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November 9, 2010 permalink
Two British articles deal with forced adoption. In the first, Christopher Booker tells of a couple forced to flee England to refuge in North Cyprus. In the second, the Guardian tells the story of four mothers all losing their children to the adoption system.
Refugees flee the tyranny of social workers
Cyprus has proved a haven for a family fleeing forced adoption, reports Christopher Booker.
There was a time when Britain took pride in offering a safe haven to the victims of tyrannies in other countries. Today we see this in reverse, with scores of families each year fleeing this country as the only way to escape a vicious system bent on seizing their newborn children for no good reason. Last week I heard two more such horror stories and this week I will relate the first, in which I am legally compelled to disguise the names.
Roger and Carol lived happily in Doncaster with their five-year-old daughter. One day last November they had a marital disagreement, involving no more than raised voices. They were overheard by a neighbour who called the police. The couple were arrested and held for nine hours before being released without charge. But the police had summoned the social workers to remove the child, who had not been harmed in any way other than hearing her parents having a row – as countless children do every day.
The social workers obtained an interim care order, on the grounds that the child was “at risk of emotional harm”, and gave her to Roger’s parents, both of whom have worked for the police. Relations were amicable, but the grandparents insisted on working closely with the social workers. The parents were only allowed contact with their daughter in a filthy little “contact room” in the local social services office. As is usual, the parents were told that if they showed any emotion their contact would be stopped. In February, under this strain, Carol had a miscarriage.
Last June, puzzled at why the interim care order had not been renewed as the law requires, Carol called the court. She was told that the order had lapsed three months earlier. When her husband confirmed this by a second call to the court, Carol drove to her in-laws’ home to explain that there was no longer any legal reason why her daughter could not be returned to her. Her mother-in-law protested, but the child was so overjoyed to go home that she ran to get into her mother’s car. The mother-in-law stood in front of the car but Carol reversed and drove off.
When her daughter said she was hungry, they stopped at a motorway service station. The grandmother had alerted the police, the car number was picked up by a camera and before long Carol (who was pregnant again) was arrested, handcuffed and pushed into a police van. At the police station, she collapsed and was taken to hospital. Next day she was driven back to Doncaster and interviewed four times. The police confirmed there was no care order in place but, to her astonishment, Carol was told she would be charged with assaulting her mother-in-law, although there had been no physical contact between them. She was released after midnight.
When the social workers applied for a new care order, the judge reproved their “slipshod work” but granted the order on the grounds that Carol had taken back her child “without thought”.
Before the next hearing, the parents’ solicitors advised them to undergo psychological assessments. The psychologist found nothing wrong with Carol, but Roger had “narcissistic personality traits”. They then underwent a second assessment, based on “true or false” responses to 170 statements (such as: “Last week I flew the Atlantic eight times”). This time, Roger was normal, but Carol showed “high probability of being a borderline alcoholic” – though she hardly ever drinks.
Eventually, the court ruled they could have no further contact with their child. In September, Carol was in court to face the assault charges. The magistrates found, by two to one, that though there was no direct evidence she had assaulted her mother-in-law, she had been “emotional” in court which indicated the “possibility” that she might have been similarly emotional during the confrontation. They therefore found her guilty, ordering her to return for sentencing in October.
Two days later, it transpired that the hospital she had visited for ante-natal tests had told the social workers she was pregnant. Her daughter’s guardian told her that, when the baby was born, the social workers would seize it. At this point, Carol decided she could take no more. “I had already lost one child,” she says. “I had suffered a miscarriage of justice. After all I had been through, there was no way I was going to lose another child.”
She did her homework on the internet, not least through the Forced Adoption website run by Ian Josephs, a businessman living in the south of France, where she read many stories similar to her own. She discovered that a possible escape route was Northern Cyprus, which has no extradition agreement with the UK.
Without telling her husband, she sold one of her cars to raise money for the journey, and travelled overnight in a coach down the motorway, passing the place where her daughter’s last sight of her mother had been of her being bundled into a police van. At Heathrow she waited hours for her plane, terrified she might be arrested. After 24 hours she arrived in Cyprus in the middle of the night, alone in an unknown land. But she had made it. The next day, being a resourceful woman, she began to find her feet, amazed at how friendly and helpful everyone was, including the authorities. Two days later, her husband flew out to join her.
Now, after a month, set up in a spacious villa, surrounded with friends, they cannot believe their good fortune. A scan in the efficient local hospital confirms that they can expect the birth of a healthy son. As they begin to build a new life, Carol told me last week: “We feel we have escaped from hell into heaven. The only thing that matters to us is that we have managed to protect our baby and future children from an outrageous, heartless business, built around treating children as a commodity. Any other family in our situation really needs to take heed and get out. I don’t feel proud to be a British citizen any more because of what happened to us.”
Meanwhile, back in Britain, The Sun and ITV’s This Morning were celebrating National Adoption Week by advertising a row of available children, complete with names and winsome pictures. What neither would be allowed to do, though, is to report how those children came to be parted from their parents. In some cases it may genuinely have been in the child’s interests. But in too many others the reality of how cruelly children in Britain can be snatched from loving parents might make The Sun’s readers very angry indeed.
Families divided by the care system
Ex-drug addict Natalie's children were forcibly adopted, Amy was never allowed to take her babies home, and Jayne had 12 children removed from her care. But when is it appropriate for the state to come between mother and child? And is the fundamental right to have children now coming under threat?
Last month, American organisation Project Prevention announced it had paid British heroin addict "John" £200 to have a vasectomy. The charity's founder, Barbara Harris, has bought the fertility of nearly 3,500 people in the United States over the last 13 years in her quest to prevent children being born to drug-addicted parents. Now she's rolling out her services in the UK, and her presence raises fundamental questions about an individual's right to have children.
People like former heroin addict Natalie Lawrence, whose three children were placed with adoptive parents before she turned her life around with the help of After Adoption, a charity that supports birth mothers who have had children removed. She gave birth to her fourth child, Angel, a year ago. Sitting in her bright back yard, Angel gurgles for attention and Natalie pauses mid-sentence: "When she was born, I couldn't sleep in case she wasn't there when I woke up. Even today, if there's a scratch on her I get worried she's going to be removed."
At a time of budgetary constraints, the care system creaks under the pressure to keep families together when the number of referrals is surging in response to high-profile cases such as Baby Peter. Some 64,000 children are looked after by the state, an increase of 13% over the last four years, and at an annual cost of £1.6bn. Barbara Harris has said: "We don't allow dogs to breed. We spay them. We neuter them. We try to keep them from having unwanted puppies, and yet these women are literally having litters of children."
Amy Samuels (whose ongoing legal issues mean she can't appear in this article) shows us the nursery prepared five times for the arrival of children who never returned with her from the maternity ward, taken by social services at birth. Photographs of newborn babies she will never see grow up adorn the walls. The front door is a matrix of locks fitted after local vigilantes turned up one night accusing her and her husband of being paedophiles. And yet Amy insists: "While there is a breath left in my body I will carry on getting pregnant."
Should women like Amy, or Jayne Louise Johns, who has had 12 children either adopted or put in foster care and is defiant that she is the best person to bring them up, be in control of their own fertility? We spoke to four mothers who have had babies forcibly removed.
ANGELA WILEMAN, 33
In 2007 Angela abducted her son from foster care and fled to Spain
I said to my son, "Do you want to go on holiday?" then left my mum a note and drove to the port. Lucas held my hand all the way, saying, "I don't want you to leave me again." We were on the ferry to France within hours.
I'd fallen pregnant with Lucas about a year and a half after me and Matthew got together. We wanted a big family, but Matthew developed a drink problem and started getting aggressive. We separated in March 2006.
A psychological report on me said I had "underlying problems". It said I might go on to date violent men and the children should be adopted, yet Matt was the only guy I'd been with like that. I was told that if he came to the house, I needed to call the police otherwise my children (including my eldest son from my first marriage who was living with me at the time) would be taken away. Although we were separated, he would still sometimes turn up, wanting to see the kids, but in early 2006 Matthew went to prison for fraud and assault. I moved to Devon, where my family are. For four weeks everything was absolutely great.
I saw Matthew next in September 2006. I'd been under the impression he was going back to Leicester, but then there was a police raid on my house. Matthew had absconded from probation. I said to the social worker, "Why are you penalising my son just because of my ex-partner?"
Leicestershire social services ordered Lucas to live with my mum for a month and said that if there was no new evidence after that time he'd be returned to me. During my case I had 11 different judges. I believe that had it been the original judge at the hearing I'd have got my little boy back.
Then I got a call from a social worker saying they'd taken my son into foster care. I was devastated. I tracked the foster carer down. I needed to see that Lucas was OK. Lucas was dazed, like someone had given him a tranquilliser. I believe the carer had an unhealthy relationship with him. He told me she sexually abused him. I reported it to the police but was told I was being vindictive. It felt like a conspiracy.
By March 2007, I'd lost my child, my home and I was back in Leicestershire. By this time I'd done a lot of research, and people opened my eyes to the fact that my son was being prepared for adoption. It was then that I thought: I have to take him.
I was also pregnant with Marco; I think every woman who loses a child craves another one. The final hearing for Lucas was due in September 2007. Devon was seeking a full care order for him, and Leicestershire let me know they'd be seeking care of the baby when he was born. My reaction was: "I'm getting my son back and I'm having this baby abroad and we're going to live happily as a single-parent family."
When we got to Spain it was a massive relief, although I knew the police would be after me. Life was good. Lucas settled in at school and learned Spanish. I'd worried he'd be jealous of Marco but he was lovely. We had our little family unit and everything was going to plan.
When the police found me I thought, "We need to run." I went first to Sweden, then Ireland, where I am now. The Irish judge threw the case out. Social services in the UK spent £100,000 chasing me to Spain and then Ireland, and didn't even turn up to the final court hearing.
I don't believe in forced adoption. It's absolutely evil. It feels like something from the 1950s where babies of single mothers were put straight up for adoption and no one would talk about it again.
JAYNE LOUISE JOHNS, 43
The mother of 12 children, all now adopted or in the care system
Once you're in the care system, you never really leave. I lived with my aunt until she died when I was 15, then went to find my mum. I was always running away, living on the streets. When I told my mum that my stepdad had been sexually abusing me, she kicked me out and I went into care. She didn't believe me; social services thought I was attention seeking.
I had my first child, Sam, when I was 18. He had a bone deficiency, but it went undiagnosed for six years and it was thought he wasn't developing properly from neglect. After that, every time I got pregnant the child went straight on the At Risk register.
The children started being removed from me in 1996. They'd been staying with my mum and in respite while I went to AA with my partner, who was an alcoholic. When we got back, they told me each child needed a residence order from the court to say who the child should live with.
Sam and my daughter Katy went to my mother's. I told social services what had happened between my stepfather and me, and that I felt the same would happen to Katy. They told me I should support my mother. My stepfather went on to abuse Katy for many years.
I don't blame my mum for what happened, because I've been in violent relationships myself. She was naive and under the influence of her partner. When he died, it was almost a relief for her and we get on brilliantly now.
Every child that was removed from me, apart from the two that were adopted, was returned to me by 2000. And every one of them came back abused.
The second set of removals happened in 2008. On the Saturday, my partner, Ben, and me got married. On Monday, the children were removed on a police protection order, on the basis that the children were at risk.
By this time I was pregnant with Rachel. And I had Michael in the pram. The police came to me and said, "Give us that baby now." I went to grab him and they smacked me against the wall and took the baby. He was screaming and crying. On the day of the court case, I was a wreck. Four weeks earlier, Rachel had been taken from me at six days old.
My ex-husband, Rob, the father of my two youngest sons, turned up at the court hearing. He wanted custody of the boys, but seeing him made me feel sick. He'd been so controlling and emotionally abusive. Eventually we got a police protection order and planned to move away from Worcester.
People do change. I've changed. After 2000, I worked hard to keep my family together. I kept any violence out of the home. I was working with my social worker. The other kids had been placed back with me and things were good. Yet in that courtroom last year, everything was used against me. They used where I was living, they used my past domestic violence.
I last saw the two baby boys in October 2009 after the adoption hearing. They cried and said they wanted to come home. I had those children and they're still my responsibility. I won't give up fighting for them until the day I die.
TRACEY MCEWAN, 26
After her children were taken in 2008, Tracey fought to get them back
I met Connor's dad when I was 16 and he was 22. The violence got really bad just before I got pregnant. He would smash the house up and pull the phone out of the socket so I couldn't call the police. We split up once, when I was 18 and he'd gone to prison, but we got back together a few months after he got out.
We were using drugs recreationally when I fell pregnant. I didn't want to bring a child into the relationship, but once he'd told his mum I was pregnant, the decision was made.
I've got a liver condition that has a risk of stillbirth, so I have to be induced early. But the night before I was due, my boyfriend got locked up. He'd been violent, and his mum had called the police.
I did give him another chance when he got out, so we could be a family, but he was the same. He kept selling and using drugs, while I'd stopped. I gave a statement to the police about the violence and he went back to prison, and I moved in with my mum.
I was good at being a mum. I loved it. I met Euan and Declan's dad on my birthday. I was scared to go into town, because I was using again and paranoid. But I went for a drink locally and he walked me home. Soon after we moved in together, the violence started.
At first it was just shouting and slamming doors. Then he started with the punches. It was 10 times worse than with my first partner, but I kept it quiet. I was ashamed that I'd got myself into the same situation.
I had no self-worth. The drugs left me open to the sort of man who would just beat down my self-confidence. He was over the moon when I got pregnant but even then he didn't let up. I was quite far gone and he was hitting me with the pram. Early on in the pregnancy, I'd moved back in with my parents. He was living in a caravan in the middle of nowhere, and one day he took me there and wouldn't take me home. There was no signal on my phone, no buses, and he had my cash card. I was stuck there for months. One day while he was at work I walked the six miles home, pushing Connor. I was six months pregnant.
We got back together after the birth. I wanted to give it another shot because I didn't want to have two kids without a dad in their lives. We got a house together, and the violence got worse and worse. I just thought domestic violence was normal. I would brush myself off and forget all about it. When you're using amphetamines you don't question things.
Euan's dad threatened to call social services and get the children removed if I ever left him, but it was after I'd left and Connor's dad broke my arm that social services got involved. He'd started coming to the house, inviting people over who I didn't want in.
Social services found nothing wrong and said they would close the case. I asked them to keep it open, because I was a single parent and might need help. I didn't know that I was pregnant with Declan. I was allowed to move into my mum's with the children, but just before I was due to give birth, we were told that if we didn't find a bigger house the baby was going to be taken off me before we got home.
My mum and me decided we'd move back into my house with the children when Declan was born. But when we got home I was told the children were being twin-tracked for adoption. I had postnatal depression and went back to the drugs. They come at you with technical jargon that I didn't understand. It was at one of the court conferences that my midwife put me in touch with Addaction (a drug and alcohol treatment charity). A support worker was sent to me, and it just felt like there was someone behind me to help and explain everything.
In one case conference, I admitted I'd used drugs. They said, "We'll wipe the slate clean from now. If you use in the future we'll take the children." But a couple of days later they said the children were being removed from my care because I had used in the past.
I was allowed to see them once a week, but I had to be supervised at all times. The best thing about visits were the cuddles, the worst was leaving. You feel like part of yourself is lost.
An adult social worker got me into rehab. It was hard. I'd always thought there was no point in talking about things, it's not going to make anything better, but it does.
We finally won the case to keep the kids with my mum and dad. I felt that I had something to live for. When I got out of rehab, my children would still be there. My life wasn't pointless.
When I went home, I got to see the children more and more. Six months ago I got unsupervised visits and four weeks ago I got a job at the local factory. I've been in a brilliant, nonviolent relationship for two years.
It could be three years before I get the children back full time. I could apply today, but I've got to think of how it's going to affect them. But I've always felt they are my children and I will definitely be getting them back.
A woman's children shouldn't be taken off them for being in a violent relationship. I'd think twice about going to the authorities now. I was already making the separation from the boys' fathers and if I'd done that I think I'd have been able to stop the drugs soon after. But taking the children? That was the worst thing anyone could have ever done to me.
NATALIE LAWRENCE, 28 Three of Natalie's children were forcibly adopted. She has since had Angel
I knew when I wrote back that I had to mean what I said. I hadn't been in contact with my kids since they'd been adopted. I told them I'd been on drugs and in prison for a long time, and that I'd had time to think about the letters I received from them. I said I wanted them to meet me when they were older and for them to be happy to see me. That was when I knew I was going to change my life.
I had Louise when I was 15. The father was my mum's ex, Stephen. My mum had six children and he was like a dad to my little brother and me. When they split up he stayed in our lives. Then he started abusing me. When he found out I was pregnant, he told my mum a young lad was the dad.
Louise was beautiful when she was born. I loved my daughter but I didn't know how to be a mum. The social workers were right when they said we had a chaotic lifestyle. Sometimes I had to shoplift for Louise's nappies.
She was two when she went into foster care. She was placed miles away from me, so I missed most of the contact visits.
Three weeks before the final court hearing, I moved into a house with my partner, Paul. All I needed was Louise, but she was freed for adoption. I should have appealed, but I was just a young girl. Despite this, I liked Louise's adoptive parents. They told me they'd give her a good home and that they'd make sure she knew I loved her.
It wasn't like that when Deborah and Tom were adopted. I felt like they weren't the right people for them. I didn't think I had anything to live for until I got pregnant with Deborah. I was involved in crime but I cleaned myself up when Paul went into prison. I wanted to prove I could be a good mother. When Paul got out we found a place of our own, but I'd changed and he hadn't. He was jealous of me giving the baby attention. We argued, and he told social services a bunch of stories about me. I remember the day Deborah was taken. She was teething, and the police came for her. I'd ignored the social workers when they knocked. I thought they had it in for me.
Tom was born 10 weeks prematurely and was taken as a newborn into foster care. He was in a neonatal unit for six weeks before foster care. We both nearly died during the birth. I was there every day by his side, trying to also be there for Deborah at the foster carer's.
That was when I got into heroin. Every time I saw Deborah she screamed for me. I'd just lost Louise and it was happening again. I went into prison just after they were put up for adoption. I was in and out after that.
I'd use drugs when someone mentioned the kids. I couldn't bear it. I didn't care about life. I was selling drugs to feed my addiction. I'd never have touched them if my kids hadn't been taken off me.
When I left prison, I felt stronger. I knew my kids were happy and I accepted that they probably had a better life than I could have given them. I'd only been out of prison five months when I fell pregnant with Angel.
I'd met Andrew soon after leaving prison. We were visited by Families First (an intervention service for families where there are concerns related to parental substance misuse). They warned us we'd need serious assessment, but said they'd help. We lived with a relative but it was overcrowded and didn't work out, and Angel went into foster care for two weeks.
We learned so much from Families First: we got the chance to prove we were good parents. Louise is 13 now and has started writing to me. I feel guilty that I let those children down. I hope they will understand I only knew how to live chaotically. But things changed. I faced up to my past. When Angel went into foster care, I thought I couldn't cope, but I stayed strong and got her back. I did that because I promised the other kids I was going to change my life.
Some names have been changed