Below is a poem from an adoptive mother. It describes perfectly the shame and stigma experienced by a mother who is accused of not keeping her children safe, when, as she puts it, she only breathes for her children.

We would like you to read this poem and please also then read the Judgment of Recorder Darren Howe QC, given on 5.1.2018, which pertains to a Care Order being made for a severely autistic 13 year old boy. Consideration is given to the threshold of Beyond Parental Control in this Judgment, which includes two adoption cases. It is my view that this demonstrates just how problematic this threshold is for children whose mental and emotional health mean they are not just beyond the control of their parents – they are simply beyond control.  I felt a great sense of discomfort reading this case, and seeing a mother so much condemned. It seemed to me that this mother was trying to attune to her child and that her child must have loved her, and her familiar presence, but had such serious sensory processing difficulties and communication problems that this love and need could not be communicated and does not seem to be properly recognised. I felt really saddened by this case. I felt its outcome was tragic and inhumane. I do not think the State should put parents through the ordeal of care proceedings and remove parental responsibility in cases such as this. I feel strongly that legislative reform is needed – but in the meantime I believe, in a case like this, Wardship is much more protective of the child and does not put such strain on a parent who seems to be trying to do her best.

How does it serve any child to have their mother condemned? How will this child’s mother advocate for him now – when a Care Order is given to Leeds City Council? Who will take responsibility for him now and fight for his human rights and rights of a child to be respected? I would definitely have liked to see this child made a Ward of Court, and for the mother to be spared the ordeal she was put through. Relationships and family are what gives our lives meaning and purpose. When I picture this mother taking her child to the park in the rain when other children won’t be there, I see love and care – but the State sees nothing but risk, and it has made it impossible for this mother to be there for her child in the way he needs, and allows his mother to be discredited – her integrity is called into question over and over again. Anyone who has had the misfortune to be involved in care proceedings as a parent will know that the reports of Cafcass Guardians and professionals can sometimes be more than economical with the truth – but their integrity is not questioned in the same way as a parents – it is taken forgranted. Yet they have much to lose too – the needs of a child may pale into insignificance compared with the need to protect the reputation of an organisation, or individual. The integrity one expects from people in public office, especially at the senior level and within the legal teams and advocates representing the interests of those seeking a Care Order, or seeking to maintain its status quo, can also be problematic – but it seems to be double standards, and the focus of courts is far less on negligence or even cruelty, of the State, and far more on parental capacity. In cases like this, and cases of adoption or special guardianship, where there is trauma and there are complex attachment issues and child to parent violence problems – we must, as families, live our lives in fear, because of cases like this one.

Help seeking can never be safe for those of us who have parental responsibility for children who are ‘beyond control due to poor mental health’ – because of cases like this one. It needs to be safe. Absolutely it does.

The repercussions of the threshold of significant harm are felt throughout the system – as is evident in this poem, which says a lot, in a few words, about what this shame and stigma can feel like.

I’ll tell you what this referral did.
First it made me cry. 
I cried just twice: 
for the sheer injustice of an accusation
that I don’t even keep them safe
when mostly I only breathe for them;
for the losing of myself for children
who still don’t believe in themselves;
for the shame of meetings
where my girls’ hyper-vigilance
paints me as depressed
and my husband as an abusive alcoholic.
When I stop crying,
I’m left with the realisation
that I’m the only person who still holds any belief
in our family.
My children tell me every day
in a million ways
that I’m failing
because they know that
you can’t fill a bucket that’s full of holes.
And when I’m not worn out with misery,
I can be creative
and whisper hope into my children’s ears
with plans to turn their leaky bucket into a plant pot
or a herb garden
where the holes will have a meaning.
But you have made me look down on myself,
And I now see that I am worn out.
I will take stock as you ask.
I will hold my frayed edges up close to my face
and accept that they are not good enough –
As you ask.
But next time,
Don’t expect me to be able to fight for them
in the way I used to,
When they were my focus
and not my own threadbare faults.
You have redirected my gaze
And you need to understand that I now must use my fight
To defend my fast-unravelling self
From you
And from shame.