How it began...
"It still hurts inside. It never goes away. I want an official apology and the house as an investment for my kids. Then I can move on"
Levi lives in the South Midlands. In 1985 she was alone with two young children, finding it difficult to manage financially. Her family could not help, and there was no support from the children's father. One day when she could not afford food, she felt she had no option but to ask for the children to be taken into care.
"I put them into care thinking I was doing the right thing… because I didn't have enough money to buy food…. I thought Social Services was there to help you out, you know, help you budget…."
She could then have a short break and sort out her life.
Levi feels money and support such as food parcels to help stop the grinding poverty, would have helped. She felt she was a good mother – but couldn't take the poverty.
But this was interpreted by social workers as her not being able to cope.
The children went into foster care, and she visited as much as allowed, but not as much as she would have liked. Levi then got a job in a fast food store, and six months later the children were back with her. For two and a half years, she worked flexible hours around the children's needs, and life was without social work involvement.
"That's the only time I felt good about myself… 'cause I got off my backside…"
Levi had to give up work, though. Her son Richard had asthma, and the time off she needed made the job unfeasible. She became involved with a man she knew previously ( "the biggest mistake of my life" ) and had a third pregnancy. Sadly, the baby girl was stillborn. At this point, no agencies were involved. Levi moved
Reaching rock bottom...
Her partner was abusive and unsupportive. In April 1994 she had twins, and was allocated a new social worker whom she did not relate to easily. In November 1994 she again became more directly involved with social services.
"...because I done a stupid thing… I'm not proud (of what I did) and I don't feel guilty… it was a cry for help... I needed time to myself... just needed a break."
Levi phoned a hospital some miles away, and told them she had abandoned her twins. She hadn't, they were with her and she had no intention of harming them: "All I wanted was a good night's sleep and I didn't want to put them into care."
The police came and eventually Levi let them in. The next day, the twins were taken from Levi by the police, and she didn't see them for a week. "The way it [i.e. snatching the children] was done – it was something like you watch on the TV."
Situation out of control...
Between 1994 and 1998 Levi had another 3 children with the same partner, but he would come and go, criticising her parenting and regularly making allegations about her to social services. He was also violent. The children had regular short breaks from the family home and also lived with Levi's parents. There was regular social work involvement. Levi feels that she made a big mistake signing the foster placement forms each time, as this was evidence used against her:
"I thought I had signed the forms for a short break… but I was signing them away…"
At the end of one break, she had trouble getting the children back. Her parenting and mental health were assessed, and social workers wanted care orders on the children. One Monday, she went to court with the three youngest children. Instead of the expected court hearing, Levi found her children taken by police officers. She and her mother were arrested; Levi was pushed to the ground and restrained. She was said to have mental health problems and to be 'a danger to society'. The children were all taken by the police, separated and placed in foster care around the county.
"Social Services are supposed to be there to protect children, but these things happened in front of the three youngest ones…"
Levi feels having carers trained in short break care, who could come to the home and stay, or take children out regularly, could have helped.
A clear goal...
"I just had enough… I didn't think I had it in me but I proved to myself that I did. I knew I was going to get them back… I was very clear; I stood up to them."
Levi feels she spent the next two years of her life at her solicitors, making and taping statements and preparing the case for getting her children back. One social worker at the time encouraged her:
"She was fantastic, gave me a list of books, told me to read up on the law… she encouraged me to play them at their own game..."
Levi did everything the court required under a Supervision Order – seeing a psychologist, meeting her children regularly for contact; being agreeable. After two years, Levi's children were returned to her over a 6 month period.
The hurt remains...
"Can you understand why I can't move on: I just exist: I've been like that since I got them back…"
Levi wants social workers who are family-oriented, understanding and helpful in practical ways – not afraid to get their clothes dirty or to make tea. To parents, she asks that they be honest with themselves about their faults and not lie about them as they will get found out. But they should not feel ashamed of their mistakes. She advises parents to fight to get their children back, read up on the law, play people at their own game, gather proof and evidence to help their case.
The family is still affected...
"Four years on now, my eldest son is in a psychiatric unit, he self-harms; my eldest daughter got herself pregnant at 17. The five youngest ones have done very well at school… but they still have nightmares… and now and again ask if they are going to get taken again. It's not like the family I used to have; we are totally destroyed… I am still fighting to this day for compensation… I had a home once, and I lost it through social services… I had to sell the house to get a barrister... I was left with £2000 and homeless..."