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Mrs H was a client of mine who went through incredibly lengthy care proceedings. Fortunately, her son was returned to her care at the end of those proceedings but, as you will see, that isn’t always the end of the story. The effect of proceedings on your life can be immense. She has kindly shared her story below, fully anonymised, in the hope of assisting other parents in this situation:
“I found myself in the middle of care proceedings which lasted 3 years. I was 32 weeks pregnant with my first child when the local authority decided that I may develop Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy, they felt I had the pre existing factors that lead to such a condition. I must make it clear that I have never and will never harm anyone. The first child protection conference was a brutal experience but decided that the baby could remain in the care of myself and my husband. Unfortunately four days before I delivered my son another conference was convened and it was then it was decided that my baby would be removed at birth.
At the time I never believed I would get through it and to this day I don’t know how I did. I have the most amazing husband and family but we all saw it through different glasses so to speak which made the situation more difficult but I certainly wouldn’t have made it through without them.
I threw myself into work, sometimes working more than 60 hours a week; I turned into robot. I remember driving home one day after seeing an expert who was based 5 hours from where I live. I was desperate to get back for contact and exhausted and I had a very near miss with a central reservation on a very busy motorway. All I kept thinking was I have to get through this because I am Mum.
I was lucky in that after 9 months of being in foster care my son, despite opposition from the LA, was placed in the care of my Mum and Dad. A fabulous result as he was back in the family but that too came at a cost. That year was the first Christmas ever I spent without my family and it was harrowing. I couldn’t visit my Gran (who I saw everyday) without first ringing my mum to check if they were planning to visit. In order to allow my son to attend church with my Mum I had to attend a different one. However, despite all of the negatives it was a huge step in the right direction and something I would advise people to think about if they find themselves in the same position.
Another important person in my case was my solicitor, Rachel. The first solicitor I had was lovely but for some reason I just couldn’t trust her. At nine months in and before a very important hearing I transferred to Rachel. This was a relatively easy process as the new solicitor makes the application to transfer legal aid so I didn’t have to do anything other than wait for it to complete. It took tremendous courage to change. When I first saw her I thought ‘how on earth are you going to win this for me?’, as she looked so young but it was another important step in getting my son home. I trusted her. At times I didn’t like the advice she gave although I always followed it as I knew deep down it was right. She was a rock, and at times she was all I had when I felt the whole world was against me. She always made time for me and was there to give me a kick up the bottom when I needed. I can never repay her for what she did for me.
After two and a half years my son was returned to the care of my husband and I. Obviously we were all ecstatic, but as the care proceedings door started to close another door was opening and behind it was the pieces of those proceedings. Care proceedings, in my view, is like a dark tunnel with the only vision being getting your child home. However, when you reach the end you see the bigger picture.
It takes a long time to adjust. At first we found it hard to discipline our son and set boundaries as the guilt was immense. We didn’t have any confidence as parents; it felt as though one wrong move and they would take him again. We had lost friends whilst going through the tunnel although on the plus side it makes you realise who your true friends are. Financially we were ruined, finances are the last thing we had thought about and four years on we are still paying the financial price. My career was badly affected as being in the medical profession meant I had lost my registration as a result of the allegations and have only just got it sorted out. We got him home but it’s never the end.
Our life now is good despite still having some pieces to pick up. We have had another child and although social services came to do a pre birth assessment there was no further action taken. The pregnancy was stressful as I kept expecting them to say ‘you are not fit’ and not only remove the baby but my son too. The days I spent in hospital following the birth were a nightmare; I didn’t let the baby out of my sight in case they swooped. At eight months olds my daughter became poorly and we took her to the doctors who basically said we were over anxious parents but two days later she had pneumonia. As a consequence of that there is a high suspicion that she has developed bronchiectasis and we are now dealing at times quite closely with professionals. We are constantly worrying about what they think of us. Because of the nature of the concerns in the care proceedings I always try to take my husband when I take our daughter to appointments and I always write down notes of the consultations. I never administer medication to my daughter, instead I get my husband to do it or my parents. It may seem silly but in our eyes we are protecting ourselves and our family.
Care proceedings are without doubt the most harrowing experience that anyone can go through. I would advise anyone going through it to access all the family support they can and try to get the child into the family as quickly as possible no matter what the cost. Get a good solicitor, one you can trust. Change if you are not happy with the one you have. Be prepared to make concessions no matter how hard they may seem always look at the bigger picture. Do not expect to shut the door on the proceedings once they are over; its something that will live with you forever and change you beyond recognition. I always feel I have this big dark secret and worry people will judge me based on my past. The only good to come out of our proceedings is I feel I appreciate my children more. I am living a life that at the darkest times I though would never become a reality. Whilst my friends are looking for babysitters so they can go out on a Saturday you will find me snuggled up on the sofa with my kids reading stories and watching Xfactor.”