Norfolk mother tells of ‘horrendous’ nine-month battle to get her children back

The mother would like to see more support for families involved with children's services. Photo: Dom

The mother would like to see more support for families involved with children's services. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire - Credit: PA

A mother has called for more support to be given to parents in cases where social workers are involved after she faced a nine-month battle to successfully get her children back when they were removed from her care.

The courts in Norwich. Picture: Adrian Judd.

The courts in Norwich. Picture: Adrian Judd. - Credit: Archant

Norfolk County Council's Children's Services department removed the children and placed them with their father after allegations were made against the mother in 2014.

But a judge later severely criticised the social work done in this particular case and the police decided to take no further action. But it was seven weeks before the mother saw her children again and nine months before a court hearing in 2015 reversed the decision to take them from her.

The mother, who can not be identified for legal reasons, has spoken out for the first time after reading the investigation in this newspaper into Norfolk's children's services department in our Fighting For Their Futures campaign.

Since 2014 improvements have been made in the department, which was rated 'inadequate' by Ofsted in 2013 and 2015.

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But the mother says decisions made by the social worker then still affect her family today and she is yet to receive any acknowledgement that there were failings.

'For current powers that be to regard this as a 'historical failing', illustrates a distinct lack awareness,' she said. 'Such actions have present day consequences that touch everyday life acutely.'

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A social worker had been involved with the family after the mother and father split up, but there was no suggestion the children were going to be taken away from the mother, until she arrived at school one day.

'It was a normal afternoon, I was clutching a football, whilst pushing my youngest on their trike,' the mother said.

'On arriving at the school, my littlest was led away from me and I was ushered into the head teacher's office where two plain clothed officers sat.

'They explained that my eldest children were currently having police interviews. I remember feeling numb and a wave of disbelief filtered through me.

'I then asked, somewhat naively, if my son would be finished in time for me to take him to football that evening.

'The police officer retorted that this process could take months, years even and that until then children's services had determined that there should be no unsupervised contact.'

The mother said she left the school, feeling 'bewildered and childless'.

'Mothers are supposed to care, love and nurture, but I had 'apparently' been objectively assessed as failing in this regard,' she said.

It would take nine months for the court to reverse the decision of children's services.

'Even leaving my house was difficult; the community we live in is small and there was much local gossip,' the mother said.

'Those nine months were horrendous but luckily I had a network of friends and neighbours who were very kind and non-judgemental.'

The mother claimed the social worker ignored her evidence and sought to build a case against her to justify the decision to remove the children from her and place them with their father.

'Rather than seeking to build the family, they sought to build their case,' the mother said.

'At this stage, I did not fully appreciate the magnitude of procedures and organisational obstacles that lay ahead of me.

'Through the passage of time however, it became abundantly clear that the social work team and ultimately children's services were not receptive to questioning or contrary evidence.'

Seven weeks later she saw the children again for the first time in a supervised setting.

A social worker was meant to assess their contact and send a report to the court, but the mother claimed the social worker who wrote the report did not bring a pen or paper and could not see her child's face from where she sat.

The mother also said there was a lack of support for her from children's services in meetings.

'On two occasions this support was refused and on the last occasion the social worker told us all to leave and said that 'I was playing games' in requesting an observing presence,' she said.

'It is my opinion that anyone involved with Children's Services, particularly involving their children's future welfare absolutely requires support and advocacy.'

•Judge criticises social work

In criticisms of the social work done in the case, a judge at Norwich's family court said 'assumptions' had been made by the school, police and in particular Norfolk County Council which had affected the way the case was dealt with.

The judge said the council's social work had only focused on the mother and her care of the children, not the father.

'There was an assumption that everything father said was true,' the judge's ruling stated.

The attitude of the social worker was, the judge said: 'that everything mother or anyone who spoke up for her said, was untrue'.

She said the social worker's attitude was the mother should be ignored because the mother had challenged professionals.

She said one claim made by the social worker was 'untrue'. 'Her assessment is wrong,' they added. She also criticised the paperwork done by the social worker.

After allegations were made against the mother she was only allowed to see them in a supervised setting. But the judge said she failed to see how the social worker reached that conclusion.

'Assumptions have been made by professionals in this case without proper analysis of the evidence,' she concluded.

The mother said: 'Children's Services do hold great responsibility. The court relies on evidence provided by them and whilst this can be challenged, there is a background assumption that they have investigated appropriately.'

Despite the judge's ruling, the mother is concerned that these assumptions continue.

She claims that social workers recently parked outside her home for about an hour, immediately driving off when they saw one of her children.

A council spokesperson said: 'We cannot comment on individual cases involving children, even when cases are historic.

'What we can say however is that the case in question related to private proceedings not care proceedings.'

At no point were the children put into care.

•Read more here from the Fighting For Their Futures campaign

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