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Did Social Services let disasters like Baby P happen?

Health visitor told family court there was a 'cloud of smoke' over the child, 

Judge ruled boy should be put up for adoption because his parents smoke, 

Parents accused social workers of stealing son because he's 'so adoptable',
They are now due to have a 'goodbye' meeting with their two-year-old boy



The couple whose two-year-old son was taken from them because of their smoking have pleaded for his return.

The couple whose two-year-old son was taken from them because of their smoking have pleaded for his return and claim they had switched to e-cigarettes to try to keep their child.

They also accused social workers of stealing the blond, blue-eyed toddler because he is ‘so adoptable’ and claim that a ‘pack of lies’ has been told about them by child protection authorities.

A judge ruled that the boy should be put up for adoption due to ‘excessive levels of smoke’ in their home.

A health visitor told the Family Court in Hull she had seen a ‘cloud of smoke’ over the child and that she had ‘difficulty breathing’ on her visit.

She added that the parents were oblivious to the problem, even though their child had been prescribed an inhaler to help his breathing.

They are now due to have a ‘goodbye’ meeting with their son – identified only as AB – later this month. But in their first interview, the parents, who are appealing against the adoption ruling, have denied ever smoking in front of their son.

The 22-year-old mother said the smell of smoke noticed by the health visitor ‘was not from cigarettes’ but was because ‘the pest control people were in the adjoining house smoking out pigeons from the chimney’.


She claimed they never smoked over their son, adding: ‘We were using e-cigarettes when social workers said our house was smoky and took him away.’

She went on: ‘We normally did not smoke in the house but outside. Only occasionally, if one of us was alone at home, we would smoke in the kitchen with the window wide open if our son was there.

‘We smoke 15 cigarettes a day, but when the social workers complained we went on to e-cigarettes. They did not take any notice.’

The father said they had fitted smoke detectors in their house but they never went off ‘because there was no smoke’.


How social services are paid bonuses to snatch babies for adoption

For a mother, there can be no greater horror than having a baby snatched away by the State at birth.
The women to whom it has happened say their lives are ruined for ever - and goodness knows what long term effect it has on the child.
Most never recover from this trauma.

Imagine a baby growing in your body for nine months, imagine going through the emotion of bringing it into the world, only to have social workers seize the newborn, sometimes within minutes of its first cry and often on the flimsiest of excuses.
Yet this disturbing scenario is played out every day.

The number of babies under one month old being taken into care for adoption is now running at almost four a day (a 300 per cent increase over a decade).
In total, 75 children of all ages are being removed from their parents every week before being handed over to new families.

Some of these may have been willingly given up for adoption, but critics of the Government's policy are convinced that the vast majority are taken by force.
Time and again, the mothers say they are innocent of any wrongdoing.
Of course, there are people who are not fit to be parents and it is the duty of any responsible State to protect their children.

But over the five years since I began investigating the scandal of forced adoptions, I have found a deeply secretive system which is too often biased against basically decent families.
I have been told of routine dishonesty by social workers and questionable evidence given by doctors which has wrongly condemned mothers.

Meanwhile, millions of pounds of taxpayers' money has been given to councils to encourage them to meet high Government targets on child adoptions.
Under New Labour policy, Tony Blair changed targets in 2000 to raise the number of children being adopted by 50 per cent to 5,400 a year.

The annual tally has now reached almost 4,000 in England and Wales - four times higher than in France, which has a similar-sized population.
Blair promised millions of pounds to councils that achieved the targets and some have already received more than £2million each in rewards for successful adoptions.
Figures recently released by the Department for Local Government and Community Cohesion show that two councils - Essex and Kent - were offered more than £2million "bonuses" over three years to encourage additional adoptions.
Four others - Norfolk, Gloucestershire, Cheshire and Hampshire - were promised an extra £1million.

This sweeping shake-up was designed for all the right reasons: to get difficult-to-place older children in care homes allocated to new parents.
But the reforms didn't work. Encouraged by the promise of extra cash, social workers began to earmark babies and cute toddlers who were most easy to place in adoptive homes, leaving the more difficultto-place older children in care.

As a result, the number of over-sevens adopted has plummeted by half.
Critics - including family solicitors, MPs and midwives as well as the wronged families - report cases where young children are selected, even before birth, by social workers in order to win the bonuses.

More chillingly, parents have been told by social workers they must lose their children because, at some time in the future, they might abuse them.
One mother's son was adopted on the grounds that there was a chance she might shout at him when he was older.
In Scotland, where there are no official targets, adoptions are a fraction of the number south of the border, even allowing for the smaller population.

What's more, the obsessive secrecy of the system means that the public only occasionally gets an inkling of the human tragedy now unfolding across the country.
For at the heart of this adoption system are the family courts, whose hearings are conducted behind closed doors in order to protect the identity of the children involved.
Yet this secrecy threatens the centuries-old tradition of Britain's legal system - the principle that people are innocent until proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.
From the moment a mother is first accused of being incapable as a parent - a decision nearly always made by a social worker or doctor - the system is pitted against her.
There are no juries in family courts, only a lone judge or trio of magistrates who make decisions based on the balance of probability.

Crucially, the courts' culture of secrecy means that if a social worker lies or fabricates notes or a medical expert giving evidence makes a mistake, no one finds out and there is no retribution.
Only the workings of the homeland security service, MI5, are guarded more closely than those of the family courts.

From the time a child is named on a social services care order until the day they are adopted, the parents are breaking the law - a crime punishable by imprisonment - if they tell anyone what is happening to their family.
Anything from a chat with a neighbour to a letter sent to a friend can land them in jail.
And many have found themselves sent to prison for breaching court orders by talking about their case.

As High Court judge Mr Justice Munby told MPs last year: "It seems quite indefensible that there should be no access by the media, and no access by the public, to what is going on in courts where judges are, day by day, taking people's children away."
However, it is not only secretive and publicly unscrutinised family courts that are creating an injustice in our adoption system.

There is a more worrying factor involved. Look at the official figures. Why are they so high? Is it really true that more mothers are becoming potential killers or abusers?
Or are the financial bonuses offered to councils fuelling the astonishing rise in forced adoptions?

John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat MP campaigning to change the adoption system, said yesterday: "I have evidence that 1,000 children are wrongly being seized from their birth parents each year even though they have not been harmed in any way.
"The targets are dangerous and lead to social workers being over-eager.
"The system's secrecy hides any wrongdoing. One has to ask if a mother is expected to have problems looking after her baby, why doesn't the State help her instead of taking her child away?"
The MP's concerns are echoed by the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services (AIMS), a body which advises new mothers.
Spokeswoman Beverley Beech insists: "Babies are being removed from their mothers by social workers using any excuse.
"We strongly suspect this is because newborns and toddlers are more easily found homes than older children. They are a marketable commodity.
"I know of social workers making up stories about innocent mothers simply to ensure their babies are put up for adoption.
"Suitable babies are even being earmarked when they are still in the womb.
"One baby was forcibly removed in the maternity ward by social workers before the mother had even finished the birth process and produced the placenta."
Her words may be emotive. But are they true? Six months ago, I wrote an article about a young couple - who must remain anonymous because of family court law - fighting for the return of their three-year-old daughter.
She was taken within weeks of birth and is about to be adopted.
Astonishingly, a judge has issued a Draconian order gagging them from revealing anything, to anyone at all, which could identify their daughter until her 18th birthday in 2022.
Immediately after the article was published, I heard from 35 families whose children were forcibly removed.
The letters and e-mails continue to arrive - coming from a wide range of families across the social classes (including from a castle in the heart of England).
An e-mail from one father said: "Please, please help, NOW. We are about to lose our son . . . in court tomorrow for final disposals hearing before he is taken for adoption ... we have done nothing wrong."
Another father calling himself "James" rang to say his wife's baby was one of eight seized by social workers from hospital maternity units in one small part of North-East England during one fortnight last summer.
A Welsh man complained that his grandson of three weeks was earmarked for forcible adoption by social workers.
The mother, a 21-year-old with a mild learning disorder, was told she might, just might, get post-natal depression and neglect her son.
To her great distress, her baby was put in the care of Monmouthshire social services within minutes of birth.
The grandfather said: "Our entire extended family - which includes two nurses, a qualified nanny and a police officer - have offered to help care for the baby.
"I believe my grandson has been targeted for adoption since he was in the womb."
A Worcestershire woman told how her daughter's baby was snatched away by three police officers and two social workers who came to the door of her house.
The girl has now been adopted.

The mother's failure? She was said to be too young to cope.
Yet - a little over a year later - she had another baby, a boy, whom she was allowed to keep, in the same home and with the same partner.

Why on earth did she have to lose her little girl?
The grandmother emotionally explained: "All the family came forward to offer to help look after my granddaughter, and all of them were told they were not good enough.
"The social worker told us to forget her. He said: 'She is water under the bridge.'
"We think they wanted her for adoption from the beginning."

No wonder she, and thousands of other parents, want a shake-up of the heart-breaking and cruel adoption system which has ripped apart so many families - and which continues to do so.

Blood-chilling scandal of the thousands of babies stolen by the State: TV agony aunt DENISE ROBERTSON writes about her lengthy investigation

Agony aunt reveals the 'rotten' side of the adoption system in Britain Shares stories of parents who have had their children forcibly removed,
Received 450 letters last year from desperate families who were affected, 
Her book is dedicated to the Websters who had three kids taken from them 

The woman’s face was pale and tear-stained; her eyes raw from crying. ‘Please may I speak to Denise?’ she begged my husband. Fired by desperation, she’d found my home and rung my doorbell one evening six years ago. I was her last hope, she said.
As a magazine and TV agony aunt with a regular slot on ITV’s This Morning, my job is to give constructive and compassionate advice to those who seek it. I take my role — and the responsibility it involves — very seriously.
So although I usually make it a rule not to see people in my home, this time the woman’s distress was so acute that I invited her in.


Magazine and TV agony aunt Denise Robertson has written a a novel, Don’t Cry Aloud, a lightly fictionalised account of the real stories of the 'national scandal' of forced adoption she has uncovered over the years

Her story spilled out. She was a grandmother in her late 40s, whose daughter, single and unable to cope with the responsibilities of parenthood, had nonetheless given birth to four children.
Each had been raised with love, kindness and singular devotion by the woman standing in front of me: their grandmother. They were all under nine and the youngest was 18 months old. The woman was distraught because she had been told that her youngest grandchild, a cherubic, blue-eyed blonde, was to be taken from her.
She had cared for her since birth, and had applied for a guardianship order for all of the children. But she’d been told that one child was to be wrenched from her by social services and forcibly adopted by strangers. Her three older grandchildren, meanwhile, would remain with her.



What perverse and arbitrary logic was driving this reasoning? Why should she be permitted to raise three grandchildren, but not the fourth?
As I listened to her story, I could find no sense in it: she was either a fit parent, or she wasn't. I resolved to try to help her. But my efforts proved fruitless.
Nothing I could do would stop the process: the machinery of the law ground on remorselessly, and the little girl was adopted. A toddler was ripped from the family who adored her and dispatched to a new life with strangers. I can only hope that they were kind.
For I know with awful certainty that the child would have been bewildered and frightened as she said her last goodbye to her family.

And I know, too, that not a day has passed when her grandmother hasn't thought of her with yearning and hope that, one day, they will be reunited.
This sad case epitomises much that is rotten about the adoption system in our country — a country that purports to be humane and civilised — and it chills my blood. But the terrifying fact is, it’s far from isolated.


Denise has dedicated her book to Nicky Webster, pictured here with son Brandon, and her husband Mark, a 'decent and blameless' couples whose three children were taken and forcibly adopted in 2005

In fact, last year I received 450 letters and emails from desperate families begging for help after their children or grandchildren had been forcibly taken from them by the family courts.
The majority were subject to gagging orders and risked prison sentences by talking to me. Such restrictions imposed by the courts, ostensibly in the interests of the children, effectively silence discussion about questionable adoption procedures.
However, I believe forced adoption is a national scandal that must be exposed. To this end, I have written a novel, Don’t Cry Aloud, a lightly fictionalised account of the real stories I encounter every day.

I dedicate it to Nicky and Mark Webster, a decent and blameless couple who appealed to me for help when their three older children were taken and forcibly adopted in 2005. I’ve written it in the hope that it will provoke a reaction; that it will make people care.
The Websters’ case, also taken up by this newspaper, proved how innocent people can become helplessly embroiled in an escalating nightmare. It began when Nicky took one of her children to hospital with a viral infection.

Doctors discovered a fracture in his ankle and, within two days — on the false assumption that the little boy had been hit — all three of the couple’s children were taken into care.
When I met the Websters, I knew they were incapable of harming their children. I asked a solicitor who had helped me fight for justice in similar cases to take up theirs. He, too, was powerless. ‘As fast as I amass evidence in their defence, social services push the adoption proceedings forward,’ he told me.

It took four years for the courts to find the Websters innocent of any wrongdoing. It emerged that their son, after feeding problems, had been put on a soya milk diet, which had led to a rare nutritional deficiency that caused his bones to fracture easily. By then, however, the courts had also decreed that it was too late to overturn the adoption orders imposed on the Websters’ children: they were not returned to their parents.
However, before the judgement exonerated them, I campaigned on their behalf to ensure that their two subsequent children remained in their care. It was a small victory, and I had hoped it would prove salutary.


Nicky and Mark Webster with son Brandon. After doctors became suspicious of the parents, believing they were abusing their kids three of their children were forcibly removed and taken in social services

But, since then, the national scandal has only escalated. Every year, around 10,000 children are removed from their families against their will, many of whom have committed no crime and are not dependent on drugs or alcohol. Last year, 5,206 children were adopted — many of them forcibly.

It is impossible to overstate the trauma of such separations on those children who come from loving homes. As a mother, aged 82, twice widowed and having lost an adult son to cancer, I liken forced adoption to bereavement. I mourn the son I lost every day.
But when a child dies, there is no wondering. Is he or she happy or sad? Troubled or thriving? A child who is forcibly adopted is both living and lost. To be denied all knowledge of them is sheer torture for the family left behind.


For too long, we have ignored the truth that perfectly good, decent and loving parents are being denied an inalienable right: to love and raise their own children 
So what is going on? In my 40 years as an agony aunt, I’ve learnt much about the ways in which governments collude with social services departments to meet adoption targets.
Adoptions have certainly increased. In 1995, the number of under-fives adopted in England was 560. By 2012, the number had quadrupled — of these, 1,100 were described as ‘consent dispensed with’: in other words, forcible adoptions.
One social services department, it was widely reported, received £27,000 every time it placed a child with adoptive parents (possibly to cover the costs of the process).
Fostering, meanwhile, costs them £2,000 per child and also incurs huge long-term expenditure — foster parents are paid up to £900 a week to look after the most challenging children.


 'Every child who is stolen unjustly from a birth parent and forcibly adopted is the victim of the most grotesque abuse'

I know, too, that some children — notably sweet-faced babies — are much more adoptable than others, and it is the winsome who are cherry-picked. Meanwhile, the difficult to adopt — those who are older, less pretty or who have behavioural issues or disabilities — are often either left to languish in children’s homes or permitted to remain with their parents.

I was told in a letter about a single mother with five children: three freckled redheads and two angelic blondes. Which of the five were peremptorily taken from her? It was, I was informed, the photogenic pair with the blonde hair and the winning smiles. If the story is true — and I have only the letter writer’s assurance that it is — I find the sheer cynicism of the rationale behind the decisions both chilling and terrifying.


Denise Robertson says she received a letter from a single mother saying her two blond children were taken from her in an action she describe s as 'both chilling and terrifying' (stock image right)

I know, of course, I will be reviled by some for speaking so openly about this palpable abuse of their powers by social services departments up and down the country.
I recognise, equally, that there are social workers — those who do sterling work in the face of mounting pressures — who are as appalled by these travesties of justice as I am, and equally impotent to resist them.

I’m aware of this because they write to tell me so. They ask for time to make considered decisions, but, all too frequently, this is denied them because the pressure to secure an adoption is so intense.
And I also realise that vulnerable children must be protected from abusive parents and removed to places of safety. But for too long, we have ignored the truth that perfectly good, decent and loving parents are being denied an inalienable right: to love and raise their own children.

Meanwhile, the blameless adoptive parents who become embroiled in this scandal are unwittingly taking on children who are — in my view — stolen goods.
 Every child who is stolen unjustly from a birth parent and forcibly adopted is the victim of the most grotesque abuse
The proceedings of the whole family court system, shrouded as they are in secrecy, have in many cases become accountable to no one. Families are offered lists of solicitors, approved by social services, so how independent are they? ‘Expert’ witnesses, too, appear to be rarely impartial.

Commissioned by the Family Justice Council, Professor Jane Ireland researched reports submitted to the family courts by child psychologists.
She found most of them were written by ‘professional experts’ — some not even qualified — who make up to £4,000 from each report. One so-called expert claimed he wrote 200 reports a year. The sums involved are boggling. Often, the ‘experts’ are merely corroborating the findings of social workers — themselves sometimes young, inexperienced and inadequately briefed — most of whom are employed by the very local authorities who stand to gain so much from the adoptions.

It is an exercise in rubber-stamping: parents and grandparents are utterly powerless in the face of it, unless they are fortunate enough to have a crusading solicitor who will fight to the death for them.
One independent social worker — who left a social services department because she was so appalled by its culture — told me she had often seen children removed from their families on the basis of incomplete, inadequate and sometimes inaccurate evidence.

Yet parents have faith in this deeply flawed system. They believe justice will prevail, the truth will out and their children will be restored to them. But their trust is misplaced.


Agony aunt Denise Robertson with her niece, schoolteacher Gillian Barnard. She says: 'Every child who is stolen unjustly from a birth parent and forcibly adopted is the victim of the most grotesque abuse'

These parents are neither inadequate nor unintelligent. I remember having lunch with a fellow professional who said, glibly: ‘But of course things like this wouldn't happen to you and me because we’re articulate enough to defend ourselves against injustice.’
I had to tell him he was completely wrong. For professional people are every bit as likely to have their children taken away.

And yet we persist in giving credence to the myth that there’s no smoke without fire; that all those parents whose children are removed from them must, in some way, be culpable.
The tragedy is that so many are not guilty — rather, they are victims of a deeply and iniquitously flawed system. And at the centre of every one of these personal tragedies is a child. I have heard desperately sad stories of siblings who have not been allowed to go to the same adoptive parents.

I’m now sceptical enough to question whether there are bonuses to local authorities if they are separated — though I don’t know if that’s true — and the effect on them is utterly heart-breaking.
Every child who is stolen unjustly from a birth parent and forcibly adopted is the victim of the most grotesque abuse.

Nicky Webster told me that the last time she saw her three older children, one asked: ‘Mummy, have we done something naughty? Is that why we can’t come home?’
 Removing a child from its parents is a momentous decision: the ultimate act of responsibility. Those charged with it must exercise it with wisdom, diligence and integrity. And if they fail to do so, they are guilty of the most heinous and unforgivable betrayal.
I cannot bear to imagine what thoughts went through that poor child’s mind — and through those of countless others forced to say a last goodbye to the families who love them. Even now, it moves me to tears.

The lead-up to those final farewells is harrowing. Families — birth mothers, grandparents, siblings — often drive miles to be given 90-minute, heavily supervised access visits to their bewildered children in contact centres. Their every move is monitored and, if they cry — and who could fail to do so? — their tears are considered to be ‘emotional abuse’ of the child and the visit is curtailed. So they steel themselves to be brave. They don’t cry aloud. Instead, they cry inside until the emotion overwhelms them.

They must not question the all-powerful authorities either or, heaven forbid, dare to be angry or aggrieved. If they do so, they will be deemed troublemakers, and the scant access visits they have will be stopped.
So they say their goodbyes. They write final, heart-rending, valedictory letters. And they live in hope: that, one day, when their child or children are adults, they will, like homing pigeons, fly back to them.
How can our society condone such scandalous cruelty? The system that allows it must be reformed. There are sparks of hope and light, and we must not allow them to be extinguished.

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division of the High Court of England and Wales, is one such beacon. He has commented that, since the death penalty ended, family court judges make the most drastic orders any court can impose.
‘When a family judge makes a placement order or adoption order in relation to a 20-year-old mother’s baby, the mother will have to live with the consequences of that decision for what may be upwards of 60 or even 70 years, and the baby for what may be upwards of 80 or even 90 years,’ he said.

Removing a child from its parents is a momentous decision: the ultimate act of responsibility. Those charged with it must exercise it with wisdom, diligence and integrity. And if they fail to do so, they are guilty of the most heinous and unforgivable betrayal.

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