“Too stupid” family reunited in Ireland

Joyfully kissing her beautiful baby boy - the girl branded too stupid to be a wife or mother | Mail Online

I’ve been following this story on and off since I first heard of it earlier this year (not from when it broke about a year ago), but someone Facebooked it a couple of weeks back, reproducing the year-old stories and nothing more recent. A couple from Fife (eastern Scotland) had their wedding cancelled because local social services deemed the bride, who was 17 and has mild learning disabilities (although some of her problems may have been to do with missing school for surgery on a cleft palate, and she claims that the teaching she received was inadequate), insufficiently intelligent to understand what marriage meant; they also threatened to take her baby into care at birth. I don’t know if they actually used the words dim or stupid, but that’s what the papers say they called her. The couple fled to Ireland at the last minute where a benefactor provided them with a house in County Waterford, but Irish social workers became aware of Fife’s concern about Kerry Robertson’s (now Kerry McDougal’s) alleged disability, and took the child into care a few days after his birth. However, they subsequently allowed Kerry to look after the child (named Ben) in a supervised residential centre, but most recently, they have been allowed to get married and live together as a family, without any supervision.

Most of the stories are from the Daily Mail and from other tabloids, with the broadsheets being reluctant to get on board (although the Telegraph has had some coverage of the issue of forced adoption), but nothing from any of them since last November. Mark McDougall, the husband, is particularly scathing about the Guardian on his blog, alleging that they won’t touch the issue of abusive care orders and adoptions because they rely on advertising from numerous social service departments (they do, in fact, carry a huge amount of local authority advertising), although local and community papers such as The Voice (a London-based Black newspaper) carry an awful lot too, including adoption ads for specific children. I have to say, having been reading the Guardian since I was at school, I find their coverage of politics and economics the most balanced of all the British newspapers, but they do have their biases and blind spots. Some of my friends who have M.E. are particularly irritated at their slant on that matter; they ran a lengthy article last May (for M.E. Awareness Week), but presented recent debates over XMRV as being between desperate patients and conspiracy theorists clinging to the XMRV theory for dear life and the likes of Simon Wessely who dismiss it, when it’s much more complicated than that.

Still, the facts as presented do raise an awful lot of concern. Kerry supposedly had mild learning difficulties, but despite having worked successfully as a childcare assistant at a local school, social workers deemed her unfit to look after her own child. They also seemed to be treating the case as if it consisted of a lone parent with intellectual disabilities, not as a committed couple in which only one party had any impairment. When they arrived in Ireland and Kerry gave birth, social services removed the baby and reunited only Kerry with Ben two weeks later, expecting her to prove herself to them on her own, rather than as she would be living, with her partner. Of course, there would be times when she would be left alone with the baby, but these would not be all the time when her husband was not around, as she would likely have friends with their own babies who would be able to give her some support. Those who have met Kerry say that, while she may not be “academically gifted”, she is not noticeably impaired. Her husband says he finds some aspects of her personality, such as her tendency to see things in black and white, endearing and admits that she does need help with Ben, but “it doesn’t mean she should have the right to be a mum taken away from her”, and Kerry says she does most of the caring.

The whole story is worrying for anyone with any learning disability, including anything on the autistic spectrum, seeking to have or keep a child — even, it seems, with a non-impaired partner. The attitude persists in other countries, particularly when the parents are poor or of an ethnic minority as well as disabled: I have heard of an incident in the USA where a Black blind couple were threatened with having their children removed because the local social services (or whatever they are called there) believed they were incapable of caring for a child themselves. Of course, many white, middle-class blind parents do precisely this every day; some of the couples have one and others two blind members. I remember the story of Julia Kimbell, the deaf-blind mother from Peterborough in England, who became a single parent and social services insisted that she have an assistant on hand, as (among other things) she would not know when the child was crying or was crawling somewhere dangerous. However, when she married, the need for assistance was deemed to be over.

I’m not sure if the McDougalls were supported by their family, as it’s never mentioned, but the papers did refer to their friends, although that could mean all sorts of things when it appears in a paper like the Mail. But sometimes, the family turns against the disabled member and makes decisions on their behalf without thinking to involve them. I read a blog article by a blind, autistic woman named Astrid, who currently resides in a psychiatric hospital in the Netherlands, in which she said that her family had discussed behind her back what they would do if she got pregnant and decided that the sister would adopt the child. The sister had the effrontery to tell her “so don’t get pregnant” because she was a student and would not want to have the child now. In any case, Astrid had already decided that she wasn’t cut out to be a parent, but took exception to others making decisions about her body and her possible children without talking to her. My old friend Ginny, who is also blind, once noted in her blog that some of her relatives had suggested that she should not have any children because of her disability.

Coming back to social services in the UK and the McDougalls, one might ask whether the social services were really acting in Ben’s best interests or simply to cover their own backs, or whether some kind of prejudice against Kerry’s background or the relationship itself (besides Kerry’s supposed disability, she was 17 at the time of the original planned wedding while Mark was 25). One press report from last January has Stephen Moore, executive director of social work at Fife Council, saying, “I would urge Kerry to use all the support that is being made available to her and her baby and to get appropriate help should she need it”. If his own social workers had made Kerry feel supported rather than intimidated, and suggested that they might use a bit of help rather than simply telling her that her baby would be taken at birth, they would not have had to leave their home town to begin with. There should be an investigation as to why a demonstrably competent couple were so intimidated by his staff that they had to flee the country.

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  • africana

    there was a rumour back when i lived in newcastle that social workers had taken into care the child of a family of saudi students after one of their children was found wandering in the steeet. another story is told of how the children of another family, this time from libya (and again students)were removed by social workers as the mother had entered a refuge, but then decided to return home. i’ve always questioned the veracity of these accounts and wonderd as to whether it might just have been propoganda put out by the governments of the students countries of origin aimed at reducing the number (and thus the cost) of students who take their families with them overseas. having said that,it coukd be that social workers greedy for bonuses associated with placing children n care are taking advantage of people who don’t understand the system.

  • africana

    did you see undercover social worker on c4?

  • No, I must see that in sha Allah. I saw the BBC’s “Kids in Care” a couple of weeks back. Very hard hitting.

  • Thanks for this important post. What Kerry, her partner and their baby went through is awful. To take a baby away at that critically bonding time and then to re-introduce him under such pressurised conditions is not helpful to anyone, and raises some pretty significant questions. Of course the need to protect a child is always paramount, but these things are also clearly not black and white, and this seems to have been dealt with very sloppily.

  • JR

    Wow, what a great article. And what a story! Surely they will make a film about this one day! But anyway, I really like your take on the story.

  • Tim

    Salam alaikum,

    With reference to the first comment, given that it costs local authorities an average of £35,000 per year to maintain one child in the care of state, I am doubtful that financial gain is any kind of motivating factor in such cases.

    Child protection is a complex field, deserving of more respect and consideration than society currently allows.

    Journalists have proved themselves wholly inadequate commentators on child protection issues, whether in cases where social services failed to act and a child was neglected, abused or killed, or where they acted and the press believes they acted over-zealously.

    In most cases where social services do act in caution, children are returned to their parents (if they have indeed been removed —- often residential assessments are used instead). Social services have to have genuine concerns about the welfare of a child to progress towards a care order, and in those cases their first port of call is the parents’ extended family.

    With regards to the Saudi and Lybian cases you mention, it is quite possible that children were taken into care in those case, but that doesn’t mean permanently. It could have been an overnight while social services investigated why the child was wandering the streets alone (e.g. in the case of a run away) or while the mother was rehabilitated from the refuge (e.g. in the case of domestic violence or illness).

    Anyway, there is much more to be said on the subject, but I will leave it there, inshaAllah.

  • I read this story and had wondered what had happened to the family.

    I also had a brief brush with social services where I worried that my child would be taken from without me being given a chance to prove myself.

    To cut it short, I lived in a sheltered accommodation for a while. My child related some events to the child workers after I asked them for help as part of the counseling service offered. The first I knew of social services being called was when the manager of the place refused to return my child to me based upon information given to her by the employee who had counseled my child .

    A very distressing situation because they would not explain to me on what grounds this was happening until social services had talked to me.

    In the end, the woman from social services was very happy with what I had to say, the help I had sought for myself and child and my child was returned to me within minutes without any need for home visits or supervised monitoring.

    Social services do a good job most of the time considering the complex situations that they have to deal with. But, the amount of red tape they have to go through sometimes against their own moral judgment and common sense means that families like the McDougalls have to suffer the trauma of being in the firing line. It is easy to make an accusation without evidence, harder to prove innocence.

    Personally, I hope their future remains bright and solid as a family.

  • africana

    assalamu alaikum, @tim, i could find no information online regarding the saudi students’ child. had their child been taken into care for a lengthy period of time or fostered as peoople were claiming, you would expect there would be at least some sort of campaign running in support of the family. as for the libyan case, although there was said to have been an article on a libyan government website about the case (and here there’s the potential for the facts to be distorted by the readers themselves) there is again nothing about it in any of the local newspapers in newcastle which would be suitably scandalous for any local newspaper to make a bee line for, one would think. also, what makes me question the libyan account is the fact that the woman, the wife of an international foreign student who likely wouldn’t qualify for housing benefit was actually accommodated in a refuge. we hear so much about the plight of abused south asian women who come over to the uk after marrying a british citizen and who, if they suffer domestic abuse don’t qualify for refuge accommodation on account of their immigration status. i can’t see that te wife of a foreign student is in any different a situation in terms of being able to access such a service.

    @maryam, sorry to hear about your encounter with social services, it must have been a very distressing time for you.

  • Thanks Africana,

    I just think incidences like the one written about can make people lose confidence in asking for help when they truly need it. If a person does, they can come out of it with either a sense of gratefulness or regret. The most important thing is: Social services was established to identify children and families who need extra support or protect vulnerable kids. It’s worth not losing sight of that.

  • This is just another case of some government sycophants telling the masses of “idiot” non-government employees what they think is best for them.

    I have known mothers, some individuals even related to me, who make Cinderella’s wicked mother seem nice. Nevertheless, they have children and they raise their children upon whatever principles they see best. Every parent has the right, yes the God-given right, to keep custody of their children, unless they do something that clearly shows life endangerment. This mother did not, and simply because she may be a drop out or lacking in her IQ score - I can think of many government agents that are dumber than she, is not grounds for stealing her child from her.

    Good God! I can only imagine some sad government lackey trying to tell me that my wife - may Allah bless her - was to stupid to be a parent, and then in their arrogance attempt to remove the baby from her care…Thank you Allah for allowing us the liberty in America to bear arms, keeping our oppressive government in check!

    I recall a hillbilly redneck in my great state spanking his boy with his belt on the butt for breaking a window in the church. That same boy was in my class. The neighbors called CPS on him, they came, threatened to take his kid away because he “abused” his kid - thank you Allah for giving me a mother who did not spare the rod to spoil the child - to which he responded, “You had better bring your army!” [Other members of the church stepped in and “supported” him as well]. I witnessed this incident, and saw a man of principle willing to take on the entire local government! [I recall the deputy laughing at the CPS for even saying anything to he father, as he said - ‘what the hell is wrong with disciplining your child’] Needless to say the incident was resolved, real quick!

    I feel sorry for you unarmed, unprotected, Europeans, who allow their governments to oppress them under the guise of ‘we know what is best for you’.

    Government is evil…especially when it has no taqwa!

  • As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    As I said in the original article, there have been incidents of child protection officials trying to break up families in the USA because of the parents’ disability. Whether it was resolved by intervention by blind charities (the NFB, I think, publicised it) or by hillbillies with guns (or even if they got to keep their kids), I can’t remember.

  • africana

    and sometimes these people who presume to know what’s best for everyone else are themselves beset with their own problems.

    “a social worker who secretly filmed up shoppers’ skirts blamed his behaviour on his strict upbringing as a Jehovah’s witness.

    Michael Bird, 55, hid a spy camera in his tennis bag and followed unsuspecting victims around supermarkets and clothes stores in Newcastle.

    He was arrested after one woman spotted the device between her legs in Fenwick’s and alerted security.

    Bird, a Senior Social Worker for North Tyneside Council’s Emergency Duty Team, who ran a support group for sexual assault victims, was given a police caution and sacked from his job”

    http://www.courtnewsuk.co.uk/surreal/?id=28

  • africana
  • Tim

    Salam alaikum,

    I am not commenting on the Fife case in particular, as reporting of it is terribly scant; I would assume the reason the broadsheets have not covered the case is because there are issues that cannot be reported due to client confidentiality.

    Nor am I advocating the action apparently taken by Kerry Roberston’s social workers (presumably on the advice of a solicitor and consultant psychiatrist), for people with disabilities and learning difficulties should have equal rights to marry and have children by default.

    However, I do think it is worth noting that even highly intelligent and articulate individuals are sometimes classified as vulnerable adults for very sound reasons. This fact seems to be lost in the discussion: we are given the picture of a meddling state, interfering in people’s private affairs for no good reason.

    Consider, for example, an individual with a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome: he is well educated, expressive and highly skilled in his field of work. However, he also has a habit of sharing extremely personal information with complete strangers and, because of significant difficulties in social interaction, he finds people often take exception to his apparently extreme rudeness. Although he may not realise it, he makes himself vulnerable on two fronts: to exploitation on the one hand and to a potential attack on the other.

    To say that carers should just back off in cases such as these is somewhat naive, as adults with learning difficulties or an autism spectrum disorder, for example, often rely on third-party support to get through life. Social services and other carers can provide a safety-net for individuals negotiating difficult situations in their lives.

    None of us hardly need reminding of the case of Nicky Reilly who had learning difficulties and a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome. He was the Muslim convert who was jailed for life last year after attempting to blow up a crowded restaurant in Exeter. Most people, I would think, would consider this a case of vulnerable adult failed by his carers.

    When we try to take a broader, less black-and-white view of issues such as this, we can sound callous and insensitive. However, in the real world, the cases are in fact complex. Just like all those other cases reported in the Daily Mail that we usually object to.

  • Salaam Alaikum,

    I agree with Tim. Child Protection is incredibly complex and generally, children are only permanently removed from their families as a last resort, for many reasons, including financial.

    I always find it ironic that those who criticise social services the loudest are also those who protest against funding for things like Sure Start and Early Intervention, which aim to strengthen parental skills and keep families together.

  • africana

    somewhat on topic: has anyone been following the recent news and discussions on project prevention? i’m not sure that a muslim could support permanent sterilisation of a drug addict to prevent them from having children.

    http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/10517

  • africana

    it is undeniably harrowing for the childen born to such people. what is the solution?

  • As an autistic woman the woman in this story is much, much too similar to me to make me comfortable. While I don’t have academic difficulties I have a lot of other cognitive deficits and functioning impairments. I also have difficulty expressing myself verbally under pressure which makes it very difficult for me to defend myself.

    I think we like to think that these things only happen to people dissimilar to ourselves, people who’s disabilities are more “profound,” whatever that means.

    What also worries me, and has worried me for a long time is the presumption that I would make a poor mother combined with the fact that I’m sterile. I desperately want children and I know that to get them I will have to fight very hard, indeed. Even then, with the way adoption is I feel I would be at even greater risk of loosing my children! It’s horrible, I would make a wonderful mother I just feel it’s hard for other people to see that through their stereotypes.

    @Tim, that autistic man you describe might as well be a male version of me. I don’t know but it seems like you’re saying that taking his children away might be legitimate. I’m sorry, but I don’t think being vulnerable is a good reason to take someones children away. Ever.

    @Africana: Project Prevention scares the living hell out of me.

  • africana

    @ the untoward lady, yes, a number of peple with long term health conditions that prevent them from working (which so many peple stupidly link a person’s inherent value to these days, it seems) had expressed alarm that what might start as a voluntary project could end up being imposed on anyone who defies convention in some way. far feched, some might say,but given the encroachment of the state in recent years i’m not sure it can be dismissed as a science fiction nightmare. that being said, babies born to drug addicted mothers go through a deeply harrowing time and because of the chaotic nature of drug addicted parents’ lives often end up being brought up in foster care or adoption.

  • Yusuf & Co., Salam alaikum,

    I am glad to hear this family was reunited.

    If I’m reading your post right, you are urging thoughtfulness and caution in jumping to conclusions. Tim, I believe this is what you urge as well. I agree with this.

    I realize discourse on these issues are far more nuanced that would be grasped by a foreigner (moi) scanning through the UK’s tabloids and the guardian and independent.

    I suspect I may have been the one who posted that article on facebook. I’m sensitive to things like this for three reasons.

    One, I’m learning disabled, mildly in any case.

    Two, the history of eugenics and population control have long been interests of mine.

    Three, when I worked at CAIR I knew of cases of, basically, child snatching from conspiciously Muslim families in which the reasons ended up being specious. The Krasniqi case is one example, on a personal level this almost happened to one of my best friends, a local university lecturer and mosque figure, who went through hell along with his ex-wife when it came to social services demanding custody of their child.

    The reasons: their claims that the kid suffered from ADHD (he doesn’t 3 psychiatrists tested him) and was a danger to himself, possibly suicidal (the kid is 9) and needed to be well medicated.

    Since the parents refused to medicate the kid, family services filed suit with the state to have custody removed.

    My friend and his ex-wife won this battle, after several months the judge got sick of it and threw it out. The state was unable to prove the kid (who is incredibly gentle, though a bit michievous) was a danger to himself, or others, or other than a very mild case of depression suffered from any sort of emotional or cognitive impairments whatsoever.

    Indeed subsequent to all of this the kid was given an IQ test, discovered he was highly gifted, and 2 weeks ago tracked into a gifted children’s program.

    I know several parents, Muslim and non-Muslim, who faced similar pressure from family services and simply caved in to whatever particular demands they made.

    Granted there is much exaggeration floating back and forth on these sort of subjects, but the theme of social services massively interfering in a couple’s lives regarding the custody of their child due to concerns for the cognitive capacity of one of the parents really does echo - to me - some of the discourses regarding aspects of eugenics in the early 20th century.

    That may sound like a leap, I know that many social workers are dedicated, that there are horrific cases of child endangerment, and they feel a need to act. I don’t want to make this into a cartoonish conspiratorial type of thing, I simply suggest that among many common sense everyday factors, there may be something a bit more insidious in the air (beyond money re/adoptions)

    I don’t suggest this casually or off my head, nor am I trying to be alarmist, but I do think there is somewhat of a veiled crypto-eugenic agenda or disposition in the air in many social agencies on both sides of the Atlantic.

    I admit that I cannot prove this: articles culled from tabloids form sketchy evidence I admit, and anecdotal accounts from others heard, or read, establishes nothing.

    But I do believe that something is afoot that warrants closer watching.

    In popular discourse as well, I am noticing a resurgence of what I suspect to be crypto-eugenic themes on the margins of the American popular media, and in a more concentrated form certain more narrow academic and ideological discourses (among both far right crowds, such as certain circles of psychologists and psychometricians, and evolutionary psychologists, the “HBD” “Human Biodiversity” crowd, Trans humanists, as well as eco-sustainability and zero population growth, radical environmentalist sets ).

    There is the crowning of cognitive achievement, the “genetically gifted” discourse in society that suggests the ultimate criterion for human beings is their degree of stupidity (for what else is an IQ test but a stupd-o-meter?)

    This is something diffuse across society on a level that, I suspect, many are simply unconscious of.

    I am noticing, such themes seemingly popping up - increasingly - in both the American and British press.

    For instance, take that article floating the idea of sterilizing teenage girls and the recent BBC debate on the idea of sterilizing the mentally disabled etc.

    When I scan through British press sources, and American ones, as well as the blogosphere, I notice themes that seem implicit in some discourses here in the USA being presented in a more explicit way in British sources.

    There is selection bias in this, I am a man with my own interests and fascinations, thus I will tend to notice some things and not others, but over all articles like ‘the not-so-clever stupid family having their kid taken away’ one plucks a string in my mind that eventually becomes a chord.

    From what I read, and hear on an anecdotal level, on both sides of the Atlantic there seems to be an increasingly intrusive and somewhat authoritarian bent to social services.

    I do not think I’m out of order in being alarmed by this.

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