Why Classifying Depression as a Harm to Children is Endangering Children
If you feel that disabled parenting rights don't apply to you because you're not disabled you should think again. The same prejudiced rules they use to take children away from disabled parents, they will use on 'abled' parents if they become sick with cancer, epilepsy or even depression. The situation has become so extreme that many new mothers in the UK are too afraid to tell their GP's they have post-natal depression.
This is because mums with post-natal depression are considered to be a potential risk to their babies. They don't have to have done anything to harm them and can be the most devoted mothers in the world but a mere diagnosis of depression can mean that social services classify them as 'potential abusers'. Phrases like 'future risk of neglect', 'future risk of emotional abuse' and 'predictive abuse' are used to remove children from parents with depression, i.e. 'we PREDICT that you may in the future, neglect, harm or emotionally hurt your child.'
This is almost impossible for parents to fight in court as they are not fighting against actual allegations of abuse which may be disproven by evidence, but against a theoretical possibility that they may become abusive in the future, a suggestion that could be applied to any parent in the world.
In criminal court, evidence has to be presented to prove beyond reasonable doubt that a crime has occured but with family court you don't need any evidence whatsoever, only the personal opinion of one person, a CAFCASS officer, based upon reports by social services and other agencies who may be prejudiced towards a parent with depression or have ulterior motives such as boosting their adoption targets or a wish to place the child with the other parent who doesn't have depression, without consideration for the fact that depression affects one in 10 people and that in the majority of cases it is a temporary illness.
There is no jury to go over the reports, only a judge and in nearly all cases, he or she will do what the CAFCASS officer says. This means that the decision of whether the person is deemed 'fit' to be a parent is based solely upon the opinion of one person and the decision is usually pre-decided before the parent even gets to court, a situation that should be illegal.
Rather than helping parents with depression, social services take a persecutory role. If the parent goes to counselling, this is written in her GP record. If he or she goes to private counselling, the records from sessions can legally be released to a court even without consent. If the parent takes anti-depressants or other medication prescribed by the GP, this is viewed as not coping or using drugs in order to cope. The more a parent asks for help or tries to do 'the right thing', the more records there are on the subject which they will then use as 'prove' that you shouldn't have your child.
More and more parents with depression are now avoiding GP's, not telling the truth about their feelings to midwives, not going to counselling because it isn't confidential and they are not getting treatment that they may need.
Essentially, the current practice of classifying depression as a child protection issue and trying to remove children from their parents results in parents with depression going into 'hiding' and pretending to be well, a situation that - in serious cases - may have disasterous consequences for children.
During my own court hearings due to divorce, CAFCASS repeatedly used the fact that I was devastated at the break up of my marriage as a reason why I should not have custody of my children.
The court took private Relate counselling sessions as evidence of 'potential future harm' (i.e. I didn't actually harm my children but they theorized that one day in the future I might, a suggestion based on no evidence and not one prior incident of any abuse in my children in all the years I had been a mother).
I did what I thought was the responsible thing as a mother. I got counselling, I went to the GP, I took anti-depressant medication. I did everything my doctor told me and every single record of that was used to show I was 'unstable' and coupled with my physical disability, that I was an unfit parent to have custody of my older children (despite leaving my younger ones with me, a decision which surely proved their contentions were nonsense as you don't leave kids with an abuser, knowingly).
In my case, my ex was never happy with any arrangement reached, even when it was put in a court order, so I found myself repeatedly taken back to court over the years as he challenged me for my other children and I learnt my lesson from the first hearings. There were times I felt down, that it would have been nice to get counselling, but I wouldn't because I knew that it would then go on record and be used against me to remove further children from my care.
After losing my older ones to my ex I never went to another counsellor. I have never taken anti-depressants since. I will never speak to a GP and if a health professional asks me how I am, I am always feeling fabulous. If I ever have a down day I will never be able to admit it until my son is old enough to leave home. As I never had clinical depression and it was only reactive to my circumstances, I know that this is fine for me. I will never harm any of my children....but what if someone has more severe depression or a mental health diagnosis and they are in the same position I was, so they don't seek help? Untreated severe mental illness could be fatal for children and the way the system is set up, social services are driving these parents underground and making them go without treatment because they are afraid of losing their kids (around 80% of mentally ill parents who involve social services or who get reported to social services, have their kids taken into care).
And we're not just talking about bipolar or multiple personality disorder, we're talking about post-natal depression or stress related depression. If for whatever reason they become involved, particularly if you are single, you stand a good chance of losing your child and if you're physically disabled too, you might as well forget it because instead of helping you, they'll go after you.
One woman had a breakdown and did what she thought was the responsible thing to do as a mother and she placed her son with a foster carer temporarily while she got better. She put his needs first. Then she did recover and tried to get her son back, only to find that social services wouldn't return him to her and were intending to adopt him out without her permission. She had to grab her son from the foster carer's house and flee the country in order to keep her child. Social workers in that country have been totally different and supportive and found that there was no reason why mother and son can't be together.
If a disabled parent section was added to the equality act 2010 and included depression, it would help stop discrimination of parents with emotional illnesses and it would protect children because then their parents could seek help and treatment without fear of having their family broken up.