Magazine article The Spectator

When the State Takes Your Child

Magazine article The Spectator

When the State Takes Your Child

Article excerpt

'There is no worse experience for a mother than to lose her child,' says Rachel Drew softly. 'I think about her all the time. I keep photographs of her with me. . . . ' She pulls four pictures of a smiling six-year-old child from her wallet. 'These pictures are all I have left.'

The last time Rachel Drew saw her daughter Charlotte was on 19 May last year. It is a date etched on her heart. She speaks of it as the time when 'I lost my baby'. Yet her daughter, who will celebrate her eighth birthday in the autumn of this year, is not dead. Rachel Drew knows she is alive and well: her child has been forcibly adopted into another family. In the summer of 2003, Ms Drew's local council applied for a forcible adoption order, and the judge assigned to the case granted it. Charlotte is now with the new parents chosen for her by the council. The final formalities will be completed later this year.

Forced adoption is irrevocable once the formalities have been completed. After that happens, a mother is usually not allowed to see her child until the child reaches the age of 18. Rachel Drew expresses its effect simply: she says that 'it feels like my child is dead'. She now has a couple of months in which to find a lawyer who will take up her case and possibly win back her child -although legal experts say that the chances of such an outcome are extremely slim.

When I met Rachel Drew, she seemed just like thousands, indeed millions, of other mothers. She tried hard not to reveal in public how devastated she has been by the loss of her daughter, and to restrict herself to a recitation of the facts.

Rachel Drew cannot understand why her daughter was forcibly taken from her. Aged 40, she says she is unlikely to have another child. Her reaction - a combination of anger and agony - is understandable. There is no suggestion from the local council that she has ever harmed her daughter physically, and no suggestion that she has neglected her or been cruel to her. She has had a diagnosis of mild schizophrenia -which was how, when she was pregnant, she first came to the attention of social services - but the symptoms of the illness are, and have been, thoroughly controlled by medication. Rachel now works as a foot-health practitioner. There are no signs at all of any mental illness when you meet her: she seems to be a perfectly normal woman.

Might, nevertheless, Rachel's mild schizophrenia have harmed her ability to care for her daughter? A consultant psychiatrist, whom I shall label Dr X - like all experts involved in child protection proceedings he may not be named - examined her with her daughter at the request of the local I social services in 2001 when Charlotte was three. He stated that 'all current observations suggest that Charlotte is a bright child who is happy and exuberant. She has a strong and affectionate relationship with her mother.' He concluded that 'there is no risk of serious harm in the foreseeable future'.

The council's social services, however, became convinced that Charlotte was suffering 'emotional abuse' from her mother. The council decided to replace the first psychiatrist with another, whom I shall label Dr Y. Dr Y's diagnosis was diametrically opposite to that of the first psychiatrist. She found that Charlotte was at 'serious risk' of emotional abuse from her mother.

Over the course of a year, and on the basis of two meetings - lasting a total of about three and a half hours - in which she observed Rachel and her daughter together, Dr Y produced two reports. In them, she concluded that there were 'aspects of Rachel's functioning which would not enable her to fulfil Charlotte's needs consistently at all times'. Dr Y also required Dr A, a colleague of hers, to examine Rachel. Dr A came to the same conclusion as Dr Y. She claimed that 'Rachel would find it hard to remain alert to, and in tune with, Charlotte's concerns for hours at a time. . . . In addition, she has definite and concrete ideas about what it is beneficial for Charlotte to, for example, eat, wear and do, that she often wishes to impose. …

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