John Hemming: An apology

In the matter of CB (A Child)

This post arises out of discussions on Twitter on New Year’s Day regarding the ‘Latvian case’ and the extent to which John Hemming is able or willing to accept the findings of various courts about the harm suffered by the child CB. I will set out a summary of my response and then a more detailed chronology of the case to support that summary.

On January 1st 2017 I published a tweet to which Mr Hemming objected.  This was part of a discussion with other Twitter users about the nature and extent of Mr Hemming’s misrepresentations about the case of CB (A child) – ‘the Latvian case’

I said, in the context of a question about what the mother had done to make necessary changes to her parenting:

Mr Hemming denied that he had said the mother hadn’t done anything wrong and asked me to retract this statement and apologise. He referred me again to this blog post from 2015. I have already commented on Mr Hemming’s involvement in the Latvian case in this post and again in this post.

I concede that I owe Mr Hemming an apology. I don’t know when he first made direct contact with the mother in this case so I cannot imply that he was ‘advising’ her during the care proceedings in 2011. However, it is clear that by the time of her appeal to the Court of Appeal in April 2013 she had dispensed with her lawyers and was represented by ‘Mr H’ – who I shall assume is Tim Haines, one of Mr Hemming’s trusted advisers with his Justice For Families organisation. This assumption is bolstered by the fact that it was Mrs Julie Haines who was representing her in 2015.

It is also clear that Mr Hemming did concede on his blog that going out and leaving your 20 month old alone before the babysitter had turned up, was not great parenting. So I accept, it is misleading for me to suggest that Mr Hemming thought ‘nothing’ wrong had happened here.

However, what is abundantly clear, from his blog and his discussions via Twitter, he certainly didn’t think anything had happened to justify the removal of CB from her mother’s care and her eventual adoption. According to Mr Hemming, this was a case of a child adopted ‘because of nappy rash and a missed babysitter’.

So here is what I should have said

I don’t know when Mr Hemming first spoke directly to the mother. But he was clearly involved with her by 2013. He persistently and consistently asserts that this case was about no more than ‘nappy rash’ or a ‘late babysitter’ . This is utter, unmitigated hogwash and displays a chilling lack of concern for CB or recognition of the danger in which she was placed. The facts of this case – which I summarise below – show the clear and cogent reasons by which various courts have accepted that CB had suffered significant harm in her mother’s care and would be at risk of suffering more harm in the future if not removed. Mr Hemming’s continued misrepresentations about this case are wrong, ridiculous and dangerous. He should apologise for making them and agree never to repeat them.

But don’t just take my word for it. Have a look at the Court of Appeal judgment from 2013, from where I take the summary of facts and chronology set out below.

CB was born on 30th April 2008. On the 4th April 2009 the mother accepted a caution for the offence of being drunk in charge of a child under 7 when she was found at 1am with CB in a buggy, drunk and barefoot in the middle of the road.  On 18th January 2010 a social work assessment concluded that this was not the mother’s usual behaviour and CB would be ok in her care. However in February 2010 the local authority received complaints that CB was screaming and running about ‘almost every night’ until about 2am. On 5th March 2010 the mother’s landlord called the police who arrived and found CB, aged about 20 months, alone and in a pitiful state.

What did the court accept about CB’s circumstances? From para 8 of the 2013 judgment:

  • the room had a strong and overpowering smell of urine and faeces
  • CB’s clothes were wet and she was shivering
  • It was clear she had not been changed or cleaned ‘all day’
  • She had only an empty bottle within reach
  • Her nappy was so swollen she couldn’t walk properly
  • Her skin was soaked in urine to extent that a rash was noted when she was examined in hospital

Para 11 of the judgment confirms that by 3rd August 2010 CB, who had been taken into police protection and then into foster care, had been assessed as having significant delay in ALL aspects of her development.

Para 17 confirms the finding that the mother had maladapted personality traits which made her prone to denial and repression and reliance on ‘avoidance strategies’ such as alcohol.

On 26th October 2010 the  mother was again detained by the police on suspicion of being drunk.  On 15th June 2011 care proceedings were issued and on 10th July 2012 a placement order was made by DJ Mc Phee. The mother appealed against this to HHJ Cryan who dismissed that appeal on 8th October 2012 which is how she ended up in the Court of Appeal in April 2013, where her second appeal was also dismissed.

So how does Hemming deal with this?

By minimisation, denial and apparent lack of any regard for the welfare of CB. His blog post refers to the case ‘starting with two incidents’. The first becomes simply a mother crossing the road after a night out with a friend, having slipped off her shoes because they were hurting her. No mention of fact it was 1am and the mother accepted a caution for a criminal offence.

The second incident he admits ‘was more serious’. CB had been ‘found home alone and with a full nappy’. But, he asserts, the mother had actually arranged a babysitter and her only mistake was to leave CB before the babysitter arrived.  Mr Hemming goes on to quote the police report from the time  which simply underscores how ridiculous his analysis is.

The report notes that the police arrived at the scene at 18.50. We know they were called by the landlord so presumably CB had been alone for some time by now. Shortly after the police arrived a female also turns up and tells the police that she was the babysitter and she had just popped out for 10 minutes ‘and had been looking after the child all day long’. The ‘babysitter’ was promptly arrested. At 19.08 a decision was made to take CB to the hospital as she was very cold and possibly dehydrated. At 20.10 CB’s older sister arrives. The mother does not turn up until 21.30.

Mr Hemming states that the mother ‘accepts and I agree that she should not have left home before the babysitter arrived’.

And that appears to be the full extent to which Mr Hemming or the mother would accept any wrongdoing here.

This ignores entirely:

  • the fact the mother accepted a caution and therefore admitted guilt for being in charge of CB whilst intoxicated at 1am in April 2009;
  • the disgusting state in which CB was found in March 2010, cold, wet, whimpering and clearly having been left in a filthy nappy ‘all day’;
  • The ‘babysitter’ and the  mother clearly giving conflicting accounts of when this ‘babysitter’ was due to arrive – the babysitter maintaining she had been there ‘all day’. If the babysitter had indeed been there ‘all day’ then given the state in which CB was found, the mother’s judgement in choosing this person to care for her daughter is seriously in question;
  • That by August 2010 CB was found to be delayed in ALL aspects of her development, which points to significant neglect in her mother’s care.

The conduct of this case by the local authority does not escape criticism and nor should it. I note that earlier assessments of the mother which were positive are described as ‘naive’. I have to accept it must have been hard for the mother to process why initial positive reports about her parenting did not then translate into her daughter’s return to her care .Nor do I understand why it took so long to make an application for a care order given the findings about global developmental delay for CB in 2010.

But nothing in any failings or delay by the local authority can justify Mr Hemming’s persistent and deliberate mischaracterisation of this very sad case, as one where a baby was adopted for having a nappy rash. The impact on the mother has been obvious. She has been encouraged by Hemming and his entourage to see her conduct as attracting very little criticism, her child ‘stolen’ to meet adoption targets and the last 5 years of her life wasted in an utterly futile fight.

I’m not an idiot

I’m not an idiot. I realise that nothing I say here or anywhere else is going to stop Hemming. His distortions and misrepresentations about the family justice system are now part of his DNA. A great deal of his activities and his identity is tied up now with this crusading role. Presumably quite a lot of money too – I keep asking how much the Haines charge to take parents to the Court of Appeal and I have never got an answer, but I hear from some disgruntled parents that its about £1,500 a time.

But I hope that my activities in attempting to call him to account might give some others pause for thought about how much they take him seriously or how much they think it wise to engage with him.

As I have taken the time to deal with his blog post, perhaps he could return the favour and deal with mine? I’ve only been asking since September 2016.

‘Mums on the Run’ – Where do they go? How safe are they?

64 thoughts on “John Hemming: An apology

  1. Sam

    I may very well being a fool rushing in where angels fear to tread by posting a reply to this. I really don’t want to engage in a war, but do feel I have some helpful observations to make as I have had contact both with Sarah and JFF. BOTH I feel are campaigning and at the same time trying to help families out of some personal conviction, which rises directly from their own experience of the family court system.
    I like most parents turned to the internet, to try and find help and firstly found JFF and joined. It did help to know that I was not alone, but frankly that is all it did as it was just other parents trying to work out what on earth they could do. The only concerns I personally had was that personal information did not seem be be kept safely, particularly email addresses seemed to be passed onto other campaigners. I did ask for help in court, was never asked for money but received no help either, which I understood was down to their overwhelming case load.
    When this site came online, initially I dismissed it as it didn’t ring true with my experience, but Sarah and others have helped me immensely and increased my understanding of issues.
    Where I think John Hemming is right is that experts cannot not always be trusted and just because something is written in a judgement, no matter how senior the judge does not necessarily mean that it is true. Physical, let alone mental health diagnosis are frequently wrong in the real world, so they can’t be relied on as being 100% accurate in court. Also SW and police practices leave much to be desired, maybe through lack of time etc, in SOME cases and their evidence cannot be relied upon. I do however, in my opinion think that JFF have taken some cases forward for appeal, to make a point rather than that the cases have any real chance of success. Similar to how some barristers will take a case pro bono. Which could be fine providing the parents know that , but could actually be just making a very distressing situation far worse.
    The Transparency Project have made an excellent start in putting some practical solutions together, to counteract possible bias within the system, surely this is the way to go? In fact could there be some possibility of an independent review of cases with the results being published, I am sure that would be of interest to those handful of parents continually shouting about injustice.

    Reply
  2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    Thanks for your comment. Others have told me that they have found JFF helpful.

    I am afraid I have an almost entirely negative view of their activities, as you have probably noticed.
    This is mainly because of what I have been told about the ‘mums on the run’ and the refusal of Hemming to answer any questions about that – although he’s quite happy to spend NY Eve and most of NY day arguing about whether or not a toddler left to sit in her own filth all day was actually neglected or not.

    But all of this is such a time wasting distraction from the real issues – as you say, we need to identify practical issues that would make a difference. You might want to have a look at this mumsnet thread and make some suggestions about how we build trust in the system before proceedings are issued. Your perspective would be valuable about that.

    http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/am_i_being_unreasonable/2804256-AIBU-to-want-to-carry-on-this-interesting-discussion-about-the-Child-Protection-System?

    Reply
  3. Sam

    Well the first thought that sprang to mind was Mumsnet, that’s not the sort of place for me. For me the image of Mumsnet is the online gathering place for the type of Mum who attended NCT anti natal classes rather than NHS and has no bigger problems than worrying if their child falls out of the top 5% in their end of year tests.That is not people who have walked in my shoes, so know nothing but theory about how to parent in my situation.So I have prejudice too.
    It actually is born out by reading the threads, as it seems mainly to be professionals answering.
    I think to answer your question, what parents need pre proceedings is to not feel afraid, because flight or fight kicks in and crowds all reasoning out. One of my greatest helps to clear my head has been to be part of a supportive groups of people with similar problems. One didn’t have any particular agenda other than to decrease isolation, and mainly consisted of having a cuppa and eating biscuits whilst chatting. It has been a runaway success, with members who had even severe problems that had previously needed hospitalisation moving on with their lives and having considerable improvements in their mental health. It was led by a professional , but one who related to the members and did not impose her ideas. Interestingly when she left, and less experienced workers took over, who did want to improve the group, by making us do activities rather than eat biscuits the membership dwindled.The members keeping in touch outside of the group. So once again I come back to peer support, a mum of a child with special needs talking to another, someone whose child has been on the at risk register explaining the process , because this is why my type of parent turns to JFF, rather than listening to the professional who has not had their experience. If CS want to stop scared parents turning to JFF and Ian Josephs, they need to provide something that fulfils the need to be supported and understand what is happening at the parents level.

    Reply
      1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

        I think the trust between parents and social workers is seriously eroded, if not vanished entirely in some cases. Into that gap of trust come some very unsavoury people, some I am quite sure who prey both financially and sexually on vulnerable parents. So I do think some organised scheme of parent advocates/mentors could help. Parents seem to feel quite alone; the social worker tells them ‘I am only here for the child’ and there is this awful tension between the social work role to investigate and the social work role to support. I don’t think the two are compatible.

        So I will be really interested to see how Surviving Safeguarding’s scheme takes off. The indications from other jurisdictions are that it will work.

        Reply
        1. helensparkles

          Most of my cases don’t go to court, because people make changes, and they can be de-escalated. They do that with SW support & I am not convinced the roles are incompatible in CP. I think parents don’t trust anyone in the child protection system and that’s understandable, but I do think good parent advocacy nationwide would be very helpful for everyone. The advocates I have met have been collusive and that doesn’t help anyone.

          Reply
      2. Sam

        Yes as well, but people can help each other given the right circumstances, which as I explained is not that expensive to deliver a room, and some refreshments. It is the common bond that drives the group forward. For instance a couple of us started volunteer work and that encouraged others, ditto CBT, ditto stress control and assertiveness training.

        Reply
        1. helensparkles

          I think to really help parents involved in the CP system, there needs to be a network of advocates nationwide, who are trained well enough not to be collusive. I do agree that self help groups are valuable as well though.

          Reply
          1. Sam

            Sorry the one about groups, I have now probably completely confused everyone by posting in the wrong place.

          2. helensparkles

            I think it isn’t always possible to work out why comments post where they do, not your fault!

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I don’t think that is true or fair. I met Surviving Safeguarding on mumsnet, I have had messages from people who clearly aren’t smug middle class mums – such as teenage lone parents who have found my posts helpful.

      I don’t think making sweeping assertions about ANY group of people, be they parents, social workers, or mumsnetters is helpful.

      But I can’t make you contribute. I’ll cut and paste your contribution if that’s ok; the poster who has asked for input is certainly not a smug mum with no problems. She contributed a large part of the post about violence in relationships.

      Reply
      1. Sam

        That’s my point I suppose Sarah, I have an image of the average user of Mumsnet just as I have an an image of the average social worker, and it may very well be wrong. In fact before you met me , in the flesh, you had a different image of me from me commenting on here. Groups work, as they break down the barriers and people find the common ground.” Annie” posted on twitter about some work she did where SW and parents worked in groups together and started to understand each others viewpoints. My son’s SW now drives me to reviews as they are quite a way away, I was previously given a train ticket, and the time spent in the car, normally with the IRO as well is valuable not because we talk about my son, we discuss everything politics, where we love ,sport etc. We also discuss child protection. It has led to a much better working relationship. I feel treated like a human finally and I am more likely to respect their views. Bring it on

        Reply
        1. Sam

          That’s my point I suppose Sarah, I have an image of the average user of Mumsnet just as I have an an image of the average social worker, and it may very well be wrong. In fact before you met me , in the flesh, you had a different image of me from me commenting on here. Groups work, as they break down the barriers and people find the common ground.” Annie” posted on twitter about some work she did where SW and parents worked in groups together and started to understand each others viewpoints. My son’s SW now drives me to reviews as they are quite a way away, I was previously given a train ticket, and the time spent in the car, normally with the IRO as well is valuable not because we talk about my son, we discuss everything politics, where we love ,sport etc. We also discuss child protection. It has led to a much better working relationship. I feel treated like a human finally and I am more likely to respect their views. Bring it on . Yes you can cut and paste.

          Reply
  4. looked_after_child

    The debate about children’s protection, seems to me, to be dominated by people who want to ‘save’ in a kind of ‘crusading’ way. Another way of looking at the child protection system might be ‘what are people’s rights – children’s, parent’s and how do we ensure they get their rights and what should the penalties be when they are not given them and who should be penalised?’

    This would focus all on the need to ensure that anyone affected by a statutory process is given really clear information in a format they understand and this should be capable of being evidenced after the event, all should treated with respect. I personally though I’ve never been through a s47 or sim process never want someone to speak/crusade for me – I’m quite capable of doing that for myself. I want the tools to do this.
    I want rights, respect, remedies and timely and clear information. I’m not a ‘charity case’ neither is my son. We should even be having this discussion – that we are tells you how bad things are on the ground.

    Reply
    1. helensparkles

      You are right about clear information for everyone of course, but not sure who is crusading or trying to save anyone. There is a hierarchy of rights, some even compete, but the paramountcy of the child is the principle in the family court.

      Reply
      1. looked_after_child

        ‘the paramountcy of the child”s rights. – Many cases will be very clear cut, many will not…….It depends on the evidence put before the judge and his understanding of the issues at the very least..
        I imagine you consider your work ‘a vocation’ rather than ‘a job’? If so this means you are on a crusade of sorts (in the same way as I am as it happens). This is not a bad thing in itself but sometimes people with vocations do bad things in the name of good intentions. (eg the way in which the NSPCC raises money (always presenting abused children) or the way attachment theory is present parents as ‘Incompetent’ )

        Reply
        1. helensparkles

          Afraid SW isn’t a vocation for me, however committed I am to it, but my foundation is in social justice. SW ethics and values are very clear and they are consistent with mine. They include empowering people to effect change in difficult circumstances, which is why I am interested in this space, and TP. The notation that it has to be a vocation seems to be applied from outside SW, in the same way it does to the helping professions generally, you can care without being on a mission.

          Reply
    2. Concerned aunty

      You’re talking too much common sense here. Common sense and the law are two different things.

      Everyone always talks about the right of the child being above all, however the way some of these babies are adopted out forcefully surely hurts the baby more than anything else. The system mostly carecabout figures and appearances nothing else.

      Reply
  5. looked_after_child

    Sorry pressed send too quickly!

    The debate about children’s protection, seems to me, to be dominated by people who want to ‘save’ in a kind of ‘crusading’ way. Another way of looking at the child protection system might be ‘what are people’s rights – children’s, parent’s and how do we ensure they get their rights and what should the penalties be when they are not given them and who should be penalised?’

    This would focus all on the need to ensure that anyone affected by a statutory process is given really clear information in a format they understand and this should be capable of being evidenced after the event, all should treated with respect. I personally, though I’ve not been through a s47 or sim. process never want someone to speak/crusade for me – I’m quite capable of doing that for myself. I want the tools to do it. I want rights, respect, remedies and timely and clear information.
    I’m not a ‘charity case’, neither is my autistic son who entered Care under s20.
    We should not even be having this discussion in 2017 – that we are tells you how bad things are on the ground.

    Reply
  6. Angelo Granda

    I agree with everything which looked-after child has written above particularly about the CP system being dominated by people who consider themselves ‘child-savers’. It is a monolithic myth that children are rescued by the care-system; they are greatly disadvantaged if they do not have their lives completely wrecked by it!
    The law actually stresses how wrong it is and how it goes against any child’s best interests to be removed into care permanently or adopted except in the most dire circumstances . SW’s have little sense of proportionality. Mind you, they are not lawyers.
    I expect the lawyers to have their fingers on the pulse as to proportionately but sometimes Family Court lawyers appear to be in a world of their own and they will just not listen to what the Public tell them.
    They seem to miss fundamental arguments and don’t themselves think that strict procedure is crucial. If they happen to think a child is still at risk, they can simply throw correct process out of the window.
    I ask you , I really do? What they are saying is that fair process is not fair in cases where SW’s are still convinced children are ‘at risk’ and that will be because they haven’t investigated correctly and been impartial. So why ,for heavens name should the LA’s stick to the rules.
    This surely doesn’t happen in any other court except another secret one hearing cases regarding national security.
    A question for the lawyers regarding proportionality. How would you like to be jailed for life by a civil family court with such lax standards of justice? How would you like a life-sentence to be handed out to you in a civil court? It is wrong that any civil court should endorse sanctions more severe than any which can be imposed by a normal criminal court full stop as far as I am concerned. However, if we have to accept the power of the Family Court to do so, permanent liquidation should never be imposed without scrupulously fair procedure!
    It’s no good saying afterwards the parents ought to have engaged with their solicitors. Most of them are vulnerable and don’t know what the hell is going on until it’s too late! It is the job of the lawyers to ensure safeguards and procedures are followed. It is the task of the respondent lawyers to defend their client’s interests in the same way criminal lawyers will defend them against a criminal neglect charge. They must defend them in proportion to the seriousness of the case and when removal is on the cards that means all the stops must be pulled out.
    Family Court lawyers really should sort themselves out and balance their duties properly. You are not child-savers, you are lawyers. You have a duty to children but not above that of the parents with responsibility for them. When acting for the Guardian ,act for the children. When for the LA, act for it and when for the parent ,go all out for the parent. Don’t mix things. If procedure is flouted, say so, even if you think the child might still be at risk. Leave the child’s case to the Guardian .

    Reply
  7. Sarah Phillimore

    Angelo, if I listened to the ‘public’ and what they want then I would be calling for sterilisation of unfit parents or removals of children at birth. Or at least that is what the Top Rated comments on the recent Daily Mail article about adoption were saying.

    So I don’t listen to the public, unless what they are saying is based on some clear understanding and/or evidence to support what they are saying.

    I am afraid you are wrong in your interpretation of the law. The child’s welfare is paramount. that is the primary statutory basis of all the work we do. I am afraid that means the child DOES trump the parents. This has been challenged, unsuccessfully in the ECtHR.

    A lot of my job I accept, involves trying to persuade LAs that the child’s welfare being paramount does not mean the parents’ welfare is ignored. Of course I won’t make the LA case for them but I can’t ignore reality. That doesn’t mean I or any other lawyer fail to understand what ‘proportionate’ means.

    Reply
  8. Angelo Granda

    Sarah, In my opinion, family lawyers ignore fundamental principles and I don’t think they are simply obtuse. There is something sadly remiss. As I have stated so many times the child’s welfare is paramount and I’m glad you accept that. If that is the primary statutory basis on which on which the Family Courts work then ,of course, the child trumps the parent !
    It is in the paramount interests of the welfare of children that correct legal guidelines and procedures are followed at all times.IT IS AGAINST THEIR PARAMOUNT INTERESTS TO FLOUT FRAMEWORKS AND GUIDELINES. It has to be that way to safeguard the children’s interests especially their human rights. Why do you think so many children are left to suffer ? Because correct procedure isn’t followed and their human rights abused. Why do you think the Baby P case and other outrages occurred? Because the Child Protection System failed ! It’s the same when children are taken away unnecessarily.
    The monolith has to be torn down. When children are taken into care permanently ,it is not for their benefit. It is for the benefit of the authorities. On the balance of probabilities , if an authority ignores due procedure, fails to investigate impartially and gives false evidence, the likelihood is that it WANTS to abuse the child’s human rights. Or it would act correctly and it would act openly. Why do you think it is so reluctant to do so? Why do you think the authorities are reducing legal funding all the time and stopping citizens from getting help ? Don’t say in the paramount interests of children and don’t say shortage of funds, please. Why do you think the authorities ,according to you, want to do away with the Human Rights Act? To strengthen our human rights or weaken them?
    Once you realise that the aims of these various authorities are not legitimate , everything falls into place.
    According to the provisions of the ECHR convention, open and ‘ hidden’, the key question of proportionality is that safeguards and due process have to be in place and they have to be observed. If they aren’t any decision to interfere with a child’s family life is not proportional. You, as a barrister, will understand proportionality but I don’t think solicitors do. Why do you think Guardians say nowt when LA’s act wrongly and disobey Court orders? Because they are truly independent representatives of the children? I doubt it.
    When the LA’s ignore the law, their aims are unlawful not in the child’s paramount interests at all. You say you can’t ignore reality but you do. You should face the inevitable. The LA evidence you so keenly examine isn’t worth the paper it is written on when cases have been conducted incorrectly.

    Reply
    1. helensparkles

      “Why do you think the Baby P case and other outrages occurred?”

      In essence because some parents harm their children, whatever the faults of the system. Read Sharon Shoesmith’s book or Ray Jones.

      Reply
  9. Angelo Granda

    May I just add that one of the reasons parents mistrust the system and complain of inhumanity is the habitual, hackneyed use of professional cliché such as ‘ the child’s welfare is paramount’ whenever and whatever the complaint may be.
    The continual use of the phrase when parents ask quite reasonable questions and when they make quite rational representations in their children’s interests indicates inhumanity per se. How degrading and insulting for parents to be told this. 99.9% of parents know it full well and always put their children before themselves at all times. We cannot say the same about LA’s, can we? For them, it is more like 50%.
    Sam, I think you have already recognised that many Judges themselves aren’t reasonable but make irrational decisions even when Barristers or self-litigants do put a case which should prevail.
    As I have written before, Family Courts are not real courts ,in my opinion, and we should never forget that the infamous Judge Jefferies masqueraded as respectable, rational administrator of the King’s justice for years. So it goes on !

    Reply
  10. looked_after_child

    Hackneyed phrases are sometimes used to cover up a failure to understand/address very complex issues – eg the massive grey area around competency when people have neurodevelopmental disabilities and reach the age of 18. The phrase we were often quoted with our son was” ‘he is over 18 and has rights to make decision such as to refuse any independent oversight of his care package” .

    This is true but a massive over-simplification of what his rights include. Another question might be ”is he making a decision or reacting in a predictable given the nature of his disability?” so the the way in which the decision making process takes account of communication needs for example matters as does the seriousness of a bad decision.

    There are also issues around whether support should be ‘preventative’ (the care act) or in response to a crisis ( real life in most situations at the moment)

    I believe my son has rights to good social support from people who understand the nature of his disability and how it affects him not a ‘one size fits all’ approach ( as in high IQ, = no competency issues) and not just the right to make unwise decisions.

    I question whether many people making decisions understand this hence repeated use of ‘hackneyed phrases’.

    Reply
    1. helensparkles

      People with capacity do have the right to make unwise decisions, we all do. Has your son’s competency/capacity been assessed as an adult?

      Reply
    2. Sarah Phillimore

      I am sorry you feel this is a ‘hackneyed phrase’. It is a fundamental part of the statute. That is why it is repeated and relied upon. Ignoring it is not an option as otherwise social workers would be open to accusations that they didn’t understand and hadn’t applied the law.

      Reply
      1. looked_after_child

        Sorry Sarah
        What ‘hackneyed phrase’ are you replying to?
        Is it ‘our son’s rights’ being used to explain why he is NOT getting something he needs ( easy enough to meet those ‘rights’ if you don’t care about consequences for the young person?) as opposed to explain why he IS getting something ( an expensive package of support that means this young person is valued?) or another?

        Reply
        1. Sarah Phillimore

          Sorry, ‘the child’s welfare is paramount’ was the phrase you and Angelo were discussing – I think it was Angelo who complained it is ‘hackneyed’.

          I appreciate it gets repeated a lot – but it has to be. It is the fundamental underpinning of the Children Act 1989, set out at section 1.

          Reply
  11. looked_after_child

    Hi Helen,

    Our son does not believe he is autistic. All have arrived at a point where there is agreement that it cruel to keep insisting that he accepts he is. He will not accept any assessments not even a visit to the dentist to look at his teeth!.
    He is not ‘sectionable’ thank God but he has deficits around decision-making and has communication needs ( no requests for ‘snap-decisions’, no ‘open questions’ etc). I would argue that when these are not met his decisions are not informed. The responsibility is on those supporting him to make sure his decision-making IS informed. When they do not he is robbed of his competency.

    This is in direct contrast to his right to make bad decisions.

    This is why corporate parents need the skills and sensitivity to understand and meet his needs around communication regardless of his IQ. There are ‘his rights’ and the rights of children who enter care with autism and neurodisabilities. Getting this right is a lot harder than slapping an ‘incompetent/neglectful’ label on parents.

    Reply
  12. Angelo Granda

    looked after child. Do you have any responsibility to take decisions for him as next-of-kin? Did you apply to be a deputy?
    From what I understand, these residential homes offer security although not necessarily safety and can serve a purpose temporarily. However, the problem is not what they provide but what they don’t. Your son is entitled to a permanent home life preferably with family. That should be the legitimate aim of you all.
    What is the position, does he want a home life? Does he have the capacity to make decisions ?
    Sorry to ask these questions but it will help many parents in the same boat. In your experience , am I right to say that the great majority of ASC children live at home or in their own homes with support?

    Reply
  13. looked_after_child

    I don’t want to talk too much about my son’s strengths and difficulties – he is now 19 and being ‘well supported’ (LAs words) at his own request.
    I cannot tell you where/how he is being well supported because I do not know. Our son chose ‘not to share’ with us. This means before age 18 we were not given copies of his plans even though we still had PR for him and after 18 we have no involvement with the SW’s who support him.

    There has never been a question that we were poor parents or non-compliant or whatever.

    The key point for me is that no-one has independent oversight of his Care package post 18 even though he has a disability – if not us, then who should be doing this?
    I never want to take away the right he has to make decisions even bad ones because how else will he learn. I just want to make sure he is not left in a ‘no win’ situation or ‘manipulated’ by people who should have his interests at heart. If there is no-one checking how can I be sure?

    Reply
  14. looked_after_child

    I should say that he brought up to have an expectation of independence for himself. He also does not have a learning disability – the opposite in fact.
    We will never seek to limit his independence unless his life were at risk.
    We should not be asked to trust the LA to give him the support that he is entitled to. How many autistic care leavers are left to fend for themselves? No one is checking. No one knows. How many care?

    Reply
  15. looked_after_child

    I would like the IRO to continue oversight of his Care Planning as long as his Pathways Plan applies. I would the IRO to ensure that he is not left without support and out of borough for another borough to pick up if he needs support when his Pathways Plan ends, if at all possible.

    Reply
    1. helensparkles

      The IRO can ask for a review post 18, if for example your son isn’t confident about the arrangements that the LA has made for him. I don’t know if this is something you could discuss with him or that he might want to involve his IRO in? 19 is a stretch for this, the IRO will often hold another review when one has taken place pre 18th birthday, but another is needed to (in the usual 6 months) to review the pathway plan. It might be worth discussing this with the IRO if you communicate with them.

      I say this not knowing what your relationship is like with you son at the moment or how he has engaged with his IRO. I also don’t know what kind of setting he is in and whether he is education. I don’t of course expect you to tell me those things, but suggestions are in that context so feel free to right them off if they are irrelevant to your circumstances.

      Reply
    2. helensparkles

      P.P.S Not sure what you mean when you refer to out of borough but as a ‘looked after child’ the borough your child is placed in does not become responsible for him because he is placed there by that LA.

      Reply
  16. looked_after_child

    Thanks Helen and hope you are managing to do things that make you feel a little better – somehow.

    It is worth bearing your advice in mind for when he reaches 21 as things may have changed by then but why should someone with a neuro-disability in care be left in this position? What about all the autistic kids – some with diagnosis and some mis-diagnosed as having Attachment difficulties (By the way kids with Attachment difficulties do not have the protection of ‘Disability’ legislation such as it is.) who do not have parents to look-out for them?

    Reply
  17. looked_after_child

    Also Helen the placing authority dos’ent hold responsibility for providing care post Pathway Plan (unless of course in education and this a very limited responsibility while in education) so adult social care if needed would need to be provided by the borough in which he lives ditto healthcare – the specialist service supporting those who support him would disappear so he would have to finally engage with his GP and join a very very long queue – If he is within borough he would already be known to adult services who would have access to all his files

    Reply
  18. looked_after_child

    It is pretty indefensible that a corporate parent would just abandon a disabled young person out of borough post Pathway plan.
    This is why in my view there is such a high incidence of suicide, homelessness, exploitation of vulnerable care leavers with SEN.
    No good natural parent would do it. They would always be ‘looking out’ for their own child – the state should’ent take on this role if they cannot fulfil it. I think the powers that be know this hence the push for adoption.

    Reply
    1. helensparkles

      We all know the outcomes of children in care and they are overrepresented in most cohorts that we would rather they were not. It isn’t hard to conclude that for some children the state makes a very poor parent. Having said that it does work really well for some children and for others it is absolutely safer than being at home. Overall though, children’s needs are best met by being at home with their family of origin. All of that is covered by all the stat guidance you could lay your hands on.

      Whether anything is diagnosable, I’d consider most children in care to have additional needs, because their needs are not that of a comparable cohort in the community. Children over 18 do not have their care plan reviewed by an IRO. I think this is a gap in service which Staying Put should have covered, although this doesn’t yet (I hope it does soon) cover children in residential care. If the Children and Social Care Bill goes through as the government intends, I understand that it is possible the role of the IRO could be lost altogether.

      I don’t know all of your circumstances (I realise this may be partly because my concentration has been erratic over the past few months) but you reached a crisis which you say fortunately wasn’t your son being at the point of being sectioned. I don’t know what kind of support network there was around your son or why accommodating him was thought to be the best solution. I also don’t know if the plan is for rehab home in his or your mind.

      The “push” for adoption is government rhetoric and (until or unless they change the law) there is a dissonance between that and the law/reality/practice. Very few children in care are adopted as a percentage. I think the rhetoric is disingenuous rather like the law and order agenda often is politically. In practice adoption is currently viewed as the most stable form of permeance for children unable to grow up with their family of origin but SW place most children with family members or in foster care.

      Reply
  19. looked_after_child

    Thanks Helen
    Our son was ‘sectioned’, assessed as autistic, ‘returned to the community’ without support for him or anyone around him, reached crisis again and this time entered Care. He is not ‘sectionable’ nor would I ever want him to enter a MHU again. He is clearly vulnerable however he is getting high levels of discreet care now as a LAC or so I’m told – there is no way to check this nor anyone checking as far as I can tell other than Ofsted

    Reply
    1. helensparkles

      I’d suggest an advocacy/befriending service for him but doesn’t sound like he would accept it & am sure you have thought of that already.

      Reply
  20. Angelo Granda

    Looked after child, I may be naïve but when a looked after child becomes 18, I believe the care-order is automatically discharged. So on whose authority do LA’s continue to lay down the law as to contact etc. etc.? Do they obtain some other sort of order without going to a court, do they do so without informing the parents of the 18-year-old . Or perhaps they are just exceeding their powers and acting illegally? When a child becomes 18 ,what is to stop parents visiting their son or daughter everyday if they so wish and what is to stop them taking them home to visit etc? Do the family have free speech and can the parents discuss rehabilitation with their son or daughter , enabling him or her to make a decision? Or are adult services the only ones allowed to talk to them in order to influence them.
    There is a big trust problem . SW’s will say anything especially IRO’s to suit themselves. Ask an IRO at a review to discuss home rehabilitation and parents may be accused of disrupting the review. One IRO went into great detail about how the child was suffering from this that and the other and must remain in secure where he or she was ” thriving and happy” yet none of the conditions she cited were in the medical diagnoses, she had just made them up or someone had. The IRO hadn’t the basic intelligence to think straight. She was in such a rush to tick her boxes and get on to the next review. She never had the sense to realise that her decision that the child was thriving completely contradicted her statement that he should remain in a secure home for his own safety. IRO’s are incompetent in my experience. Independent they are not!
    One more question. If it is claimed that a child lacks capacity, then should the next of kin take welfare decisions on his behalf? Can parents apply to be deputy for their own son when he becomes 18?

    Reply
    1. looked_after_child

      ‘When a child becomes 18, what is to stop parents visiting their son or daughter everyday if they so wish’

      This is the key point in our son’s case

      Our son would not return home having been ‘sectioned’ – this is the reason why he was accommodated by the LA under s20. There has never been a suggestion that we have we been anything but caring parents – the experience our son went through before, during and after being sectioned, his inability to accept that he has any problems ( he said all his difficulties are due to poor parenting but thankfully could never give credible examples ) and the inflexibility of his thinking due to his disability means he will not return home.

      We respect his choice and do not push at all on the front. Hopefully he will reach out in time. The alternative might disrupt him to the extent that he would need to return to an ATU.

      Reply
      1. helensparkles

        Hi looked_after_child, probably wise thinking & you know your son best. I hope he does reach out at some point. It sounds like a combination of rigid thinking & deflecting blame (because he can’t accept his diagnosis) on your son’s part. That is hard for you, but hopefully this too shall pass. If you have any contact with the SW it is worth suggesting the independent visitor scheme for him. https://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/how-you-can-help/volunteer/independent-visitors/ the link is just to some info about the scheme if you don’t know about it, but it is a statutory obligation for LAs to provide it. Independent visitors usually have their own worker supervising the scheme and they do feedback if there are any issues for young people. It doesn’t help you with oversight of course, but it does mean you would know someone else is looking out for him. Just an idea.

        Reply
    2. helensparkles

      Angelo – there is no care order. This is a choice the child of 18 made, having been assessed as having capacity.

      Reply
  21. Angelo Granda

    I was not thinking about that particular boy, my questions were general. Sorry for not making that clear.
    I was thinking about others. For example when Sam’s child is eighteen, what is to stop her going to visit him every day? Can they continue to micro-manage the human relationship between parent and child without an order ? Can they still stop her from taking her child on one side and exercising free speech? Can she ask her child to come home or are the authorities the only ones allowed to raise that point? Can they stop a child from reuniting with parents without an order just by saying it is in their ‘best interests’?

    Reply
  22. looked_after_child

    Not normally Angelo as far as I know but it really depends on what setting the young person is in and whether they have competency and the arrangements in place. Some bad cases involve hospitals where professionals sideline parents in ‘best interest’ decision making or limit access because of visitor hours etc.
    See http://justiceforlb.org/who-is-lb/
    where the relationship between professionals and family broke down well before Colin died.

    Thinking about Sam’s case specifically. It could be that Sam says she believes she cannot meet her son’s needs at home post 18 as things stand in which case the LA would have to come up with a Pathway Plan for him that meets some of the things she sees as problematic ( eg. life skills training needed eg cooking, gardening, mechanic or whatever apprenticeship/training needed , help with transport needed etc. ) and support him in semi-independent accommodation or whatever but she would be able to visit whenever she wanted subject to her son’s agreement. This would be quite expensive for the LA – this might help in ensuring he gets appropriate support as a careleaver if he comes to live with Sam.

    It really does depend on individual circumstances

    Reply
    1. Angelo Granda

      Regarding your son, Might I suggest you make contact with the Together Trust ( a charity which are experts on helping the autistic ) or a similar organisation in your area for help around reconnection therapy. This involves a psychodynamic psychotherapist and is very good. It doesn’t take long once you access the therapy and your son might change his mind.
      He will be better off at home with you. One just not trust the Local Authorities to care for children properly. He is vulnerable and at risk away from you. The care system attracts all kinds of predator. This is not meant to frighten readers; not all carers and fellow residents are bad types ,obviously, but the risk is quite high.

      Reply
  23. looked_after_child

    This is an extract from his mothers blog. Connor is ‘LB/Laughing Boy’

    Even if you’d met me and I was/am the nightmare portrayed, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the health and social non care provided to LB. Even if I was/am a combo of May and Cameron, with a dose of Farage, Trump, Muntz from UP, Gove and Nasty Nick from vintage Big Brother, LB had a right to good and appropriate health and social care. Simple as…

    [I can’t believe I’m actually typing these words but given the persistence of health and social care inequalities, I just despair when I think of how many other people/families must have fallen foul of arrogant, ignorant, judgemental, incompetent, myopic, point scoring, thoughtless professionals with way too much power in their grubby paws.]

    Reply
  24. Angelo Granda

    Some questions for Sarah. Are Court of Protection hearings ‘secret’ too or can the Public attend? Are relations and friends of the child who aren’t party to proceedings admitted to the hearings? Can carers and other professionals at the invite of respondents and other parties including the subjects themselves? Are the press allowed access without permission of the Judge? Can parents or son’s and daughters talk about the case and show evidence around at will? Is their openness and transparency in the Court of Protection ?

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      The Court of Protection hearings are now fully open and anyone can attend. This was originally a pilot scheme but it will remain in place. The rumour is that this scheme will then be rolled out to cover some family hearings. I think you would still be subject whatever rules the Judge puts in place about not publishing material that might identify a vulnerable person but anyone can attend any hearing.

      See here for more information http://www.jordanpublishing.co.uk/practice-areas/family/news_and_comment/court-of-protection-transparency-pilot-extended#.WHpJlXecY0o

      Reply

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