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The parents who put their children into care

Children are not always in care because of abuse

By Wesley Stephenson

When a child gets taken into care, it's not always against a family's wishes - sometimes the parents themselves make the difficult initial call.

"All teenagers rebel. We've just had the extreme version of that."

This is what Jane says about her daughter Alice. She has been in care now for two years. Not as the result of neglect or abuse, but because her behaviour got so bad that Jane and her husband voluntarily handed their daughter over to the local authority.

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At primary school Alice had been a popular, bright and sporty girl but when she became a teenager that dramatically changed. She got a new set of friends and her behaviour became increasingly unruly. She was expelled from her private school and became harder to control.

"She was staying out very late and getting drunk quite a lot," says Jane. "I got a phone call from the local leisure centre saying 'your daughter's drunk here. Can you come and collect her?' Then ten minutes later, I got another call saying 'your daughter has now collapsed and is on her way to hospital'."

Desperate parents

From here, Alice's behaviour deteriorated. She would often go missing for days at a time. In the end the police said that a few days in care might be a solution, offering a short, sharp, shock. At 13, Alice was put into care for the first time.

Mei Lai Lu
Mei Lai Lu says being in care was ultimately positive

We tend to think of children in care as those who have been taken away from their families by social services to save them from neglect or abuse. But around a third of children in care have been voluntarily given up by their parents. The figures show that around 40 a day go into care via this route. These aren't all children who misbehave but they account for a large minority.

Steve Goodman, assistant director of children's services at Hackney Council in east London, says that parents become desperate and approach social services to ask for their children to go into care.

"They've really reached the end of their tether. They've usually done quite well in bringing their children up to teenage years, and either the children's behaviour is very difficult or the parents haven't got a good sense of how you need to change your parenting behaviour as the child goes through the teenage years."

The short, sharp, shock doesn't always work as Jane found out. Alice's three days in care turned into two years.

She says that the whole experience of putting her child into care was awful.

"I hated it. I hated all the questions. I hated all the meetings. I hated all the phone calls from the care homes saying do you know what she's done now."

The lowest point for Jane was when social services suggested putting Alice into a secure unit to stop her running away.

When they become teenagers they reject all the values you gave them, and they don't just ignore your boundaries, they step over them
Jane, who put her daughter into care

"My least fine hour was going to court to apply for an order to have my child locked up. I think that's one of the most stressful and upsetting things that has happened."

She can understand how other parents might judge her story but thinks that until you experience it yourself you can't judge.

"What you don't understand is that when they become teenagers they reject all the values you gave them, and they don't just ignore your boundaries, they step over them."

Care on the whole gets a bad press. An often-quoted statistic is that although less than 1% of children are in care they make up almost a quarter of the adult prison population. But there are some that argue that care should be offered as part of a package of measures to help families with difficult children.

Mei Lai Lu was voluntarily put into care when she was 12. Her parents split up and her mum struggled to cope. Her older sister went into care first and she helped look after her brother, but then she started to misbehave too.

Pile of files
Work is piling up for children's services

"On one occasion I'd decided to bunk, told my mum it was mufti day which is why I was in my own clothes, had a huge huge bust up, a massive fight and refused to go home so I was put into an emergency placement."

That turned into a permanent placement and she only moved out of her foster parents' home 12 years later when she was 24. She says she felt really angry with her mother for giving up on her but that being in care has ultimately been really positive.

"The way I see it, is that being in care has really helped me get on with my mum a lot better - we're now actually really close. I'm old enough to see now why she struggled. I was really anti-mum initially. Now we're just a lot closer."

She now works with children in care and understands the anger felt by those who have been put in care voluntarily.

"It's a hard feeling to think my mum and dad didn't want me or they can't cope."

She told the story of one boy she worked with who was put into care for nine months while his siblings stayed at home, something he didn't understand.

"They worked really hard for him to return home and the mum really, really struggled and after about three months that young person re-entered the care system again and I guess, for him, it felt like a rejection, like he was being punished because the other kids were at home."

Despite Alice's problems, Jane thinks that care was the only option.

"She'd have killed us or we'd have killed her. Either that or she would have run away. I didn't feel safe in my own house."

It hasn't helped her relationship with her daughter. After two years in care Jane describes Alice as a stranger.

"I have really distanced myself from her in order to survive, myself. I feel so resentful of her for the kind of intrusion into our lives and the judgement and blame and criticism we've had. I need to mend from that before I can think of having any relationship with her."

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