What the internet can teach us about communication – and being better professionals

The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.

Sydney J. Harris

This is an article by Sarah Phillimore of St Johns Chambers in Bristol who has been a family law barrister since 1999 and worked in courts all over London and the South West.

In this article Sarah discusses the impact of the Internet on professional debate and the new drive for openness and transparency in the family law system and how it is hoped this can have positive outcomes for all involved in the area of child protection law.

I write from the perspective of a family law barrister who has been in practice for nearly 15 years. The bulk of my work is in care proceedings and most of the time I represent parents, although I am also instructed to represent Local Authorities and Guardians.

I am also someone who spends a lot of the time on the Internet, discussing things that interest me. I now have an ipad and often many hours in the day spent travelling or sitting and waiting outside court, so I have been able to indulge this hobby pretty regularly.

What I have found depressing over the years is the increasing number of those commentating on issues of child protection who firmly believe that the entire system is corrupt and broken. They argue, inter alia, that children are taken from loving homes, for no good or for ‘silly’ reasons in order for Local Authorities to fulfill their government sanctioned ‘adoption targets’. Given that their belief is of a malign State which deliberately sets out to ruin families for some obscure and unexplained financial benefit arising from each ‘forced adoption’, it is not difficult to understand why their views of family lawyers are equally stark and unflattering.

I am variously told that I am ‘a legal aid loser’, that I am ‘in the pockets of the LA’ and do what I am told or I won’t get paid. I am told that my clients don’t get to see the evidence against them and/or are not allowed to challenge it and if I haven’t noticed that I am swimming in a sea of corruption, it is because I am too stupid.

I consider myself a relatively robust individual and can weather the insults directed at me on line. But it isn’t the impact on my psyche that is the issue here. It is what these Internet debates have more widely revealed as the general corrosion of general public trust in the entire system of child protection. I think there is now an urgent need for more professionals not only to recognize this but also to engage with it. The protection of children is far too important an issue to be hijacked by just one agenda.

 

Lack of public trust and confidence in the system.

One of the reasons I am so concerned is that in the last few years, I have noticed an increasing and worrying trend for the Internet debate to spill out into my practice. I have had a number of clients who tell me that they understand why their child is being removed – because it will make the LA money. I have been quoted £30,000 per child, never mind that this is more likely a figure to represent the cost of keeping a child in foster care for a year. When I ask them to tell me WHY a cash strapped LA will spend large amounts of money on expensive care proceedings, of course, they cannot explain. I really do doubt there is an international conspiracy to steal children, headed by the United Nations – as some have asserted to me in all seriousness.

All this represents is a sad waste and diversion of some parents’ energies away from what really matters – dealing with their issues with drugs, with alcohol, with violence, which are standing in the way of their ability to translate the love they undoubtedly feel for their children into action which will ensure their children are reliably fed, clothed and taken to school.

The saddest example of this for me to date was the client who had made some dramatic and impressive changes to a life previously blighted by alcohol misuse and denial of the same. She had achieved the previously unprecedented stability of her own accommodation and had stopped drinking for a number of months. But on her application to discharge a placement order, she stood up to address the Judge on the basis that her child had been ‘stolen’ to make money for the LA. There was little I could do in closing submissions to repair the damage that had done to her credibility in the court’s eyes and an application which that morning had seemed promising, by lunch time had collapsed.

The point I am trying to make is that these Internet debates and the constant round of conspiracy theorizing have real and serious consequences when people take them out into the real world. In addition, whilst our energies are focusing on either maintaining or detracting from these theories, they are not focusing on what really matters – how do we improve the child protection system, how do we ensure that Victoria Climbie, Peter Connolley, Daniel Pelka and many other children did not die in vain, while at the same time not being too quick to remove children on an imperfect understanding of their family or medicial history?

The case of Allessandra Pacchieri  and the ‘forced caesarean’ in December 2013 was a stark example of all that worried the conspiracy theorists about the reach and malign motives of the State: the narrative of John Hemming MP together with Christopher Booker in the Telegraph being the targeting of a vulnerable foreign national who suffered a ‘panic attack’ and then found herself detained in a psychiatric hospital and forced to have a C section so that her baby could be ‘taken’ for adoption.

It was also a clear example of how frustrating it is for energies to be so misdirected. I agree there are interesting questions to be asked about the degree to which Alessandra Pacchieri was or could have been consulted prior to the court deciding that medical intervention was in her best interests. And I share the concerns of some commentators about why the original application was made on an urgent basis, when by that time she had been sectioned for a number of weeks and her advancing pregnancy was hardly a mystery.

However, a case involving a woman who was seriously mentally ill at the time of the application, to the extent that she lacked capacity to engage in legal proceedings and was represented by the Official Solicitor, whose two elder children did not live with her due to her inability to care for them, and who had both been delivered by C-section leading to doctors to have legitimate concerns about a subsequent attempt at a natural birth, made this a rather more complicated scenario than some would wish and certainly much less of a clear cut example of a ‘corrupt’ or ‘evil’ system.

However, reasonable and sensible debate about what could have been done better in this case quickly became buried under a mass of assertion and counter assertion about the systemic corruption of the family law system as a whole.

 

Positive changes to the way we debate

The first good thing

However, not all was lost. Some good has come out of what at first glance seemed to be yet another rehash of the same wild and unsupported allegations about ‘baby snatching’, lies and collusion.

The first good thing is a move towards greater transparency in the reporting of court judgments. If we have confidence in the decisions our judges make – as I do – we should not be afraid to let as much sunlight in as possible.

In the court ruling concerning reporting restrictions relating to Ms. Pacchieri’s baby, the President of the Family Division himself noted that:  [2013] EWCH 4048

This case must surely stand as final, stark and irrefutable demonstration of the pressing need for radical changes in the way in which both the family courts and the Court of Protection approach what for shorthand I will refer to as transparency. We simply cannot go on as hitherto. Many more judgments must be published. And, as this case so very clearly demonstrates, that applies not merely to the judgments of High Court Judges; it applies also to the judgments of Circuit Judges.

The President was true to his word and on January 14th 2014 issued a Practice Direction relating to Transparency in the Family Courts and the Publication of Judgments that hopefully will lead to judgments routinely being transcribed and widely published. The cost of such endeavor must surely be worth it when balanced against the harm and damage done by loss of confidence in an entire system.

As the President also said in his 2013 judgment

… How can the family justice system blame the media for inaccuracy in the reporting of family cases if for whatever reason none of the relevant information has been put before the public?

I am glad that the debate is moving forward with regard to transparency but hope also that proper regard is going to be given to the need for maintaining privacy in some cases – particularly when the children don’t want details of their family lives exposed to greater scrutiny. There is a good blog post by Pink Tape on this very point.

You may also be interested in The Transparency Project -the aim of the project is to shed some light on the workings of the Family Courts, to make the process and the cases understandable for people without law degrees. 

The second good thing

Along with this judicial recognition of the need for greater transparency which has been explicitly recognized goes hand in hand with increased pubic discussion of such cases, came the possibly belated recognition that those of us who did have faith in the family justice system needed to also use the power of the internet to share information and hopefully encourage more positive debate.

A number of contributors to the various Internet discussion threads pointed out that there did not currently seem to be any clearly signposted resource offering advice and information without an agenda to all the people who might be involved in care proceedings. There were many excellent sources of information on the Internet but they appeared to be directed to particular groups of people only and it was not always easy to find unless you knew what you were looking for.

So a number of us from a variety of backgrounds and experiences decided to get together and create a resource that would help to inform all of those who might be involved in child protection issues be they, parents, lawyers, social workers or doctors. You will find us at www.childprotectionresource.org.uk

We hope that this site will be useful and interesting to a wide range of people. We always welcome contributions or comments, as long as they are reasonably polite and you don’t make serious assertions about corruption or conspiracies without some kind of proof in support.

 

How the internet can make us better professionals

I also expect and hope to learn from the site. The emotional perspectives from parents and children who have experienced the system are invaluable and sadly can sometimes get overlooked by a busy practitioner who is focusing on the forensic task of ‘winning’ a case.

I ask my clients to trust me; to trust that I am going to do the best job I can for them, that I am not a ‘legal aid loser’, here to appease the LA or simply worrying about paying my mortgage but that I chose to be a family lawyer because this area of law deals in vital and necessary issues about the very foundations of our society, our treatment of the vulnerable and our respect for difference.

But quite apart from my commitment to family law, equally my clients need to trust me to always recognize their humanity – that I won’t be blasé or cynical about their case, one of many to me but the only case that will ever matter to them. We all need to remember and understand that sometimes the conspiracy theories are promoted by many who have suffered real pain from the removal of their children and who sadly met along the way professionals who were rude, hostile or dismissive.

I do accept that mistakes have been made and miscarriages of justice have occurred. Mistakes in this field are particularly regrettable given their often profound and life long consequences for the children and families concerned – both for those children removed too soon and those removed too late, or sadly not at all.

What I don’t accept it that such mistakes represent a deliberate and planned attempt to ruin families and ‘snatch’ children. The more time we waste on that debate, the less time and energy we have to devote to ways to improve the system. For example, see the excellent Kids Company campaign ‘See the Child’.

 

Conclusion

We need to remove as many of the barriers that stand between trust and good working relationships as possible.  While professionals must remain ‘professional’, there is a danger this can slip into aloofness, imposition of unnecessary barriers to communication, and/or unwillingness to enter a legitimate arena of debate. This area of law and of life is too important to be dominated by those with narrow and possibly dangerous agendas, be they professional or parent.

The time is long overdue for greater transparency, co-operation and debate. We all want the same thing. To protect children, the most vulnerable members of society, and to do the least harm possible in the pursuit of that essential aim.

40 thoughts on “What the internet can teach us about communication – and being better professionals

  1. John

    To be fair no one in their right mind would have given the Italian woman parental rights. She is a known psychotic, suffers from severe schizophrenia, as well as severe bipolar. See also had a long history of child abuse in Italy. Due to the myriad of difficulties I doubt she will ever be capable of good enough parenting. Thankfully with the combination of her age and the amount of c-sects this will most likely be the last time she has to go through this.

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  2. John

    Also Essex council even offered the child to the grandmother who did not even want the child. In the end everyone came out ahead, the Italian woman’s life was saved, the child was saved, the child got a chance at a real future and is now with her real family instead of someone who wants to play house.

    I truly hope that the woman apologizes for what she put everyone through when everything was done to help her. Some people are just flat out ungrateful.

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  3. John

    Sorry, but I wanted so just add that after she high tailed it out of the UK she could not be bothered to file an appeal in the correct jurisdiction. Why did she think the Italian courts would have any say over the fate of a British citizen? She fled the UK and didn’t even bother to try and take legal action for months after the incident, if she had given a damn she would have stayed in the UK to work with social workers to show she at least gave a damn.

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    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I don’t think the child was a British citizen – she may be now as she has been adopted. I am sure the mother did give a damn, but she wasn’t well. You sound a bit harsh. She shouldn’t have to express ‘gratitude’ for what happened to her – but the idiots promoting her story as ‘baby stealing’ and getting her hopes up that she could appeal should certainly feel ashamed. But I am willing to bet large amounts they don’t.

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      1. John

        The health trust gave her a clean bill of health when they released her, I trust them more than booker or hemming.

        As for citizenship the parents of the child determine such. As soon as the child was born the LA had all parental rights. Even if that was not the case everything happened in the UK not Italy. The judge in the transcript made available to her made it clear to her that she could appeal if she wanted to, she chose not to do so. The Italian courts even agreed that the LA were in the right.

        Lastly if she gave a damn, why not try to at least get letterbox contact?

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        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          Parents do not decide what citizenship their child has. They can decide habitual residence but they can’t just ‘decide’ their children are citizens of a particular state.

          I don’t know why you are so keen to heap criticism on this woman. She wasn’t well. She suffered a horrible and traumatic experience and then fell victims to the likes of Hemming and Booker who probably promised her all sorts of things they could never deliver and steered her away from any sensible advice. How do you know she didn’t get letter box contact? That’s pretty much the standard now, no such thing as ‘closed adoptions’ any more.

          I don’t think it helps anyone to make these cases about an individual’s personal failings. It was a tragic situation for all.

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          1. John

            Sorry for the long wait in response. I have been somewhat busy. Her own doctor had stated that no lasting harm had been done, why do you try to sensationalize the topic by saying it was traumatic? In the letterbox contact shall she regale the child with conversations she has with the voices in her head, or possibly what major historical figure they believe themselves to be that day?

            I truly hope for her sake that lessons have been learnt. Though given her history and personality disorders that are not amenable to change it is doubtful.

          2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

            I describe her experience as ‘traumatic’ because on any objective definition, that is exactly what it was. She was in a foreign country, alone and pregnant. She had a severe episode of mental illness that ended up with her compulsory detention in hospital, an extremely invasive medical procedure which was not discussed with her beforehand and then care proceedings, resulting in the loss of her child to adoption.

            What word or phrase would you prefer? ‘A bit upsetting’ ?

            Again, I really struggle to understand why it is necessary for you to demonise this woman to make your points.

          3. John

            She has no one to blame but herself for what happened. I hope she realizes she was never meant to be parent as she lacks the capacity to do so.

      2. Chris

        John you are wrong she is no criminal, she has no control over her actions and therefore is exempt from personal responsibility. She was been taking advantage of by everyone and then left own her own. I believe Sarah is correct in the assumption that due to her mental illness she lacks the capacity for good decision making.

        It is still sad to think about how her government abandoned her in a foreign land after the Italian Embassy was informed of her arrest. Then her father in Italy denouncing her and her mother rejected her child making any future in person contact almost nil, at least until they reach the age of 18 which the chances of contact are still somewhat low. She has no career and no significant other, nor will her illness allow for either. Her ex-children want nothing to do with her.

        I wouldn’t be too surprised if she was wondering if she could a a forever family of her own, willing to love her for who she is.
        I pray that in her rare lucid moments that she does not reflect upon what she has lost due to MH, that is far to depressing to think about. I know this, she has more strength then I to continue on with such a bleak future. I really do wish her the best though. She is an unfortunate example of what it means to be mentally ill in modern society.

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    2. Clara

      John, reading your responses I would question if you fully appreciate the impact of trauma on a person and what sort of experiences might be traumatising for a human being. When. a person is traumatised any mental illness can be exacerbated.

      Personally I feel so sad hearing about this mother – her pain must be immense – if she hasn’t been able to block it off – and mental illness is often a way for a person to do this. They cannot cope with reality anymore. It is overwhelmingly awful.

      Mental illness sufferers are so vulnerable. Women can end up being raped when they are not kept safe or consenting to sex with individuals that are also mentally ill or take advantage of their vulnerabilities. They can be discharged from hospital when they are not ready to cope. Someone close to me with very severe mental illness has brought up her child and done a beautiful job. In Germany though. Her child might have been removed in the UK. It does not follow that mental illness means a mother is forever incapable. The system in the UK can sadly render a person more so. We need to learn lessons from cases like this and blaming a mother will not ever be helpful. Understanding and kindness towards anyone losing a child or that has lost one – for whatever reason – costs nothing and will result in better outcomes. The loss of a child means bereavement even when a person does not seem to be acting in a way that is expected of someone going through grief processes – anger, blame and denial are very much part of bereavement – and anyone that is bereaved needs to be treated with utmost respect for their loss. If they have abused then this will potentially put them in touch with emotions that they are cut off from experiencing because of powerful psychological defence mechanisms. They will be shown care and compassion – and this is the wisest thing to do. Courts need to make wise decisions. If any parent simply could not cope then this is very sad indeed.

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  4. Hilary Searing

    Interesting article. I share your concern about the lack of public trust and confidence in the child protection system. However, I come to this from a libertarian perspective which opposes unnecessary state intervention in family life and recognises the benefits of open debate on the internet. Essentially, I feel the state is becoming too controlling in matters of family life that are personal and private. Child protection is only part of a wider system that has moved too far in the wrong direction. The public distrust of professionals is not such a bad thing if it works to challenge the problem of professional arrogance and encourages a little more humility.

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    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I agree. But the other side of the coin of challenge to professional arrogance is the really disturbing stuff I am seeing on some internet groups – threats to kill social workers, complete denial that there are any problems at all (this from someone who had served a long prison sentence for an offence of violence). It is a sad indictment of our species that we seem so unhappy with nuance and would rather the pendulum swung from one extreme to the other.

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      1. Hilary Searing

        Obviously to recognise which kind of relationships are harmful to children requires a nuanced analysis of all the facts of the situation. When I did child protection social work in the early 90’s social workers were held in higher regard than they are today – probably because we had a clearer focus on child protection. The job seemed more straight forward and there was enough satisfaction to keep me motivated (even when a parent threatened to kill me). In those days most social workers were older and more experienced – I cannot believe that it is mainly young, inexperienced graduates who are doing this work now.

        Unfortunately, both politicians and the general public are too readily influenced by the irrational and exaggerated fears of our modern era and too inclined to seek simple solutions to complex problems. Social work is not in a good place but unless you have experienced it in the better times you probably do not understand just how bad things are.

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        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          I think I have some appreciation of how bad it is after many weeks now of staring into the abyss provided by some of these internet groups. It is both depressing and frightening. Once it has lost its way, can social work ever get back to a good place?

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  5. C

    Disempowerment and lack of education breed radicalisation. When you can’t trust a social worker not to inveigle, cheat and deceive, and it appears ( c.f. http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKHL/2005/23.html) that the law will generally be on the side of Social Care, then desperate remedies and anguished cries are to be expected.
    The way out of the abyss is for victims of the system feel that they are not marginalised. The LGO need to hold local authorities to account, instead of protecting them, the ICO need to act on inaccurate and misleading information being held by local authorities and used as evidence – but they don’t. Croneyism is rampant. Social workers need to be honest; and if they aren’t, there needs to be a way of their dishonesty making them unfit. Presently most senior managers within social care let their registration in hcpc lapse – so they cannot be held to account by the professional organisation that is supposed to police them. Under such circumstances, if someone who feels helpless and voiceless makes desperate threats, it is entirely understandable.They are inside the abyss that you are staring into. Much of the responsibility must lie with the system that puts them in the ‘placeless’ place of homo sacer, where there is no viable mode of expression.

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  6. C

    To be fair to the ICO, they blame Chris Grayling, for not increasing their rather constricted powers.

    As for the LGO, it is difficult to say anything offensive enough to provide an apt description of their corrupt and unaccountable croneyism.

    Some names seem appropriate here in case they ever Google themselves They would probably be removed – [names redacted by Sarah P]. They need naming and shaming. There is no authority policing their behaviour, nowhere to challenge their flawed ‘investigations’ save a very expensive JR process.

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    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      sorry, I am going to have to redact names if you bandy about words like ‘corrupt’. Abundance of caution etc, etc. But I agree with you about the lack of effective remedies. JR not much use if no one can afford to use it or risk the costs they might incur if they lose.

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  7. C

    Hard to see what isn’t corrupt about receiving false evidence they knew to be false, but not mentioning it in the report, and not finding the council guilty of maladministration. But I appreciate your point, made elsewhere, about how chronic ineptness can be portrayed as simple human error, and is not necessarily ‘conscious’. (Mind you, being in a stupor is no defence when driving – so it is difficult to appreciate why it should be admissible when administering the law…). Anyway I withdraw corrupt. Now can they be named?

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  8. Sarah Phillimore

    I think it is fair enough to name people about who you are critical, so long as you don’t make serious accusations against their probity which have yet to be adjudicated upon by any court, tribunal or disciplinary body etc.

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  9. C

    I understand. But there is a difficulty here – there is no tribunal or disciplinary body policing the LGO. The only option is JR – and in our case they behaved very ( insert word here) about that, by first saying they would review their original decision, waiting 91 days – and then writing to us to say that they had changed their mind, and that the original decision stood. If we wished to proceed to JR, it would have to be on the basis of the decision not to review. …as the original decision was then out of time. Any application for JR would have had to have been on the extremely limited decision not to review. If that were permitted and overturned, the JR would likely have ordered that they should carry out the review, which would then have quite possibly re-presented the original decision, thus necessitating a second JR…

    This is a steep track to negotiate with limited funds, self employment and two small children. It ain’t justice as anyone unaccustomed to bureaucratic process and unlimited time to play with other peoples lives and money, would recognise.

    However, born in the sign of the goat, steep paths don’t phase me. I’ll name them after the judicial proceedings – by which time they may have been promoted to some other untouchable nook in the legislature.

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  10. Jim

    In respect to cases similar to the c-sect case. The CoP should hold a hearing for at risk people who fall pregnant and may lack capacity or may lose capacity. The hearing should be focused on if termination of the pregnancy is in the persons best interest based on the balance of probabilities. Of course the person would be represented by a solicitor at the hearing, that way their rights would be upheld.

    If they would enact such protocol there would be far fewer tragic incidents and fewer people harmed.

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    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I think there is a whole world of problems in your ‘may lack capacity or may lose capacity’. So a decision is made about a termination of pregnancy even when the person currently has capacity? This can’t be the way to go.

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  11. Clara

    I believe the adversarial system where legal professionals are more concerned with winning their case and do not consider the impact of their actions on parents and on the relationships they may have with their children – and think long into future – can be highly problematic. Birth parents and adoptive parents go through the same care proceedings when an authority decides to remove a child. As an adoptive parent it can feel a totally brutalising and inhumane experience to find yourself persecuted and blamed for causing the problems you sought help to manage. Reading distorted narratives created by those with a duty of care, individuals that do not behave with the sort of integrity one expects from a person in public office. This is all hugely traumatising. Finding yourself in court facing spurious and unfounded allegations of mental illness and being asked to undergo psychological assessments because the questions have been raised – as these are standard questions. This is traumatising. Having your child looked after by people that have been misinformed about you and do not understand your child’s needs. This is traumatising. It is traumatising for parents and for children. Care proceedings are extremely dehumanising and traumatising. They just are and this needs to be thought about and I believe quite radical reforms are needed. Not least because of the situation with legal aid and challenges to achieve legal support once a care order is given. The appeal process is also so hard. It is all very dehumanising when you are feeling stressed, bereaved and beleaguered

    After a child has been removed the anger parents feel is normal. The sadness they feel is normal. The grief they experience is normal. The numbness they experience is normal. The shock they feel is normal. All their responses to all this are also normal – denial, blaming others and mistrust or even hatred for anyone involved in the system. These are just coping mechanisms. They are externalising ways of coping. They may turn to alcohol and drugs to blot out their pain. There may also be suicides and attempts to commit suicide.

    The children, and quite possibly their adoptive families, more often than ever should be the case, may have to deal with the fall out from all this in teenage years when parents and children can reconnect with social media in unsafe, unplanned ways. Lives are ruined.

    I ‘parent at a distance’ under a full care order. I would not wish this on anyone. I am powerless to prevent my adoptive child suffering mental anguish because my credibility is so thoroughly destroyed by the order. Agencies that are supposedly helping my child with the therapy I fought so long and hard to get – funded through CICA – refuse to communicate with me. I feel shamed and vilified. My child’s distress and suffering are denied or minimised by authorities and agencies and I am continually criticised – or ignored. Letters and emails asking to talk and meet are ignored. My freedom of speech about the problems I see and about the traumatic experiences of court proceedings is curtailed – some of this for good reasons – but it all adds to a sense of powerlessness. Professionals seem far more interested in safeguarding their own reputations and defending the system than my child’s best interests. We will survive. It is a very grim time. I try to stay positive. I believe there are deep deep problems with the system. I would like to use our experiences as a family to help others – but there is no way to do this. I am trying to do this by contributing to this forum. I don’t have much else.

    I believe severances are hard and we need to think together about how to support parents -through and beyond any severance process – because parents and children are connected – and the system doesn’t properly acknowledge this and can ‘punish’ when kindness, empathy and understanding would have better outcomes.

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    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I agree that there are very serious problems with the system. I think the primary problem is that there is an emphasis on trying to keep people out of accessing services they need. Couple that with the common assumption that parents must be ‘blamed’ rather than supported if their child clearly needs help, and you have a toxic mix indeed.

      The only part of your post I don’t accept is where you appear to ‘blame’ the lawyers for simply wanting to win at all cost. I think that is both simplistic and unfair. I have professional obligations to take my client’s instructions and make his or her case. The real issue is that many of these cases should NOT be in a legal arena, people ought to be working together to provide support and services.

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  12. Clara

    Sarah this was my experience. it was a horrible traumatic experience and I feel we were badly let down by the legal professionals representing my son and the guardian. The guardian has such power. I have no trust left. What we have lost is irreplaceable. No one would ever want to adopt if they were put through what I and others had to go through. I know other adopters that feel the same way and we were made to feel small and worthless in court – having devoted our lives to our children and ended up in court after help seeking. This should never happen again but I am silenced. No one will let me speak about it -and this forum is all I have – and I am scared to say too much here. I never thought my life could be this bad when I adopted my child – and it’s nothing to do with my child with whom I have a lovely relationship.

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    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      This is why the debate stalls. You are traumatised by your experiences in your case. You then speak of lawyers as a homogenised mass, I feel awkward challenging this because it seems cruel to do so when you clearly and genuinely express so much pain. But the problem fundamentally is – in my opinion – when people are treated as objects or just as members of a group who all share the same characteristics. Failure to recognise and work with someone as an individual with particular needs and qualities, is I am sure the root of many problems in the system.

      And this is just as counterproductive when applied to ‘lawyers’ or ‘social workers’ as well as ‘monster parents’. People retreat into their own pain and prejudice and the discussion runs the risk of degenerating into accusations about which group is the biggest ‘problem’.

      But I appreciate it is difficult to expect a clear eyed contribution to a debate from those who have undoubtedly suffered, and continue to do so. The professionals at least have the luxury of moving on to the next case which I appreciate the parents don’t.

      But not all lawyers are simply motivated by ‘winning’ – primarily because there are not really ‘winners’ in family cases, the aim should be about minimising loss.

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  13. Clara

    I felt I was set up to fail by legal representatives that took advantage of me and even of my emotional distress. It was dehumanising and horrible. Even thinking about it now as I write this makes me feel upset. Perhaps one day I will get over it – but too much happened.

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  14. Clara

    Sarah, I am not interested in the blame game. I agree it is counterproductive.
    I cannot speak for all lawyers and do not do so – but sadly sometimes parents can be taken advantage of by the some legal professionals because of not being able to access legal support or representation. Their emotional distress can make them an easy target to undermine. Reports can be produced where what is said whilst in a distressed state is reported in a twisted way to make a person look bad. Partial accounts of conversations are reported that omit important details. It is very easy to find fault with a parent that is shocked, bereaved and distressed.

    Another problem is that the solicitors and the guardian may know each other well from other cases. There is a danger this leads to ‘group think’ errors of judgement and the parent feels victimised. Actually they may be victimised – it isn’t an existential ‘feeling’.

    A very serious concern is the way that experts are believed yet their reports may be inaccurate, biased and flawed and may have been influenced by the authorities. The assessment process can be quite problematic. Research evidence carries surprisingly little weight in court and it seems to come down to what an expert or social worker thinks. The police do not give evidence in civil cases unless paid.

    I would very much like to contribute to this debate and it is disempowering and inaccurate to suggest I cannot be clear eyed because of my distress. I am not upset all the time and am a fully functioning professional person. I also have a right to feel distressed about what is happening – especially because my child suffers and my credibility is continually undermined so I cannot protect him. It feels like a very unhealthy situation.. If I feel like this I dare say others do too – and do not have the coping skills that I do. Hence you see a lot of stuff on the Internet. Hence people bear grudges. Hence there is a fall out from this that is not taken into account as part of the ‘harm’ at the time. Once court proceedings end the legal professionals do not know the consequences of their actions and decisions.

    I realise it is often the least worst option but some professionals are really misguided and they have access to the public purse to get legal representation. They can act with a certain degree of impunity. It is the parent that falls under the critical gaze more than professionals, especially when they have legal representation and parents cannot access this.

    I value this opportunity to have dialogue and wish to be helpful. I would like to use my experiences to help others. The futility and hidden nature of mine and my child’s continual suffering is what I find most difficult of all to endure.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I haven’t made a personal criticism of YOU to suggest that IN GENERAL it is unfair to expect people who have been through trauma to discuss their issues dispassionately. I therefore reject criticism that my comments are ‘disempowering’ or ‘inaccurate’ with regard to you in particular.

      You cannot make it my responsibility about how you feel about continuing to conduct this debate. Because it isn’t my responsibility. I am trying to provide a forum for open and honest debate.

      If you have interpreted me as ‘disempowering’ you, I am sorry for that – but not because I accept it is a reasonable criticism, but because again I see further obstacles to the open and honest debate I would like to promote.

      Otherwise, I agree with what you say. There is a clear risk that professionals can and do get sloppy in their assessment and analysis and there are many reasons for this.

      Reply
  15. Clara

    It is hard having overwhelming emotions or being blocked off from feelings and I am trying so hard to say what I think are really important things – for me anyway and possibly others – and you are doing something very positive indeed. I only wish others would be so open to listening – but they often don’t want to hear and they can use emotions to dismiss and it can feel one is punished for even having feelings. My feelings are my responsibility and I can tell you about them – and that is the best I can do. I don’t do this to make anyone feel bad, or put responsibility onto others – but to help better understanding.

    It seems we agree on quite a lot!

    Reply
  16. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    Thanks for your understanding response. communication is the key, but it is hard; to say what you mean and for the other person to understand what you mean. So many chances for communication to go wrong, it doesn’t surprise me when it does but we have to do better. That our systems appear to inflict so much trauma on so many is unacceptable.

    Reply
  17. Clara

    I believe there really are no avenues for communication. No one wants to know about what I am saying. It is covered up. The politicians would like to see more adoptions and so much ££ is spent on recruitment and speeding up the recruitment process – not helping the families and young people most in need. The Adoption Support Fund doesn’t actually reach those most in need at all – teenagers that can’t live with their adoptive families for safeguarding reasons. These are still families – parents and siblings. A young person has two families after being adopted.

    Wherever a child has been removed or an authority is trying to remove there is bereavement and human loss on an immense scale. When this is combined with persecution and denigration of a person to undermine their credibility in an adversarial process and thereafter reduce their voice there is trouble stored up for the future. When these individuals cannot access legal assistance and have difficult lives it is terrible for them. The question is how to bring about change. Giving people a voice in the right way and at the right time will help a lot. If we don’t do this we will continue with the blame culture and a system that disempowers vulnerable people struggling with huge loss. My son and I are casualties of a system that let us down because it wasn’t designed to help adopteive families achieve support. Authorities and agencies and groups of professionals – some of whom are your clients – tend to prioritise theit own interests over the young people they have a duty of care for. They believe they are right and can be misguided because all they see is a snapshot and the reports of experts. It is sad, as a parent, to see this happening when you have made a lifelong commitment to do the best for a child. Lessons can be learned from cases where things have gone wrong and there can be no learning in this system. The feedback loops are missing.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I believe there really are no avenues for communication. No one wants to know about what I am saying. It is covered up.

      I don’t accept that. It is discussed on this blog and on many others, including Pink Tape, Suesspiciousminds and the Transparency Project. The TP organised a well attended and well received conference in June about failings in the system.http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/is-the-child-protection-system-fit-for-purpose#.VlG9jVsjhFI

      I appreciate the focus there was not on what happens after the adoption order, but the next conference on June 3rd will include a workshop from both the Open Nest and the POTATOs who are passionate and vocal about precisely the issues you raise here. I have been part of a Twitter conversation this very morning.

      I agree with you that official and formal feedback is missing, lost in the Gov drive for adoption. But this is being openly challenged in many fields.http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2015/11/20/government-faces-criticism-house-lords-preferential-adoption-focus/

      Come and join us on June 3rd where we discuss the way forward and what needs to be done. I will be looking for a venue in Birmingham and trying to keep ticket costs as low as possible.

      Reply
    1. angelo granda

      Clara, I read your post on the Adoption Week thread and all your comments so far on this one.I am glad you recognise that you and your child have been mistreated and abused in exactly the same way as many parents claim they and their children have.

      Many victims feel they have had their Human Rights abused.Do you feel you had a fair hearing and that it was in proportion to the circumstances of your case to have your child removed?

      If you také a look at the thread on the Human Rights Act 1989, readers have discussed Article 3 ECHR which relates to mental torture and degradation and your comments will be welcome if you have the time.

      I feel all victims of the system will identify with the comments you have made so far.

      Reply
  18. angelo granda

    Sarah,

    QUOTE:I have professional obligations to take my client’s instructions and make his or her case.: UNQUOTE

    Clara has told us her lawyers let her down.Many parents say the same and i know you understand that not all lawyers are as strictly principled as you are.
    As you know , generally the solicitors choose and engage the respondent’s barrister.I assume the same solicitors will appoint a barrister several times ,sometimes to appear for the Local Authority and sometimes against them. A barrister has a duty always to do the best for his client. We acknowledge that they also have a duty to the court and the child which they find difficult to balance.
    Do barristers have a fiduciary duty to the solicitors? Can there be a conflict of interests?
    I assume that barristers are paid their fees by the solicitors and that they get the same rates regardless of whether the LA or the respondent who is the client. Do barristers have to keep solicitors sweet to ensure future commissions?
    We all know that a toxic nexus exists between solicitors and the LA . Does the conflict of interests extend to some barristers? That is a valid question.

    Reply
    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I am sure there are bad lawyers out there. Just as there are some bad doctors, bad accountants and bad parents.
      But every story is told from a wide variety of perspectives. I am sure there are many clients who think I am a ‘bad lawyer’ because I did not win the case for them. Despite the fact that their case would be very difficult to win.

      Its not a matter of being some highly principled saintly being. Most lawyers I know do their best with what they have got. I imagine there may sometimes be difficulties if you find yourself torn between your duty to your client, your duty to the court and/or your professional/friendly relationship with a solicitor. Life is usually messy. But you do your best. You don’t lie, cheat or do a lazy job. Most lawyers I know do their best. I don’t have to struggle to keep a particular solicitor ‘sweet’ as I am instructed by a wide variety of solicitors. I am sure I have annoyed some who don’t instruct me any more. But others will. Its just not worth compromising your professional integrity.

      Reply
      1. angelo granda

        I do not question your professional integrity or suggesting any of your colleagues deliberately act inappropriately.
        However,we have to accept that many parents consider they have not had a fair hearing (article6) and look at the court system very closely.I want the current system reformed and the old one buried because of the ones it gets wrong not to praise it for the ones it thinks it gets right.I hope you understand i do not doubt for one minute that the lawyers involved are all honourable men and women.
        They do a marvellous job stopping wicked parents from harming their children.Innocent or guilty, though, the last thing parents want is to be left with the feeling or a suspicion that their own lawyer has knifed them too.
        Not all of them are in denial.
        The point is that we all want to improve the system.I am asking questions only not answering them.You are the lawyer.
        Am I correct in saying that in the normal(criminal) system there is a taxi rank system in chambers and it is one which rules out any possibility of conflict of interest or any intiguous link with the opposing party?
        Also am i right to say that a defending barrister will not prosecute cases and vice-versa. That does not happen in Family Courts.Does that leave the system open to the POSSIBILITY of abuse?

        Reply

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