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
By Frances Hardy for the Daily Mail | 26 May 2015 |
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.
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 judgment 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?’
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.
– Don’t Cry Aloud by Denise Robertson, £8.99 by Hopcyn Press. To order a copy, go to http://www.hopcynpress.com