One of our contributors shares her story of how she became involved with Children’s Services as a support to her brother
The sister’s story
My brother became a father when both he and his girlfriend were teenagers. Due to this they both stayed living in their parent’s homes (where I also lived). Not long after their child was born their relationship disintegrated, in part due to domestic violence towards my brother. At this point the child was living between both homes 50/50.
After they split my brother sought legal advice and was informed that as he had no proof of the living arrangements (child benefit had always been paid to the mother) or the violence it was inadvisable to pursue legal proceedings which would likely mean no contact until the case was resolved and then every other weekend and one overnight per week. At this point my brother thought it best to continue with the arrangements in place.
After 18 months or so things became more complicated, my brother was having contact more and more frequently and when the child was supposedly in his mother’s care he was staying with various family members and being taken out of bed at 11 or 12 at night to go and stay with the mother’s partner. We all noticed serious changes in his behavior, running away whenever the phone went, screaming and defecating whenever a member of the maternal family arrived and generally appearing withdrawn and worried whenever he knew he would soon be returning to his mother’s care.
At this point my brother and myself seriously considered contacting social services but were worried about contact being withheld (as had periodically happened before) and felt that as he was spending so much time with us it was better to bide our time. The maternal family also shared many concerns with us and one day his maternal grandmother turned up and asked my brother if he would look after the child full time if she could persuade her daughter it was for the best. My brother readily agreed and 3 days later his mother turned up, said she was too busy with her partner and his children and asked if my brother could have him full time and she would see him at weekends. He again sought legal advice and was told that he was best to leave things as are for now unless he could persuade her to sign over the child benefit.
For a year this continued and he grew in so many ways, was relaxed happy and settled. The weekend visits reduced and his usually saw his grandparents instead. During this time his mother had moved out and had a social housing property. Financially things were difficult; my mum is disabled and can’t work, my brother was prevented from working as a full-time parent but only receives JSA, which left me in a situation where I stayed in the family home much older than I perhaps would have liked in order to support the family. Ultimately though, we were happy.
However, his mother split up with her partner and one day just decided not to return him after contact and told my brother she never planned to let him see his child again. At this point he became angry and said that he would break her door down if that’s what it took. She then reported him to the police and he received a caution for threatening behavior. He again sought legal advice and went to court where her and her family disputed that she had always been the main carer. A joint residency order was made with her having the majority of time.
She then resumed her relationship with her partner. Around 3 months after the court date my brother received a letter out of the blue inviting him to a child protection review meeting. He was shocked and worried. When he managed to make contact with Social Services he learnt that his ex and her partner had had a domestic dispute with her child present which resulted in the police being called. It also came to light that she had downplayed the incident and that her partner had had several children removed from his care due to domestic violence towards other partners.
Since then both my brother and us as a family have worked closely with Social Services and have been able to show them proof of the child living with us and she has seen through working with the child how much he’s been affected by what’s gone on. They placed him on the Child Protection list due to emotional harm as well as risk from domestic violence. As time has gone on his mother has been told that he is to have no contact with the partner and that she is expected to end her relationship. This has not happened and more has come to light that she is bullying and coercing the child into telling the Social Worker certain things. The police have also been called several times due to violent incidents. We have all been so relieved that they have been able to see through the lies and listened to both us and most importantly the child.
We have recently reached the stage where we have had a pre-proceedings meeting. We are often aware that things are going on in the background that we don’t find out about until much later but we have found our Social Worker to be wonderful at listening and seeing the bigger picture. We haven’t always been perfect and she has brought to our attention things that we could do better for the child. What’s always been good is that we feel as if we’re working together to make life the best it can be for the child. Although as of yet there’s no resolution and there is naturally a part of you that always worries about the outcome I am confident that there are people with the ability to change things involved in safeguarding the child and ultimately making sure that he suffers as little damage as possible.
My advice to anyone involved with Social Services is to LISTEN to what they’re saying, they are not just out to get you, if they are saying it they’re saying it for a reason. And ENGAGE with them, more than anything I think they really appreciate if they see you working for the child’s benefit.