Amy, now 30, had her first child aged 17, while she herself was still a child in care. She was living with her six-month-old daughter in a mother-and-baby unit – until one day the funding for her placement ran out.
“There wasn’t any plan for us,” she explains. “It all happened in a rush at 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon. The unit manager refused to keep us there even until the Monday, so the social worker said to me ‘just put her in foster care while we help you sort out your housing’. I was still breast-feeding at the time. I wasn’t given any paperwork to sign and left my baby with social services on the understanding that they would help me find accommodation that was suitable for us both.”
With nowhere else to go – and herself still a child supposedly in the care of the state – Amy had no option but to stay with her violent ex-boyfriend.
She went to her appointment with social services on the Monday morning. “There was still no paperwork and they said it would take them time to find me a house,” she remembers. “I know housing’s hard to get but I don’t think they really tried.”
When the local authority then decided to do a parenting assessment, Amy says “they used the fact that I’d gone back to a domestically violent partner to say I wasn’t fit to look after my baby, and then obviously my mental health got worse because of the stress that I’d lose her.”
At no point was it suggested that Amy should get independent legal advice.
Fostering for adoption legislation was not in place at the time but the leading family support charity Family Rights Group fears that under this legislation – which was introduced three years ago – many more parents could find themselves in positions similar to Amy’s because many babies will be fostered by carers who are already approved as suitable adopters – and does not stipulate legal aid for parents.
Amy’s baby was adopted without her consent and she has not seen her since she was 18-months-old.
Amy says she feels “tricked” into giving consent to section 20 accommodation “because they didn’t tell me that if you go back and live with this violent ex-partner, then we’ll use it against you. But I had nowhere else to go and they knew that”.
The effects of losing her baby have been devastating. “I tried to commit suicide,” she says. “There was zero support, nowhere to go.”
When Amy had another baby a couple of years later she once again – in difficult circumstances and against her better judgment – agreed to her youngest daughter being voluntarily accommodated. That baby was soon adopted too.
“I’m very angry,” says Amy. “I genuinely think they had it planned all the time because it’s easier to take a child into care than it is to support a family. It’s affected my whole life. I’ve had mental health problems because it’s very difficult to lose two children. I don’t think I’ll ever get over that pain. And I don’t have the ability to trust anybody – especially anybody in authority – any more.”
Amy now has an 18-month-old son who lives with her and warns parents being asked to agree to section 20 to “always get legal advice. Never hand your child over unless the police come. There can be two or three or more professionals there and they don’t always give you time to understand things. The only way I found out that under section 20 you have the right to get your child back at any time is through recent work I’ve done with Family Rights Group. The social workers never said.”