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Inspirational women of the year: Alison's son was snatched away after she was wrongly branded a child abuser


The months Alison Stevens spent apart from her son still haunt her.

Twenty four years on, she cannot forget the pain she felt when social services took away her three-year-old without warning - or just cause.
Doctors should have diagnosed brittle bone disease when Alison took Scott to A&E with a broken leg. Instead, they decided he was being abused by his parents and put him in care immediately.
It took 12 long, tormented weeks for Alison and her husband, Andy, an electrician, to clear their names and win their son's return. The joy and relief they felt at having their family reunited was immeasurable. Alison was left so affected by the experience that she was determined to help other people fight similar injustices

Since then, she has helped thousands of parents as the head of the national organisation Parents Against Injustice (PAIN).

'I will always remember the hurt and confusion I felt back then,' says Alison. 'It was horrendous finding Scott's hospital bed empty, then being told by nurses they thought we were to blame for his injuries. For months we had to visit him in a foster home when we desperately wanted to have him home.

'I am compelled to help other people because I understand what they are going through and how badly the system can work. This can happen to anyone and, when it does, you feel powerless.
'The toll it takes on you is indescribable - parents call me on the brink of suicide. But through PAIN I am able to help them get their children back.' While the agony still feels fresh to Alison, it was back in 1985 that her son Scott was put in care. He had been having a bath with his brother Lee, then five, when he tried to get out and slipped awkwardly, hurting his leg.
'Leaving him was like having my heart ripped out'
When Alison and Andy took Scott to hospital, doctors insisted he stay in for observation.

'Returning to the hospital that evening to visit Scott, I never suspected anything was amiss,' says Alison.
'But when we reached his bed it was empty.

'A nurse took us into a room and explained that social services had taken him away because his fracture wasn't consistent with an accident. The doctor said that we must have twisted his leg. I was distraught.'

Alison and Andy returned home, scared and confused, not knowing where Scott was and having no idea how they could get him back.

Through Yellow Pages, they discovered PAIN, a national organisation offering advice to parents wrongly accused of child abuse.

'I called them and cried down the phone,' she says.
'They were very comforting, and put me in touch with a solicitor, who specialised in child protection cases, and a doctor for a second opinion.'

The doctor asked whether Scott was small for his size and if his eyes had a blue tinge - both of which were accurate - then explained his symptoms sounded like brittle bone disease. Social services continued to refuse to let the couple know how the case was proceeding.

Then, two days later, police arrested Andy for grievous bodily harm. He was released 12 hours later due to lack of evidence. Yet it was two weeks before the family was finally told where Scott was and allowed to visit him.

An interim order granted them two hours' access, three times each week. 'His foster home was with a one parent family in a scruffy council house. It was a really rough, messy environment,' says Alison.
'When we said goodbye, Scott started screaming. He was asking why we'd sent him away and telling us he hadn't been naughty.
'Leaving him was like having my heart ripped out - I just wanted to take him home.' Alison was put in touch with a brittle bone specialist by PAIN as well as another family whose sons had been taken away in similar circumstances.
Then, three months after Scott had been removed, their solicitor called and said social services had admitted it could have been accidental. The following day, Scott was returned to his parents. 'It was wonderful having Scott back, but he was a changed child,' says Alison.

'In the past month, I've had three families reunited. That's the best news you can ever hear.'
'He was constantly angry, used terrible language and wanted everything straightaway.

'He had clearly grown used to having no discipline, and it took three years before he returned to the little boy we had known. And he still thought he'd been naughty, which was heart-breaking.'
But it wasn't only Scott who was left affected - Alison developed the inflammatory disorder Crohn's disease six weeks after Scott was taken, which she puts down to the stress she suffered as a result of losing her little boy. 'The worry was so bad it left me with health problems,' says Alison.
'Since then, I've had depression, a hiatus hernia and inflammatory bowel disease.'

The family waited a year for an appointment with the brittle bone specialist, who swiftly diagnosed the disease.

Yet Alison's experience left her wanting to help other parents, so she set up a support group in Leicester and started working with PAIN, looking after the Midlands and Yorkshire.

In 2002, the Department of Health - which had paid for three full-time paid workers - stopped funding PAIN and the organisation was forced to close.

But Alison was determined to reopen it and took over running it on a voluntary basis, in addition to her full-time work as a hospital nurse. She is now helped by two other people. Alison's achievements have been remarkable.

It was PAIN that pushed for the Parents Allowed in Case Conference Bill in the Nineties. This month, her three-year campaign with John Hemming MP to open up family courts will pay off, as journalists and charity representatives such as herself are finally allowed to attend case conferences, enabling greater public scrutiny of procedures.

She is trying to change the situation for enhanced CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checks because any allegation remains on a person's file, even if social services take no action - 17,000 people are affected by this. But while Alison is proud of these campaigns, it is her day-to-day work with parents - 'Just being there to listen' - that remains most important to her.

'Just looking at my little granddaughter spurs me on.'
'When someone is in that situation, they want to talk to someone who can empathise,' she says.
'Last week, one woman who called was incredibly upset and, after speaking to me, said she had been thinking of suicide.

'In the past month, I've had three families reunited. That's the best news you can ever hear.'

Alison takes ten phone calls a day and responds to countless emails and messages asking for advice and guidance.

She regularly attends case conferences and court with parents. Fitting in this huge workload around full-time nursing is difficult.

Even on holiday in Egypt two months ago, Alison found an internet cafe and dealt with inquiries - though she still had 300 emails when she returned home. She feels indebted to the group.

'Without it, I might not have won back my son,' she says.

'Today, Scott is 27 and has his own baby daughter, Holly. Just looking at my little granddaughter spurs me on.'

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1170370/Inspirational-women-Alison-wrongly-branded-child-abuser-fights-justice-others.html#ixzz0bDTDjOK5

2009 Apr 16