In my last blog I spoke about the lack of resources in our care system which are committed to recognising and treating the long term effects of early life events on children in care. A related issue, but unaddressed in the last blog, concerns the events that precipitate intervention and action by a social worker. I think it’s important before I begin to underscore how difficult the job of a social worker must be. They are faced with an incalculably heavy burden to discharge each day. There are not vast financial rewards for what they do, so one must assume that they care about what they do. And yet so rarely do they receive recognition for this. They do a job which is likely to earn no accolades if done well, but publicly ignominy and revulsion when mistakes are made. For this they have some sympathy, but unfortunately errors do happen and when they do, the effects can be tragic and far reaching. These cases are mercifully infrequent but they are not rare and they can come from both a failure to act and from action which is taken too readily. I say this not as a denouncement of these health care professionals, but to highlight the tightrope that must be traversed between the right action and the wrong one.
In journalism there are certain phrases that are duty bound to make an appearance when certain occasions demand it. The phrase ‘every parent’s nightmare’ is a good example of this and for the most part its use, although a little lazy in journalistic terms, is warranted. If there were anything that could fully fit the criteria of that statement it would be the case of Karissa Cox and Richard Carter. A tragic confluence of bad luck, error and poor judgement resulted in this case of a mother and father losing their child. The fact I’m writing about this probably signals to you that this mistake has been uncovered. It has taken three years, but the charge by the family courts that Ms Cox and Mr Richards were abusing their child has been thrown out by the criminal court. Despite this, the couple face a protracted legal battle to be reunited with their daughter as the extended period in care resulted in adoption. The shadow justice secretary has intimated that the couple are unlikely to be successful in any attempt overturn it. Let that fact sit for a moment. Outrage doesn’t even begin to cover it. It is the type of injustice that seems more suited to the pages of a Victor Hugo novel than Great Britain today. So how exactly did this occur?”
It started with a trip to the hospital when the baby was just six weeks old. She was bleeding from the mouth following a feed and the parents were naturally worried. Upon further examination doctors discovered what they believed to be signs of parental abuse (bruising and potential fractures on the baby’s body) and subsequently contacted social services. Following this intervention Karissa Cox and Richard Carter were found guilty of cruelty and neglect in a family court in Guildford. In the aftermath of the trial, despite their protestations of innocence and an ongoing appeal, their baby was placed for adoption. In the beginning of October 2015 the case against them collapsed when defence experts unveiled that the child was suffering from Von Willebrand disease, a blood disorder that causes a person to bruise easily. An accompanying deficiency of Vitamin D (currently a nationwide epidemic) had caused infantile rickets, a fact that accounted for the doctor’s suspicion that the baby was suffering from bone fractures. This conclusion was supported by a team of independent radiologists.
One would think that with the case won the hellish ordeal for Karissa Cox would be over, but that wasn’t to be. Unbelievably, despite these recent developments, Lord Falconer, the shadow justice secretary, suggested that having the decision of the family court rescinded was not as straightforward as they would believe. Although he conceded that in light of the new evidence they had a right to seek such a judgement he proffered the following note of caution:
‘The family court will ask itself one question: What’s in the best of interest of the child? Three or four years with a new family might mean the disruption is too much.’
My initial response to this statement was horror. I imagined how I might feel in similar circumstances. How dare they! It’s her baby! Give the child back. Simple. And then after a few moments some more complex emotions started to creep in.
One can absolutely sympathise with this woman and whatever she decides to do it would be hard to argue against. Indeed, in her own words,
‘ We took our child to hospital seeking help and they stole our baby from us.’
The fact that all those concerned in this débâcle acted in this child’s interest is of little comfort. Nevertheless, there is something discomforting in Lord Falconer’s sentiments. How will the child be affected? If he or she has known different parents for the last four years, what would it do to that child to be taken away from everything he or she knows. It will be years before he or she understand the events that have transpired. By then the underlying damage, will already have been done. Of course one might counter that future knowledge of what the government has sanctioned could also adversely affect the child. It is a desperate situation. Justice demands her return, but it is not immediately obvious what is the ‘right’ thing to do is. The only view point I can offer here is that if justice does indeed prevail it should do so quickly. After all, the couple were allowed supervision up until the year before (two and half years after the incident). Given this, it is possible that a connection between this child and her parents still persists. Waiting can only diminish this further. And the waiting must be agony.
Ms Cox summed up this eloquently in a statement made to the Daily Mirror, ‘It is heart-breaking to know our child is out there, living and breathing in someone else’s arms.’
There are lessons to be learnt here by all involved. To finalise the adoption in this case before the ruling of the criminal court is nothing short of extraordinary. Surely, they should have foreseen that the outcome of one would have a bearing on the other? It is even more remarkable to learn that this was not simply a bureaucratic oversight. Turner, the couple’s barrister, presented the expert evidence he had collected to the family court before the adoption order was made. They dismissed this evidence without reviewing it and proceeded to confirm the adoption order. Falconer argues that the key failing here was the length of time it took to hear the criminal case, suggesting that the time lag between the family case and the criminal case meant that the former did not have the same evidence upon which to make a decision as the latter. It is worth mentioning that there has been a drive by the government to increase adoption and speed up proceedings, which is no doubt a well-intentioned act, but with all things there can be hidden costs.
So what for the future? I would suggest an appeal to common sense. Of course we want our social services to act effectively and decisively to prevent child abuse. We know their job is a difficult one and with the spectre of baby P (amongst many tragic others) looming over these services they are keen not to let such a tragedy happen on their watch. However, there must better checks and balances to protect the rights of the parents and to prevent this from reoccurring. As Emma Fenn, of Garden Court Chambers, said:
‘It shows the perils of the continued inaction relating to a nationwide epidemic of vitamin D deficiency and rickets and the grave injustice that can result when relying on the opinions of medical professionals alone to conclude child abuse.’
Whatever happens now, one thing is certain, Karissa Cox and Richard Carter are serving a life sentence for a crime they never committed.
As a final note, be it an extended and one, I’d like to hand off to a fellow blogger and journalist, Clare Clavey. Her work, which I have reposted in its entirety on the following pages, suggests that such incidences are happening on a far greater scale than implied by my article. She further suggests that such actions have for the most part no basis in law. The world she describes often appears closer to the that imagined by Spielberg in the movie Minority Report, in which evidence amounts to a a strong suspicion something might happen as opposed to any evidence of actual wrong doing. Perhaps, more worrying is the suggestion of financial motivation and racial profiling that underpin some of these decisions.
When young couple Leonardo Edwards and Iolanda Menino discovered they were expecting their first baby they were over the moon. Leonardo, a businessman and Iolanda – a fiery Portuguese woman who works in cardiology, planned a homebirth and looked forward to a bright future with their new baby.
What should have been a straightforward homebirth went downhill quickly when their midwife showed up just ten minutes before the birth and was allegedly more concerned about getting a parking ticket than assisting the delivery.
Iolanda lost two litres of blood after a botched attempt to deliver the placenta (or after birth) after Santiago was delivered and was rushed to hospital by paramedics. In the hospital Iolanda went straight into “theatre” (as they call it there) and delivered the placenta (baby Santiago wasn’t even a patient as the hospital didn’t deliver him!). His father was just holding him and waiting to see his wife would be alright.
At this point it became clear the hospital was behaving in a hostile manner towards the couple, repeatedly asking for a name for the as yet un-named baby and generally behaving in an unkind and unprofessional way towards them. It’s hard to know at this point if the couple’s baby had already been targeted for adoption, but certainly at best there was a cultural and personality clash occurring. Iolanda was eventually discharged and they returned home with their baby to begin a new life as a family of three.
Their happiness was shortlived. The following day a midwife arrived to their door demanding to be allowed in to see the baby. Iolanda, exhausted from having not yet slept turned her away telling her to come back with an appointment. This may have been her first big mistake; it is implicitly understood by women in the UK that it is a midwife’s God given right to be allowed access to your home and baby following birth and only the bravest would turn her away. Being Portuguese, Iolanda was not aware of this and so wasn’t intimidated.
Shortly afterwards a policeman arrived at the door demanding to see the baby, when Iolanda once again refused he asked her to simply hold the baby up to the window for him to see. This she did and satisfied he went away. A couple of days later they were instructed to return to the hospital with their baby to have him checked. Wary after the previous incidents, the couple had already taken the precaution of having an independent midwife assess the baby and declare him to be in perfect health. However, the hospital disagreed and claimed the baby was suffering a serious case of jaundice and hurriedly removed him from his parents for his own safety, placing him in foster care.
That was three months ago and apart from them being allowed occasional supervised contact meetings, the couple are still without their beautiful little son, Santiago.
In an interview on The Richie Allen Show Leonardo tried to make sense of what might have led to this nightmarish situation. Full disclosure: Leonardo’s business involves selling the controversial alternative health treatment MMS (miracle mineral supplement) and last year was the subject of an undercover report by the BBC where Leonardo was portrayed as a charlatan, selling ‘bleach to babies’ (I won’t try to defend or condemn the product here, but I recommend doing a little reading on the topic before jumping to conclusions).
Leonardo feels this story had an impact on their baby being taken.
“I do believe it has a big part to play in this. MMS is not illegal in any country. MMS is not lethal, no one’s died from it. People can go and check the environmental protection agency’s own bureaucracies which show it’s safe and also the poison index will show it as safe.”
So if MMS is legal, which it is, what could the objection be? Were authorities afraid the couple would give their baby MMS? Iolanda reasonably points out, “a person that sells alcohol is not going to give alcohol to their babies!” She added that she doesn’t believe MMS plays any part in the theft of her baby: “Last year 30 children were taken from Portuguese parents [in the UK]. Until April 2016, 17 children taken from Portuguese parents – are these people selling bleach?”
The couple talked about the 90 minute contact meetings they are permitted with their baby where they discovered to their utter shock that the ‘contact practitioners’ – those charged with assessing their behaviour with their baby – were also the foster carers. “The very people that are sitting there assessing us are we good enough parents are the people that get paid £400 to £500 a week to foster the children!”
A foster carer can foster up to four children which means potential earnings of £2,000 per week, tax free. “Why have I studied cardiology?” says Iolanda, “when I could be taking care of babies!”
In Britain more than 25,000 children are removed from their parents each year by secret family courts and the figure is rising year on year – roughly 97% of these children are never returned. There are almost 70,000 children in care at present and it is estimated that annually, 10,000 of these children simply ‘disappear’.
The UK is unique in that children can be removed from parents for ‘risk of future emotional harm’. In other words, a child’s life can be utterly destroyed by being removed from their loving parents due to a vague prediction of future possible behavior. As a mother of six, I can think of few situations a child would find more traumatic or ‘emotionally harmful’ than being removed from the family they love – possibly forever – particularly if the reasons are unfounded.
But when it’s an industry which generates £3 billion year – as the UK ‘care’ industry does – it’s unlikely the child’s well being is a priority. Local authorities pay voluntary adoption agencies in excess of £27,000 for each child placed in an adoptive family and there’s a long list of so called experts who are paid large fees to declare parents unfit or emotionally abusive, often without even meeting them at all, but simply by reading the social worker’s report. The assumption of innocence until proved guilty, one of the core principles of British justice, is absent from the family courts where hearsay is treated as evidence against a parent and by the time it reaches the judge is treated as fact, regardless of how unfounded it might be.
Once it has been established that the parents are a risk to their child – a conclusion which has almost always been reached from the outset the order is put in place and the wheels are set in motion to have the child adopted. This all happens at such speed that often the parents have no time to learn the necessary legal ropes or realise they need to speak up in their own defense. Again, the system relies on this ignorance.
Each year more than 200 desperate mothers and fathers are jailed for ‘contempt of court’ for breaking the gagging order placed on them by the family courts. What parent wouldn’t try everything in their power to let people know of this horrifying event in their lives?
Every year 5,000 children are adopted and 96% of those have been forcibly removed from their parents. Mother of three Emma Ibbitson, runs a production company with her partner Pete. Every year they make a drink driving video for the West Yorkshire police force. In 2012 she fell foul to social services when her nine year old daughter – who had begged to be in the video – played the role of a victim of drink driving. Emma was accused of emotional and physical abuse and of –unbelievably – having her daughter run over by a car! A three year old could tell you the ‘accident’ in the film wasn’t real, but they came for her kids anyway.
“We were in shock for days [after the children were taken], for five hours we didn’t speak a word to each other.” Emma was ordered to visit her youngest daughter’s school and tell her she couldn’t come home. “I couldn’t wish that pain on any mother, it was heart breaking. To have to tell your little girl that mummy says you can’t come home…”
Her children removed and nothing left to lose, Emma did what came naturally to her, she made a film, Traffic, which is a powerful documentary revealing the truth about social services. It is banned in the UK. There are several groups in particular who seem to be targeted more than others – single mothers, non English speaking families, families where the mother has reported her partner for abuse – domestic or sexual towards her or her children and women who spent their own childhood in care. There are other things that can mark you out as a target such as unexplained bruises on a child or being aggressive or resistant to the interference of social services – as Iolanda discovered the hard way.
However, as the story of Tory MP Lucy Allan proves, unwanted attention from social services can happen to anyone. Back in 2011 Lucy was suffering a mild depression (as reported in Sue Reid’s article in the Daily Mail) and visited her GP in the hope of being prescribed some anti depressants. It was a decision she lived to regret when the GP – a female locum told her she would be referring her to social services to see if the family needed support.
The locum consulted a Dr Peter Green, a consultant forensic physician and head of child safeguarding in the area Lucy lives. Dr Green concluded that Lucy was ‘very self centred’ despite the fact he had never met her, he elaborated by saying his conclusion was a ‘gut feel’. Green has written thousands of reports for the family courts.
Based on Dr Green’s report, Lucy was reported to social services as being of significant risk of harm to her son. They hired a private psychiatrist to write an ‘expert’ report, despite meeting neither Lucy or her son, which concluded there was an ‘urgent need for Lucy to be assessed and treated’, and that there was ‘no way her depression would not have a significant impact on her parenting’. This was in spite of the fact that her son’s school reported him to be happy and thriving.
Meanwhile Lucy visited an independent psychiatrist for assessment who concluded she was neither a risk to herself or her son. Despite this she was subjected to many more interviews and assessments by social services and experts who twisted her words or took them out of context. For example, the confession that she shared a bottle of wine with her husband most nights was reported as ‘alcohol abuse’ and the prescription drugs she took for insomnia and anxiety would, they claimed, render her ‘barely conscious on a daily basis’. Remarkably, throughout the entire process Lucy’s husband was not interviewed once by social services.
It took a year and £10,000 for Lucy to finally clear her name and be rid of social services for good. Lucy is one of the lucky ones, she had the resources to fight the system and lived to tell the tale. She can also talk about her case as it never got as far as the closed family courts. Most are not nearly as fortunate.
In the same article Reid writes, “In another extraordinary case, after a woman was found by a psychologist to be a ‘competent mother’, the social workers are said to have insisted on commissioning a second expert’s report. It agreed with the first. They then commissioned a third, which finally found that the mother had a ‘borderline personality disorder’. All three of her children were taken away for adoption.”
Another woman was deemed ‘mentally unfit’ by experts for burning the toast. She lost her child too. Being removed from loving parents will have life long consequences for these children. Psychologist Rebecca Eyre (www.theearlyhumanhandbook.com) says, “Babies and children are highly vulnerable and they desperately need a safe and loving maternal attachment. Any separation or feelings of abandonment will be experienced as intolerably painful and these feelings and subsequent defenses can last a lifetime. The baby is highly likely to become deeply traumatised and terrified and they will shut down emotionally as an act of selfprotection which unfortunately will have lifelong repercussions.”
There is a network across Europe which aims to help these mothers escape from the UK before their children are taken – in many cases before they are born. Ian Josephs (www.forced- adoption.com), a British businessman based in Monaco helps women flee the UK, offering legal advice and sometimes assisting with their ferry ticket to France to begin a new life. Brian Rothery (www.ectopia.org), an ex journalist and author based in county Wexford in Ireland also helps many women escape to the safety of Ireland’s shores.
Between them they have given hundreds of women the opportunity to be a parent to their children. Forced adoption is a national scandal, perhaps the biggest of its time and must be stopped. This issue should have us out on the streets in protest. The institutionalized theft of children is not just wrong it is horrendously cruel. How many parents are out there right now, heartbroken for life, wondering if their baby is alive or dead, and wondering if they will ever lay eyes on them again.
These people deserve better from the UK government, we must demand change from them. We must write letters and refuse to vote for those who won’t address this issue. Because make no mistake, nobody is safe from this because no parent is perfect; the next baby they come for may be yours.
In Iolanda and Leonardo’s case, they are not taking the theft of their baby lying down. They’ve created a Facebook page ‘Our baby was snatched by social services’ and despite the judge in charge of their case warning them that their publicity campaign to win their baby back might be the very thing that prevents this from happening, they are not backing down. They’ve given many interviews on Portuguese TV and radio and have served legal papers to The Hague. They remain optimistic that if they steadfastly keep up the pressure and remain in the spotlight, they will eventually get their baby back. Please help them by signing their petition and liking their page on Facebook.
In their own words
If you would like to read more about the issues in this article the site link below does a particular good job of laying out the legal argument for those opposing these so called ‘forced adoptions’ and provides a wealth of anecdotal evidence regarding historical abuses by the care system. It also provides a not-for-profit ( in this case entirely free) one on one advice for those facing such an ordeal.