In early July my teenage daughter was taken into care under section 20 of The Children Act on a voluntary care basis after a year of her experiencing emotional and behavioural difficulties.
I could not get the support I felt we so desperately needed. I felt alone, unheard, fearful and isolated. I was very worried about my ability to cope and how it was impacting on the whole family.
I had heard the term “hard to reach families” being bandied about in my job as a holistic therapist. Yet here I was thinking ‘what about hard to reach services’? To where should I self refer, if my daughter was not breaking the law as such, but was completely out of control?
I was racked with guilt at not being able to get her support
I sat in the foyer of Croydon social services one day, waiting for a meeting with a social worker. I felt a complete failure as a mother and racked with guilt that I had not been able to find the support my daughter so desperately needed.
It was in the foyer that I spotted a leaflet about Mind in Croydon’s Independent Parenting Advocacy Service. I got in touch to see how they might be able to support me. We agreed to meet early the following week, the day before I was due to attend a Looked After Children (LAC) review.
A very daunting LAC review
It all felt very daunting to me as this was a situation I was unfamiliar with. I didn’t even know whether I had any rights because it felt to me that social services had the right to overrule anything I felt or said, in the so called ‘interests of the child.’
With the exception of one individual professional from a voluntary sector charity, I had up until this point felt unheard.
I felt social services weren’t taking me seriously
I was concerned about my daughter’s vulnerability and felt this was not being taken seriously by social services. It was the advocate who stepped in at the meeting and calmly sat beside me, providing moral support as our lives were scrutinised by professionals from various agencies.
It was interesting to note that due to time constraints the nature of the complex issues being discussed were, to my mind, being rushed through.
The advocate reiterated my daughter’s cry for help
The number one priority for me was to get my daughter’s mental health assessment authorised. She had not helped her case by refusing to engage with mental health services earlier on.
When she bravely voiced that she was feeling suicidal during the course of the meeting, it was the advocate who reiterated the importance of my daughter’s cry for help.
Obviously it was very difficult to hear this information. When I found myself too upset, the advocate asked for the meeting to be halted until I was able to compose myself.
She came out of the LAC review with me for five minutes.
After the review I felt better empowered and informed with an advocate but the support didn’t stop there.
Written information on useful websites for mediation, family rights groups and family law helplines was sent to me and this saved me a lot of legwork. It was such a blessing given I have no computer and two small children to look after.
Yet my concerns around the care system and how parents are often kept in the dark about issues concerning the child or being the last to know were still niggling me.
I felt I hadn’t been involved enough in the decision making process about my daughter. No-one had explained it to me properly and I wanted to complain.
The advocate helped me find out about the complaints procedure and who to get in touch with. She even offered to attend a potentially daunting meeting with me.
Although in the end this meeting did not happen, the letter Mind’s advocacy service drafted for me helped me to differentiate what was important and what things I had perhaps magnified in my own mind.
The fact that it was echoed by a professional advocate, seemed to hold more weight, sadly. This ‘hand holding’ continues to support and sustain me today.
*The daughter returned home in the autumn. Her behaviour has greatly improved, she is being supported with her mental health issues and is attending school regularly. The Mind in Croydon project is funded for three years by Comic Relief, view more details on the service here.