Sam’s* family in Perth and Kinross were put through a similar hell to my own. This story in the Scottish Daily Express shows that Sam’s experience is not an “isolated incident” in Perth and Kinross. Like my own showed that Clare’s story in Moray was not an “isolated incident” there. How many isolated incidents = a problem. These incidents are starting to raise the question: is child protection across Scotland broken?
Following a serious anti-social neighbour problem, Sam and her family moved to Perth and Kinross. There is no harassment legislation in Scotland so getting a satisfactory legal redress when being tortured by the neighbours is not easy. For the families stuck in these situations the emotions involved can be similar to being in a war zone. To recover can take time and many victims of neigbour harassment, understandably, have mental health issues.
At the time Sam was pregnant and she has since given birth to a son. She is dealing with the mental health issues induced by the situation with her neighbour and her husband has ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (another topic very close to my heart). This is the kind of situation where the state should be able to help right? Don’t we expect in Scotland in 2016 to live in a compassionate society? A society that helps out when we don’t have family resources to do so? This particularly important as families shrink and we are more spread out. Modern families don’t have those old fashioned resources to help. When my mother had struggles there was an aunt or cousin or uncle or sister ready to step in.
Instead of the support she needed, Sam found herself battling with a health visitor who had no respect for her family, a health visitor who passed on their number and details to other agencies without permission, despite knowing how vulnerable that would make Sam and her husband feel. In fact health care professionals have accused Sam of “going on” about the neighbour situation she was in. Sam says she did not but even if she had surely she should be allowed to ask for help for her family to get over what happened to them. Instead of condemnation and being told to shut up about it, conversation should be encouraged and help provided to deal with it.
Sam’s son was referred to speech and language therapy and that has resulted in a catalogue of issues that Sam and her husband have to deal with over and above their health problems. Their son has yet to have any diagnosis or assessment and they are still unsure of the exact nature of that referral. Things were mentioned in the doctor’s letter that had never been previously discussed with them. It creates the impression that discussions are happening behind Sam and her husband’s back and they are not being consulted about their son. Parents know their child better than anyone else. Cutting parents out of any process is a huge mistake.
Fighting local authorities and health care professionals is particularly hard in situations when the parents are not at their full health and need support. I would argue it is also dangerous when the family is vulnerable and it creates child protection issues that hadn’t existed previously. Instead of support more obstacles were placed in the way of Sam and her family having a normal family life.
This is not good for them but more importantly this is not GIRFEC. Their son is not benefiting from having his parents ripped apart physically and mentally. How can keeping his main carers in the dark about his needs be good for him in anyway?
Our elected officials appear to have little power over the unelected in these situations and whilst we can turn to them of the stories I’ve heard very few get proper satisfaction. Council complaints are brushed off and buried under buercracy. I spent several months complaining about one issue with Moray Council to be informed that it wasn’t treated as a complaint because I hadn’t started the letters with “I wish to complain about...” In the case of ill parents, dealing with all the layers of government is yet another issue to deal with that takes energy away from them and reduces the quality of care they can give to their children. Instead of being able to deal with concerns they have and caring for their child, politics takes priority over the child. How is putting local authorities and government first – GIRFEC?
Sam has felt like both herself and her husband have been treated as though they are incompetent idiots. At every step of the way instead of engaging and listening to the family their family has been threatened with Social Services whenever they disagreed with the health visitor. This has made them afraid to fight back to complain and ultimately to stick up for their son. As a parent not being able to protect your child is the hardest thing in the world especially when the person you’re protecting them from should also have their best interests at heart.
Are these problems caused by the way professionals are trained? There appears to be a widespread inability to listen to the families and to engage with each one on a personal level. Throughout Named Person and GIRFEC, the Scottish Government have set the example with this. Parental concerns have been brushed aside and met with insults.
Since Named Person and GIRFEC have come on the scene there seems to be a rabid need to fit every family and every person into a box. We have become data for government to collect not individuals to assisted in our lives.
Sam’s family were wounded. They needed help to heal but instead the people they should have been able to turn to in that situation have turned on them. The actions of the state worked to destroy the family. Harming parents does not help children.
Named Person and GIRFEC are sticking plasters going on skin slimy with ointment. Is it time to rip off the plasters and let the damaged social services heal? They need more than stitching and plastic surgery.
Agencies don’t listen and threaten so parents are forced to lie to protect their families, and then agencies get suspicious because the parent lied. Nobody gets helped and everyone is angry. It’s a vicious circle and it’s certainly not GIRFEC or SHAANARI.
I couldn't resist this "Life of Brian" sketch. I feel like Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney proclaim whatever they feel like and want us all to respond with "Yes we are all individuals." Well I'm not.
*Sam's name has been changed to protect her anonymity.
The Kimlin Family