Mother flees abroad with her son to escape social workers

Social workers have been accused of trying to seize a six-year-old boy from his mother despite having no evidence that she has ever harmed him.

By Patrick Sawer
Last Updated: 2:14PM GMT 20 Dec 2008/Telegraph

The 33-year-old woman fled to Ireland with her son in a bid to prevent social services taking him back into care. The British authorities maintain the boy suffered "emotional harm" while witnessing his father's violent rages against the mother and needs to be placed with a foster family.

But his mother, who has separated from the father, says social workers have never argued that she posed a danger to him and therefore have no case against her.

Devon social services are going to an Irish court in the next few weeks with an international warrant demanding the return of the child, who cannot be identified and is known as Boy L, into their care.

The case is among the thousands being dealt with each year by the secretive family courts system, which Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, promised to open up to greater public scrutiny.

The Sunday Telegraph has led calls for the media to have access to the courts as a way of ensuring that justice is seen to be done, while still protecting the privacy of the children involved.

The latest case remains shrouded in secrecy as it predates Mr Straw's moves to allow the proceeds of the courts to be reported from next April.

It only came to light because of the work of Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming, who has campaigned for greater openness.

He said: "The only significant harm that has been suffered by Boy L is that which has been done by children's services (from Britain). He has been seen by social services in Ireland who have confirmed that he is settled and happy and that the only unusual thing about him is a dread of social workers."

Boy L's mother, known only as Mrs W, took her son abroad after claiming he had suffered trauma through being placed with three different foster carers and three different schools in the space of only six months.

She said: "He was traumatised. While he was in care he was wetting his bed and having nightmares. He had even started to self-harm. He would run out of school saying he was going to find his mummy. When I was allowed to see him he would cling to me and refuse to let go."

Social services first became involved with Mrs W and her son six years ago when she approached them herself, asking for help to deal with her increasingly violent husband.

Although he had never attacked the boy, social workers feared he would suffer long-term emotional harm by witnessing the domestic abuse.

When Mrs W moved from Leicestershire to Devon in September 2006 to start a new life away from her husband.

Social services appeared to be satisfied that she could look after her son but became concerned when Mrs W's estranged husband followed her to Devon to be closer to the boy.

Leicestershire social services subsequently obtained a family court order to remove the boy from her care. Mrs W claims that he was taken from his nursery without her knowledge and placed with a foster mother.

Mrs W, a devout Catholic, said: "I was absolutely distraught. I couldn't understand how they could do that. It wasn't my fault my husband had followed us to Devon. I had no control over him."

She said that on the rare occasions that she was allowed to see her son - sometimes only once a month - she found him increasingly upset.

"The trauma caused to him by being placed with different foster parents and in different schools far outweighed any he might have suffered from seeing my husband being abusive to me," she said.

When Mrs W fell pregnant again, following a brief - and by her own admission ill-judged - reunion with her husband, social services threatened to take the new baby into care.

In June last year she took her son, while he was on an unsupervised visit, and, leaving a note explaining her actions, fled to Spain.

Here she set up home with the two children and sent Boy L to school, where she claims he began to make rapid progress and regained some of his self-confidence. She also obtained a Spanish court order restraining her husband from approaching her.

However she again fled, this time to Sweden and on to the Republic of Ireland, after a Spanish court ordered her to surrender Boy L following a legal application by the British authorities. Devon social services have no jurisdiction over the baby as he was born in Spain.

Mrs W says her son has settled happily in the small village where they now live.

Devon County Council said it could not comment on individual cases.



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