It was snowing, I felt empty as he packed his last bag into the car, this was my new life as a single mum to three.
They would see their Dad, and there was a glimmer of hope that social care would finally provide the help we had been begging for to prevent this break up.
You see, we had been asking for over a year. When Phoebe was in Tier 4 (CAMHS inpatient psychiatric care), the psychiatrist had been very blunt with social care. He made it very clear that without support caring for an autistic 9-year-old with no sense of danger and severe mental health difficulties, including command hallucinations (voices instructing) that we would inevitably experience carer burn-out. That fell on deaf ears, the reason – we had ‘managed’ on weekend visits.
Referral after referral went in, but the case was never looked at, beyond a “no”.
We had a TAC meeting for Phoebe, we had been re-referred to social care. I was told we might get help this time, being a newly single parent might help.
January came and social care contacted me, they wanted to do a core /initial assessment. I was so pleased, we had broken through the (unseen, but very real) wall, our referral had been accepted. The help I (we) so desperately needed was coming, at last. I had lost my relationship and was now on benefits, but at least I might be able to have a break.
The social worker came round, she asked me so many questions.
I explained to her that Phoebe was still very unsettled after the 6 month stay at Tier 4, that she didn’t sleep through and had frequent after school meltdowns. I then, explained that Jacob never slept until at least 2am, he was only just gone 3, but he was being assessed for autism. If left unattended he was liable to smear poo all over the walls and keep my 1 year old awake. I described that as my Jacob fell asleep at 2am, Tony would wake up. Tony would wail for his daddy and was pretty much inconsolable. He had been breastfed, but I had to stop when making the 100-mile journey to see Phoebe in hospital. Jacob had frequent meltdowns and was a danger. Frequently, he was unable to communicate with words and did so with actions. The only time he was not very challenging was when he was doing complex jigsaws.
I explained in detail a day in my shoes – trying to make phone calls and attend appointments for 2 children, but also look after them, trying to look at schools for Phoebe, trying to cook, clean and care. Trying to liaise and keep up with paperwork and phone calls. For the latter part of the assessment “Dad” turned up. He explained I have Asperger Syndrome myself, she did not bat an eyelid.
The social worker seemed lovely, she explained that the situation was untenable, that we would of course be receiving help, she had 30 days to write up. I was so pleased, finally we had been approved of the desperately needed help. I let everyone know.
Then, I remembered more information I needed to tell her, I called up the office, left a message. I didn’t hear anything back this went on for weeks (over 12). In the meantime, I had filed for educational tribunal for Phoebes school placement. I was going where many parents had gone before, to tribunal to fight for her right to an education.
I continued to chase the social worker, I was told to make a nuisance of myself. I did!! Other professionals would say how terrible social care was, how I was doing the right thing and to hold them accountable.
Assessments for Jacob came and went, Tony was still waking in the night howling for his daddy, we had made an arrangement for him to go there an extra night during the week so I could have a little sleep.
It was now late April and the help from social care was a distant dream.
Then, we heard, the social worker was coming to visit us – tomorrow. We both sat anxiously waiting, wondering what support we would get. She arrived with the LA officer, they explained there would be a meeting in 2 days’ time, that “Dad” would need to get time off work if he was to be there. We thought it was a meeting to discuss ‘help’.
Two days later we arrived at the town hall for our meeting. We were met by the “chair”. She went through the paperwork with us and asked us if we understood that the meeting called was a child protection meeting. I heard the words but they didn’t really sink in. We had no idea. We went through the notes, which were a bad cut and paste job at best, damaging an inaccurate in other areas. We explained we had just needed help since Phoebe had returned from hospital and that we had another challenging child.
Then we went into the conference room.
Lots of familiar faces, the LA OT (occupational therapist), Jacob and Tony’s nursery had sent a rep, Phoebe’s school deputy head, the health visitor, my family support worker, the LA officer…. and the elusive social worker.
Then a face I did not recognise as we did introductions. It emerged he was a Police Man. This was most confusing, I wanted respite. He proceeded to run criminal record checks on “Dad” as they couldn’t find him; they had his name wrong. Unsurprisingly they could find no convictions for either of us.
The meeting started, it was probably explained to us that we were not to speak whilst the professionals were speaking – my Asperger’s and sense of justice did not make that possible.
The OT started to explain that we had not engaged, me more so than Dad. I challenged her statement, she said we had refused suggestions. I asked what. An alarm on the little boys’ door in case Phoebe went in. I tried to explain why and that she had agreed it would be the same for her own children. I was asked to write down any questions until the professionals had all stopped talking.
The nursery relayed that the boys were always clean and tidy and we communicated well with them, that Jacob’s development was an issue but we were working on that. He had been seen by various professionals who thought he was autistic.
The head teacher was next. She explained that Phoebe had been upset when she didn’t have her swimming kit in school, that we had forgotten it. She said that messages that she had a good day were not well received. I interjected to try explain the truth. I was promptly told that if I continued I would be asked to leave, I snapped, I wouldn’t leave, I was told then I would be escorted out. I said, it is very hard to listen to these lies and exaggerations.
The health visitor said that I had cancelled, but always re-arranged appointments – that was fair. The family support worker said that I needed more support.
The educational psychologist had been unable to attend, but his report was read out, again how we had turned down help. Again, I challenged and asked what help, what help had we been offered? I explained I had called almost every day, chasing help. I had called almost all professionals in the room asking for help and advice.
I questioned why the early years support teacher and clinical psych had not been invited. They were two professionals who had complemented my coping skills in recent weeks and months. The chair asked the question to the social worker, with a level of suspicion (hindsight has allowed me to interpret).
“Dad” had to leave, I was now alone in the lion’s den. He had to collect Phoebe from school.
We continued. The Police man asked me how my Asperger’s impacted on my ability to care for my kids. I said I didn’t think it did. I don’t know how I would be if I didn’t have it, it was interwoven, I hadn’t one day woken up after a car crash or accident to see a different version of myself. I was me, the same me I had always been. A whole version of myself, not some broken version of them or of a former me.
The LA officer said how I had not always answered my phone or emails. Again, I stuck up for myself. I explained I had been busy and was looking at schools for Phoebe and as a newly single parent to 3 children. They have colleagues to step in when they take annual leave. I have no one.
The LA officer was ‘concerned’ that I was appealing for an independent school and that we had not allowed Phoebe to try their mainstream option. I explained that it was wholly inappropriate to start transition to a school we did not feel could or would meet our child’s needs. A heavy focus remained on the school situation.
The meeting continued, the chair explained that from what she had heard, that we were not suited to child protection. The EP had indicated we needed structured support, many professionals had echoed this. She explained you cannot bring a family to child protection for structured support, that child in need level would cover this.
She said that if child protection was voted she would over-rule, that the criteria is clear. She explained that the children had to be at risk of, or suffering, from emotional, mental, sexual or physical abuse and that she could not see this to be the case.
A voice now interrupted. What about when Phoebe is having a meltdown? Tony is like a little monkey. I have seen him climbing all over the place. He could fall and be injured. The chair explained we would do the same as any family. We would have to go to A&E, if needed. Another voice; what about the lack of communication? The chair said that all this could easily be dealt with at a child in need level.
The professionals begun to grasp at straws, “What if?” The chair was clear, we cannot put these children on child protection on “What ifs.” They should not have been brought to this arena. The meeting went on for 3 hours.
I left the meeting, my head just spun. People talked to me, I could hear, but I couldn’t process the spoken word. My eyes worked but they could not ‘see’. I could walk, but I had no direction.
The family support worker approached, she asked me how I felt, I was not sure. She explained that no one knew what to do. None of her words were actually being processed in real-time. It was like my head was acting like a keyboard does when you are typing, but no words are appearing on the screen. They appear eventually, but the computer is telling you it is not up to the task right now. It took some time before any of the words afterwards and indeed some of the words during sunk in.
It took weeks, months even for us to realise the enormity of what we had experienced, and more so what we had escaped. For us to realise that we should have been told that the meeting was a child protection meeting and indeed how serious that actually is.
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In the first few hours since this was published others have come forward to say that they have similar stories. With their permission here are some of the comments:
“Yes. The ‘professionals’ in our case tried really, really hard to turn us against each other. In the end we both had our own legal team (Legal Aid) and worked together against the LA, NHS, SS, school, CAFCAS. The estimated total cost of Court case was half a million. After a year the LA had no ‘evidence’ left and ‘withdrew their accusations’.
“In our case they say we don’t fit CP but have put us on it anyway, despite saying they cannot fault our parenting…. The injustice is painful.”
” I understand this – when I started seeking support, I was accused of cancelling HV visits – but my advocate could verify it was the HV who didn’t want the advocate there. I recently found out a safe guarding took place I was never told. Professionals supposed to be support make comments like “we haven’t found safeguarding issue yet” advocate was there heard it. Yes lots go on if you are on the spectrum and seek support for your children, blame, accusations threats”.