If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest you trot over to the iPlayer and watch a BBC Three drama called Don’t Take My Baby.
It is based on the true story of a disabled couple and their fight to keep their first baby. She has a muscle wasting condition and he has a degenerative visual impairment.
As much as some parts of the drama were probably not exactly as they happened, and I do think a lot was over dramatised, a lot of it also rings true for so many disabled parents. It was a little too close for comfort at times and I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t upset me. It did. I felt angry and hurt and ashamed and tired that this kind of treatment of people with disabilities still happens today.
The beginning of the programme shows the couple as they go into hospital to have their baby, not knowing whether the mum, Anna, would even survive the caesarian section under general anaesthetic. They are scared, anxious, excited and apprehensive. The feelings that I’m pretty sure EVERY new parent goes through when they are about to give birth. However, unlike other couples, this couple then leave hospital and go home without their baby. Whether this actually happened in the real family’s case I’m not sure. I think social workers would have lost their jobs by making a decision to disallow a couple the custody of their baby after birth, and on the spot in that way, when their presumed incapabilities were just that, presumed. But as far as the story goes, they are given no chance to show whether they can look after their own child and are instead given daily ‘visitation’ rights under supervision at the hospital.
For those who know me and who have watched this programme, you might agree that my physical capabilities as a parent are similar to those depicted and shown by the actor/mum (FYI, the actor has the disability. She is not an able-bodied actor playing a part of a disabled person) and to see this interpretation of what social workers do to the first stage of motherhood and of parenthood, is frustratingly accurate at times.
When we knew we were going to have our first child, I contacted adult social care well ahead of time, to ask for more help from a PA for when my baby was here so that I could carry out my role as mum, especially when my partner was at work. I was told that nothing could be done and no assessment would be made until after the baby was born. Because that seems so logical, right?! (We were later informed that this was in fact the wrong way to do things, and that it would have made the process smoother had the funding arrangements been put in place before Amélie was born. Duh.)
But as it happens, it didn’t happen the right way round. They didn’t listen. Because how could I possibly be a good judge of my own abilities and difficulties?
So. Not. Sensible.
Not sensible and not in the least bit enjoyable having possibly the most unsympathetic and unemotional social worker I’ve had the delight to come across, sat in your living room while you and your baby are covered in equal quantities of breast milk, telling you that children’s services should be involved to ensure that there is no risk to your baby. To pass the buck of a costly disabled parent to another service, another service controlled by the local government, where I’m sure at the end of the day. the money all comes from.
When it came to my recent reassessment earlier this year, my partner, fuelled by the same frustration and anxieties as me, came across a document titled ‘They Said What?’ By Jenny Morris, with the help of the Disabled Parents Network. I hadn’t realised someone who didn’t know me had written a book detailing exactly the same silly things we’ve heard from social workers….
… Okay but joking aside, it was uncanny. And hilarious; how could the same mistakes and misconceptions be happening all over our country!? Please read it.
Disabled parents are difficult people. An awkward bunch with no regard for sticking to the comfortable norm. But through no fault of their own. Not one agency or service will take responsibility for their care and so cases rarely get resolved and knowledge and experience is never shared. So the next case of a physically disabled mum (or dad, or both) due to have a baby, will be forwarded to social care services to be met with a response similar to – “oh I’m not sure about this. Janet, do you know who deals with this type?” In which case Janet will say something along the lines of “No, Beverley, beats me. Cc Children’s Services in to an email, they might know. I didn’t realise disabled people could even have babies.”
But this isn’t good enough. And we know it’s not good enough because of programmes like Don’t Take My Baby. And there will be people all over the country and possibly further who watch this and think that surely this doesn’t happen. But it does.
Luckily for me and my partner, it wasn’t discussed whether we’d get to keep our beautiful girl or see her go into foster care. I can’t think of much that would be more harrowing. Luckily for us my partner is able-bodied, but the threat of children’s services looking into safeguarding concerns was hideous and petrifying. I knew my baby was safe in our house, so why would anyone think she wasn’t? In reality, I personally don’t think there was ever an official concern about Amélie’s welfare. Midwives, health visitors and occupational therapists were collectively not concerned. The only concern was the cost of funding the extra PA hours to the adult social care section. They were safeguarding their own money and wanting someone else to pay for it.
My experience more often than not has shown me that it is a game of tick boxes and money moving than truly about the welfare and needs of the individuals that social services exists to help in the first place.
The battle is ongoing and probably will be until my children have grown up and left home. I will never be able to parent my own children without being reminded of my cost to the state, and maybe I should. I battle with myself over whether it is fair for me to have children and whether taxpayers are happy to help fund someone to help me.
But that is a story for another time.
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