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Social services took my children

A brilliant postgraduate recently asked me to attend a final care hearing in Britain notoriously secret Family Courts. She feared that social services were about to wrongly remove her children permanently from her care, and wanted a journalist to bear witness. I specialise in investigating social services, but refused.

I was wrong. In January, the High Court made her daughter and son (both under 12) the subjects of a special guardianship order. They have now been placed with a distant relative they barely know and, under Section 34 of the Children Act 1989, the mother has been barred from contact until they are 18, on pain of imprisonment.

She has not been prosecuted for any kind of abuse, or committed any crime. She does not drink, smoke or use drugs, and has no mental illness. Numerous high flying professional friends describe her as kind, stoical and a loving mother. However, her children were taken from her owing to psychological vulnerability, during a period of great stress. Social services concluded that this put them at risk of harm

What does this tell us about modern Britain, and an arguably ever more Stalinist state? Court ordered reporting restrictions mean that I cannot use identifying details. Charlotte, as I shall call her, was a former RAF cadet, law graduate and legal practitioner. After the court decreed that she should never see her children again, she said: children were deeply loved and privileged, and everything I lived for. I am trying not to remember anything because of the deep pain it causes me. I cry constantly.

Intelligence tests place Charlotte in Britain top nine per cent. But she was adventurous and preferred the outdoors to offices: she had her own horse, skippered her first boat at 19, and later won a prestigious bursary enabling her to study for a vocational university degree.

She was thrilled. But she was also a single parent (to Emily and Oliver; not their real names) and struggled to cope at university. Charlotte moved to the town just before term began, with no nearby family or friends. Her ex partner provided no support so she bought a wrecked house cheaply at auction. Her nanny proved unsuitable, so she spent hours driving between school, nursery and child minder.

She was the only woman on her course. When a tutor postponed classes to the evening, after the nursery closed, she accused him of sexual discrimination. Her combative manner did not endear her. Her tutor accused her of rudeness. She apologised, but felt unwelcome on the course. Meanwhile, a cascade of events brought her to the attention of social services.

Labour, in its dying days, used panic about child abuse to introduce continual monitoring of families. All state employees in contact with children are now expected continually to note and electronically pool their observations. The eight page, 60 section Common Assessment Framework (CAF) asks invasive questions: how a child feels about its developing body; whether parents encourage cultural diversity; and if they work too hard to play with children. Labour recommended CAFs for the 50 per cent of British children it defined as need

Critics warned that this would produce a nation of snitches, and allow children to be removed through the accumulation of subjective judgments and untested tittle tattle.

Charlotte plight amply illustrates this. Just before her first term began, a librarian expressed concern about Charlotte daughter being left in charge of her son. A police officer called shortly afterwards about her nanny lost passport. He mother of pearl clover bracelet imitation reported the home poor condition, and an male on the premises (her builder).

A nursery worker noted that her son sometimes wore the same clothes as the day before, and arrived in a wet nappy (Charlotte had no hot water yet, and their morning journey took an hour). A teacher said that Charlotte queries about the quality of her daughter school meals meant that she did not cook enough at home.

A multi agency CAF assessment was recommended. The first professionals were sympathetic. A health visitor in December 2008 described Charlotte to juggle child care, studying, building work. Extra stressed this week: problems at university timetable errors.

Neither she nor the police saw any need for child protection, and a social worker confirmed: shows warmth and affection. she also has a good relationship with her health visitor and has acted on all advice given.

Charlotte father died that Christmas. Her parents split up when she was tiny but she still mourned him deeply. She soldiered on, gained top marks and bought her daughter a pony. She wanted to provide a Swallows and Amazons childhood she had roamed freely on her bike and horse from a young age. But that was in a vanished Britain. She could not understand why it was considered risky to let an older child temporarily mind a younger one in a library.

Grieving, isolated and exhausted, she asked the university medical centre for counselling. No one agreed who had responsibility for this incomer, who had a local and a university doctor. Ten months later, she was still not on a waiting list. On October 16 2009 she blurted out to her GP that sometimes she thought of suicide and taking her children with her, rather than leave them motherless. She says now: deeply regret that. My pain was acute, but I would never harm myself or my children. I had had thoughts of hurting myself images but not plans, what is called 'ideation but no intent. I did not want to hurt myself so I was seeking help to deal with the images. I was desperate to stay healthy for the sake of my children.

Her doctor alerted social services: Charlotte needed support But new child protection procedures over cautious, inflexible and based on tick lists mean that parents needing practical help increasingly find their children wrongly classified as risk rather than need Adult and children social services have been separated, there is almost no budget for the former and no longer a holistic approach to families: a parent in need is often treated as a threat.

The council repeatedly sought to remove her children. They were initially deflected by a psychiatrist and by police, who described happy and safe children. But a child protection plan meeting found there was a of neglect

By January Charlotte was so stressed that she feared she could no longer cope, and made the mistake of telling social services. She thought it might secure support; instead, every word was logged and used against her.

In February 2010, Cafcass the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service was enlisted. Britain secret family courts primarily rely on its judgments. If a solitary Cafcass guardian decides against a parent in a care or custody dispute, the parent is powerless. The guardians are unaccountable.

The guardian recommended within days knock off van cleef rose gold bracelet that Charlotte children be removed and fostered. She was now allowed to see them only briefly once a fortnight at a centre Three watching social workers critically analysed everything the family said and did.

On one occasion, she took her little boy to the lavatory. A male social worker ordered her not to shut the door he wanted to watch to ensure the child safety. She slammed the door and was accused of assaulting the man.

Charlotte feared that the foster carer and Cafcass were asking her children increasingly leading questions about abuse. remember one contact session, she says, Emily was crying and screaming, saying she wanted me and that I was not horrible to her. I did slap her once. It has haunted me ever since. Then they said that I dropped Oliver when I was feeding him and hit him round the head. It wasn true. I just told Emily jokingly once how he bit me when I was breast feeding him and I tapped his cheek to make him stop. And there is no medical or other evidence that I ever hurt either child.

last time I saw them, Oliver became distressed and clung to me and made it very clear he wanted to come home with me. I believe this is the reason the Cafcass guardian claimed that she saw me pinch the children.

Charlotte asked for further contact to be filmed, to protect her from further false allegations. Social services refused. That was the last time she saw her children, on April 28.

She felt that whatever she said was distorted. So she tape recorded a phone call heard by The Sunday Telegraph asking why the guardian had removed her children. The woman said she lacked Charlotte was not adept enough at hiding stress. On that basis, half Britain mothers might lose their van cleef and arpels bracelets fake children.

Cafcass commissioned a psychologist to evaluate Charlotte ability to parent her children. The psychologist had qualified in 2005.

The psychologist conclusions were not favourable. Charlotte countered by gathering dozens of letters of support. None of the witnesses were consulted or able to give evidence in court. In May 2010, Charlotte applied for the right to appeal. A local newspaper reported the court case: the claims that she threatened to murder her children and attacked the social worker as 'entirely false the mother agreed she had been 'under great stress

The court refused her permission to appeal. Charlotte was told she could write to her children weekly. whatever I wrote they vetted and would not send. My last letter to my daughter included memories of a day that was very special to her because she and her friends took the ponies swimming in the river. I was told off for being insufficiently 'upbeat and 'too emotive

She then arranged for an assessment of her mental health by an experienced psychologist, who recommended a short course of therapy, family assessment and a gradual reunification with her children, but his advice was not taken.

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