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Let common sense prevail - disabled mother keeps her baby...

In 1995, whilst in the USA, Penny Roberts was involved in a parachuting accident in which she received multiple fractures and spinal injuries. Penny is tetraplegic but has some movement in her arms and wrists. Penny now lives in West Yorkshire. She had been living there with her partner, but he left when she was eleven weeks pregnant. Penny summarises her recent experience.

I contacted Social Services in April when I was sixteen weeks pregnant. I asked them for physical assistance in caring for my baby when it was born. After several visits I was presented with a report on my circumstances in July. The social worker’s preconceived ideas, and prejudices were only thinly disguised as concern for the well being of the unborn child. A week later I had to attend the first of two case conferences to discuss ‘options’ for dealing with my situation. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I couldn’t believe that in the 1990’s an authority was considering taking a child into care because his mum is disabled and lives alone. I rang everybody I could think of for help, it felt I spent days on the phone. ParentAbility put me in touch with Parents Too! John Keep and Phil Levick were very helpful and supportive, as were the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) who put me in touch with other tetraplegic mums. Nobody believed what was in the report until they saw it with their own eyes, and even I had to keep re-reading it to convince myself this was really happening.

Five weeks after the case conference the Mail on Sunday, a national newspaper, published the story and I must say the media attention did open up debate, if debate is necessary in this day and age. I received an enormous amount of post from people from all walks of life and it was all very positive. I had letters from people who were children of disabled parents, from other disabled parents, from people who are foster parents, and just from everyday people who said that as tax payers they had no objection to me being supported by Social Services in my own home. I don’t know whether the intense media pressure had any influence on the decision that the local council eventually made, but they were aware that the whole country was watching them.

A second case conference was held one working day before Peter was born and they had accepted that the best place for Peter to be is with his mum, although they are still talking about ‘the carer for the baby’ being somebody other than his mum. I keep trying to explain to them that I am the carer for the baby and I simply need assistance with some tasks.

Now Peter is three weeks old and Social Services have still not put the care promised into place. We are relying heavily on the support of friends at the moment and our fight goes on.

First published in Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood international, Issue 24, October 1998.

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