More and more people with a learning disability are choosing to become parents yet between 40-60% of them will at some stage have their children taken away from them.
In August 2005, the case of the Essex couple with learning disabilities fighting to keep their two young children drew to its tragic conclusion. Despite huge objections from the family, the High Court ruled that Essex social services was right to remove the two children and place them for adoption.
The judge ruled that the daughter had already suffered emotional harm as a result of the parents’ inability to care for her.
The plight of the Essex couple was taken up by the Daily Mail, who labelled Essex council as ‘state-backed child snatchers’, referring to government-imposed targets requiring local authorities to increase their adoption rates by 40%.
Despite support from the Essex learning disability team, social services assessed that the couple’s two children, aged four and 14 months, should be removed for their own wellbeing and safety. In October 2004, the children were placed in foster care.
The decision naturally left the parents devastated, their sense of loss and helplessness heightened by the courts’ decision to refuse contact with their children ahead of the High Court hearing in August at which the couple challenged the original ruling.
We feel as though we have been robbed
of our babies
“We feel as though we have been robbed of our babies,” the mother told the Daily Mail. “Social workers said they were trying to help us but they were always saying things about the children being taken away.”
At the hearing, the judge ruled that the children be placed for adoption as soon as possible. “Their anguish of mind is altogether understandable but their wish to have the children restored to them is wholly unrealistic,” he said.
Essex council attacked the media's handling of the case as “inaccurate and unfair to both parents and social workers”. Tracey Chapman, councillor and cabinet member with responsibility for children’s services, commented, “It is not our role to pass judgment on parents, but rather to ensure that children are safe and protected.”
Five other couples have also now made formal allegations against Essex social services, claiming that it was officials’ misleading statements in court which led to their children being taken away.
This is an updated article which first appeared in the September/October 2005 issue of Viewpoint