Naturalist Mike Dilger goes looking for an endangered butterfly in Gloucestershire - the Pearl Bordered Fritillary.
Fighting to keep their children... Inside Out's Nick Lawrence meets the women with learning difficulties forced to give their babies up for adoption.
Christine Spooner sits and smiles at me cheekily. She cuts an unassuming figure but there is a playful child-like quality in her eyes.
"I’m a bit of a one," she jokes.
She talks lovingly about her husband of seven years and affectionately about her volunteer work. You would never imagine the level of emotional pain she has been through so far in her 27 years.
Christine is a mother of two who never sees her children, and that is because they were judged to be at significant risk of harm in her care and taken away by Birmingham Social Services for adoption.
Why? She has Asperger's syndrome and was assessed as being incapable of caring for her children.
LOSING YOUR CHILDREN
She is not alone. Six out of ten people with a learning disability have their children removed from their care - that’s according research by the Nora Fry centre at Bristol University.
Researcher Anna Marriott claims Christine’s case is symptomatic of an iniquitous system which fails to recognise that the learning disabled need a little more help than other parents. She was unequivocal in her view of care professionals and told me:
"Rather than looking for any actual evidence of problems with parents coping… they’ll just assume the parent won’t be able to cope…. And rather than looking to put a support plan in place…. They’ll look to initiate child protection proceedings."
In Birmingham I met one social worker who told me the system is most certainly stacked against people in Christine’s position:
"I have been at meetings where there have been 17 professionals and one parent… (there are) issues where parents need anger management… or (have) poor communication skills… poor concentration… so they have to sit and listen to the most intimate details of they and their children’s lives… discussed in a professional forum and they are expected to behave as professionals… And if they are not behaving in that way… they will be judged on that…"
GIVING PARENTS SUPPORT
So learning disabled parents need support. And there are organisations which exist to support those who need a little help.
CASBA is an advocacy service which looks after the interest of learning disabled parent in south Birmingham – but they only get funding to deliver 58 hours per week of support to parents and according to CASBA’s vice chair Sior Coleman:
"The harsh reality is that we don’t have enough money to do it… there is an understanding from the authorities that, 'Yes, it’s an important service' but it’s seen as a luxury… it’s seen as an add-on”.
Christine’s children now live with other families and have both been adopted but she is determined help other parents going through the same pain that she did and volunteers with the team at CASBA.
She’s also an outspoken campaigner, "I’m sick and tired of the negative attitude and I want people to think more positively about learning disabled people…".
Does she still want to be a parent?
Christine looks at me with a melting gaze of sadness and optimism: "Realistically I would love to be a parent again… but what if it happens again…?
"What if it goes on again? I don’t want to have me heart torn out the third time in a row… I’ve had enough pain in my life… I don’t want no more…"
Meet Christine - the mother with learning difficulties - who has had her children taken for adoption.
- Mary Rhodes