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NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

January 16, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

One of the recurring themes of this blog is the use of child protective services agencies as simply a demonstration of government power. In more than one state, for example, the pretext of protecting children has been used to attack activists who promote decriminalization or the medical use of marijuana. Time and again we’ve seen children taken away from parents who are plainly fit and loving but who also advocate for the sensible use of pot or its removal from lists of controlled substances.

Then there are the less politically motivated actions by CPS such as in the case of the Houston mother who was sitting on her front porch as her son rode his bicycle on the sidewalk and street of their cul-de-sac. A neighbor considered that to be neglectful parenting despite the fact that the woman was supervising her child and there was little-to-no traffic. The police and CPS took the child anyway on a temporary basis of course, but the point was made — we can do this for any reason or no reason.

What child welfare officials know is what everyone knows — that nowhere are parents more vulnerable than where their children are involved. Parents fear having their kids taken away as much as just about anything, including jail. So more and more, we see the extension of state power through agencies whose sole job is supposedly the protection of children. I could write every day about another instance of child welfare agencies shanghaiing children away from their homes and loved ones on the slimmest of pretexts, or none at all. Face it, we’ve opened our doors to the state and it shows no signs of leaving.

In case the message isn’t yet clear enough, maybe this case will help (Daily Mail, 1/5/14).

Graham and Gail Curlew had a daughter who’s now an adult. About age 16, Claire started making a mess of her life. She was involved in illegal drugs and eventually had a couple of kids with an unemployed drifter. In due course, the social services agency for North Norfolk got word of neglectful parenting and showed up at the couple’s house where, at one point, the father pulled a knife on the caseworker. Bad move.

In a flash, the children were taken out of the home and Dad was in prison. Over the years, Claire has cleaned up her act, but seems content to let the children live apart from her.

But North Norfolk Social Services has a protocol, as it should, that, when children are taken from parents, particularly on a temporary basis, they should be placed with relatives in a familiar environment when possible. That makes complete sense. Being taken from home and parents is traumatic for children, but that can be allayed if they’re taken in by grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.

Of course Claire’s kids had grandparents, Graham and Gail, who were more than happy to have them in their home. Who are Graham and Gail Curlew?

Graham and Gail were eminently suitable, passing every fostering assessment…

They are an irreproachably respectable couple, married for 34 years. They have never been in trouble with the law. They are active members of the Salvation Army (they have wondered if their faith is the issue). 

They don’t drink or smoke. Their home, in Sheringham, North Norfolk, is spotlessly tidy. Gail was a professional chambermaid, and her high standards are evident…

Until mid-2006, Graham and Gail were doting grandparents. Their young granddaughter and grandson had always spent Christmas with them, as well as birthdays and weekends.

They had forged a close bond with their grandchildren despite the fact — or perhaps precisely because — their daughter Claire was troubled.

The Daily Mail writer goes on.

I first met them in the August of 2007, seven months after their grandchildren had been taken into care. Graham had been doing some work for my father and, feeling I might be able to help, asked me for my contact details. 

Soon, I had met both grandchildren, in the days when they were still allowed unsupervised contact. The little boy came with Graham to my father’s seaside house. 

I still remember his unrestrained affection: no one can coach a small boy to fake love. He sat on his grandfather’s knee, his arms adoringly around Graham’s neck as he gazed into his face, and said: ‘I want to live with you for ever, Grandad.’

Being two years older, his sister was a little more restrained, but she left me in little doubt that she didn’t like their temporary foster mother. 

In short, we have a social services agency with a protocol requiring it to place children with blood relatives if possible. And we have a pair of grandparents who are kind, loving and responsible, and who’ve deeply bonded with their granddaughter and grandson who are in turn deeply attached to them. The solution to the problem of the irresponsible mother and jailed dad is obvious to all, right? The kids should move in with granddad and grandmum and everyone will be happy.

Nope. For seven years, North Norfolk Social Services has kept the Curlews out of their grandchildren’s lives. At first they only marginalized them, but, as the years wore on, they saw their grandchildren less and less until now, they do so almost never. In the past 13 months, they’ve seen the kids for a total of one and a half hours.

You might ask “why?” Why would an agency that’s supposedly dedicated to the welfare of children stand between two kids and the obvious best choice for their care? The official answer is that there is no answer.

For the next year and a half, Graham and Gail asked to be allowed to care for them. Instead, their contact was relentlessly reduced. Until, when the foster mother wanted a holiday, instead of being allowed to stay at Nanny’s and Grandad’s as they’d been promised, the children were sent to a temporary foster home…

[I]ncomprehensibly, North Norfolk Social Services refused to place the children with them…

And yet the Curlews have never been accused of any misconduct. Their crime? They have no idea…

Have the Curlews fallen out with the children’s parents? No: in fact both mother and father have pleaded for the children to be allowed to live with their grandparents. By all accounts the children themselves adore them.

No, there is no reason why the Curlews can’t act as parents to their grandchildren. They’re next in the “line of succession,” they’re imminently qualified, but North Norfolk Social Services has decided that strangers should be the children’s parents despite the fact that the kids don’t like them. There’s no reason except… there is a reason. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the Daily Mail reporter makes it all too clear.

So why was this arrangement inflicted on them? (At a cost to the taxpayer of well over a quarter of a million pounds so far, at a conservative estimate.) None of the evidence points to an issue between grandparents and grandchildren, more Social Services wanting to exert their power.

Shortly after I met them, they invited me to sit in on a couple of meetings with Social Services, along with their MP Norman Lamb. The hostility in the room was palpable. 

With my own ears, I heard the social worker saying that the Curlews couldn’t care for the children, not because there was any difficulty between the children and their grandparents, but because Graham antagonised the Social Service.

Ah, comes the dawn. Somehow Graham has insufficiently bowed and scraped to his betters at Social Services and woe betide the parent or grandparent who does so. They don’t like it when their authority is questioned and, lest anyone be mistaken, it doesn’t take much to offend them.

The social worker mispronounced the girl’s name. Already distressed, Graham exploded with understandable but very unwise passion. ‘How long have you been responsible for my granddaughter? And you still don’t know her name?

Her face tightened. She had been humiliated and she didn’t like it. She went on mispronouncing the name on purpose, it seemed to me.

That’s the class act Social Services gives us. These people are perfectly aware they’re behaving like spoiled four-year-olds, taking petty slights and converting them into justifications to deny children a relationship with their grandparents. But they do it anyway.

In case you were wondering, that pettiness has been going on for a long time. Again, it’s a graphic demonstration of the power exercised by child welfare agencies clearly for its own sake.

In the past 13 months, they have been allowed to see their grandchildren only once, for barely an hour and a half, with every action and word minutely supervised as if they were criminals. 

They are not even allowed to know where their grandchildren live or where they go to school. Every letter or postcard must be censored as if they were paedophiles — with the result that they never dare write at all. 

They are not allowed to telephone or see their grandchildren alone without being monitored.

They can never pray with them: something which, as committed Christians, they used to do freely…

Eventually, after fighting hard, they were offered two hours, four times a year, of supervised contact. 

The first few times they met, in an impersonal office, they were not even allowed to take photos. They were never told why. They had also been promised that by the time the children were nine they ‘could vote with their feet’, which has never happened.

So keen were the Social Services to hide the children’s whereabouts that they made them change out of school uniform before meetings, so the Curlews could not identify their school.

Remember how the Curlews were described; they’re the kindest, most loving and law-abiding people imaginable. Look at how they’re treated by social services; like the most heinous criminals, they can’t know where the kids go to school, can’t telephone them, can’t be with them absent supervision. And why? Apparently because Graham offended someone’s delicate sensibilities.

The Curlews are only grandparents, but they’ve responded to the disgraceful removal from their grandkids’ lives as if they’re their parents. To them, it’s the most tragic of losses.

For seven years the Curlews’ lives have been dominated by their loss, relying on Legal Aid to fight a painfully long battle which looks set to outlast anybody’s childhood.

Graham, a builder, used to be the life and soul of every party, always willing to help friends and neighbours.

He was shortlisted in 2009 for Britain’s Got Talent for his hilarious on-stilts imitation of Pavarotti. Now, he is so depressed he eschews company and, unable to work because of the stress, lives on disability benefits.

Their grief is always in the background, even when they are doing something pleasurable. Both admit the strain on their marriage has been pernicious, partly because their loss has affected them in different ways. 

Graham wants to fight, whereas Gail is terrified of doing anything lest the situation becomes worse. She didn’t dare talk to me about it: ‘In case the social workers retaliate, and punish us further.’

Though it’s hard to think what more they have to lose. ‘Sometimes I’m driving along and see a lorry coming towards me, and think: “Why not?”’ says Graham. ‘Essentially, we’ve had two children kidnapped.

‘Sometimes I think it might be easier if we never saw them at all. We look forward to it for months, and then it gets cancelled. Do they do it on purpose?’

Yes, they do. They do it because they can. They want to punish the Curlews because social services has essentially unfettered power and sadly, when people are in such a position, abuse of that power is inevitable. It’s a fact that’s been true of every petty tyrant since the dawn of time. Think Inspector Javert.

Graham still remembers verbatim the words of one social worker who sat in their sitting room and said: ‘We don’t care what the court says: we do what we like.’ Graham asked that social worker to leave the house: another blot on his copybook.

The lesson is clear. In the United Kingdom, it’s Social Services; in the United States, it’s CPS. By whatever name, the game is the same. A state agency has been given one of the most awesome powers imaginable — the power to take children from their parents or grandparents. In many cases, they act entirely in secret. The inevitable result is an agency that acts outside the bounds of the law, that brutalizes parents and children alike and against whom there is little legal recourse.

The state, acting through its child welfare agency, acts with impunity. It can do so for any or no reason. Parents and children are its victims.

National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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