Every Parents Nightmare
Stephanie Lawrence faced every parent’s nightmare when she was falsely accused of assaulting her children by social services. As a result her children were put on the ‘at risk’ register and what followed was, in Stephanie’s words, “Three years of hell.” Stephanie tells how one social services blunder lost her her business and left her and four of her children stigmatised and ostracised by the whole of their community.Stephanie Lawrence, from Spittal, Pembrokeshire, and her four children have been put through three years of hell. The family were shunned by neighbours and Stephanie’s bridal-wear shop was forced to close after Pembrokeshire social workers wrongly placed her children on an at-risk register for almost fifteen months. “We have been ostracised by our community to the point where my son was not even invited to his best friend’s birthday party. Parents stopped talking to me. My children were not invited to their friends’ homes. I have lost my business, and my children have suffered distress and humiliation. The children felt second class.”Stephanie’s ordeal began in 2000 ….. Matters came to a head in early 2002, when Stephanie was contacted by Social Services. Stephanie met with Social Services and explained that under no circumstances had she ever harmed the children, although, she honestly said: “Failing everything else I did what my grandmother used to do, and threatened the children with a wooden spoon. But I never actually hit them and never would.” ….But thanks to Stephanie’s complaints and persistence, the council eventually set up an independant review of her case. What the Ombudsman report concluded…The damning official report has vindicated Ms Lawrence and slated the council which took action against her. The report concluded that the children should never have been on the at risk register – and their names were removed in June 2003, after almost fifteen months.The Ombudsman added that the council’s refusal to take the children off the register was based ‘not on any perception of real risk to the children,’ but on their mother’s ‘alleged failure to co-operate’ with the Social Services. He said interviews with Stephanie and her children were conducted in a ‘ham-fisted’ manner.The Ombudsman report has found Pembrokeshire social services guilty of repeated, prolonged and serious maladministration, causing injustice to both mother and children.The damning report said, ‘To have entered the shop and accused her in front of her daughter, and to have insisted on picking the children up from school where their teachers, their friends and their friends’ mothers would be witness to the event, was grossly insensitive and unnecessarily indiscreet.’He concluded, ‘Officers carried out a clumsy and insensitive investigation which unjustifiably resulted in an initial child protection conference. That conference was procedurally flawed and took an unreasonable decision to place the children on the register.’What the Ombudsman report recommended….The Ombudsman recommended the authority pay Stephanie £5,000 compensation after recognising she had ‘suffered the stigma of being identified as a potential child abuser’.He recommended that Pembrokeshire County Council should apologise to Stephanie, her three sons and her daughter, all of whom have ‘suffered distress, embarrassment and humiliation’ and make a “clear acknowledgement” that they should not have been placed on the register. No apologies have yet been received. What Social services have said……Pembrokeshire County Council leader John Davies said he accepted the Ombudsman’s report but with reservations.He said, ‘It must be remembered that the county council’s responsibility in cases such as this, is always to the children. It appears that one of the principle mistakes in this matter has been one of over-caution. Many changes have already been made. The Ombudsman’s report recommends that a formal review should be carried out with external assistance, and the county council will be doing this.’Stephanie has called for the resignation of the authority’s director of Social Services following the local government Ombudsman’s report which found ‘repeated, prolonged and serious maladministration’, in the handling of the case.Mr Davies said a fresh apology would be issued to Stephanie but saw no justification for the resignation of the director of Social Services, Jon Skone. ‘The important thing is to learn any lessons from the Ombudsman’s report and to deal with the issues which arise in it.’….