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A recent case of an obese child who was being bullied at school & having problems with school attendance has been flagged up on Twitter by the wonderful Martin Barrow (Martin does so much to raise awareness of issues affecting children in the care system). The short Judgment was applauded.

Short judgment

M has extra needs compared to other children of his age. A parent looking after him needs to help him manage:

  • His education;
  • His worries and anxiety;
  • Making sure he goes to bed and gets up on time;
  • Keeping his weight down and helping him live a healthy life;
  • Helping him make friends;
  • Helping him find interests and activities to do outside the home.

M’s mum loves him very much.  She has tried her best to look after him. When M was living with her she was not able to give him the care he needed to keep him healthy, happy and safe. Even with lots of help from the local authority, M’s mum was not able to make changes so that things got better for M.

The judge has decided that M should stay living with his dad and [his partner C].

Since he has been living with his dad there have been some positive changes for M.  He has been attending education 80% of the time.  He has a better sleep routine.  He is more relaxed and less anxious.  His dad and C still need a lot of help to meet M’s needs. 

Oxfordshire County Council will work with [X] children’s services to help them care for M and give him what he needs. M will see his mum regularly.  At the start he will see her once a month.  If things go well he can see her more often and can stay overnight. 

My perspective on this case is that this mother may have been unfairly blamed when professionals did not really know what to do and had no relationship with the child – who was scared and anxious. In 2013 I lost my child to a Care Order due to his anxieties around school – and this did not help us as a family at all. After the Care Order was made – and my child was removed from me against his wishes, he never went to mainstream school again. He did however attempt suicide several times and he is scarred for life with self harm from his three and a half years back in the care system – where it cost tax payers £5k to keep him in a privately owned children’s home – as he point blank refused foster care. Having failed to prove I was mentally ill in the initial care proceedings, the local authority presented me as ‘difficult’ to work with to the court. I found myself being described as ‘aggressive’ and ‘threatening’ – even by the IRO! I used to sob my heart out in the LAC reviews she chaired. My son never attended one.

I finally managed to get my child home under a Supervision Order in 2016, which the local authority insisted on – to avoid a costly contested hearing. I had no legal help or advice as a parent litigant and simply could not face the ordeal of another contested hearing without legal assistance or representation. A jointly instructed court expert had recommended immediate reunification and awards for bravery for the ordeal my son and I had been put through – and that should have been enough for the local authority – but it wasn’t – and they immediately called for us to be subjected to yet another assessment and tried to undermine the credibility of the assessor.

We could not even access the Adoption Support Fund under the Supervision Order to support the reunification – and I had no choice but to go back to court – to get the Supervision Order discharged – as a way to to have external scrutiny. The formal complaints process (both the one that Mott MacDonald had then and the local authority’s complaints process) was useless and the LGO has also refused to investigate the case, timing my son out of making a complaint – even when I explained that social work managers had instructed staff at the children’s home to deprive my son of his medication to help with his sleep (melatonin). The LGO officer did not care about my child’s mental health and violation of his basic right to medical intervention. Anyway, the Supervision Order was discharged before it expired by agreement of all parties – when statutory obligations with regards to Pathway Planning were not met with. The local authority barrister told the court I had made legal history in getting two public law orders discharged within six months of each other. These were two public law orders that never ever should have been made as far as I am concerned. Nothing but harm was done under them.

The problem was that professionals had no idea what to do to help us as a family and whatever they did suggest just didn’t work. Like the social worker in this case of M, there was no relationship with my child – who also hid under bedclothes when they arrived. Like the mother in this case, I found myself not being believed in court (see point 29 of the full Judgment) when I described how professionals were behaving. They became punitive towards my son – told me to take things away from him if he didn’t attend school – which only made him more miserable.

It is positive that M is now in school – but what is his future? When he is 16 he will may well want to go home to his mum – as my son did. Who will help then? We haven’t had any help. It took years for my son to be able to access trauma therapy and I get nothing. A funding application to support me as a mother was point blank refused by Mott MacDonald – who do not want to hear from me either about the problems we experienced to access support – and the detrimental impact this has had on my son’s mental health. This is not their ‘role’. Social Work England could do nothing because so many professionals were involved and the senior managers who refused post adoption support were not members of HCPC. The DfE are not interested in dialogue with me either – they do not deal with individual cases. I just want to do my best to make sure others do not fall down the same holes we did as a family. Plenty of assessments were done but beneficial support was just not accessible – even after our reunification under a Supervision Order. When I recently participated in some research being conducted for the Public Law Working Group on Supervision Orders (as one of only 10 parent participants) – I was dismayed to see there was no mention of the fact I was an adoptive parent being reunified with my child, when school refusal had led to his removal.

How will law makers ever know if legislation is working unless our cases are given consideration?

If a child is hiding under the blanket when a social worker arrives – this really isn’t a positive sign. How will making a public law order help?

It just isn’t in the best interests of any child to blame their parents and prevent them accessing legal representation after a public law order is made.

There is no way I could have successfully fought for my son to come home without the help and support of other adoptive parents through POTATO (Parents Of Traumatised Adopted Teenagers Organisation). So many of us parent from a distance and we are treated so incredibly badly under public law orders. We are shamed instead of supported.

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