Question: “What`s the difference between a social worker and a Rottweiler?”
Answer: “You get your children back from a Rottweiler.”
I`m a parent`s advocate. I support parents with learning disabilities who are going through child protection proceedings. Vulnerable people are disadvantaged because they are unable to make their voices heard and for parents with learning disabilities, advocacy becomes even more urgent because children are involved.
The parents I work with tell me they are reluctant to attend ante-natal or parenting classes because they feel so `different` or they are already worried that their baby may be taken off them. Organisations often don`t look at how they might creatively improve their services and make themselves more accessible and as a result, the parents are later judged or penalised for not attending classes. Family anxiety is not without foundation as research shows that parents with learning disabilities are disproportionately represented in child protection cases. Approximately 50% of parents with learning disabilities have their children removed into care and statistics show that this figure has increased following the death of Baby P in 2007. In fact one of the Independent Reviewing Officers for child protection conferences commented to me recently that in the borough where I work, once your child has been placed on a Child Protection Plan, it is practically impossible to get them off it.
To be fair, I do understand first -hand how difficult the task of the children`s social worker is. My brother was a children`s team manager for 25 years, some of the tales he could tell you would break your heart. It`s also true to say that I have worked with some wonderful social workers who put their everything into supporting families, they go above and beyond the call of duty. Sometimes families don`t help themselves but the point I want to make is that frequently families are instructed at case conferences to “go on an anger management course,” or “go to Relate and get some counselling,” and then find that such a course doesn`t exist or that Relate have a twelve week waiting list.
Advocacy recognises that if offered the right kinds of support, many adults with a learning difficulty make very good parents. Unfortunately the right kinds of support are non-existent, or in very short supply. We are committed to finding, creating and accessing support to enable parents to look after their own family to the best of their ability. We assist parents who may already be in court proceedings and speak up for them on their behalf. We explain to parents what their legal and human rights are and represent their views and wishes at all stages of Child Protection Proceedings.
Recently a solicitor described me as her client`s “security blanket.” I was pretty cross to be so patronised because that isn`t what I am at all, I am her client`s voice in court. The client and I are equal partners in an advocacy working relationship. Many people don`t really understand the power of advocacy or the significant difference it can make, or perhaps they do and we don`t fit in with the `professionals` views and wishes for the possible outcomes, who knows? Social workers will often call us in at the last minute, just as a court hearing is about to recommend a child or children be removed into care. This no good to us at all, or to our clients, for the advocate and their client it just becomes a hand holding exercise, it is tokenism, it is a transparent attempt to tick all the boxes.
If you are a social worker, a lawyer, a midwife, a health visitor, a child care practitioner and you know someone with a learning disability is getting into a mess, call upon an advocacy service immediately. The earlier we can begin working with someone, the better the outcome is likely to be.
Here are some important things some of our families have said to us…….
`I don`t know what I would have done without advocacy, I would have been lost, my advocate has given me the confidence to speak up for myself.`
`thank you so much for supporting my sister through this very difficult time, it is very reassuring to know that there is someone there for her because I live so far away.`
`advocacy has helped me to understand what is happening. It makes me want to go out and help someone else in need.`
If you are a parent, or know anyone who is pregnant and about to become a parent, if they are vulnerable in some way or have a learning disability then please put them in touch with an advocate so that they talk about any issues they may have.