Child…..Abuse… Of Power?

Today after almost 6 months of hell at the hands of our local authority, we are victorious. But it is a hollow victory, tinged with indescribable sadness and pain. Lost opportunities.

I’ve been annoyingly cryptic on social media (sit down in the cheap seats with your cries of ‘generally just annoying!’ 😉) over the last 6 months or so. I’ve alluded to ‘things;’ vague references to #fighting the good fight# and such like but effectively been gagged from further explanation. Until now.

In August 2018 we were presented with a hand delivered letter from the manager of the Looked After children’s social care team (LAC) informing us they intended to pursue us through the courts for parental responsibility over our autistic 15 year old son.

I cannot begin to adequately describe the horror and pain we felt, as well as the sheer disbelief, on reading the allegations laid out in the Public Law Outline (PLO) document hand delivered that day in August.

And how did such events arise? Because we had dared to question, disagree and eventually file a formal complaint about the stance taken by our then allocated social worker and the part time foster care placement of our autistic son. That in a nutshell is the extent of our ‘crime.’

The LA brought a case against us stating we had caused emotional abuse, neglect and rejection, by placing the needs of our other children over and above our son’s. All because we had continued to seek and challenge them in providing an alternative, and most importantly, APPROPRIATE care placement.

The first hearing took place in October 2018. Upon reviewing the bundle of ‘evidence’ the Judge was quick to recognise that our battle with the LA stemmed from our request for him to be placed in an alternative provision to that which had been provided. She refused to allow the LA any grounds of threshold on their submissions and highlighted that the case brought before her was deeply upsetting and hurtful to us as parents. She also recognised that having been in dispute for so long, it was necessary for the matter to be heard in the court and therefore stipulated that the case could proceed on the grounds of being out of parental control with no fault being directed at us as parents.

Today the case against my husband and I was withdrawn by the Local Authority and whilst we are relieved in the extreme, there’s a pervading emptiness, an anti-climactic ‘that’s that then’ feeling.

After reading the lies and damning claims submitted by the LA, the hours I’ve spent pouring over documents, the hard-won receipt of social care records, enduring endless meetings with social workers and lawyers and providing evidential based-responses and testimony, today the Local Authority got to stand up in court and say “actually we withdraw, there’s no case to answer.” No sorry, no oops we got it wrong and no acknowledgement of the anguish or distress this caused us! It hurts. A lot.

It is no comfort (at least not at the moment) that our barrister says this is the best outcome we could have hoped for; that by instructing the Judge that there is no case to answer, she allowed the application to be withdrawn. He explained the fact that the LA did not withdraw prior to today meant they had to save face and thus we still had to appear in front of the Judge for her to formally dismiss the proceedings apparently….but it doesn’t feel like we’ve been cleared or had our chance to challenge why they brought such an erroneous case. Even the very favourable reports from the court appointed guardian highlighting that she has no concerns over our parenting bring little comfort.

I suppose we wanted retribution but it’s not in the redress of this particular court to address the, for want of a better word, ‘suffering‘ we have experienced. I think I’ve been too hooked on tv court dramas with all the vim and vigour (vinegar as far as my feelings go!) and the fire and brimstone. There’s no revelling in the fact that #justice# has been done.

Of course there will be some legal bod out there who would happily pursue a case on our behalf (💷💷💷 kerching???) but that will cost us funds we don’t have and for what purpose? Will it bring about closure? Will it heal our grievances? And I suppose I still worry that because we didn’t get to call them out on the stand and have a Judge formally rule on proceedings, there will be always be those people who assume the “no smoke without fire” philosophy, thus believing we are indeed at least partially at fault.

Those of you who have followed my blog/know us personally, will be aware that we have 4 children. All with extra needs and/or health conditions. Let me be clear, this is not an attempt in any way to curry admiration or pity on my part. It is just a fact.

For the last 3 years we have been in dispute with our local authority about the most appropriate way of meeting the needs of our high-functioning autistic son. When we first embarked on this quest, our children were aged between 7 to 16.

I’m extremely lucky to have Mr DNTW’s total support and 100% commitment in aiding (& abetting?!) family life but juggling everything alongside him working shifts with long, unsociable hours and for whom weekends off are as mythical as rocking horse poop, well, ostensibly meeting (attempting) the family’s day to day needs stands – or falls – on my shoulders.

By the latter part of 2016 it had become apparent that despite the multiple strategies and interventions by ourselves, CAMHS, various core emergency services, and the trialing of ever more desperate adaptations to “fix” things in mainstream schooling, nothing was going to reduce our son’s anxiety or the on-going repetitive, risk-taking behaviours and withdrawal from learning, family and friends. It was agreed that our son needed an education health care plan (EHCP) and specialist educational placement.

Our son was also requesting respite from the family home. He struggles when his needs cannot be met, with the hubbub and ‘chaos’ that manifests within our busy family and with the unpredictable nature of our other children’s health needs.

So we sought to find a solution encompassing not only his academic needs but his social, emotional and mental health needs. Additionally we wanted an emphasis on building, and imparting important life skills in order to secure the ability to support himself in living an independent (or to the best of his abilities) life in the future.

It is generally recognised that most children thrive with routine and that this brings them reassurance. Predictability, timely, boring regularity. In the case of many autistic individuals this is key to day to day management and reducing their anxieties.

Certainly in our son’s case sudden upheaval, changes to arrangements or fixed plans being altered are at best unsettling, at the very worst, a cause of deep distress leading to potentially risky, life-threatening behaviours.

We don’t have family to rely on locally and whilst we are ever grateful to the small groups of friends we have made locally, many of them have their own children, some also with complex needs; they are not in a position to assist in helping out or medically qualified to do so.

H now being over 18 means he doesn’t qualify as a child in the eyes of the law; nonetheless as I’m sure the majority of parents would testify, once your offspring reach a legal age of independence, it doesn’t mean you cease to parent…or care…. or worry…. sorry H you are stuck with me mithering you about what time you are coming home or if you are in for dinner! I promise to stop once you leave home “for good.” Probably.

Since H has a congenital heart condition which we know is progressive, albeit *should* be manageable with medication and surgery in later years, it adds an extra dimension to parental fretting. He doesn’t want a fuss making (in fact, I will probably be lambasted for even mentioning it here) so we try our best to abide by that and know that he is in good hands medically, as well as being cognisant of the importance of maintaining and being attuned to his physical well-being. Less so after his Saturday night shenanigans…. 🍻🥃🍷

In respect of our younger 2 children, their needs are much more complicated and unpredictable to manage, both by virtue of their ages and the nature of their difficulties. Suffice to say, life is not so neatly parcelled up with a cherry on the top.

I’ll spare you all the intricacies (if you want to know more, I’ve covered this in other blogs) but on grounds of the costs being incompatible with public expenditure we were refused a placement for our son at an autism specific residential school on a Monday-Friday basis. This had seemed the answer that best met not only all our son’s needs but also the wider family as well.

Our son was only offered a place at a day school (which catered for children with extreme behavioural issues, less than half on role have autism as their primary diagnosis) but there was nothing concrete forthcoming from children’s social care or health.

By this point, both ourselves and our son were desperate. And exhausted and demoralised. I will never forget reading an article that described how parents of children with autism show similar levels of stress to that experienced by combat soldiers.

It was glaringly obvious that we needed a complete turn-about from the impossibly, destructive situation we seemed perpetually quagmired in but I just couldn’t do it by myself anymore. We engaged legal representation in order to proceed to an educational tribunal.

This cost us hugely. I do not mean just financially. I had a complete mental health break-down and spent 3 months as an in-patient. To this day I take a cocktail of medications so I can “function’ and continue to receive therapeutic community care.

The fall out on our other children was immense and still impacts them in a variety of ways. Mr DNTW’s too. With him having to hold down a job and be soul parent, he called in favours left, right and centre to see to the care needs and day-to-day cover for our children. We could not afford for him to take unpaid leave.

Ultimately, my psychologist refused to allow me to leave hospital until social care had provided a medium to long term plan to accommodate our son to allow me to recoup my energy and build on my recovery. Our son was shunted between multiple foster carers which nearly broke our hearts.

Eventually after a period of 6 weeks or so where there were more than 8 people responsible for his care, he was placed in a foster placement some 45 minutes away from us as an interim measure. His needs arising from his autism spectrum condition were never appropriately assessed and we were all in limbo, waiting on the decision of the education court ruling.

During those darkest of days the response from social services was how soon can we return your son home? They simply weren’t interested in the wider needs of us all. Further, when we outlined for sensitive reasons that I won’t divulge here, the carer he had been placed with was not capable or suitable to meet our son’s needs, the response was if you don’t like it, take him home. A phrase that was repeated with alarming regularity during the last few years.

In late 2017, the Educational Tribunal ruled against us stating that we couldn’t prove solely on education grounds that our son needed a residential school placement and so we were back at square one. (This was before the commencement of the national trial from April 2018 which has allowed cases with an overarching health or social care need to also be heard)

Again we were deeply disappointed and living in groundhog day. We considered so many ways to go forward and had settled on proceeding to Judicial Review in order to get the local authority to formally assess our son’s needs holistically. It is a lengthy process and all the while we were being told by our former social worker that his needs were in hand. He was clothed and fed and happy.

But he wasn’t – happy – and his wider needs so paramount to his progress and development weren’t being met in any way. The social worker was intractable in her approach and either unable or unwilling to discuss our concerns.

Despite our repeated pleas for our son’s needs to be properly assessed and matched with an appropriately trained foster carer or a placement in a residential unit, we were refused time and time again.

I should add at this point that throughout the difficulties over the last few years we have continued to have plenty of contact with our son. Daily by phone and/or texts. He also comes back to the family home when there are 2 adults here so that one can assist or be responsible for the care needs of our younger children and one of us can be there for him. This averages out as a minimum of 2 nights per week and all school holidays. We are in daily contact with school for progress reports and updates and have an excellent working relationship with his various support workers.

I’m conscious my son may one day read this post and some of the events that led up to the court proceedings (and continued during the hearings) are very personal to him. That is his story to tell if he and when he so chooses so I won’t divulge specifics. However, despite our best efforts to reassure him that we would always be his parents, no matter what, and that we would always fight for what we believe to be in his best interests, it has been a deeply distressing time for us all. Knowing that the local authority could potentially dictate the where’s and when’s of contact, the amount of contact, where he lived and act as his parental guardians in all aspects of his needs has had a profound affect on us all.

Of note: two good things have come out of this (aside from the obvious relief of the case being dropped) – at the start of the LA’s actions, we were allocated a new social worker. She is fantastic and has worked extremely hard with us, our son and on our behalf. Her endeavours, alongside the evidence we provided and the evidence submitted by the appointed guardian who carried out assessments of us, the former foster carer, of our son and his school has led to securing an appropriate care placement for our son. He moves on Sunday after a few celebratory days with us as home.

Our social worker has taken the time to listen and actually hear what we have been saying. She has taken the time to get to know us, evaluate his needs and understand the impact of his autism, not just on him but also on us as a wider family.

We are quietly confident that the new placement will be the best plan going forward and it is all to her credit that in spite of the very difficult circumstances, we have built a relationship with her that is mutually respected.

Nonetheless, it will take a long time before we as a family are healed from this traumatic process.

Advertisements