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Thursday, 27 March 2014

A Survivors Story

My Family first became involved with children’s services in 1997. Until then the children had a very stable upbringing and home. I was engaged to their father and we were together ten years. He was director of a company and I was a stay at home mum to our son and daughter.  We had a good life, mortgage, holidays abroad, and nice cars. We lived as society said we should.
Unfortunately this all changed in 1997, things happened very quickly and the children security and stability went downhill. My partner worked a lot and I foolishly had an affair.  This led to my partner asking us to leave the family home. The children and I moved to a new address. It’s a very deprived area, somewhere you would never want your children playing outside. My new  partner soon became abusive before I knew it I was diagnosed with depression and on medication.  I tried to make friends around the area but this led to more trouble. The girl next door to me dealt in cocaine and it wasn’t long before I found myself taking a few lines of the drug here and there on an evening and weekends. I was also drinking a few glasses of wine. The emotional abuse I received from my partner was the worst. To be told you’re no good (along with a lot of abusive names) on a daily basis wears you down…you start to believe it. I lost all confidence and self esteem.  I tried to focus more on the children but this man did not like me showing my children affection. He would wait till they were in bed then spit in my face, lock me in the house and abuse me. Within 3 months I was addicted to cocaine. My alcohol intake increased too. I felt trapped, scared. I had nowhere to turn, no family, no support network. I was trying to pretend everything was normal. Looking back now its clear things were completely out of control. The children were at risk 24 hours a day but I was too involved in it to see it. Or when I did see it, I was too weak and afraid to do anything about it.
One night  after a heavy night I overslept and didn’t arrive to pick the children up from school. The school rang the children’s father and children’s services. They came to see me and I was so weak I could barely stand. The children’s father went for an emergency residence order and the children were removed from my care that day. I immediately felt hatred for social workers.
There are no exact words to describe that pain of having your children taken from you. It made it worse because the children really didn’t want to go. I called children’s services everyday begging them to return my children. I could not walk into their rooms…it was like I was mourning.  I felt I was given no support. It felt like I had nothing to live for anymore. I was so wrapped up in my own feelings and addiction that it didn’t even occur to me that it was in the children’s best interests to be in their fathers care.  I could only see my children twice a week for 2 hours in a contact centre. The end of every visit was so painful for all of us. It was heartbreaking. I would leave the contact centre and go to buy wine and cocaine to block out the pain. Then I would go home and not dare show emotion to my partner or he would start with the abuse. Every day was a living nightmare and the children have since disclosed how they used to cry in their beds night after night to come home. At one point my son thought I was dead because nobody had explained to him where his Mummy was or what had happened.
Whilst Children’s services were acting in the best interests of the children, why wasn’t I initially offered support or directed to specialist agencies?   I still believe if I was offered earlier intervention I would not have became so mentally low and out of control.
It was an Aragon worker who came out to see me about my rent that helped me. She came to core meetings and helped me to move  away from my partner.  I left in the middle of the night leaving most of my belongings behind and went to stay up North with my mum. I didn’t see the children for around 6 weeks. Eventually I was moved to another village. I started engaging with CAMH and the James Kingham Project. I was also recommended to complete all 12 modules of the Freedom Programme. I stopped taking cocaine and my drinking decreased. After passing a hair strand test it was eventually decided the children should be returned to my care.  This was a very happy time for all of us. Eventually children’s services stepped down.
I met someone else and Life was normal again for a few years. We had a baby in 2009 then out of the blue he left us when my daughter  was only 6 months old. He left the area and made no further contact. I started drink wine on a nightly basis with a girlfriend of mine just to help me cope relax and unwind. It wasn’t until 2011 that I noticed I had a problem. I had a mental breakdown out of the blue one day. I could not stop crying. I ended up calling an ambulance and they came out and took me to hospital where I disclosed I was drinking around 3 bottles of wine per evening. I spoke to a psychiatrist who confirmed I had had an acute stress reaction. This is when children’s services became involved again.  I was advised to start counseling, and was referred to CAN for a detox programme. I also met a new partner around this time. In hindsight I was not ready for a relationship but the prospect of being on my own was daunting. Again I think if I had more support in place I would not have entered into another relationship.
Within weeks our relationship became volatile. I discovered he had a cocaine problem and we argued a lot. I noticed my son withdrawing and spending more time in his room. I always thought I could make it ok, that if my partner could just get help for his anger and addiction he would be fixed and we could be happy.  We had two years of children services intervention. The children were placed on CP twice due to our volatile relationship and the abuse that went on.  Again I attended the Freedom programme but because I was still involved with my partner I found it difficult to fully take onboard the impact domestic violence was having on myself and the children. I was also in the middle of deep therapy regarding childhood abuse when James Kingham closed down. This had a huge negative  impact on me and I don’t feel it was dealt with and closed properly. It just stopped abruptly. I then became pregnant but when my baby was born my partner used cocaine so I had to end the relationship. He would not accept it was over and would harass me at all hours, banging on the door, calling me names, threatening to report me to children’s services, smashing my property. I did call the police on many occasions but always forgave him. As suggested by Childrens serves   I did attempt to go for a non-molestation order previously and phoned the police 34 times in one month every time my ex showed up. However at conference it was said living in a home where the police are called out 34 times a month is not healthy for the children. I felt like I could not do right for doing wrong.
 It was during the most recent incident of my ex trying to kick down my door that something inside me clicked and I thought ‘enough is enough’.  My new social worker is very efficient and immediately gave me some helpline numbers one of which was national domestic violence helpline. Within two weeks my ex was served with a 12 month non molestation order.
I am now on my own with all 4 children and have been for 7 months .I am still alcohol free and am currently doing the Freedom programme again for the second time in 6 months. This time it has been invaluable to be and I have a great support network there. I now understand the warning signs of perpetrators and feel I am able to protect my children in a way I could not demonstrate before.  We have completed a lot of work with action for children which was fantastic. The children’s school attendance dropped when I split up from my partner as I initially found it hard to get up and cope in the mornings so we then started having FIS intervention. My worker  was the person to support me in court when I went to apply for the non molestation order.
Overall my experience with children’s services has been positive but there have been a few issues:
During this intervention we have had 5 different social workers which has without a doubt hindered the case being stepped down and closed. Each new worker has had to get to know myself and the children and the case. This is something the children have really struggled with emotionally.
The minutes we receive from meetings are always out of date and the punctuation and grammar is appalling. A recent report read a teacher had said my child had stated she had witnessed me drinking alcohol. The teacher denies all knowledge of this. This one statement in itself could be damaging. Names and dates of birth can be wrong, phone numbers disclosed where they shouldn’t be disclosed. Its not easy for the families who are sitting at home reading these reports about their lives, especially when some parts are simply untrue.
I have been a victim to receiving a letter from social services on a Saturday with jargon such as ‘legal planning meeting’ written. They are terrifying to read and your social worker isn’t there to find out what it means. These letters received on Saturdays could be detrimental to parents with addictions or anxiety problems.
With regards to my personal journey, I have to thank Pat Craven for creating the Freedom Programme. Being a victim of childhood abuse, I grew up to believe it was normal for men to treat women in such a way that I just accepted it. I had no idea the affects of living with domestic violence was having on my children or myself until I completed this programme.  I don’t believe social workers are properly informed about domestic violence and think it would be so beneficial if every social worker had to attend some group sessions and see firsthand what these women have to go through. Its so hard to leave the dominator but its even harder when you have children’s services telling you what to do in order to keep your children on top of everything else. Sometimes it can feel as if childrens services are saying you need to do X Y and Z but they don’t guide you or give you support. It can be a very lonely place being a single Mum with intervention.
The most difficult part of this is now facing the reality of the domestic violence my children have witnessed (two of them, all their lives) and the fact that all four of them will probably need counseling at some time in their lives.  I now have to work so hard to make sure the same patterns are not followed with regards to alcohol and relationships. 
I am grateful that there is such a service out there to protect our children if parents are not coping.

I am so eager to spread the word about this programme and give people the knowledge they need. I want to help in any way I can. Am I still able to train with Children's services still involved? Am I able to train with a criminal conviction?  (which I received as a result of DV). My daughter is still young but this training will be invaluable to me in the near future. I want to build up as much knowledge and training as I can and do something in the DV field.  

I look forward to hearing from you.