Free information index
Give us back our children by SUE REID.
Six weeks ago, the Mail told how social workers tore a baby from her loving family to put her up for adoption. Since then, scores of parents have contacted us with horrifying stories of children stolen by the state. How dare the courts continue to gag them?
The harrowing film of a young mother with an IQ of 63 cuddling her much-loved toddler daughter for the last time before handing her over for adoption was always going to be controversial.
As the cameras roll, the 18-year-old mother cries pitifully.
Her bewildered child reaches out to hug her when the moment comes to say goodbye for ever.
This raw, emotional footage was to be the centrepiece of a new BBC series called Family Wanted, spearheading a national campaign to increase the numbers of children adopted in this country.
Behind closed doors, in every town, children are being taken from birth parents, often forcibly, and given to new mothers and fathers.
In a bid to find them new homes, children removed from their real parents have been paraded publicly during the TV series. It is, say critics, akin to a human auction.
Now, in a further twist, a High Court judge has given the programme makers of Family Wanted a knuckle rapping.
He ruled that the film of the child being taken from the low-IQ mother - whom social workers deem not mentally capable of caring for her daughter - cannot be aired.
It would, said Mr Justice Eady, upset viewers and be a massive invasion of the mother's privacy.
It would also, of course, have revealed with clarity on prime-time television that adoptions can be brutally painful affairs.
The mother in this case fought to keep her child and denies allegations by social workers that her low intelligence would stop her being a responsible parent.
She has lost the chance of telling her side of the story in public, which she dearly wished to do. For the truth is that adoption has become one of the most secretive - and seemingly one-sided - issues of our time.
Behind closed doors, in every town, children are being taken from birth parents, often forcibly, and given to new mothers and fathers.
During this investigation, I have learned that a staggering 75 children change hands each week, many of them toddlers like the little girl in the BBC film.
And since the court decisions are held in utmost secrecy - with the aim of protecting children's identities - almost no one is allowed to speak about the rulings, let alone challenge them.
What is most disturbing is that parents have told me that child care professionals, from social workers to doctors, are routinely fabricating or distorting evidence to make a case to take their children away.
The number of babies under one week old now being taken for adoption has soared three-fold in a decade to an annual total of 900. In 1995, 1,000 children under five were removed from their parents.
By last year, it was nudging 2,500.
But why have these figures shot up? And why would anyone fabricate evidence to boost them?
To understand this, we have to examine the Government's policy on adoption. In 2000, Tony Blair set new targets to raise the number of children being adopted by 50 per cent to 5,400 every year.
The tally has now reached almost 4,000 in England and Wales - four times higher than France, with a similar-sized population.
He promised millions of pounds to councils that managed to achieve the targets. Some have already received more than £2 million each in rewards for successful adoptions.
This sweeping shake-up in social policy was designed for all the right reasons: to get older were inundated with calls from people wanting to make her their own.
This sweeping shake-up in social policy was designed for all the right reasons: to get older children in care homes into happy new families with parents.
But the reforms didn't work. Encouraged by the promise of extra cash, councils began to earmark those children who were most easy to place in adoptive homes - babies and cute toddlers - while the older children remained in care. (The number of over-sevens adopted has plummeted by half in less than a decade.)
Campaigners - including parents who have had their sons or daughters taken - say that social workers are tearing innocent families apart. Everywhere, I came across evidence to suggest that these claims are justified.
Recently I wrote about a two-year-old English girl whose parents have been at the centre of a David versus Goliath battle to keep her, reaching the highest courts in the land. They say bluntly that she has been stolen by the state.
The girl was advertised in the media on a website, breezily called London Kidz, for would-be adopters. Placed with her picture was a blurb saying she was a smiling child who liked a cuddle. No wonder social workers
Yet the snappy advert covered up the devastating truth: that her birth parents, decent people from Enfield, North London, love her dearly and have fought like tigers to halt her removal. They have failed.
Last autumn, they said goodbye to her at a meeting watched by the local council's social workers, who claim they cannot be trusted to care for her.
Almost certainly she will never see her them again. Nor is she likely to learn of their desperate attempts to stop her forced adoption.
For the other day, at the request of Enfield Council social workers, a judge in London's High Courts of Justice issued a draconian order gagging the parents from revealing anything about their daughter until her 18th birthday in 2022. (Enfield incidentally, has been offered a tasty £900,000 incentive to meet its adoption targets.)
The order means the parents can no longer protest publicly or explain in any meaningful detail their side of the story. They cannot disclose her name, nor show her picture, to anyone-in the media.
On the grounds of protecting her identity, they are also barred from talking about what happened in the myriad court hearings and case conferences with Enfield social workers that began before she was even born in December 2004.
What an irony that is, especially as it is the social workers themselves who paraded their daughter - using her distinctive name and photograph - on a website. Yet, if her parents breach the gagging order they will be charged with contempt of court and could be sent to prison.
But what the Mail can reveal without breaking the law is this.
Eight years ago, the father of this girl was suspected of shaking his son from a previous marriage and damaging his brain. No proof was produced by social workers who accused him. No medical evidence was found by doctors treating the boy, nor were any charges brought by police investigating the claims.
Indeed, it is now believed that his son - whom the father sees regularly and looks after, often alone - suffers from a rare disease which causes identical neurological impairments to those caused by a physical assault.
In other words, the father has not been found guilty of harming anyone.
And his wife?
Her only crime is to have fallen in love, married and given birth to the daughter of a man who had once had the finger pointed at him by social workers.
My story about the couple's child was published in the Daily Mail a few weeks ago. The result was an avalanche of phone calls and e-mails from other parents who said their children had also been, or were about to be, forcibly adopted.
Over the weekend, after that story was published, I heard from 35 families. Within two days, the tally had reached 56. Now it is nearer 100.
The letters continue to arrive, some scribbled on scraps torn from notepads, others on expensive paper with heavilyembossed printed addresses at the top. They come from council estates, middle-class suburbs, and even a castle in the heart of England.
Many of the families left desperate whispered messages on my office phone late at night. An e-mail from one father just said: "Please, please help, NOW. We are about to lose our son. In court tomorrow for final disposals hearing before he is taken for adoption. We have done nothing wrong."
It was one cry among many.
A father calling himself "James" rang from a public payphone to say his wife's baby was one of eight seized by social workers from hospital maternity units in Tyneside during a two-week period this summer.
A Welsh grandfather complained that his grandson of three weeks was earmarked by social workers. The mother, a 21-year-old with a mild learning disorder, was told that she might - just might - get post-natal depression and neglect her son.
To her great distress, her baby was put in the care of Monmouthshire social services within minutes of birth.
The grandfather said: "Our entire extended family - including two nurses, a qualified nanny and a police officer - have offered to help her care for the baby. I believe my grandson has been deliberately targeted for adoption since he was in the womb."
And there were more.
A Worcestershire woman told how her daughter's baby was snatched away by three police officers and two social workers who came to the door of her house. The girl has now been adopted.
The mother's failure?
She was said to be too young to cope. Yet she has now had another baby, a boy, whom she has been allowed to keep, in the same home and with the same partner. It is only a year later.
The grandmother explained: "All the family came forward to offer to help look after my granddaughter, and all of them were told they were not good enough. The social worker said to forget her. He said: 'She is water under the bridge'."
But the most disturbing story came from a 25-year-old church warden and nurse, who is married to an IT administrator. They live in a lovely home in the North-East of England and looked forward to having a baby together.
During pregnancy, the mother's only concern was that she has serious lung problems. As a teenager, she suffered from encephalitis and spent 12 weeks in intensive care at Newcastle Hospital.
Yet, curiously, doctors and social workers said she was making this up. They alleged that she suffered from a mental ailment called Munchausen's syndrome and that this disorder - completely unproven in science and widely discredited - made her pretend she had once been ill.
They informed the incredulous mother that the so-called disorder meant she was a danger not only to her baby, but to other children in the maternity ward.
She told me: "I had my little boy by Caesarean. We got to spend six hours with him, then the social worker came to remove him. She sat at the bottom of the bed in the hospital-and said the police were ten minutes away, and that if we didn't sign a voluntary care order, she would phone them and they would snatch our baby anyway."
This woman is now fighting to stop his adoption.
We are, of course, talking about a hugely emotive issue. Distraught and faced with what they believe are false accusations, parents can misinterpret the actions of the social services and health professionals.
It is also impossible to verify all the facts of these stories. But if only a quarter are true, it is a scandal on a terrifying scale.
Each tale I was told had a similar ring. From a first accusation - often based on what seems to be hearsay, and nearly always made by a social worker or doctor - the unforgiving system is pitted against parents.
At its heart are the family courts, where parents must go to hear the State's case for their children being put up for adoption. Here, the solid cornerstone of our legal system - that you are innocent until proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt - does not apply.
There is no jury to weigh the evidence, only a lone judge who makes decisions based on the balance of probability.
Crucially, the courts' culture of secrecy means that if a social worker lies or a medical expert giving evidence makes a mistake, no one finds out. There is no retribution.
Only the workings of the homeland security service, M15, are guarded more closely than those of the family courts.
As Justice Munby, one of the most senior High Court judges of the family court system, opined to MPs last year: "It seems quite indefensible that there should be no access by the media, and no access by the public, to what is going on in courts where judges are, day by day, taking people's children away."
He is right. From the moment their child is named on a social services' care order to the day he or she is adopted, a father or mother commits a crime if they tell anyone what is happening to them.
Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming says: 'There are many miscarriages of justice in the family courts, but the system prevents parents from protesting about it'
Almost all those who approached the Mail to tell their stories were breaching the law.
Of course, in any society there are people who hurt their children deliberately. It is the State's duty to protect their offspring from further harm. But it is clear there is something desperately wrong with the government's adoption policy.
This has not escaped the Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming, who warned this week: "There are many miscarriages of justice in the family courts, but the system prevents parents from protesting about it.
"The secrecy is protecting misbehaviour by some social workers and doctors, rather than protecting the children forcibly adopted to meet government targets."
The revolt is growing. Two hundred parents are threatening a protest at a pre-designated place and time, using their real names and those of the children they have lost. They believe that not all of them can be thrown into prison cells for contempt.
If the rebellion goes head, perhaps the low IQ mother of the toddler in the banned BBC film will be there. And also a grandmother who protested to the BBC when her grandson, a two-year-old disabled boy called Lamar, was paraded for adoption last week in Family Wanted.
Her daughter and son-in-law have been told by social workers that they are not suitable parents for Lamar.
Whatever the accuracy of this, the grandmother has offered to bring up the child. She says: "I recorded the programme because it is the only film I will ever have of my precious grandson.
"I feel he has been put up for sale on television. If I advertised him in this way, he would be taken away because it is a form of abuse.
"I wanted my grandson to live with me. I was told by his social worker that I don't parent in the way she likes. Yet she has no kids, and I have raised four of my own."
Like many aspects of the adoption system in this country, it appears to make no sense whatsoever.
Join us in campaigning for equality and justice.