A family in the Midlands found themselves in the hands of the Social Services following a referral. An initial assessment was made and it was found that the family home was in such an unhygienic state that care proceedings were undertaken. A care order was issued and the children were removed from the family home.

The parents immediately addressed the situation, cleaning the house and getting rid of the numerous pet cats that had contributed to the scene. As a result, the care order was lifted and the children were allowed to return.

This, however, was but the beginning of the nightmare.

With the birth of another son, the family was told that they must move into a residential care unit and undergo an assessment to prove that they were worthy parents.

In an artificial environment shared with nine other families, they were made to follow directions on how to raise their child, even when these directions were clearly upsetting to both child and parents. They had to endure this for a period of six months.

Finally the family was allowed to return home.

And still it wasn’t over.

In early 2009, one of the sons made an allegation that he had been punched and kicked by his father.

Based on this single unsubstantiated report, the children were once again taken.

The father has no criminal record and no history of violence toward his partner or his children. Of the five children in the family, no others were questioned with regard to domestic violence. And yet, with no further investigation, the children were taken.

Over the following year, through many assessments and conferences, and through the work of a good solicitor, the children were returned to their parents.

Then one year later, it happened again.

One of the daughters had a mark on her neck. She told a teacher at nursery that “Mummy did it. Mummy hates me and wants me dead.”

Based on this one statement, the children were taken into care that very day.

It has taken the ongoing work of solicitors throughout the year to return all but one of the children to the family home by this time.

And now the parents are forced to operate on a basis of near paranoia, ensuring that the children go to school or nursery without a hair out of place for fear that social services will seize the opportunity to again seize their children.

But how did it come to pass that for the slightest imperfection, such serious consequences could be brought to bear?

“Historical concerns” the social workers term it. Once a child has been made subject to a Child Protection Plan, then they are viewed as at risk from thereon out.

So even in a case such as this where the initial care proceedings were based upon an unhygienic family home, any referral of any kind to the Social Services is acted upon unthinkingly. Based on hearsay, there is no burden of proof – the parent is very much presumed guilty until proven innocent.

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Another illustration of the breakdown of the system comes from another Midlands family.

Following a referral and an assessment, the daughter was taken from her parents under a seventy-two-hour child protection order due to “emotional abuse.” The father was described as “aggressive,” had “anger problems,” “alcohol problems” and “drug problems” and a “history of domestic violence against his wife.” Yet there was no evidence of an alcohol problem, a drug problem or any history of domestic violence.

And the basis for this?

The unsubstantiated report of a neighbour.

The findings from the initial assessment, as given verbally to the family by both the social worker and support worker assigned to the case, were that they were a happy and loving family.

However in court, the social worker’s report as submitted was against the family. As the support worker still reported in favour of the family, further “evidence” was required to bring the case to bear.

The “evidence” was a report of ninety-eight house calls by the police to the father’s previous address to investigate domestic violence.

The police reports of these house calls were not produced for the court.

When asked by a solicitor if the police reports of these call-outs had been studied by Social Services, the answer was “no.”

And what was found when the reports were produced? No incidents of domestic violence against wife or child. The reports were of other, disrelated incidents: a smashed window, a fight in the street outside, someone suspiciously loitering outside in the street, and so on.

With this revelation, the case was won and it was ruled that the child was allowed to go home with the parents. However, when the parents came to collect their daughter from Social Services, they would not release her as they “needed permission” – despite the findings of the court.

This continued until later that evening when the parents were called back into the court to answer new “evidence.”

This time, the fact that the child had said, “Mummy’s mouth bleeds when she brushes her teeth.”

This was offered as evidence of abuse.

The truth was that the mother had a gum infection. She had been to the dentist previously; but due to her pregnancy, there was little that could be done to treat the mother’s condition – she couldn’t have x-rays or be prescribed anything for the infection. The infection would have to be addressed once she had given birth.

Again, all of this was documented.

Again, in answer to the solicitors enquiry as to whether the evidence had even been studied, Social Service’s answer was “no.”

Once again, the Social Service’s case was thrown out and this time, at about midnight, the parents were allowed to collect their child and go home.

In spite of the complete lack of any evidence of wrong-doing, the family is now forced to endure the continued scrutiny of social services. They are to be monitored and supervised and told how to bring up their child.

And their only crime? To have been reported to the social services on suspicion of emotional abuse of their child – the groundless, unsubstantiated, accusation of a neighbour.

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