goes like this - a child's been injured, parents can't explain why, parents must be responsible, child goes for adoption. What's particularly scary is that it happens much more to families who are disadvantaged. Family courts always say they don't go in for social engineering but I think judges do sometimes think, 'This is a single mother, something's not right in the household, the child would be better off somewhere else,' and off the child goes."
Yvonne Coulter, 35, believes she is a victim of just this. Eighteen years ago, her six-month-old baby Tammy fell while playing in her baby bouncer. When she was at the hospital, Yvonne was told that if she left the hospital with Tammy, she would be charged with kidnapping her daughter. "I was astounded. I'd never had anything to do with social services before," she says.
Following three years of legal battles, Coulter claims it was proved beyond doubt that she was a good mother. "But by the time the case wound up in court, it was too late. The judge told me, 'Miss Coulter, if I return your daughter home to you, you will be a stranger to her.' So Tammy was adopted."
The following year, as she lay naked with her legs in stirrups giving birth to her son, Coulter says a male social worker walked in the labour suite and tried to hand a safety order to take this baby too. "Medical staff had to ask him to leave three times. It went to court and I won this time, but my family was never complete. It felt like my life was permanently on hold. My sleeping was horrendous and every special occasion - Christmas, Mother's Day, Tammy's birthday - was terrible."
In 2006, when Tammy was 17, she sought out her natural mother. Within a matter of months, Tammy moved in with her. Together, they are taking legal action against Derbyshire social services and are campaigning to stop babies being removed unfairly. "I am very angry and upset that both of us had the right to family life taken away for no good reason. It's like it was generations ago," says Tammy.
Not all adoptees feel aggrieved that they were removed from their families as babies. Annabel, 45, was taken at nine months old. "Today, it would be called neglect. My mother would leave me in the cot when she went to work and come back at lunchtime to feed me. I honestly don't think she meant to harm me. She was young and naive. To my knowledge she was never offered any support, but I actually think it was better to remove me. In fact, I think I should have been removed even earlier than I was. I say that even though I was placed in an adoptive family with problems and even though I know my natural parents now. If a child might be at risk, the sooner the better."
Patsy, an adoptive mother of a nine-year-old girl who was removed at four years old, agrees. "My daughter should have been taken years earlier than she was. It's not that I don't feel dreadful for her birth mother. I do. But at the end of the day, she is a year behind at school and her self-esteem is not what it could be because her care was lacking for so long. We're lucky because she's a survivor, but some children are not and the damage could be irreparable."
The evidence is not just anecdotal. Research shows that when there is a view that a return to the birth parents should be the first choice of a care plan, it can lead to delay for many babies, says Julie Selwyn, director of the Hadley Centre for Adoption and Foster Care Studies at Bristol University. Delay, she continues, is damaging, not least in terms of forming attachments, educational outcomes and self-esteem. "We studied 120 children who entered the care system in the early 1990s and by far the best outcomes were for children adopted young," says Selwyn, who adds that her research also identified a significant increase in the number of mothers abusing drugs and alcohol to the extent that they were unable to meet the needs of their babies.
David Holmes, chief executive of the British Association of Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), says that we should be praising social workers for bringing more babies into the care system. "The adoption targets came about because a government-led review found that adoption was being used as a last resort and children were being allowed to drift in care. If social workers are picking up cases more quickly and working faster to get children into the care system, should we be criticising them? It's naive to suggest that every birth parent can turn their life around."
The government says the increase in the number of babies being removed from parents should therefore not be viewed negatively. "In fact, statistics show that the number of children aged one to four coming into the care system has reduced by the same amount," says a spokesperson for the Department for Children, Schools and Families. "This means that children who would have come into care anyway are simply coming in earlier than in the past."
John Coughlan, joint president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, shares the view that neither adoption targets nor the Climbié case have caused social services to break up families unnecessarily. "What I do accept is that there probably has been a heightened risk awareness of protection of younger children post-Climbié, and I also think the new adoption targets have focused attention on those families where there is a better-than-average chance you'll end up in permanency planning for the child. But knowing what we know about moving children sooner rather than later, and knowing what we know about the prospects of finding a permanent placement for a child over a certain age, this is surely a good thing."
He adds that local authorities aren't able to comment on individual cases, which leaves the press only ever able to tell one side of the story. "The reality is that the average adoption case takes two and a half years of vigorous assessment and challenging, with a wide range of professionals involved, with judges making the final decision. John Hemming's conspiracy theory just doesn't stand up against such a process."
The system isn't foolproof, admits Anthony Douglas of Cafcass. "It's not like shoplifting cases where there is clear-cut evidence, not usually, anyway. It's more like the McCanns' case where you have the whole 'Did they? Didn't they?' argument, while in other cases it's more about risk of harm than actual harm. In the end, you have to remember that parents don't always tell the truth and you have to work on a balance of probabilities. What's the alternative? It is unacceptable to take undue risks with children's safety."
But although he believes the whole idea of social workers taking babies to meet adoption targets is a "conspiracy theory running away with itself", he does believe there are ways of increasing the percentage of accurately diagnosed cases - notably, better training and mainstreaming of expert witnesses and more specialist family judges and specialist family solicitors.
Other improvements are already in the pipeline. This April, stricter controls on the cases local authorities bring before a family court come into force. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice is to pilot a new scheme aimed at opening up proceedings of the family courts, where more information will be given in cases with a significant public interest.
The first family drug and alcohol court in the UK also starts work this month. The court, based on a model that has proved successful in the US in helping parents fight addictions and keeping families together, has been launched by district judge Nicholas Crichton. Having seen mothers lose child after child to care through addiction problems (one had 14 babies removed), he has long been campaigning for this £1.34m initiative in London, which will allow judges to follow their own cases through, offering parents early intensive intervention by experts, as well as support from mentor mums who have weaned themselves off drugs and got their children back.
One of the mentor mums, Sharon Simms, 36, had three children removed by social workers, the youngest just days after she was born, due to her addiction to crack cocaine and alcohol. She credits the Maya treatment centre in London for turning her life around. Project manager Angela Wells says: "When I was a senior social worker, there was utter pessimism about the ability of substance-misusing mothers to be good parents and the culture was to remove babies at birth. So I left to come to this project, which has a clear remit of working with mothers in a therapeutic way, with a parenting programme run alongside. We work with women for up to six months residentially and support continues in the community afterwards. Sadly, the project is currently unique, yet we are managing to help mothers keep their children and be good mums."
Other projects, such as the charity Addaction's Breaking the Cycle in London and the Liverpool Women's Hospital in Merseyside, offer support to substance-using mothers in the community. Sue Wilson, a midwife at the latter, says: "These women tend to be labelled as bad parents unable to change, whereas we've had many success stories." But again, such projects are rare.
Perhaps the most wide-reaching "third way" - although still not common - is "concurrent planning". Carol Homden, chief executive of Coram, a charity aiming to improve chances for children, explains: "If a child is under two and the court is deciding on their future, then concurrent planning means that they are placed with a foster family who will go on to adopt them should the court decide not to keep the birth family together. But the overriding aim is for the baby to be returned to the parents' care, in which case the concurrent carer has the satisfaction of knowing they gave these children love and security when they needed it."
In the end, only time will tell whether drug and alcohol abuse, along with domestic violence, have become "the new illegitimacy", in terms of a stigma that attracts the removal of babies rather than much-needed support; or whether support in the majority of cases is simply too optimistic, robbing children of a right to a stable upbringing elsewhere. In the meantime, Cathy Ashley, chief executive of the Family Rights Group, hopes the debate continues to gather momentum so that complacency itself doesn't become the driving force. "Besides capital punishment, the worst thing you can do to a human being is remove their child. If the state is going to do that, it needs to be the very, very last resort".
· Some names have been changed