Social Services: It's not what you think ...

The first emotion I experienced when I woke up to Charlotte cold, floppy and not breathing properly was confusion. Confusion at what I was actually seeing. Had she ingested something? Knowing I'd done a good job in always teaching the children that they absolutely were not to touch the things in the cleaning cupboard without supervision, some things they were never to touch even with supervision and more importantly why they weren't to touch them, I knew that the likelihood of Charlotte going and drinking for example, bleach was extremely slim but still, here she was nonetheless; cold, floppy and not breathing properly. Interestingly enough however, I soon realised that for me to go through this thought process was perfectly reasonable to me but for anyone else to suggest or imply by someone else brought on different emotions and that strangely the more that was known about what was happening to Charlotte, the more negatively I reacted and the more insular I became.

The two instances that stick in my mind the most (I'm sure my family remember many more) are something a doctor said to another doctor as he passed me in the resuscitation room at Airedale hospital and something my sister said at Leeds hospital. At Airedale, Charlotte was rushed into resuscitation and was immediately being worked on by a huge team. Quite rightly they had immediately carried out a blood test to identify any toxins in Charlotte's system. Just as I had done, they had started their own, obviously more in depth and much more sophisticated process of elimination and just as I had done, they had wondered whether this was down to something which may have been ingested. However to hear a doctor walk past me saying "Tox' screen clear" shocked me. I reacted by immediately thinking "Well of course it's clear! I haven't caused this! Help her!". They weren't blaming me, they were doing their jobs and doing them well, so why had my reaction been any different when I had pondered the exact same thing? Once it had been discovered that Charlotte's brain was bleeding heavily we'd arrived at Leeds hospital and the family had assembled. My big sister, who's a foster carer suggested she make a call to some of her colleagues at social services .. Well, how I didn't leap across the table at that point is beyond me. Why did she want to call social services?! Did she think I'd done this to Charlotte?! If my own sister thought this then what chance did I have against some stranger from social services who come and take children away from their families?! If she thought for one minute that they were going to come anywhere near me and my family then she was wrong! I refused point blank. I mean we've all read the news reports about children being taken away and even children wrongly taken away from loving parents haven't we? I didn't know at that point how to fight nature trying to take one of my children away so to think about fighting the dreaded social services too just overwhelmed me entirely.

Over the next couple of months as Charlotte recovered, social services kept being mentioned and at every turn I adamantly refused any involvement. "Don't you dare bring anyone near me who's going to question my parenting or threaten to take my children" I thought. The reality is, nobody was blaming me and nobody was going to blame me and I knew this really. I was blaming me. I had made Charlotte so I must have done something that contributed to this. Life during my pregnancy with Charlotte was very stressful, did this cause something? I just couldn't accept that it was just one of those things that happen with no rhyme or reason; not to my gorgeous baby girl who was always so kind and had so much ahead of her.

My sister and our best friend had managed to get through to me that my view of social services was only a very small, minute percentage of what happens and that along with my experience of social services in the media and seeing my sister's fostering of children who had been removed from families no wonder that was my reaction. She explained to me that there was so much more to social services including a 'Children with disabilities' team who are responsible for ensuring that disabled children had everything they needed and that their families were supported too. I finally relented and said it was OK for my sister to ask for a meeting.

To involve social services, we had to either be referred by our GP or by someone working within social services. As we had my sister working for them and so that I would be reassured that the referral would make it abundantly clear that there was no suspicion of neglect and no question of the level of care I gave my children she made the referral. An appointment was made and a very lovely lady also called Charlotte, came to see me and have a chat about what had happened. I was still very guarded but by the end of the meeting I was reassured that this lady was on my side and that I could trust her. During the meeting it became apparent that a call had indeed been made to social services by a member of our community to question the level of care I was giving and my ability to cope. As distraught and angry as I was, that anger was immediately put to rest as it was explained to me that in their eyes there was obviously no question whatsoever of my skills as a mother and that actually as devastated as we all were, we were coping. If we were looking a bit forlorn or didn't have a full face of make-up on, it was because we were grieving and in shock and not for any other reason. Our social services lady far from making me feel threatened actually made me feel stronger and galvanised.

Over the next few weeks, the social services children with disabilities team were instrumental in making my life easier by liaising with all of the therapists involved in Charlotte's care, organising meetings, recording minutes of meetings, informing me of local services available to carers and actually drumming it into me that as well as a Mum I was actually now a 'carer' and my responsibilities towards Charlotte had actually changed. Unbeknown to us, life was about to get a lot more stressful as Charlotte began her journey back into education. However, the social services team again held us all together as they supported us though this time and gave me the strength to make some tough decisions which if my stress levels were as high as they could have been, I wouldn't have been able to make. At the time, I was undecided as to whether we were going to move back to Manchester which was something we were intending on doing before Charlotte got poorly, and social services rather than showing concern or trying to block me, could not have been more supportive. They gave me options for both decisions and made sure I had just the right amount of information without bombarding me in order for me to make an informed choice. We decided to stay where we were and to stay around our extended family and I was only able to make this decision as my head was allowed to remain as clear as possible in the knowledge that our social services team were doing all of the chasing and sorting and holding up that I needed.

I think the main thing to take from this experience is that whilst I was assuming that social services were going to look at me negatively and judge me without all of the necessary information, it was actually the other way around. I was the one doing the assuming. I was the one making snap judgements based on very little information and I was the one with the blinkers on refusing to hear anything but my own views. Social Services, in my experience were understanding, supportive, sympathetic, informative and had the best outcome possible for my family at the forefront of their minds at all times. They were always professional, always at the end of the phone at any time without hesitation and even though we have now been discharged from the children with disabilities team, I know that if I need help, all I have to do is call.

I promise to be more open minded in the future and I really hope that by sharing this experience it helps anybody going through a similar time to feel more confident in accepting some help.

L xx

My big sis' and my little girl <3


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