Social Services vs. actual support

I’ve been a little quiet lately, thought I should explain what has been going on. Especially as I am very angry and need to get this off my chest.

We have been referred to Social Services, this isn’t the first time, and I’m fed up of dealing with them.

This is our fourth dealing with social services, which I’m sure will instantly brand us awful parents in some people’s eyes. But we’re not, obviously I would say that, so bear with me.

Our first dealing with them was voluntary, my son was due to be born any day and my mother had just died, I’d suffered a horrific pregnancy which had meant that I’d spent a huge amount of time in hospital on IV drips (my experience of hyperemesis), I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope with a tiny baby and my grief. So I asked for help. Our social worker was an angel, and we were quickly out from under their care with nothing but positive feedback on our parenting.

Things changed when our daughter was born, she was born 10 week premature and straight into Special Care for the first 7 weeks of her life. She spent a large part of that time in an incubator, hooked up to monitors to make sure she kept breathing/her heart rate didn’t drop. It was hard, really hard. Not only had the pregnancy been as hard as the first, it had also been a traumatic birth (caesarean and the local anaesthetic didn’t work) but it is extremely hard emotionally to have a baby in SCBU. We were under a lot of stress, and we got referred to social services because the staff at the hospital wanted to get us some extra help. At the same time we were trying to access help from the mental health crisis team, which never materialised. So while we weren’t overly impressed at being referred without being given a choice, we could understand it, and our previous experience was positive so we shrugged and got on with it.

Our experience this time was very different though, our first contact this time was a member of the SCBU telling us Social Services had just called the unit and demanded we call them back urgently. So we did, my husband phoned and was immediately told that evading social services was an offence. Evading them? How could we be evading them? We’d had no phone calls, no voicemails, no post.. no contact at all. We suspect that they’d been calling a wrong number all along, but this was never admitted to. Obviously things weren’t off to a great start, then they got worse, they demanded that we see them on a day they chose, at our house, and wouldn’t give us a specific time. Normally not a problem, but we had a child in SCBU. We didn’t want to have to wait in the house until they decided to turn up. We’d got ourselves into a routine, as much as we could, that allowed us to spend as much time as possible with both children, not an easy task when our son was only allowed into SCBU for a set few hours a day, and we were still trying to keep his nursery routine going. Eg. when he was in nursery we’d try to be at the hospital so that he wasn’t losing more time with us. We also had to factor in travel time, as the SCBU wasn’t in the town we lived in, which ate into time with both children. And of course the consultants at SCBU were only around at certain times, so if we wanted updates or to ask questions we had to be at the unit at the same time. It was a difficult balancing act at the best of times, and exhausting. Asking us to disrupt that with no room for manoeuvre was insensitive to our families needs.

We asked if we could compromise and meet at the hospital, so that we weren’t wasting time just waiting for them to arrive, but this request was denied. Not only denied, but we were told that if we didn’t cooperate then things would “be taken further”. Kind of a terrifying thing to hear from a social worker. We ended up going over that social worker’s head to insist that we could at least get an idea of a time, and we also asked for a different social worker, but we still ended up having to spend a day away from our daughter.

Then we got criticised for not having the flat ready for the new baby (she was 10 weeks early! Of course we weren’t prepared!), for living in a cramped one bed flat (This flat, just to clarify, would be the one we were in after escaping a violent landlord and homelessness), and for the flat being a bit chaotic (can’t imagine why housework wasn’t being high on our To Do list at that point). We were never offered any actual support though. And the case got closed.

A year later, our daughter was very ill. We’d spent the previous year begging for help, she’d been vomiting constantly, struggling to gain weight, losing weight, and was in obvious distress all the time. We’d been dismissed over and over again, told it was a bug, a phase, just reflux.. anything that meant no further investigation. And our daughter had got worse and worse while health professionals passed the buck. We even ended up calling paramedics because she went blue. Even that just meant a few hours spent at A&E, only to be sent home with no further investigation. But we kept fighting and she finally got admitted to hospital, where the response was pretty much, “oh yes, that isn’t right is it?”.

I think we’d have been angry except we were too relieved.

Now my son was lactose intolerant as a baby and I was lactose intolerant as a baby, so one of the first things we wanted to rule out with our daughter’s vomiting was lactose intolerance. But were told, repeatedly, not to take her off cows milk formula due to her being premature. Eventually we got so fed up of them not even considering it, that we took her off the cows milk. While the vomiting didn’t stop entirely then, it did lessen. Especially if we only gave her small amounts at a time, her stomach seemed to struggle with larger quantities. But wouldn’t tolerate even small amounts of cows milk. She was around 3-4 months old when we did this, by the time we got her admitted into hospital she’d been free of cows milk for about 8 months.

One day a consultant came in to look at her. After getting her name wrong, the consultant then commented that “it’s obviously milk that’s the problem, take her off it and the vomiting should stop” and then went to leave. Uh, no. We were, understandably, deeply unimpressed with this consultant. We totally understood that they saw a lot of patients, and were really busy, but to be so ill informed was abysmal! I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that we complained about this, we didn’t expect the consequences though.

This consultant then began to quiz us on our mental health, both my husband and I have long term mental health issues. Mental health issues, I should add, that we were getting treatment for and were proactive about. For example, we knew that our daughter’s inpatient stay was taking a toll on us so had spoken to our doctor about adjusting our dosages, and were also seeing counsellors who were aware of the circumstances.

Next thing we know we’ve been referred to social services, to “make sure [our daughter]’s weight loss is biological”. They were actually suggesting we were causing it!

Furious doesn’t cover how we felt. After all the begging and the tears and the sleepless nights (you don’t want to know how often we crept to the side of her cot to check she was still breathing) to be so let down by so many health care professionals and then have them insinuate that we had been causing it all along? Fuck that.

Again social services picked at us. This time we’d moved to a bigger house, it wasn’t cramped, it was tidy. There were a few unpacked boxes from the move, which (given we had a small high needs baby) shouldn’t have surprised anyone. But it was seen as a “cause for concern”, but again they left us with no actual help or support, just additional stress at an already stressful time.

The last two times they told us they were just there to support us, to help our children. This support never materialised.

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me

Since the inpatient stay our daughter has improved, the vomiting has stopped thanks to feeding her with special food, but recently she started refusing it. Either turning away or spitting it our, no matter what we mix it with. Instead she much prefers to it basically anything else. So she’s been moved to a high calorie supplement that we add in to her normal food. So much easier! There was a period where we were switching from one to the other, stuck waiting on calls back from the dietician and paediatrician, which resulted in weight loss, but the weight gain had started again on the new stuff. Though, as it had always been, never quite as good as we’d have preferred.

She’s a tiny thing, she’s 20 months now (18 corrected) but wears 6-9 month clothes, and doesn’t have the chubbiness you expect in a child her age. However she eats like a horse, seriously, she will eat anything you put in front of her (except baked beans apparently), often eat seconds, and steal off any plates where there is food left. Getting food into her is no problem at all, getting weight to stay on her is though. It isn’t affecting her development though, she’s doing brilliantly, better than her brother at the same age, especially when you compare her corrected age! She’s full of energy, so she’s obviously getting enough food.

Our son has no issues either, though he is a far fussier eater than her. Doesn’t eat anywhere near as much as she does, but puts on weight fine.

Obviously it is still hard work worrying about her health, though this bit feels a lot easier than everything else we’ve been through with her. No need to check on her while she’s sleeping now.

One of the things I haven’t mentioned before is that during our daughter’s first year our family doctor was off work for a long time, I do wonder if things would have happened sooner if she’d been around. This is the doctor who has been a huge help to me with both hyperemesis and hypermobility, taking me seriously when others hadn’t. Having her as our GP has been life changing in so many ways. I’d never have coped with the second pregnancy if it wasn’t for her, and I wouldn’t be doing my illustrations without her pushing for help with my joints. I owe her a lot.

So when social services got in contact to say we’d been referred again, we were horrified to hear it was a referral from her and that it was due to “safeguarding” concerns. Essentially they were concerned we were harming our children.

We went and spoke to her, turns out she had no safeguarding concerns. She was worried we were struggling and needed extra support, and as social services are meant to support struggling families it was a logical choice to ask them. She didn’t expect them to respond as they did.

At the time she spoke to them we were struggling to attend appointments as our car was dying a slow and painful death, so we’d had to cancel some last minute while we waited for the RAC to attend. One call was from the side of the M25, which is not a fun place to be with two small children. Eventually the car was declared to broken to fix and we had to buy a new car. If anyone knows me on social media you may remember how stressful this was for us, with my joint pain I find it difficult to even make it to the bus stop, so other transport methods were limited.

We arranged for them to come visit us at home, again.

Due to previous experience we asked one of our friends to be there, as support and as a witness.

Before they got there we scrubbed the house clean, knowing how picky they could be we wore ourselves out doing so. I definitely overdid it, pushing my body way beyond it’s limits.

They arrived and started in with their questions, all the sorts of questions you’d expect (daughter’s medical history, how the kids were developing, how we felt we were coping) until we got to a conversation about what support we had in place in terms of family. I replied with a list of relatives, I’m lucky to have a large and loving family. I mentioned my dad, my brother, my aunts and uncles, my cousins.. their response? “Your mother can’t be bothered then?”

Let that sink in for a moment.

It was definitely in the notes that my mother was dead. But even if they hadn’t read the notes, why on earth was their assumption that the omission of my mother meant a family spat rather than a bereavement? Why would you do that unless you’d already got a picture in your head of a Jeremy Kyle-esque dysfunctional family? They’d come in to this with preconceptions, based on nothing at all.

Not only that, but they snapped at my son when he didn’t instantly respond to them. He’s 3. He was playing with a toy. And he’s shy with strangers – especially when the strangers presence in the house is making his parents anxious. He’s an observant and sensitive little boy. And they snapped at him when he didn’t jump to attention.

They asked to see the children’s bedroom, so I took them up. My son had lined his toy cars up on the bed that morning, his cuddly toys were snuggled up in their pop up tent ready for cuddles. Various other younger toys were on the floor ready to be played with by our daughter. On top of the chest of drawers were a few boxes of toys, tidied away ready to be swapped out when they got bored of the ones they were currently playing with. So the social worker walks in and says, “hmm, they have a lot of toys don’t they?”. I laugh and point out they are the first children born to my generation of my family, the first grandchildren for either of our parents, they are well loved and well spoilt. I also point out the system of swapping boxes of toys instead of having all toys out all the time. “Hmm” she says. Then tells me we need a plan to get rid of some of the toys. Pointing out we already do regularly clear out toys that they’ve grown out of (to charity) or broken (to the bin), with a big clearance planned soon to make room for the inevitable Christmas presents, was just not good enough. We needed to do more apparently.

We wave goodbye, figuring if the most they can complain about is the number of toys then we are safe.

We’d arranged to see the health visitor afterwards, figuring we could do with a friendly face! We were relieved to see her, she weighed and measured the children, played with them, commented on how well they were doing, commiserated on what social services were putting us through, commented that it was all very unnecessary, and agreed with us when we said all the hassle could have been avoided if we’d just been spoken to by the GP first.

Imagine our surprise when we get a 30 page document back which talked about us being “neglectful” towards our children! Especially when it says things like, “parents display no concern for [daughter]’s well-being”. What the actual fuck?! Several times the health visitor is quoted as having said this about us, about me in particular. So my husband calls her up to confirm that’s what she’d said, especially after what she’d said when she saw us!

Turns out she wasn’t misquoted. The woman who’d said to our face that she had no concerns and thought we were doing well, went behind our backs to say we didn’t care about our children’s health?! She said, “if it was my child I’d have been more upset”. I’ve written a post solely about this, because it enraged me so much. I also want to add that my husband has show roughly the same level of upset as me, but hasn’t been singled out as not worried. Can I say internalised misogyny? As the mother I’m expected to be this emotional mess, without any regard for circumstance? Sod that.

The report also included gems like, “the kitchen was viewed to have unclean crockery and utensils on the draining board”. I don’t know about anyone else, but we generally use our draining board for storage of items that are recently washed and are drip drying. Especially useful when washing and drying causes me joint pain! I’ve never used the draining board to store dirty items, that would be weird.

They outright lied about our son’s diet too, claiming we said we only give him soft foods because he is a fussy eater. What we actually said was that he is a fussy eater, who used to refuse to chew food when he was little, but we’d persevered and his eating was much better – though he could still be picky.

There were omissions too, they failed to include our responses to the missed appointments, they failed to include us having to push for treatment (eg. no mention of us taking her to A&E), they didn’t acknowledge that we take our daughter out to places where she can play with other children. Everything in the report was written as though we just didn’t make any effort. Even when they acknowledged things we do, it was written in ways that suggested that we’d had to be told to do it. For example “parents acknowledged the need for reading with the children”. We acknowledged it? That sentence to me suggests we weren’t reading with the children until these saintly social workers told us we should, which is rubbish.

It was telling that there was little to no positive comments, aside from those from our son’s nursery. We suspect these were only in as they couldn’t be twisted into anything negative and they couldn’t omit them entirely. So there was a single sentence saying “nursery have no concerns.”

These are just a select few quotes, we filled three A4 pages with corrections!

They recommended a child in need meeting, so we decided to go along and show willing. Not that this was an easy process, they called me to say we had an appointment booked on X date. When I said I’d need to check if my husband was working they told me I’d have to come alone if he was, and if I couldn’t get child care I had to bring the children, I was not allowed to rearrange. Turns out the date they wanted was a day my husband was doing an assessment critical to his new business, in a different town, which meant we had plans to be out of town for the day. We tried calling them – no calls back, emailing them – no response, writing them letters – no response, in the end my husband enlisted the help of a solicitor, within five minutes of the solicitor’s email they’d phoned us to rearrange. Funny that. It was a relief on the day when we arrived there to see some familiar friendly faces, including our GP and a worker from our son’s nursery.

It all started off very nice, the social workers kept saying what great parents we were and how they had no safeguarding concerns, a dramatic departure from the report. It felt very much like they were doing this for the benefit of the others at the meeting. Like they were trying to show that they were being supportive of us, and all our concerns about them were just paranoia.

Things got a bit more interesting though when they asked for the health visitors concerns about us. Two things to note. Firstly she’s the one who keeps saying we are unconcerned. Secondly I’d taken my daughter to be weighed a couple of days before, the health visitor weighed her and told me her weight was “stable”.

So the health visitor says, “well, [daughter] has lost some weight at the last weigh in..”.

Wait wait wait… lost weight? But she definitely said “stable”. We stopped her to point out she hadn’t said anything about weight loss. Her response was that when she said “stable” she meant there’d been a small amount of weight loss, disputing that stable meant a loss of weight caused the social worker to tell me off for not clarifying, at the time, if I’d not understood. I thought I had understood. Why on earth would I assume I hadn’t understood her when she said “stable”? I’m not often in the habit of questioning if people are using the same definitions of words in common usage in the English language, surely I’m not at fault for assuming she was using words as they were intended to be used? Apparently so. Because the social worker said, “well there are faults on both sides”. No, no there aren’t. If we are being accused of not being concerned about our daughter’s health then those accusing us best not be withholding information from us! They then delivered their coup de grĂ¢ce, “was it written in the red book?” The smug look on the HV’s face was deeply aggravating, of course she had, and of course I hadn’t looked in there because I had trusted her. More fool me. From now on I know to mistrust them and double check they are using the same version of the English language as I am.

Now they want us to come along to regular meetings to check up on us, they are claiming it’s to make sure that we aren’t being let down by health care professionals. We pointed out that we knew from talking to a solicitor that we aren’t legally required to do so, at which point they reluctantly conceded that it was voluntary, but that if we declined they would have to decide whether that constituted a safeguarding issue as it would show “unwillingness to cooperate with professionals”. So we’ve spoken to our gp who has suggested we don’t do the child in need plan, but instead be under her personal care, she’s even willing to do home visits to keep and eye on us. We have also arranged for a new health visitor, who we will be arranging regular visits with. Our son is still at nursery, our daughter starts in April. We are still seeing the paediatric consultant and the dietician, and the gp has suggested if they still do not investigate the struggles with weight then she will refer us to a new consultant.

I’m not sure anyone could describe this as failure to engage with professionals.

Except social services.

We’ve told them that this is our preferred option, and they have threatened us with “further action”.

This isn’t support. This has never been about support.

5 thoughts on “Social Services vs. actual support

  1. This makes awful reading so I can only imagine how distressing it must have been to live through. It sounds like you’ve done an amazing job in spite of the intervention rather than because of the intervention, which is wrong on so many levels. I don’t know what’s going wrong with statutory services in recent years, I don’t remember them always being such a hit and miss affair but I’m hearing more and more issues from people, especially when they have multiple needs. My personal experience has told me that if I need help then go to the voluntary sector and that disappoints me as they should be complimenting the work of the statutory sector not replacing it.

  2. I am so effing angry on your behalf. I have no words. They are inhumane. This kind of treatment causes people to end their lives and they should be ashamed of themselves. This is what happens when people get pissed on their own power. Shameful. xx

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