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Power Trip

January 17, 2014 permalink

Graham and Gail Curlew are respectable parents and grandparents in Norfolk England. When their daughter Claire give birth to two children, the Curlews established a close relationship with their grandchildren. But Clair had problems that brought them to the attention of social services. At a meeting in 2007 Clair's partner, and father of her children, pulled a knife on his social worker. The children went to foster care. Why were they not placed with the respectable grandparents? No real reason. They were tricked into signing away rights on a false promise. Efforts to retrieve their children included a meeting with social services including their MP Norman Lamb. This case is one more instance of the contempt social service agencies hold for elected representatives. The social worker responsible for the grandchildren could not correctly pronounce the girl's name. Social worker quote: "We don’t care what the court says: we do what we like."



Barred from the lives of our grandchildren for seven years: In a story that appalled Britain. Yet this blameless Christian couple STILL face torment at the hands of social services

Graham Curlew doesn’t even attempt to hide his feelings. ‘I hate this time of year. I absolutely hate it,’ he says.

‘I come from a large family and they all have their grandchildren around them for the holidays. My sisters and brother can all talk about their grandchildren and show photos of them. But I can’t bear it. So we lock ourselves away.’

The truth is that life has been a misery for Graham, 58, and his wife Gail, 54, all year round for ages. It was five years ago when the Curlews’ shocking story first came to public attention: they passionately wanted to foster or adopt their adored grandchildren when it became clear their daughter and the children’s father were incapable of looking after them.

Graham Curlew and Gail Curlew
Graham and Gail Curlew from Sheringham, Norfolk who have been fighting unsuccessfully to see their grandchildren

It was a wish in line with Social Services guidelines that children should be placed with blood relatives whenever possible.

Graham and Gail were eminently suitable, passing every fostering assessment.

And yet, incomprehensibly, North Norfolk Social Services refused to place the children with them.

They were distraught, but remained hopeful that they would still be able to maintain a close relationship with the children, even if they couldn’t live under the same roof.

Never did the couple imagine for a second how much worse the situation would become.

Despite being told that if they were compliant and agreed to Social Service’s every stipulation, they would be granted normal access as grandparents, they maintain they have faced constant obstruction and frustration — and things have only deteriorated each year that goes by.

In the past 13 months, they have been allowed to see their grandchildren only once, for barely an hour and a half, with every action and word minutely supervised as if they were criminals.

They are not even allowed to know where their grandchildren live or where they go to school. Every letter or postcard must be censored as if they were paedophiles — with the result that they never dare write at all.

They are not allowed to telephone or see their grandchildren alone without being monitored.

They can never pray with them: something which, as committed Christians, they used to do freely.

And yet the Curlews have never been accused of any misconduct. Their crime? They have no idea.

They are an irreproachably respectable couple, married for 34 years. They have never been in trouble with the law. They are active members of the Salvation Army (they have wondered if their faith is the issue).

They don’t drink or smoke. Their home, in Sheringham, North Norfolk, is spotlessly tidy. Gail was a professional chambermaid, and her high standards are evident — even in the bedroom still designated for the grandchildren who are never allowed to stay.

In fact, the girl and boy are not even allowed to visit their hometown, let alone their grandparents’ home.

Have the Curlews fallen out with the children’s parents? No: in fact both mother and father have pleaded for the children to be allowed to live with their grandparents. By all accounts the children themselves adore them.

No, these totalitarian restrictions are by order of North Norfolk Social Services. And the Curlews have never been told why.

These are the same Social Services, incidentally, that wrongfully took away three children from Mark and Nicky Webster in 2004.

This couple, from Cromer, had their three children taken into care after doctors claimed that leg fractures on the middle child had been inflicted deliberately.

The children were split up and adopted — before new scientific evidence came to light suggesting that the boy could have been suffering from scurvy or iron deficiency caused by a feeding disorder — and now they can never go home.

The same Social Services whose head, Lisa Christensen, stepped down last summer after a blistering attack from Ofsted and an outcry from the county’s MPs.

To their immense credit, the Curlews have not given in. On January 17, there will be a court hearing to review the ‘care plan’ that has been imposed on them — and, once more, they will plead for freer access to the children they adore.

Until mid-2006, Graham and Gail were doting grandparents. Their young granddaughter and grandson had always spent Christmas with them, as well as birthdays and weekends.

They had forged a close bond with their grandchildren despite the fact — or perhaps precisely because — their daughter Claire was troubled.

She had been a drifter since the age of 16 and a drug user from 17. As a result, her children had been under the watch of social services for several years and the Curlews had always kept an eye on them, too.

Then, out of the blue, during a visit on January 5, 2007, Claire’s partner and father of the children — another unemployed drifter — threatened a social worker with a knife and the youngsters were instantly removed from his care.

Graham and Gail assumed, as did everyone who knew of their close relationship with their grandchildren, that the youngsters would be moved to live with them — certainly for that weekend and probably permanently.

Anyone who has ever cared for children will know where they prefer to be, especially at an upsetting time — surely somewhere they know, with people they love and their own toys in their own bed. Instead, they were taken into police custody — despite the fact that the only threat to them, their father, was now safely locked away.

For the next year and a half, Graham and Gail asked to be allowed to care for them. Instead, their contact was relentlessly reduced. Until, when the foster mother wanted a holiday, instead of being allowed to stay at Nanny’s and Grandad’s as they’d been promised, the children were sent to a temporary foster home.

It was finally in 2009 that the children’s future was decided in court. The Curlews were promised full, normal grandparental access on condition they agreed to the children’s going into long-term foster care.

This, they were given to believe, would involve having the children to stay, taking them out on birthdays, seeing them at Christmas and all the other free contact which grandparents normally enjoy.

With this promise ringing in their ears, they signed away their claim to have the children live with them.

Despite the promises, the Curlews found themselves immediately excluded from the children’s lives.

Eventually, after fighting hard, they were offered two hours, four times a year, of supervised contact.

The first few times they met, in an impersonal office, they were not even allowed to take photos. They were never told why. They had also been promised that by the time the children were nine they ‘could vote with their feet’, which has never happened.

So keen were the Social Services to hide the children’s whereabouts that they made them change out of school uniform before meetings, so the Curlews could not identify their school.

For their last visit, in November, the social worker was supposed to have booked a bowling lane so the children could meet their grandparents on neutral territory. But he brought the children more than half an hour late, having failed to book the bowling lane, and insisted on taking them away on time, so they never had their treat.

For seven years the Curlews’ lives have been dominated by their loss, relying on Legal Aid to fight a painfully long battle which looks set to outlast anybody’s childhood.

Graham, a builder, used to be the life and soul of every party, always willing to help friends and neighbours.

He was shortlisted in 2009 for Britain’s Got Talent for his hilarious on-stilts imitation of Pavarotti. Now, he is so depressed he eschews company and, unable to work because of the stress, lives on disability benefits.

Their grief is always in the background, even when they are doing something pleasurable. Both admit the strain on their marriage has been pernicious, partly because their loss has affected them in different ways.

Graham wants to fight, whereas Gail is terrified of doing anything lest the situation becomes worse. She didn’t dare talk to me about it: ‘In case the social workers retaliate, and punish us further.’

Though it’s hard to think what more they have to lose. ‘Sometimes I’m driving along and see a lorry coming towards me, and think: “Why not?”’ says Graham. ‘Essentially, we’ve had two children kidnapped.

‘Sometimes I think it might be easier if we never saw them at all. We look forward to it for months, and then it gets cancelled. Do they do it on purpose?’ Of course, the burning question is why? Why have Social Services gone to such lengths to exclude the Curlews from the children’s lives?

I first met them in the August of 2007, seven months after their grandchildren had been taken into care. Graham had been doing some work for my father and, feeling I might be able to help, asked me for my contact details.

Soon, I had met both grandchildren, in the days when they were still allowed unsupervised contact. The little boy came with Graham to my father’s seaside house.

I still remember his unrestrained affection: no one can coach a small boy to fake love. He sat on his grandfather’s knee, his arms adoringly around Graham’s neck as he gazed into his face, and said: ‘I want to live with you for ever, Grandad.’

Being two years older, his sister was a little more restrained, but she left me in little doubt that she didn’t like their temporary foster mother.

So why was this arrangement inflicted on them? (At a cost to the taxpayer of well over a quarter of a million pounds so far, at a conservative estimate.) None of the evidence points to an issue between grandparents and grandchildren, more Social Services wanting to exert their power.

Shortly after I met them, they invited me to sit in on a couple of meetings with Social Services, along with their MP Norman Lamb. The hostility in the room was palpable.

With my own ears, I heard the social worker saying that the Curlews couldn’t care for the children, not because there was any difficulty between the children and their grandparents, but because Graham antagonised the Social Service.

He did indeed: I witnessed it myself. The social worker mispronounced the girl’s name. Already distressed, Graham exploded with understandable but very unwise passion. ‘How long have you been responsible for my granddaughter? And you still don’t know her name?’

Norman Lamb
The couple met several times with Social Services, along with their MP Norman Lamb

Her face tightened. She had been humiliated and she didn’t like it. She went on mispronouncing the name on purpose, it seemed to me.

Are the children happy in their current foster home? The Curlews assume they are, because they now enjoy some trappings of luxury their grandparents could not afford.

Unless, of course, they had received the financial support that would have been due to them for fostering the children themselves.

A spokesperson for Norfolk County Council said: ‘The issue of contact was reviewed by a court in 2013 and was deemed to be reasonable and in the best interests of the children.

‘All family members can seek to put the matter back before the court again if they feel a care plan should be reviewed.’

As for the upcoming court hearing, the Curlews have given up on having the grandchildren to live with them. What they dream of is to regain normal access — to be able to write to them and see them regularly.

They’re not optimistic. Graham still remembers verbatim the words of one social worker who sat in their sitting room and said: ‘We don’t care what the court says: we do what we like.’ Graham asked that social worker to leave the house: another blot on his copybook.

The children’s father is still an unemployed drifter. The Curlews’ daughter Claire, 31, has resolved her drugs problems and is now happily married to a restaurant owner and saving for college.

She has come to terms with the fact she isn’t allowed to look after her children, but can’t understand why her parents aren’t allowed to.

Meanwhile, the children’s bedroom is almost as they left it seven years ago with their favourite cuddly toys still immaculately placed on the beds.

Photographs of the children are everywhere. Graham can’t bear to look at them: Gail can’t bear to take them down. Yet another rift driven between them.

On one thing they are agreed, however. They hope and pray for the day their nightmare ends and their darling grandchildren come home.

Source: Daily Mail