The Child Protection System in England
Written evidence submitted by:
Jan Loxley-Blount TCert., Dip Child Development.
ON BEHALF OF:
Parents Protecting Children UK
(Parents, Professionals & Politicians Protecting Children with Illness and/ or Disability)
1. The impact of neglect and the long term consequences of a delay in intervention where there is evidence of neglect.
A. When considering the risks of delay, I would remind the Committee of the dangers of over hasty action, especially in cases where suggestions of abuse are challenged on grounds of disability and / or chronic illness.
B. There is a letter circulated on 11/12/11 signed by:
• Jan Loxley Blount, T.Cert, Diploma in Child Development, Parents Protecting Children UK.
• William Bache DipLG, Senior Director William Bache & Co., Solicitor with Higher Rights (Criminal), Member of The Children Panel. Acted for Angela Cannings & in other high profile cases of false accusation on disputed medical grounds.
• Dr Luke Beardon, Senior Lecturer, The Autism Centre, Sheffield Hallam University. Expert Witness.
• Beverley A Lawrence Beech, Hon Chair, The Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services & Jean Robinson also of AIMS.
• Jane Colby, Executive Director, The Young ME Sufferers Trust
• Dr Peter Dale, Child Protection Researcher, Author and Expert Witness.
• Rioch Edwards-Brown, The Five Percenters (Shaken Baby Syndrome).
• Margaret Gardener, False Allegations Support Organisation.
• Trevor Jones, Richard Roper & Alison Stevens, Parents Against Injustice Network.
• Countess of Mar, Chairman, Forward-ME.
• Dr Dinah Murray, Tutor in Autism at Birmingham University. Founder Autreach IT. Author & journal contributor in the field of Autism..
• Charles Pragnell, Child/Family Advocate, Expert Defence Witness – Child Protection, evidence to Courts in England, Scotland, and New Zealand.
• Mary-Jane Willows, CEO of the Association of Young People with ME.
• Dr Lynne Wrennall, Coordinator - Public Health Research Group., Liverpool John Moores University. Extensive published research into expert witnesses & child protection errors.
Over hasty adoption could lead to children of disabled or sick parents being lost to them forever.
I am writing to you on behalf of Parents Protecting Children UK and a number of other voluntary groups, academics & others, who find themselves supporting families who are wrongfully caught up in the Child Protection and Family Court system.
We appreciate that for those children without a viable family of origin, adoption would be preferable to languishing in care and that speedy placements could be in the child's best interest. Safeguards would need to ensure that proper checks and procedures are followed and that the child and the new family are completely happy with the procedures and the placement.
However in a straightforward case, 6 months in the Family Courts would be an extremely short period in which to ensure that everything is done thoroughly and considered properly. In complex cases it is simply unrealistic.
Last month a mother attended court to make an application for increased and improved contact arrangements with her children, whilst still fighting to prove that a report claiming her to be an unfit parent was erroneous. Anxious to be seen to be acting quickly in the 'child's best interests', Social Services had 'piggy backed' an order to free the younger child for adoption onto the contact application. The freeing order was granted and the contact application unheard. The child is now to be placed permanently with a new family, notwithstanding that the mother and older sibling are desperate for the family to be reunited and that there were medical reasons with which to challenge the damning assessment.
We can see this kind of injustice being repeated time and time again if family court procedures are to be drastically foreshortened as currently proposed.
If adoption targets and procedures are to be speeded up then it is absolutely vital that the issue of false and misleading accusations of child abuse is dealt with BEFORE any changes are made.
The number of false and misleading allegations of child abuse is extremely worrying. A significant number of these are in families where a child and/or a parent has Asperger's Syndrome or another Autism Spectrum disorder. Other reasons include historic mental health issues, ME/CFS, metabolic disorders, learning disabilities etc etc. It is frighteningly possible that these families could lose their children to adoption, before they have time to prove their innocence.
The only way to bring the false accusation issue to a head is through a Parliamentary Select Committee Investigation. This was proposed in the Lords by Earl Howe (now a junior Minister in the Dept of Health) as long ago as 2001.
"I hope that the Government will take these issues in hand and examine them seriously. It is a subject which a Select Committee, either in this House or in another place, could examine to advantage. Having made a personal study of these matters, I believe them to be of deep significance for the well-being of countless children and families up and down the country. " Earl Howe. House of Lords Hansard 17/10/2001
A trawl through Hansard will reveal similar concerns & requests by amongst others Lord Tim Clement Jones, the Countess of Mar, John Hemming MP AND BY TIM LOUGHTON MP THE MINISTER NOW CONCERNED WITH ADOPTION.
There is an e-petition .... quoting back Earl Howe's 2001 request .......
C.The full text of the e-petition is below.
Call for Select Committee to investigate Misleading Allegations of Child Abuse & meanwhile suspension of change to Adoption & Family Court proceedings.
Responsible department: Department for Education
We call for a Parliamentary Select Committee to be established to investigate and report on the issue of False and Misleading Allegations of Child Abuse. We demand a suspension of any plans to limit Family Court time, or speed up Adoption procedures, until the Select Committee on False and Misleading Allegations of Child Abuse has completed it's investigations and it's recommendations have been fully implemented. The current government proposals on Adoption targets & Family Court procedures are potentially dangerous as children could be adopted before loving parents have the time to prove their innocence. There are particularily time consuming problems and processes in families where parent, child or sibling has a disability, including Autism Spectrum disorders & / or chronic medical or mental health difficulties.
• The e-petition was deliberately set to run for a short time - 3 months only - it closes on the 10th February.
• Signatures to date on 22/1/12 total 137 and are known to include academics and organisational representatives as well as Parent Carers and others directly affected.
2. Older young people (especially those aged 15 to 19) and child protection.
Evidence from recent or current cases in the press and / or which have come to the direct attention of Parents Protecting Children UK & related organisations give cause for concern.
B. Children of an age & ability where they could be considered Gillick competent don't seem to be properly consulted about their placements or included in decision making processes. It appears that when social workers have decided on a 'plan of action' for a young person, it is irrelevant to them that this may not be what the young person actually wants!
• In a current case, complex & expensive arrangements are being made to rehouse one parent to provide space for their teenager - notwithstanding that the teenager wants to go home to their own room with their other parent with whom they grew up. Social services objection to the original parent is based on a contested report about a supposed personality disorder (almost certainly an Autism Spectrum disorder which would not preclude parenting). The Local Authority will not allow reassessment of the young person or original parent to consider alternative diagnoses.
B. There may be evidence of sexual grooming in care. I heard this directly from a parent of a Northern Irish teenager. I later heard a BBC Radio 4 report which appeared to confirm the parent's fears. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-15625438 7/11/11
C. There is evidence of Autism Spectrum teenagers being taken into care, supposedly to encourage independence. Faced with an unfamiliar environment the teenager's behaviour can become hard to handle and medication given which may not be suitable.
• I know of a historic case where the young person regressed on medication and became a highly dependant adult, now costing the local authority a great deal of money.
• The press recently reported the death of a young man in similar circumstances. Ham & High http://tiny.cc/x0550 9/1/12
D. There are problems concerning vulnerable teenagers and young adults with learning disabilities, on the Autistic Spectrum, or those who are non-verbal, whose home situations can be misunderstood. Some such young people are sometimes held in care against their will.
• Amongst these is the much reported case of Steven Neary. Daily Mail http://tiny.cc/n3lqv 10/6/11
• There is a Welsh case, currently before the Ombudsman, in which a vulnerable young person was taken from day care and incarcerated for 5 months by social services. Indications are that the Local Authority, Police, medical services etc are ready to apologise. The family are slowly recovering from their ordeal.
E. There are further concerns about vulnerable older teenagers / young adults and the Court of Protection highlighted in an article from the Daily Mail http://tiny.cc/4vivj 22/5/11
3. Thresholds for intervention, for taking children into care and for adoption
3.1 Autism etc
A. The Equalities Act 2010 and the Autism Act 2009 are being disregarded.
B. Cases come to the attention of Parents Protecting Children UK, Parents Against Injustice Network, False Allegations Support Network and other organisations supporting Parent Carers in families with Disability or Chronic Illness, in which thresholds for taking children into care or offering them for adoption are only reached because of a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of Disability or Illness. This is particularly true in the case of parental Autism or Asperger's syndrome
C. Some parents, particularly those with Autism Spectrum disorders, find meetings with social workers, solicitors etc extremely stressful and need support to enable them present their case. Permission is frequently refused for a lay advocate to accompany a parent when attending such meetings.
D. There is a French Film Le Mur (The Wall - subtitled) which explores issues surrounding Autism and Psychoanalysis. It may be helpful for the Committee to spend 50 minutes watching this. The UK situation is more subtle, but the same underlying philosophy is present in the training of UK Social Workers and others. Psychoanalytic Theory is mis-used in the UK to suggest that mothers & fathers with Autism & Asperger's Syndrome may have Borderline Personality Disorders. It should be remembered that at the time Psychoanalytic theory was being developed there was little or no understanding or recognition of Autism or Asperger's Syndrome. It seems that UK parents with the disability of Autism or Asperger's Syndrome are being denied the right to family life. This may actually be worse than the horrendous situation in France.
• Huffington Post http://tiny.cc/2qi7e 5/12/11
• Facebook http://tiny.cc/wr1w7
• YouTube http://tiny.cc/qw2vo
In 2002 in the case of P.,C. & S v UK in the European Court of Human Rights http://tiny.cc/6e0j4 the UK was held to account for moving to adopt a baby without a trial of parenting. More information can be found at http://tiny.cc/bse7q It seems that this judgement and the lessons learned are being discarded and forgotten in the current scramble for more and faster adoptions. There will inevitably be more and more similar UK cases reaching the European Court but by then it will be too late as adoption is irrevocable and families will be unjustly broken up forever.
Parents Protecting Children UK, Parents Against Injustice Network, False Allegations Support Network AND many academics, lawyers, related organisations etc, some of whom are included in the list at 1B above, believe that an urgent Parliamentary investigation of False, Mistaken & Misleading Allegations of Child Abuse MUST be undertaken BEFORE any moves towards faster adoption are implemented.