Child conference highlights fears

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HUNDREDS of heartbroken parents shared their traumatic tales of state enforced child separation at a conference in Skegness last week.

The Child Protection and Future of the Family conference was held at the Suncastle on Wednesday and Thursday, highlighting the problems associated with contested adoptions when social services place children in care against the family’s wishes.

Organisers Stephanie Freeman and Andrew Preacher have both experienced the issue first hand, which prompted them to campaign for a change to the current system.

Stephanie said: “It made me feel horrific, it was like one of those terrible films where you see a mother lying on the floor begging please don’t take my child away.”

Stephanie’s two-year-old son was taken into care 16 months ago after she asked for support with his behavioural problems.

During their visit to Boston Pilgrim Hospital, doctors assessed the child and discovered cuts and bruises.Although Stephanie explained the injuries had resulted from his behavioural problems, he was taken from her and placed in care, where he remains today.

Stephanie later took a psychological assessment, which she claims to have passed but has still not been reinstated as her child’s guardian.

She believes the authorities should have offered help rather than rushing in to take her child, which she fears could damage her son emotionally and lead to serious problems in later life.

Having spoken to many other parents who experienced similar issues with their children, she also believes mental health issues for the adult are also a serious risk.

As a single parent on benefits, Stephanie’s situation is similar to many of the families involved in contested adoptions, however one of the key speakers at the conference has demonstrated how the problem can also affect parents in more stable circumstances.

Former Conservative councillor and nonexecutive NHS director Lucy Allan has been a public campaigner for reforming the social services system after she was involved in a contested adoption.

“When this happened to me I thought it was the worst thing that has ever happened and then when I began talking to other people I realised that it is all very standard,” she said.

After Lucy sought medication from her GP to treat depression, social services carried out an investigation into her suitability as a parent, which concluded that her 10-year-old son should be taken onto care.

Lucy claims the evidence used to deliver that verdict took an exaggeratedly fearful view on trivial family details.

The fact that her son asked how she was after returning from school was deemed to indicate an abnormal anxiety into his mother’s welfare and her sharing a bottle of wine with her husband in the evening constituted a drink problem.

After six months of relentless fighting and £10,000 in legal fees, Lucy won her battle to retain custody of her son, but fears others with less resources than her would be unable to.

She believes the problem stems from the authorities’ fear that they will miss a genuine case of abuse and ‘end up with another Baby P on their hands’.

Although she can understand those concerns, Lucy believes more damage can be caused by the excessively cautious attitude she experienced and feels that more checks and balances are required to prevent similar mistakes occurring.