John Hemming MP

Stolen Children ‘Lost in the System’

by John Hemming Lib Dem MP for Birmingham Yardley
Sunday Mail – July 15 2007

Whenever local authorities are challenged over a decision to take a baby or young child away from their family the response is always the same: ‘It is in the best interests of the child.’ And that’s it – no further discussion is permitted. Yes, they have to give their reasons to a judge sitting in the Family Court, but these hearings are held in secret, so journalists are never allowed to attend. The judgements of the courts are never published.

Outside the family court system, local authorities in England and Wales do not have to justify themselves to anyone. Officials, along with the Family Court’s judges and lawyers, are essentially accountable to no one.

Over the past year, during which I have been studying the workings of the system in England and Wales, I have spoke to many hundreds of parents in my constituency and elsewhere who have been ‘service users’ as the jargon used by social services staff goes.

And in many cases I have discovered, to my horror, the removal of young children and babies is not only unnecessary, but actually unjust and harmful to the children involved.

The story of ‘Pauline’ described overleaf, is a case in point. Having studied 300 pages of documents relating to her case, I am entirely satisfied that her children where removed from her without any justifiable cause.

I then agreed to chair a campaign called Justice for Families, which alongside many other groups is working to expose injustices in the Family Courts and to end the secrecy which allows wrongdoing to go undetected and unpunished. Justice for Families has a small number of volunteers to talk to people who claim to have had their children wrongly removed. So far, we have had details of over a hundred cases where miscarriages of justice do most certainly seem to have occurred.

Two weeks ago, I lodged papers with the High Court asking for permission to inform professional bodies such as the Bar Council and the General Medical Council about alleged wrongdoings by professionals who make a living from allegations of child abuse. I need permission because as the law stands, I could be sent to jail for lodging any complaint relating to actions in the Family Court.

In May, I also reported England and Wales to the United Nations for contravening its Charter on Human Rights and have requested a UN investigation, similar to the one in Australia into the forcible removal of Aboriginal children from their families and their placement with white families – an international scandal which came to be known as ‘The Stolen Generation’.

In my view and that of many other campaigners, ‘stealing’ describes actually what local authorities are doing to children in England and Wales today.

Of course, no body objects in any way to social workers and other council officials removing children and placing them in care where there is any suggestion of abuse or maltreatment.

Indeed, whenever cases of horrific long term abuse of children come to light – such as the case of Victoria Climbie, the eight-year-old girl beaten, starved and tortured to death by her aunt in North London – many of us wonder why Social Services staff did not intervene more energetically and competently.

What is utterly unacceptable to campaigners though, along with an increasing number of concerned judges, lawyers and MP’s, is the clear evidence that social workers are literally snatching newborn babies and children from good, stable, loving homes, such as the one highlighted on these pages.

The fact that these children are then placed in care homes and with foster parents, where, abuse does sometimes occur, further adds to the sense of outrage at what is happening in England and Wales today.

I realise that many people’s first reaction is to say: ‘Surely this sort of thing could not be happening in any modern society, particularly one as sophisticated and enlightened as ours.’

But unfortunately, due to a toxic combination of money, incompetence and secrecy, this is exactly what is happening here, over and over again.
Many millions of pounds in grants are available to local councils if they hit badly thought-out Government ‘targets’. These grants are meant to act as an incentive to councils to find adoptive parents for older children left languishing for years in care homes.

The brutal truth, however, is that healthy white babies and children under the age of five are far easier to place for adoption than older children, particularly older children who are actually physically, emotionally or psychologically damaged by parental maltreatment.

Last year, the number of children under five taken into care and swiftly adopted was more than double the number in 1995 – which strongly suggests to me that babies and young children are being deliberately taken into care in order for councils to hit adoption targets and get their extra money.

This may seem an outrageous allegation. Yet how else to explain newborn babies literally being torn from their mother’ arms on no other grounds than that the mother ‘might’ get post-natal depression, or that the child is at ‘risk of emotional abuse in the future’?

Financial considerations also taint the work that lawyers do on behalf of those families whose children have been snatched. What families often don’t know until it’s to late is that these same solicitors sometimes get a lot of money from the council for other work. If this Solicitor upsets the council, the work may well stop.

So when the case goes to court, the solicitor says the family do not oppose an application for a baby to be placed in care and fast-tracked for adoption – even though they do.

I recently asked the Law Society if this behaviour was acceptable and in my surprise it said it was. I currently have three firms of solicitors I wish to report to the regulatory authorities for behaviour out of this sort, but I am forbidden to do so by the secrecy laws.

There are excellent social workers, lawyers, doctors and judges working in the Family Courts, but there are also some very bad ones. Yet action is rarely taken against conduct that is incompetent, misguided or even – to use a very strong word which I nonetheless believe is warranted – corrupt.
Another problem is that the system is biased almost entirely upon opinion. In judging future risk of possible harm to a child, the court hears from social workers and their paid experts.

He who pays the piper normally calls the tune. So parents end up battling against a battalion of people paid to say how bad they are as parents.

The scandalous case of Mark and Nicky Webster, from Norfolk, who lost three children after being accused of child abuse on medical evidence that was later proved to be wrong (a case brought to public attention by the Mail on Sunday ), shows how things can get skewed up by ‘expert’ opinion.
But the most damning issue to emerge from a recent court battle over Norfolk County Council’s attempt to take the Websters’ fourth child was the pressure placed on a care worker to change a positive view about the Websters.

Injustices of this sort are going on all over the country and it will take a lot of effort to get things right. But that just strengthens the resolve of campaigners to keep fighting.

Sunday Mail Review

6 Responses to John Hemming MP

  1. Vivienne Black says:

    Both my children were taken into care two years ago because I was homeless after being evicted from my council home for £220 rent arrears as they said I had not handed in a housing benefit form. The judge gave me 2 days to get out of the house even after pleading with him to take the arrears of what I owe out of my benefit. The council deemed me as “intentionally homeless”.We went from sofa to sofa and ended up renting two rooms in a shared house with asian students but the social worker said it was unsuitable and asked for all their names and dates of births and as a result, the landlord threw us out because of all the questions. We stayed in a bungalow with a friend and my girls kept playing truant from school and they told me they were at risk and took them in care. One was 12, the other, 15 and half. I get to see my youngest daughter 6 times a year and its breaking my heart. I became so depressed that I started drinking which was a stupid mistake because I was tested for alcahol which was positive. I then gave up drinking and all I focus on is trying to get my girls back. I havent drank for nearly a year and dont intend to ever again. All I want is visits with my daughter unsupervised. I would be overwhelmed just to have my baby whose nearly i4, just stay one night with me but that wont happen because even though I have turned my life around and have a nice bedsit and dont drink. The council wont help me at all with accomodation so I rent private and cant afford a bigger place. So those caniving, twisted liars have my children and my eldest daughter whose 25, is so angry and frustrated because she says the foster carers and social workers have brainwashed my girls with their lies about me and that its a good job she can talk to her sisters and tell them that none of these things happened when they were small children because she was there and so was my mum at that time. When my mum died, everything fell apart. My life did.My social worker rings me about six times a year and doesnt understand why I cry over my daughters and I get no correspondence from the school on my daughters progress or school reports and I ask over and over and no one gets back to me. My daughter was ill and had blackouts at school and no one told me. I was told I am not allowed to send letters to them and I sent her a poem and they said never to send things again. They also blocked me from their face book. I raised them girls all alone for all those years with not one penny help or visit from their father and was with them day and night. Seven days a week, months and years and suddenly they are gone. Now I get 20 hours a year and I wish someone could please advice me how I can get to see her more with a social worker that never responds and who I can not understand a word she says anyway because shes african and can hardly speak english. For 8 months Ive been sending her my address and she says she never sends me anything because she soesnt know where I live.She said I couldnt give my youngest a phone and that she didnt want one. I gave her the phone anyway and she was over the moon. Atleast I get to send a txt now and then. From: An extremely bitter, angry and sad mother who is more bitter because of people who are total scumbag parents who jack up infront of their 5 year old. Get wasted on bottkes of vodka and goes into a comatosed sleep while the 5 year old is up and about round the flat without any supervision. Then is all happy and jolly to get a letter from social services to say how well he has done staying off the drink! If only they really knew!

  2. Vivienne Black says:

    Both my children were taken into care two years ago because I was homeless after being evicted from my council home for £220 rent arrears as they said I had not handed in a housing benefit form. The judge gave me 2 days to get out of the house even after pleading with him to take the arrears of what I owe out of my benefit. The council deemed me as “intentionally homeless”.We went from sofa to sofa and ended up renting two rooms in a shared house with asian students but the social worker said it was uns
    uitable and asked for all their names and dates of births and as a result, the landlord threw us out because of all the questions. We stayed in a bungalow with a friend and my girls kept playing truant from school and they told me they were at risk and took them in care. One was 12, the other, 15 and half. I get to see my youngest daughter 6 times a year and its breaking my heart. I became so depressed that I started drinking which was a stupid mistake because I was tested for alcahol which was positive. I then gave up drinking and all I focus on is trying to get my girls back. I havent drank for nearly a year and dont intend to ever again. All I want is visits with my daughter unsupervised. I would be overwhelmed just to have my baby whose nearly i4, just stay one night with me but that wont happen because even though I have turned my life around and have a nice bedsit and dont drink. The council wont help me at all with accomodation so I rent private and cant afford a bigger place. So those caniving, twisted liars have my children and my eldest daughter whose 25, is so angry and frustrated because she says the foster carers and social workers have brainwashed my girls with their lies about me and that its a good job she can talk to her sisters and tell them that none of these things happened when they were small children because she was there and so was my mum at that time. When my mum died, everything fell apart. My life did.My social worker rings me about six times a year and doesnt understand why I cry over my daughters and I get no correspondence from the school on my daughters progress or school reports and I ask over and over and no one gets back to me. My daughter was ill and had blackouts at school and no one told me. I was told I am not allowed to send letters to them and I sent her a poem and they said never to send things again. They also blocked me from their face book. I raised them girls all alone for all those years with not one penny help or visit from their father and was with them day and night. Seven days a week, months and years and suddenly they are gone. Now I get 20 hours a year and I wish someone could please advice me how I can get to see her more with a social worker that never responds and who I can not understand a word she says anyway because shes african and can hardly speak english. For 8 months Ive been sending her my address and she says she never sends me anything because she soesnt know where I live.She said I couldnt give my youngest a phone and that she didnt want one. I gave her the phone anyway and she was over the moon. Atleast I get to send a txt now and then. From: An extremely bitter, angry and sad mother who is more bitter because of people who are total scumbag parents who jack up infront of their 5 year old. Get wasted on bottkes of vodka and goes into a comatosed sleep while the 5 year old is up and about round the flat without any supervision. Then is all happy and jolly to get a letter from social services to say how well he has done staying off the drink! If only they really knew!

  3. Mrs. Bakewell says:

    Dear Vivienne, This is a very sad story. Was there a child protection meeting and did your case get to the courts for the children to be placed under a Care Order? If your situation has now improved (i.e. housing/income) you should be able to apply to the court to reconsider the care order. Also your children are old enough to make their own complaints and to have their views known regarding where they want to live and how often they want to see you or even visit you. Do you have shared Parental responsibility?

  4. Victor Baker says:

    USA has a kidnappers never heard of Custody predator/kidnapper outsmarting the court process etc. This makes kidnapping laws incomplete and obsolete. Why ? Long ago Benefits spawn a new breed of kidnappers. I discovered this type of kidnapper in 1993. Multiple cases, altering birth certificate, collecting benefit checks. Serious crimes you’re not allowed to report, because they beat the systems process and stupidity/incompetence by those that handled the cases, Judicial Qualification commission involved in cover up. Oh it’s serious, huge issues is an understatement. Reminder: This isn’t about a custody dispute or stranger kidnaps, its about a kidnapper/ custody predator not on the law books. I know why, court officials need protection if they screw up a child(s)/families in the foul/corrupt process. Captives of a failed/primitive system of law and justice. I will testify under oath to congress what I have said here/elsewhere is the truth with documents to proof it.

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