I awoke on my youngest child’s 16th birthday with a sense of
elation and cried tears of relief. For the first time in years I
felt free from other people’s judgement and the fear of losing my
children to the care system.
I had struggled for a long time. Since contacting social services
years before for help with family problems, I had fought for
services we needed not the ones imposed. I was unable to feel
confident in my choices or enjoy my children.
When I was married and with support from my mother and my husband’s
parents, I coped well. It was this need for support that made me
stay silent as my husband slowly destroyed my self-belief with
emotional cruelty and threats of violence. One day he lost his
temper and attacked the children. That was the last straw.
When I ended my marriage I lost all support except from one friend.
I began to get depressed and struggled to maintain boundaries and
discipline for my children. Like many parents living in poverty
with little or no support, I asked for help. Initially I was told I
was coping and my children were not at risk, so no services were
provided. By the time our situation became a crisis, we were
offered intrusive, imposed services that created tension in the
family and between the social workers and me.
A child guidance psychiatrist suggested my son live with his father
and visit me at weekends. I’ve never forgiven myself for agreeing
to this. After 18 disastrous months he came home an angry boy.
Within a year, the local authority accommodated him in order to
access a residential school. At the school, they bought him
expensive clothes and toys, which rammed home to my other two
children how deep their poverty was. It broke my heart when they
too asked if they could go into care.
During these years I saw bad practice condoned or rewarded by
sideways moves while good practice was also ignored and effective
social workers stayed and suffered.
At my worst moment, a friend introduced me to ATD Fourth World,
which helps families marginalised by their poverty. I was
encouraged to return to education, praised for small successes and
supported in my fight for my family. My children and I explored our
situation, discovered our strengths and built on them.
Now, 13 years on, I am very involved with their work to give people
in poverty a voice in policy and decision-making. I regularly meet
families who are living in poverty and in touch with social
services. To my horror, they are still experiencing the things my
children and I did. I see families struggling alone with the
effects of poverty, who need help but are either refused it or are
too scared to ask for it.
If we can make politicians and the public aware of the connection
between poverty and care, fight to keep families together and build
a society where protecting children is everyone’s responsibility,
we can move away from the current adversarial child care system.
This will be better for children, parents and workers.
Moraene Roberts is a member of human rights organisation
ATD Fourth World.