The following is the story of an alienated parent. All names have been changed.
John has now spent almost two years fighting to see his children. John, his parents and his partner have spent, between them, in excess of £25,000 in legal fees.
The following is an interview with John regarding his involvement with Norfolk Children’s Social Services, here in the UK..
Please note all names have been anonymised. No statements attributed to professionals, nor information disclosed in the following paragraphs is in breach of any confidentiality.
What was the intended role of Norfolk Children’s Social Services in the management of your case?
Well prior to them coming in on the case, Cafcass had been managing the case. But it was Cafcass that referred the case to Children’s Social Services. I rather naively assumed Children’s Social Services would help me be reconciled with my children.
How did they approach the case upon their initial involvement?
Initially I was visited by two social workers that came into my home and spoke to me. They were gathering evidence to write an initial assessment report. During this visit I made the statement that I felt my ex was presenting with certain personality traits indicative of Munchhausen-by-proxy. The social worker that was taking notes simply nodded and carried on taking notes. He did not inquire further as to why I held this belief. Nor did he ask for any context regarding my statement; for example, he chose to not ask me from where I was drawing on such knowledge to make such a statement. He showed no evidence of any professional curiosity. Just to clarify, I am an experienced psychiatric nurse, I work on a psychiatric assessment ward, I know what I’m talking about with things like this.
The following week I received a social worker assessment co-written by the two social workers I talked about above. And there was one particular sentence he had written that absolutely made my blood boil. He wrote “Mr X has diagnosed Mrs X with Munchhausen-by-proxy. This is very alarming on the part of Mr X.” I thought to myself, what a completely biased, un-evidenced opinion on what I had actually stated.
Did you raise this matter?
I did, I put it in as a complaint at a later stage with several other issues I had with the service provided and the lack of safeguarding of children.
Did you get a response?
Yes I did get a response. I received a letter stating the following: “we have been unable to find evidence of unprofessional conduct on the part of the Social Workers.”
Okay. What happened next with Norfolk Children’s Social Services involvement?
Well following the above assessment the case was allocated a lead social worker from Children’s Social Services. She also came to visit me at my home, along with an assistant practitioner. One of the things the social worker told me was that she would be expecting within three months a change in my ex’s current approach. I politely pointed out to her that to me her view was a somewhat naive judgement to make, seeing as I had been battling to have some kind of contact with my children for so long and had got nowhere due to my ex’s non-compliance and complete refusal to engage in any court directions or orders that promote or result in contact.
What was the social worker’s reply to your comment?
She told me “you shouldn’t be so negative.”
So what were the results of Norfolk Children’s Social Services being involved?
Well at some point we had a Children in Need meeting. Two social workers and an assistant practitioner from Children’s Social Services were there. Also in attendance were the Children’s Guardian, who is actually a social worker, and a Deputy Service Manager, both of them from Cafcass. There were several other so-called professionals in attendance. Most of them had never met my children. And most of them were not permitted to read a psychological assessment. The findings of this psychological assessment, particularly with regards to my ex, gives a clear indication and explanation as to my ex’s non-engagement and continuing contact denial. At the end of the meeting all the attendees took part in a vote regarding the severity of the children’s current safeguarding issues.
However, you said that not all attendees were permitted access to all of the evidence, for example the psychological assessment. So how does that work in terms of the professionals making judgements about your children, but they are not permitted access to all the evidence?
I know it’s absolutely bonkers isn’t it. There were people, these so-called professionals that were making judgements about children they either barely knew or had not met, and were also not permitted to read an integral piece of evidence that raised several safeguarding issues regarding the relationship between my children and their mother.
The thing is that ironically I now have a court order permitting any attendees at any future Children in Need meetings, access to the aforementioned psychological assessment.
So what happened at this Children in Need Meeting?
So at the beginning of the meeting I asked the lead social worker from Children’s Social Services if they recognised parental alienation as a form of abuse. As I asked this I noticed the two representatives from Cafcass appearing to avoid eye contact with as many people as possible, so as to minimise the risk of being brought into this contentious issue.
The lead social worker (from Children’s Social Services) did not reply, but the assistant practitioner did. He asked me “what do you actually mean by parental alienation?” So obviously I told him. Their answer was no, they do not recognise it as a form of abuse. In response to this I looked across at the Deputy Service Manager from Cafcass. I got the impression he was trying to keep a low profile. I got the feeling he was probably thinking “shit! Any minute now he’s gonna ask me a question about parental alienation!” So I did, I asked him to clarify, for the benefit of the rest of the room; “does Cafcass as an organisation recognise parental alienation as a form of abuse?” All he could bring himself to do was a somewhat lacklustre nod of the head. I then asked him if Cafcass viewed this case as a case of parental alienation. He reluctantly nodded once again. The only thing he appeared to be putting any effort into was trying to avoid eye contact with as many people there as possible.
How did the rest of the meeting go?
Well at some point in the meeting we got onto the subject that my ex was at that time insisting on pursuing a diagnosis of autism for my oldest boy. Which in my opinion was and still is completely unfounded and I strongly believe is driven by a financial and non-contact incentive on the part of my ex.
So in this meeting I explained to all present that my son never presented to me as showing any signs of autism. I then said, words to the effect of “if anything he merely presents with some schizoid traits.” (As a mental health nurse, what I meant in layman’s terms was that he can have interpersonal communication difficulties; this is completely different to suggesting he has autism). The assistant practitioner from Children’s Social Services who was sat to my left rolled his eyes in response to my last comment. So there and then I politely asked him why he had chosen to display such a negative non-verbal reaction in response to my last comment.
What was his response to you?
He then said, in front of everyone “oh my God! I can’t believe a dad would call their son a schizoid!” And the the thing that really annoyed me was that he said it with such misplaced conviction and judgement against me as a parent. I responded by informing him that someone can’t be a schizoid. I asked him if he knew what schizoid meant. He didn’t reply, obviously. His lack of response clearly told me that he did not know what the word schizoid meant. I then asked him what made him say such a thing if he doesn’t know what the word meant. He then told me that when he was at school him and his friends used to hear that term being used as an insult. I informed him that I was not using it as an insult. I also informed him that I was disappointed that he made the unfortunate assumption that I was using the term in a negative way. I explained to him that I am very passionate about challenging the stigma around mental health and comments such as the one he had just made was not appropriate.
So what was the outcome of the meeting?
My ex and I agreed to try mediation again. And another meeting was planned.
Was that it?
So was any progress made with the planned mediation sessions?
Well I attended my session. In the meeting my ex managed to orchestrate me into being the one to organise the mediation service. And as such I end up attending first. I paid £120 (that’s 165 US dollars!) to sit in front of a mediator for twenty minutes. Then at the end of my session they inform me that they will be contacting Ms X and inviting her in to attend her initial meeting.
Did she attend?
Of course she didn’t. She’s pulled this trick before. It’s a power game to her. It appears to me she just plays these tactics to force me into parting with money when she knows full well I have ongoing financial difficulties.
How did Norfolk Children’s Social Services react to her non compliance with the so-called plan?
Not much. They don’t even see it as a continuation of her almost two year contact denial and alienating behaviours. She told them she couldn’t afford to pay for the mediation session. And they don’t challenge her at all.
It sounds like from what you are saying of your story that such professionals take a very biased approach in favour of the resident parent.
Oh, absolutely. First of all Children’s Social Services do not recognise parental alienation as a form of abuse. So it is a complete waste of time even talking to them about it. They just close ranks and shut you down. They either simply do not see, or simply choose to ignore the fact that my ex is literally brainwashing my children against me, to the point that she is determined to erase me from my children’s lives. This is despite my ex openly stating to all professionals involved that she will not co-parent of facilitate contact between my children and I. It is absolute madness. The whole system is flawed.
During one conversation I had with the lead social worker and assistant practitioner after a failed contact visit, I stated that in the long term I was aiming for 50/50 custody. The lead social worker remarkably responded to me by saying “well that’s unrealistic.”
What did you say to such a remark?
Well I then asked her why. She replied “well the majority of my case load is single parent families and the majority of the resident parents are mothers.”
What did you say to that?
So I responded by saying “well okay, but what has this statistic of yours got to do with my case. Surely you are not saying that my aim of 50/50 parenting is unrealistic because the majority of the resident parents on your case load are mothers?”
What did she say to that?
“Well that’s how it is.”
Did she really say that?
Yes she did. As a statement from a professional, I found that statement shockingly biased. But she clearly thought nothing of the sort!
On another occasion my mum and I were driving past the former matrimonial home. We saw my son on his way back from school about to enter the home. So my mum and I pulled over and said hello to my son. We both said hello in an appropriate and soft manner. We both told him how much we loved him. He pretty much ignored us and went into the house. We subsequently drove off.
A short while later I received a telephone call from the lead social worker. The actions of my mother and I had clearly been observed by my ex who I can only guess immediately telephoned the lead social worker and gave her, her version of events. The lead social worker then proceeded to have a go at me for pulling over and saying hello to my son. She asked me if I had done it to prove a point to her!
So what was the outcome of Norfolk Children’s Social Services involvement?
Well, they managed to get an arranged visit for me to see my children, under particular conditions, all orchestrated by my ex.
I managed to see my children for five minutes. Their mother and the lead social worker were present.
How did that go?
The children appeared. Now bearing in mind I had not seen my children at that point for almost two years, inside I was understandably feeling a multitude of emotions. At that point the social worker thought it would be a good idea to say to me, “do you think they’ve got a lot bigger John, since you last saw them?”
“No shit Sherlock!” I thought to myself in response to her statement. I then also asked myself, was that really the most appropriate comment she could have made at that point in time?
My middle son then rather stoically informed me that none of them wanted to see me ever again. I told them I loved them, and that I was still there daddy. Within minutes they were gone again.
What happened next?
As soon as the children left, the social worker said “well that was progress.” As she said this I was still processing the fact that I had been told by one of my children that none of them wanted to see me ever again.
Have you had any further contact with your children since?
Well I was supposed to have weekly planned visits to see them. However their mother is unable to instruct them to come and see me. The visits are now no longer taking part due to my ex terminating the visits.
So what is the current involvement of Norfolk Children’s Social Services?
They are no longer involved. They closed the case.
How come, what was their rationale?
Well they stated that the children are no longer Children in Need. In layman’s terms, Children’s Social Services are stating that my children are no longer in need of help or support from services to prevent significant or further harm to their health or development.
They also remarkably stated that they do not believe the children are being emotionally abused by their mother. They also stated that they are not a mediating service. And as such, they told me in a very matter-of-fact email that there is no longer a role for them.
But what had changed in terms of the children’s well-being for them to close the case?
Well, my point exactly. I was so frustrated. Children’s Social Services had come in to this case, treated me with little to no respect, completely misunderstood the dynamics of the case and had provided no benefit to the children at all.
Did you take any further action?
Well prior to me even knowing that they were planning to close the case I asked the lead social worker and their manager for answers to the following questions:
1) As a non-mental health practitioner do you not accept or understand that symptoms of emotional abuse would not be correctly identified by non-mental health practitioners?
2) Are my children no longer Children in Need? If not, what has happened to determine this since Judge ######## stated that he would like to argue with the social worker that decides otherwise? What has changed? If anything, isn’t there more evidence of non-compliance from Mrs X?
3) A key part of social work is upholding social justice. Have you challenged the injustice of these children being denied a relationship with me their father? And if so what were your results?
4) Another key part of social work is the continuous aim to improve your knowledge. However each time I have attempted to bring in aspects of mental health I have been dismissed, or told to stop. Why is this?
5) You state that Norfolk Children’s Social Services own findings are not the same as those of the psychological assessment. Were the findings of Norfolk Children’s Social Services arrived at by the use of the same psychometric framework used by the author of the psychological assessment?
6) You did on numerous occasions request me to stop bringing the subject of mental health up for discussion in the context of this case. However if you were requesting this of me, I would like to know how Norfolk Children’s Social Services have arrived at the conclusion that they do not agree with the findings of the recent psychological assessment if we were not to be discussing mental health as part of this case?
3) Is the lack of response from Norfolk Children’s Social Services regarding my recent emails due to the inability or unwillingness to answer my questions for fear of some kind of accountability and/or litigation, or is it simply a lack of respect and courtesy for someone that is simply fighting to be a part of his children’s lives?
Have you had a response yet?
About a week and a half later I received a letter from the Complaints Department:
Dear Mr X
Thank you for correspondence regarding the involvement of Children’s Social Services with your children.
I am aware that this matter has been before the court recently as part of a private law case and the Judge requested a Section 37 report which has been completed and shared with the court. Your children’s case is now closed to Children’s Services, though should the Judge require any further information they will, of course, be happy to provide this.
I have been unable to find evidence of unprofessional conduct on the part of the Social Worker or the Team Manager and suggest you may wish to obtain legal advice to ensure your concerns are addressed within the court arena. I also suggest if you remain dissatisfied you may wish to contact the Local Government Ombudsman.
Whilst I understand this will not be the response you were hoping for, I am unable to provide any further information in relation to this matter.
Complaints Case Manager
So obviously they did not answer your questions. Did you take any further action?
Yeah, I certainly did. I contacted the Complaints Manager with the following email:
Hi Complaints Manager,
I am emailing you in relation to your letter in response to my complaint below.
I am very disappointed and frustrated that you have chosen not to provide an answer to any of the questions below. I did highlight the fact to you that these questions were asked when the case was open, but the named professionals chose not to answer them; hence the complaint.
However you are now choosing to not provide me with any answers to the questions below.
I do not think it unreasonable that I request you provide me with some rationale as to why you have chosen not to provide me with any answers to any of the questions below.
Any reply yet?
And what was that?
Yet another letter, simply referring me back to the first letter I had initially received from the Complaints Manager. Completely unbelievable really.
What’s next for you?
Well I have sought legal advice and I will certainly be acting on that advice soon. And in addition to that my case is currently being reviewed by the reconciliation specialist that you and your group referred me to. I am not going to give up. Norfolk Children’s Social Services have failed my children.