The full text of Tim Yeo's speech

THE full text of MP Tim Yeo's speech:- “I welcome this chance to raise on the Adjournment of the House my deep concerns about adoption of very young children.

THE full text of MP Tim Yeo's speech:-

“I welcome this chance to raise on the Adjournment of the House my deep concerns about adoption of very young children. In particular I wish to expose the policy of Suffolk County Council in cases where the birth parents do not wish to give up newly born babies for adoption.

“This Council actively seeks opportunities to remove babies from their mothers. Its social work staff do so in a manner which in my view is sometimes tantamount to child kidnapping.

“I also wish to raise related concerns about custody decisions in cases where the parents are separated and about the role of CAFCASS.

“Individual CAFCASS officers exercise substantial influence over the outcome of Court hearings. They are often extremely unhelpful both to birth parents who wish to be able to bring up their own children and to fathers who wish to retain access to children following the breakdown of a relationship.

“For some time I have suspected that an explicit if unpublished aim of the staff of SCC is to remove very young children from the care of their parents wherever possible. My anxiety results from a growing number of families in my constituency who come to me for help when SCC staff threaten to take away their children.

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“I will illustrate my concern by describing just one family whom I have got to know well in the last eighteen months. I wish that I believed that their case was exceptional. Alas I fear it may be typical of the practices followed by social workers throughout Suffolk and possibly elsewhere in the country.

“For legal reasons I cannot use the real names of this family. I first met Carissa when she came to my constituency surgery in July 2008 with her partner Jim. At the time Carissa was seven months pregnant.

“I formed the view, which has been confirmed on every subsequent occasion that although Carissa had a difficult and unhappy upbringing herself she is potentially a loving and responsible mother and that Jim would be a supportive and caring father.

“Carissa and Jim were concerned about the threats of SCC staff to take away their unborn baby soon after its birth. I therefore wrote to the then SCC Director for Children and Young People to ask why her staff threatened this action only to be informed that the CC was bound by confidentiality rules which prevented them from disclosing anything about the case.

“This was despite both parents having authorised SCC in writing to disclose all information to me, however damaging it might be to them.

“Their daughter Poppy was born early in September last year. SCC Social Services monitored Poppy's progress minutely during the first few weeks of her life.

“Happily she prospered at home under the loving care of Carissa and Jim. However the fact that no fault could be found in the actual physical and emotional care provided by her natural parents did not deter SCC from destroying this fragile family.

“On 27 October SCC staff, having ensured that Jim would be away from home, accompanied by police, arrived unannounced and without warning at Carissa's home and snatched Poppy, then only a few weeks old, from the arms of her distraught mother.

“I immediately protested to SCC about this unjust and cruel act. I received a letter in reply containing the far from reassuring and completely ungrammatical reply that “I can confirm that the infant was removed without notice with the assistance of the police however no force was used”.

“In the eyes of the Council that apparently made everything all right. The appalling truth is that in Suffolk in 2008 social workers and police can burst unannounced into your home to snatch a nine week old baby from the arms of her mother, a mother who is not only totally innocent of any offence but is not even accused or suspected of having harmed her child.

“Such is the extraordinary power of the social workers that all this happens in a way that cannot be challenged. When the innocent victim asks her Member of Parliament for help his inquiries are met with a wall of silence.

“This wall of silence is said to exist in order to protect the privacy of the child. The truth is that it actually serves to conceal the actions of the social workers from public gaze.

“It is very probable that if social workers had to operate with the same level of transparency and public scrutiny that every other profession takes for granted then some of the terrible cases where a failure to intervene, as opposed to the opposite problem of unnecessary and unjust intervention in the case I am describing, would not take place.

“To make matters very much worse, as I shall explain in a moment, the circumstances of this raid were seriously misrepresented when SCC gave evidence to the Adoption Panel considering Poppy's future in August this year.

“Following the removal of Poppy from the care of her parents a bitter legal battle took place which continues to this day. “Throughout this process SCC have repeatedly changed the grounds for removing Poppy, alternating between blaming one parent and then the other.

“The Council's search for a justification for their cruelty became increasingly frantic as one initial diagnosis was overturned and replaced with another. Numerous contradictions arose which cast serious doubt on the soundness of the current case against this couple.

“The first doctor's psychological assessment of Carissa declared she qualified for a diagnosis of factitious disorder. Then a Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist, after the briefest of assessments, decided that she fulfilled the criteria for the much more catch-all Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

“Again the first doctor assessed that Jim was “a pathological liar” but later a Consultant Clinical Psychologist “would not endorse the expression”.

“Expert witnesses also expressed misgivings. At a professional meeting on 18 March the doctors wanted to go on record “as being very concerned about the fragmented process of this case … Only Dr B had seen both parents - Dr D had only interviewed Jim and Dr S only Carissa. Dr B remarked that the fragmented information was a “disadvantage to the professional assessment as each had only a part of the picture”.

“Astonishingly, however, at no point has the ability of Carissa and Jim to care for Poppy ever been questioned. It is acknowledged that in the few weeks in which they were allowed to look after Poppy they did so in an exemplary manner.

“The final favoured rationale given by Social Services for Poppy's Adoption Order was based on nothing more than the possibility of future emotional abuse of her by either Carissa or Jim.

“SCC claimed that only if Carissa received two years of therapy, and if Jim received at least six months, could they become responsible parents. Accepting this advice, and using wording which betrayed his own prejudices, a judge concluded that this would be too long a period to wait and that Poppy should therefore be taken away from her loving parents.

“The consistent thread running through this horrifying story has been the evident determination of Social Services to prevent an infant being brought up in the care of her natural parents. There have been many other inconsistencies and contradictions in this case, far too many to list here.

“Throughout the process Carissa and Jim have both cooperated fully with Social Services, a reflection of how desperate they have been to retain their role as Poppy's parents.

“They were often caught in Catch 22 situations. Initially Carissa was told she would have more chance of keeping Poppy if she separated from Jim. When she reluctantly complied with this suggestion in order to keep Poppy, however, the alleged instability of their relationship was cited as an additional reason for adoption.

“In August this year when the SCC Adoption Panel held its hearing about the case Jim and Carissa asked me to attend as their Mackenzie friend, the first time I have undertaken this role.

“A kangaroo court would be a better title for this so called Panel. I inquired about its members and was told that they were “people with an interest in adoption - either adoptive parents themselves or people who had been adopted”.

“Put another way this meant the Panel consisted of people who were emotionally in favour of adoption regardless of the merits of any individual case. I later learned that this Panel almost always recommends that babies are adopted and practically never returns them to their birth parents.

“The procedure followed by the Panel involves its members meeting first in private to consider the evidence. Neither Carissa nor Jim were permitted to know what information was being considered at this stage.

“This was particularly alarming because extensive and detailed notes were regularly written up after various meetings with SCC staff, CAFCASS employees and so on. Neither Carissa nor Jim ever had an opportunity to see these notes, to check their veracity or to comment on the judgments they contained.

“This process would not of course be permitted if they were facing criminal charges. The Panel process equates to trying someone for an offence without giving them the chance to know what the case against them is based on. It is such a flagrant breach of natural justice that it would not be tolerated in any other legal process and should not be tolerated in adoption cases.

“Neither Carissa nor Jim stand accused of any offence whatever. The punishment they face however is one of the most terrible any parent can face - the forced removal of their own baby. The awful truth is that they would have more legal rights, and would be treated in a more humane and just way, if they were on trial for murdering their own child.

“It meant that when Carissa and Jim eventually met the Panel they had no idea what points they should try to make because they did not know what they were accused of.

“Equally seriously, the accuracy of the allegations put before the Panel by SCC is extremely questionable. One allegation, based on evidence from an SCC staffer, was that Jim had actually been present at the time when Poppy was snatched from her mother.

“It was said that a man's voice making threatening comments was heard from another room in the flat where Carissa was living with Poppy.

“This was not only a fabrication but must have been known to be a fabrication by SCC staff when it was included among the items for consideration by the Panel.

“While I am not qualified to assess the suitability of my constituents to parent their own child, I am very concerned indeed about this case. In bringing it SCC have followed a procedure which ought to be outlawed in any civilised country. It is a process which denies parents the most basic human and legal rights.

“I am also concerned about the apparent contortions that SCC Social Services and their appointed medical practitioners have gone through in order to justify their intervention and find grounds for adoption.

“It is clear that far more accountability and scrutiny is required for social workers, CAFCASS officials, expert witnesses and judges. This is particularly the case when many of the same people are frequently involved.

“For example the judge who oversaw both a previous private law proceeding relating to Carissa's former husband also dealt with the case of Poppy. The CAFCASS practitioner who is Poppy's guardian was also involved in a custody dispute about Carissa's first child.

“Before concluding I wish to mention briefly another constituency case involving this same CAFCASS worker. I consider the actions of this worker to be so damaging to the families she is appointed to help that as soon as I am legally permitted to do so I shall name her publicly. In the meantime I strongly advise CAFCASS that she should be suspended.

“In this other case a previously stable relationship between Richard and his partner, who together had a young daughter, broke down in distressing circumstances when his partner's older daughter physically attacked Richard. Unable to return to the family home, for which he had paid, and unwilling to bring charges against his step daughter, Richard moved out.

“At first, despite regular threats of violence against Richard and his family from the family of his former partner, threats which were so serious that significant protection measures had to be taken, Richard continued to enjoy almost daily access to his daughter.

“Daily access, that is, until CAFCASS arrived on the scene. In flagrant contradiction of the merits of this case and very much against the interests of the young girl the CAFCASS officer persuaded the Court to cut Richard's access to his only daughter to a supervised session of no more than three hours a week. In the process Richard's personal safety was seriously compromised.

“The result has been the destruction of the previously close and loving relationship between Richard and his daughter. Great distress has been caused to the whole of his family and Richard's health and well being have been gravely damaged.

“To sum up, I believe that the current procedure for resolving adoption cases when the natural parents wish to retain care and custody of their childen is unfair, unjust and should not be tolerated.

“The secrecy surrounding the process together with the appalling lack of scrutiny and accountability in the social care and family court system are made worse by the fact Members of Parliament are prevented from having proper information in relation to “child protection” cases.

“Like other Hon Members I am daily supporting constituents who have been let down by some branch of the state. Uniquely in the area of child protection I am expected to trust that public officials are doing everything correctly. I am not allowed to make an informed judgement of this myself.

“Sadly we know from the terrible baby P case that sometimes social workers make grievous errors. How therefore can we believe that every time a child is forcibly removed from a loving home and from his or her natural parents the judgment of the social workers is so perfect and faultless that it should not be open to any outside scrutiny?

“In the case of Poppy it was only in September 2009, AFTER a court had ruled that she should be permanently and forcibly adopted, that I was finally allowed access to the detailed case notes. Poppy's parents themselves are still struggling to see the data held on them despite wanting to mount a private appeal.

“Once again the rights of people accused of crimes, however serious, are far greater than those of parents of children whom social workers want to seize for adoption. In criminal cases defendants have a right to receive copies of case conference notes and all evidence used against them in court.

“There are of course many cases where removing a child from the care of its parents is necessary and right. Tragically decisions about whether or not to return an abused child to abusive parents may literally be a matter of life and death.

“The category of 'emotional abuse' is more complex but in any circumstances it is surely true that if the professionals involved were made more accountable then decisions about permanent removal would be a little easier to justify. The problem of accountability is complex but as Camilla Cavendish, an award winning journalist who has studied this subject, points out “the privacy of the child has become synonymous with the privacy of professionals”.

“The other lesson from the case of Poppy is that the emphasis must shift away from removing young children from parents who may themselves be vulnerable and somewhat inadequate and on to providing support for those same parents.

“If a fraction of the effort, cost and time that was spent by SCC staff on trying to justify the removal of Poppy from her parents had instead been devoted to helping Carissa and Jim then they would have strengthened a family instead of destroying it.

“Social workers should provide more supportive parenting help earlier on. The Judge suggested that Jim would require 6 months to a year of therapy in September 2009, which does not fit into Poppy's “timescales” but this family was known to Social Services prior to her birth - giving them as much as 18 months to work with this couple if needed.

“Tens of thousands of pounds have been spent on the court process for this case. Money that could have been used to help this family and others in their position.

“I urge the Minister to institute an immediate inquiry into how the adoption process works in the cases of very young babies born to parents who wish to keep them. Sixteen years ago I was a Minister myself at the Department of Health where I had responsibility for adoption and social services policy.

“I believe that this is a subject of critical importance to many families which transcends normal party political boundaries. Let the case of Poppy be the catalyst which leads to a change in these unfair procedures.”