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Long Arm of the Social Worker

January 23, 2010 permalink

Scottish social workers intervened to prevent the marriage of Mark McDougall and his pregnant partner Kerry Robertson, and alerted them that their baby was in danger of seizure at birth. They fled to Ireland where the baby was born on January 15. Irish social workers took the baby at age four days.



Mother 'not clever enough to raise child' has baby snatched by social workers after running away to Ireland to give birth

By Alison Smith Squire, Last updated at 1:13 PM on 22nd January 2010

A couple who fled to Ireland after social workers threatened to remove their baby at birth have had the newborn snatched after all.

Kerry Robertson, 17, who has mild learning difficulties, and Mark McDougall, 25, went on the run after British social services said she was not clever enough to raise a child.

But just four days after Ben was born, Irish social workers marched into the maternity ward and forced them to hand him over.

Kerry Robertson and Ben
Proud mother: Kerry Robertson and Ben, who she isn't allowed to bring up

They were told they were acting at the behest of their British counterparts.

The couple, from Fife, Scotland, have been on the run for three months.

In September, their wedding was halted just 48 hours before the service when social workers claimed Miss Robertson was not bright enough to understand the marriage declaration.

Then in November they were told that her ‘disability’ meant their baby would be taken away at birth.

With Miss Robertson 29 weeks pregnant, they fled their house in the middle of the night and travelled to Ireland.

Ben was born healthy and weighing 7lb 3oz last Friday.

Last night Miss Robertson said: ‘When the Irish social workers said I had to give the baby to them, I felt sick.

‘I didn’t want to hand him over and I started crying because I couldn’t believe what they were saying. I thought I had misunderstood.

‘I had just been breastfeeding him.

Just before they took him away, I told Ben I loved him and gave him a kiss.’

Mr McDougall added: ‘Kerry let out a dreadful cry when she realised what was happening – it was terrible. She is just in pieces.

‘We believed that the Irish had more traditional values than social workers in the UK. We found a two-bedroom cottage in a beautiful village in Waterford overlooking the sea.

Father Mark McDougall with mother Kerry Robertson and baby Ben
A family divided: Father Mark with Kerry and the baby, who is now in foster care

‘Kerry booked herself in with the local GP and at last we began to feel as if we were safe.’

An anonymous benefactor has been funding the couple after they left home with just £200, and has even paid for the house.

Artist Mr McDougall has also been selling pictures while friends and family have donated clothes, baby gear and further money.

Miss Robertson has been cared for by her grandmother since the age of nine months after her own parents were unable to look after her, with her care overseen by Fife Council.

She began getting contractions last Friday and the couple went to the local hospital, where she gave birth after a natural labour.

‘Both of us were overjoyed,’ said Mr McDougall. ‘Ben was absolutely perfect.’

But on Tuesday morning two Irish social workers – a man and a woman – came to the hospital and delivered the bombshell.

Mr McDougall added: ‘It seems that through Kerry’s medical records – although we have been on the run she has always ensured she had all the checks and scans on the baby – Fife Council had been alerted.

‘The social workers said that now Ben was born, Fife had put him on the at-risk register and he was subject to a care order.

As the social workers told us the news, the two midwives who have been caring for Kerry were so distressed that they fled the room.’

Ben is being cared for by foster parents.

Family law experts said that if Fife had genuine concerns about the baby it had a duty to pursue the couple even once they had fled its jurisdiction.

Under a 1980 European convention on child welfare, they would have contacted the Irish authorities to alert them and the Irish would then have sought an order from a judge allowing them to intervene.

Irish social workers now have to investigate for themselves and have until Monday to make a decision on the case or apply for an extension.

The couple have been allowed to see their son for two hours every other day.

Miss Robertson said: ‘Holding him made me upset all over again. I’ve told the social workers I don’t want him to have bottled milk or a dummy. I feel breastfeeding is so important and at least then he is still having some of me.’

Mr McDougall claimed the care order had the wrong baby’s name on it and the wrong date of birth. He added: ‘Kerry and I are now absolutely furious because we believe our baby has been kidnapped by social services.’

LibDem MP John Hemming, who has been supporting the couple, said: ‘There is no evidence that Mark and Kerry cannot be good parents and I just hope that the Irish authorities can resolve this as quickly as possible.’

The Irish authorities refused to comment last night.

Stephen Moore, executive director of social work at Fife Council, said: ‘I can confirm that although the Robertson family are not presently within Fife, we are committed to working closely with professional colleagues elsewhere to ensure safety and welfare of the child and indeed the whole family as this is of paramount concern to us.

‘I would urge Kerry to use all the support that is being made available to her and her baby and to get appropriate help should she need it.’

Source: Daily Mail

Addendum: The family has the baby back, but under intense supervision.



The woman told that she was too stupid to keep her baby boy

By Alison Smith Squire, Last updated at 8:10 AM on 28th January 2010

The Moses basket sits beside the bed, its new blankets carefully arranged awaiting its owner's arrival.

Piles of newborn baby clothes - mostly in shades of blue - lie neatly folded on a chair.

Like any new mother, Kerry Robertson spent weeks excitedly preparing for her first child's arrival - and yet 13 days after his birth, all the carefully arranged baby paraphernalia remains unused.

And yet today Kerry and her partner, Mark McDougall, 25, will finally be able to lay their son Ben down to sleep in the basket they bought for him with such hope.

Kerry Robertson
Loving mother: Kerry Robertson, 17, was told she would not be able to bring up her baby son Ben because she has mild learning difficulties

Kerry, who has mild learning difficulties, and Mark went on the run from their home in Fife, Scotland, last November after British social services said she was not clever enough to raise a child.

They hoped that by escaping to Ireland they would be left alone to be a family together. But when Ben was four days old, social workers caught up with them, marching into the maternity ward and forcing them to hand him over.

Only after a court hearing last Friday were the parents told they will get their child back - albeit under supervision.

Today, Kerry will move into a mother and baby unit where the 17-year-old will be under constant surveillance - but that is undoubtedly the lesser of two evils for the couple, given that they feared they might lose custody of the child they fought so hard to keep.

'To say it's been a roller coaster is an understatement,' says Mark. 'Witnessing them take Ben from Kerry made me cry. He was sleeping in her arms after his feed and looked so peaceful.

'I tried to argue with them, but they said no. It's only after they've read medical reports from the hospital, in which the midwives and medical staff said we are loving parents, that it appears they've decided we can have Ben back after all.

'Kerry will be able to care for Ben all day, every day and I'll be allowed to stay at the unit as often as I like.

'Needless to say, we can't wait to be reunited with our beloved son.'

This isn't the only battle the couple have fought to ensure Kerry leads a normal life.

She has been brought up by her grandmother since she was nine months old, with the care overseen by Fife social services.

But she says that, as an adult, there were no signs of the problems to come until social services heard she was pregnant and getting married.

Father Mark McDougall with mother Kerry Robertson and baby Ben
Devoted: Kerry and partner Mark McDougall, 25, pose proudly with their baby son. The couple fled to Ireland after social services said Ben would be taken away

Last September, in an unprecedented step, the couple's white church wedding was halted just 48 hours beforehand, in a row over whether Kerry was intelligent enough to marry.

Shortly after, Fife social services told the couple they believed that, because of Kerry's learning difficulties, her unborn baby would be taken into care.

The claim that Kerry is too stupid to get married or have a baby is something she and Mark, an artist, vehemently refute.

'Social services are ruining my life,' she says. 'First, I was stopped from getting married and then they took my baby.'

Kerry and Mark say she has never even had a formal psychological assessment. And the couple point out that before Kerry became pregnant herself, she worked as a childcare worker with children at a local school - and in fact, with considerable irony, holds a certificate in child care.

Kerry says: 'It's true I didn't get many qualifications at school, but I never had very good teaching.

'I did study for my childcare qualification, I can read and write. I send texts, go on the internet and do everything for myself.

'I usually cook for us. I chose most of the clothes for our baby and sorted out all the piles of nappies, tubs of baby creams and toys. I wanted everything to be ready for him when we brought him home.'

Indeed, upon first meeting, Kerry strikes you as no different to many other young woman. Slim and quirkily dressed, it's clear that, like anyone of her age, she loves to experiment with make-up and clothes.

Nevertheless, she is painfully shy - it is Mark's belief that it is this which gives social workers the impression her learning difficulties are worse than they are.

But gain her trust and she chats away happily like any other teenager. In fact, I don't believe anyone meeting her in a group of young people would even identify learning difficulties.

As for Mark, he has an impressive clutch of GCSEs under his belt, as well as two As in his Highers - the Scottish equivalent of A levels - in art and English.

He is an accomplished artist who makes a reasonable living selling his sketches and charcoal pictures worldwide - he showed me a picture he drew of newborn Ben, and it is a very accurate likeness.

Mark says: 'Neither Kerry nor me have ever had any conviction for cruelty or violence. I don't understand why the authorities have treated us like this.'

So what is the truth?

The Mail, it must be stressed, is not privy to all the information social services hold on this couple. Kerry admits she is no Einstein, but she seems like any other teenager.

Seeing her with Mark, hand-in-hand on the sofa at their rented house in Ireland, some would say they seem more mature than many young lovers.

Binge-drinking, casual relationships and parties couldn't be further from their minds. Both say they prefer an evening in with friends. If anything, they could be described as somewhat old-fashioned.

Mark says: 'When we discovered Kerry was pregnant we wanted to get married. It was important to us that our baby was born to married parents.'

That wedding was set to take place in a church, organised by Mark's father, who had arranged for the congregation to produce a homemade buffet for their reception.

Although Kerry was brought up in the care of her grandmother, she comes from a close-knit community with a large extended family of aunts and uncles. Her younger brother, who's nine, still lives with her grandmother.

The couple met last January through friends. 'I certainly didn't think Kerry had learning difficulties,' says Mark.

'At first she just seemed quiet, but I soon discovered a quirky sense of humour, and that's what attracted me to her.'

Kerry Robertson's son Ben
Family: Ben was born on January 15 weighing 7lb 3oz

By March, they were a couple and the following month Kerry moved into Mark's one-bedroom flat. It was shortly after this that Kerry became pregnant.

Kerry says: 'When I told my grandmother I was pregnant, she got a care worker to take me to the GP.

'It was then that the care worker said to me: "You know you won't be able to keep this baby don't you?"'

Mark adds: 'It was only at this stage I realised how seriously social services viewed Kerry's so-called condition.

'It was a very upsetting time, as the care worker suggested to Kerry it might be better if she had a termination.

'But neither of us wanted an abortion. Kerry said she could never do that.'

So the couple pressed on with the pregnancy and, as they heard nothing more from social services, put their worries to the back of their minds.

Mark says: 'When Kerry was three months pregnant, we decided to marry.

'I bought Kerry an engagement ring - a little pink one with a diamond-type stone - and we held a party.'

The pair set the date for the wedding in September. Mark recalls: 'Kerry had bought her dress, the church was booked, a cake made and the reception organised.

'But two days before, there was a frantic knocking at our front door and we were confronted by two social workers who told us our wedding was illegal.

'Kerry and I were devastated, but we had no option but to cancel our big day.'

It later transpired Fife social services had made the extraordinary step of writing a letter of objection to the registrar, claiming Kerry was too dim to understand her vows.

The couple have since attempted to marry again, but have been told that, as an order is still in place, a wedding is forbidden.

But if that weren't enough, in October, when Kerry was five months pregnant, the couple were called into a meeting with social services and told their baby would be taken into care at birth.

Kerry says: 'I couldn't stop crying. By then, I'd already found out I was having a little boy and we had decided to name him Ben. I'd felt him kick inside me.'

Mark adds: 'There was no mention of trying to help Kerry or give her the chance to be a mum.

'At that time, they said Kerry would be allowed only a few hours with him. It seemed then he would go to foster parents, and there was the fear he would be adopted and we would lose him for ever.

'It didn't seem to matter to social services that we loved one another and wanted to get married.'

The worry was so great that Mark began researching on the internet other cases in which parents had faced losing their babies in this way.

He says: 'I discovered that many couples had been forced to flee the UK and go to other countries where the authorities take a different view and are keen to keep families together.

'It seemed a huge step to take. Neither Kerry nor myself wanted to leave home, where we had family and support. But in the end we felt we had no choice.'

The couple decided to go to Ireland, where they believed their case would be looked on more sympathetically.

So in November, having held a tearful farewell gathering - and with just £200 in their pockets, a suitcase and a bag of sandwiches made by Kerry - the pair stole out of their house in the dead of night.

The couple made it to Belfast, where they stayed for eight weeks.

'Not having social workers knocking on our doors, wanting meetings all the time, was fantastic,' says Mark. 'For the first time in Kerry's pregnancy, we could enjoy it.'

The pair were financed by friends and family - although Mark continued to sell his artwork.

'I missed my grandma, my little brother and my family terribly,' says Kerry. 'It was hard to be away from them at Christmas. But I consoled myself that it would be worth it. I could hold Ben in my arms and not worry he would be taken.'

Kerry and Mark made the final leg of their journey to Waterford in the Republic of Ireland - which is not governed by UK laws - two weeks after Christmas, with the birth of the baby looming.

Kerry Robertson's son Ben
Accomplished artist: Mark drew a sketch of his son while in hospital

There, with the help of a donation from a secret benefactor, they were able to find a safe house.

Mark recalls: 'We rented a beautiful little house. Waterford is a seaside resort and we decided to make a new life there.'

On Friday, January 15 at 8.41pm, their hopes were realised when, after a natural labour, Ben was finally born.

The happy couple took photos of their 7lb 3oz bundle. And for three days all appeared to be well.

Mark visited the hospital daily, and close friends who knew where they were sent congratulations cards. Meanwhile, Kerry took to breastfeeding and caring for Ben without any problems.

Behind the scenes, however, social workers were gearing up to strike.

Through medical records, the Irish authorities had discovered that social workers in Fife had an interest in Kerry.

'It seems they contacted Fife, who told them they feared because of Kerry's "disability" our baby could suffer physical or emotional neglect,' explains Mark.

The following Monday, the couple were told a social worker would visit them the next day, and at that point they were not unduly concerned.

'We are honest, so we were happy to co-operate fully,' says Mark. 'We would have been pleased to be monitored.

'Even putting Kerry into a home for new mums with babies so she could prove she can be a good mother would have been fine.

'We understood that the Irish social workers needed to make their own inquiries, and were perfectly happy to do whatever it took to keep Ben.'

So they were totally unprepared when, at the 9.15am meeting on the Tuesday, they were forced to hand over their baby. Since then he has been looked after by foster carers.

They have been allowed two-hourly visits with Ben. But even now, as they're about to be reunited with their baby, there is no denying that the episode has been highly distressing.

Kerry says: 'I was so upset when I saw him the first time with the social workers because he had a dummy in his mouth.

'I told them I didn't want him having a dummy. And he is being bottle fed, but I wanted to breastfeed him.

'I'm just so happy that I'll be with my baby. I don't know how long I'll be at the unit. I'll miss Mark if he's not allowed to stay over - but Ben comes first.'

There's no denying that she and Mark sincerely hope today heralds the start of life as a normal, happy family.

Source: Daily Mail

Addendum: A year later the family is expanding.



'They told me I was too dumb to be a mum.. but I proved them wrong'

On Mother's Day.. the heart warming story of a girl who had to fight for the right to bring up her own child

Kerry McDougall with son Ben
Strolling along the beach, her young son in her arms, Kerry McDougall prepares for the perfect Mother's Day - one that last year she could only dream of.
(pic: John Power)

For 12 months ago tiny Ben was in care and Kerry's life was in tatters - after social workers deemed her both too stupid to look after her son AND not even bright enough to wed her fiancé Mark.

Ben was just three days old when social workers marched into the maternity ward where Kerry was breastfeeding and took him away.

It was the start of a long, heartbreaking battle to become a proper family.

Today all that is finally behind them. For, as well as having Ben back and getting married, Kerry and Mark are celebrating the news they are expecting another baby.

Cradling Ben on her lap, Kerry, 18, who has mild learning difficulties, says: "It's just the perfect gift for Mother's Day. I only found out a few days ago, but the baby is due in November. Mark and I are just so happy.

"We can't wait to find out if Ben is going to have a little brother or sister."

Mark adds: "This Mother's Day is so poignant and special to us. This time last year we had been to hell and back.

"It was very hard for us. Ben was in care and we feared we'd never get him back. I gave Kerry a card but it just made us feel more upset."

Mark, 27, who this weekend gave Kerry a ring with the word "mum" engraved on it, says: "We went through the darkest days possible.

"So we simply couldn't imagine that a year later we'd all be reunited and living next to a beach. And to actually be married and looking forward to the birth of our second child just seems amazing."

The couple's rollercoaster journey began in September 2009 when, in an unprecedented legal step, Fife Social Services dramatically halted their church wedding.

Kerry's upbringing had been overseen by the social services after her parents handed her over to her grandmother when she was just nine months old.

Because of her mild learning difficulties, just before the wedding two social workers knocked on the door of the home she shared with Mark in Dunfermline and told them Kerry did not possess the mental capacity to make the decision to get married.

Mark, an artist, says: "It was devastating as we'd already booked the church, the reception, bought the dresses, rings and flowers. Kerry didn't stop crying for days.

"Although we pleaded with the registrar to allow us to go ahead, we discovered social services had sent them a legal letter forbidding us to marry.

"Kerry does have some mild learning difficulties but mostly this is because as a child she had a cleft palate and missed a lot of school. People never realise Kerry has any problems when they meet her - I certainly didn't."

Then social services dropped another bombshell. Concerned that Kerry's learning difficulties could cause her baby "emotional harm", they told the couple he would be taken into care at birth.

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Mark says: "Ironically, as we weren't married, I had no legal rights over the child. Arguing that Kerry's learning problems did not mean she couldn't be a good mum and that I would also be there to care for the baby made no difference."

So the couple made the difficult decision to flee to Ireland before the baby was born, believing Irish social workers would be more sympathetic.

And so, shortly before Christmas 2009, with just £200, a suitcase of clothes and a bag of sandwiches, they bade tearful goodbyes to friends and family and left.

Kerry says: "I couldn't stop crying. I was also terrified because I was heavily pregnant and we didn't have anywhere to go to. But I was desperate to keep Ben and knew we had no choice."

Friends put them up and a benefactor who read about their plight paid their rent on a house in Waterford. On January 15 last year Kerry, with Mark at her side, gave birth to Ben.

Kerry says: "As soon as I held Ben, I fell in love with him." For the next three days - with only close friends and family knowing where they were - the couple revelled in being new parents.

But through her medical records, the Irish authorities discovered that social services in the UK had concerns over Kerry. They were legally bound to follow them up. On the third day, as the couple prepared to leave hospital with their new baby, two Irish social workers confronted them.

Mark says: "I felt so helpless. I begged them not to take him. But they said they had to. Kerry had just finished breastfeeding Ben and we only had time to give him a quick kiss. We both just collapsed, sobbing."

Kerry says: "I felt sick coming home without Ben. My whole body ached for him - I produced so much milk that I used to hand it over to social workers so they could bottle-feed him with it."

Over the next fortnight, the grief-stricken pair were allowed just a few two-hour visits with Ben before Kerry was reunited with her baby at a mother and baby home.

But it was only a temporary measure - after two months Kerry was forced to go back home and Ben was put into foster care.

Over the next few months the couple were both forced to undergo assessments to ensure they would be good parents.

Mark says: "It seemed so unfair to even deny Kerry the chance to be a mum and get married because she has a few learning difficulties."

Over the next few months the couple were allowed to see Ben more. Kerry says: "First of all we had visits with a social worker. Then we could take Ben out for a short time by ourselves. Gradually the visits got longer and more often.

"Finally, when he was 10 months old, we were allowed to bring him home."

Shortly before, the couple discovered the ruling banning their wedding didn't cover Ireland - so they finally got married. Mark says: "It was a great day, which went off without a hitch."

Ben is now 14 months old and a lively toddler. Kerry says: "They tore him away from me... but now I've proved them wrong. And, despite everything, he's turned out to be such a happy child."

The couple have decided to stay in Ireland, where they have made many new friends.

"We could never go back to the UK," says Mark."This is the perfect place to bring up our children. We believe fate brought us here and we just want to get on with the rest of our lives as a family."

Source: Mirror (UK)

Addendum: John Hemming interviews the parents. Posted to YouTube on April 29, 2014 (local copy, mp4).