We would be recognised as victims by this government.
Yet this government says we are not victims. They say it was not caused by my ex’s offending so therefore we cannot access the same rights and support as a victim, under the Victim’s Code.
To quote a Conservative MP, in a letter sent to a non-offending partner in January of this year:
“Children of offenders are not given victim status in so far as it concerns the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (Victims’ Code) or referral to victim support services. This is because in both cases the definition of a victim is a person who has suffered harm, including physical, mental or emotional harm or economic loss which was directly caused by a criminal offence; or a close relative of a person whose death was directly caused by a criminal offence. It therefore does not include family members of an offender if they have not directly been harmed by the offence committed.”
We clearly have been harmed. So, my question is, if it was not caused by my ex’s offending, who or what caused it then? The State? Agency response? Society?
If so, is that acceptable, that agency, state & societal response could render an innocent adult and five children in such a situation, and offer no tailored support?
It stands to reason that had the offending not taken place, my children and I would not have lost anything. It seems to me a very clear case of cause and effect. Apparently, none of our situation is a government issue. So what is it then? A human rights issue? Is that not a government issue also?
Perhaps this government could begin by identifying children of offenders for statutory support. That would be a good place to start.
As a single parent household, with five children under the age of sixteen, I will detail below some of the steps we have taken to reduce the cost of living. It’s still not enough so if anyone has any other tips, please do comment below. I could not afford the privilege of fixing my tariff. I received a total of £2.16 total increase on Universal Credit per month recently (per family, not per person) and I do not receive UC for all of my children (due to rules about family size, the benefit doesn’t apply to children born after 2016). The child benefit increased by £7.35 per month. Not per child – this increase is the total for the five children. So per month, our household benefits have increased by a total of £9.51.
The Marcus Rashford food vouchers scheme was stopped by my local authority earlier this year which represents a loss to my children of £45 per week toward food every week of every school holiday. We had to use a food bank this week, something I never imagined I would have to do, as someone who has a robust work history, a postgraduate qualification, and is currently studying for an MA. I work as a charity volunteer.
We don’t use the oven any more as it’s electric and very costly. We no longer have a traditional Sunday roast as it’s too costly to cook it.
I can’t afford to buy meat/ chicken more than twice a week so we use Quorn/ lentils/ beans
The washing machine is used on the 15-minute programme. It means that some stains don’t come out completely (even with pre treatment). With five children, one of whom is a toddler, and three of whom do outdoor sports, I have a lot of washing.
The children wear their clothes more often before putting them in the wash bin.
We don’t put the heating on at all and use hot water bottles and additional clothing. Three of us have asthma and thus getting through winter with no heating is not medically advisable.
We do not use the tumble dryer now, instead drying all washing on racks. I use racks as the British weather is a nightmare and we can easily move the racks in and out, given the large number of garments I have drying at one time. I use the porch mostly as it’s the warmest place in the house but in cooler weather can still take a while to dry I do not know how we will dry clothes in winter.
I have always budgeted for the household food shop and meal planned for the week. I cook from scratch and have a good level of knowledge about food prep, minimising wastage and creating healthy meals. We don’t have any leeway as we are already on a tight budget. I used to teach maths so I’m pretty good with numbers. Every penny is accounted for.
I bulk-buy (5kg bags pasta, 1kg lentils, couscous etc, 24 toilet rolls). I shop at the cheapest supermarkets.
I have a smart meter and monitor the costs daily, sometimes hourly. It’s stressful.
Baths are used by more than one child (so one has the bath water of another). Shower is expensive as it’s on an emersion. The children have fewer baths and showers than previously. I shower at the swimming baths when I can, as I have a leisure card whereby I could get a free swim every day as part of a scheme run by the LA (I only do this once a week as I don’t have childcare during the times when the sessions take place, apart from on a Monday, when I pay for a childminder (so I can study for my MA) unless my mum is staying with me, in which case I can swim more often).
One of my children is home-educated. We receive no financial support for this so I fund the materials and subscriptions to any home-learning resource sites, as well as print costs.
I already get council tax relief. We therefore won’t qualify for the £150. I don’t understand the thinking behind this because the poorest already need the council tax relief to help in other areas. We don’t have a spare £150 kicking around. I am still awaiting announcement of the fuel hardship fund from my LA. Last hardship fund opened and closed within 48 hours (the one that was brought in when the Marcus Rashford school holiday meal vouchers were withdrawn).
We do not eat out or have takeaways. We do not have days out that cost money (we go to the park, free museums & galleries etc, if we do go out but the cost of travelling and parking can be prohibitive).
My children & I wear second-hand or donated clothes. They do not have the latest phones, technology. They don’t ask me to buy things because they know the answer will be no. My children do not take part in many extra curricular activities as I can’t afford it. They are allowed one each. The average cost per day of my gas and electric at the moment is around £3-£4 total- we really are working on as low a figure as we can. I am genuinely worried as to how I will afford to get us through the winter months, as I am already behind on payment. I have never been behind on payment before now.
I am taking market research jobs wherever I can, but they are few and far between at present, as I don’t seem to be meeting the criteria. I face a lot of challenges around work and childcare, which I talked about in a previous post . I feel the need to mention this in case anyone reading this post thinks that the simple solution is for me to just ‘go to work.’ or ‘earn more’. I would be very happy to do both of these things.
My youngest was playing with a small black box today that was in my bedroom drawer. I watched as she worked out how to open it. I had forgotten what was in there. She popped open the lid and out fell a butterfly brooch- the brooch I bought to wear on my wedding dress. It was inexpensive (my entire wedding cost less than £500), but had sentimental value at one point.
It made me consider what the butterfly meant at the time. It represented that in marriage we would grow and change but would not lose individuality and freedom. It’s sad that my marriage didn’t work, and it feels as though so many of the reasons why it didn’t were completely out of my hands.
There is only one way now, and that’s forward. For a long time, I felt like a failure. That something was wrong with me because my marriage didn’t work. That I had let my children down and that the family I had always dreamed of had been shattered. I was embarrassed to say that I am a single mother, such are they vilified by society. A single mother on benefits- I seemed to have hit the stigma double jackpot.
It was a wise therapist who helped me to see that the picture of the family I have in my head now is what matters. And that I should be proud of everything I have fought for and continue to fight for, whilst looking after my children, and that is what my children will take an example from.
My oldest son said to me the other day:
“Mum, have you seen the film Erin Brockovich?”
“Yes” I replied.
“Mum, you remind me of her.”
I will take that as a compliment, and hope that my children will understand that I have tried to do the best for them in some quite challenging and unexpected circumstances.
By sheer coincidence, the boys’ butterflies began to emerge from their chrysalises today in the butterfly garden. The boys were given the butterfly garden and caterpillars after an activity session with Children Heard and Seen. They have taken great care of the caterpillars, and nurtured the chrysalises, taking care not to disturb them. They are thrilled to see the results of their hard work and care. Perhaps it’s a sign of new beginnings for us all.
It sounds like such a small thing but it’s a huge thing. I will admit I’m not the biggest fan of WhatsApp groups, as my brain finds the multiple conversation threads confusing and the notifications stressing. However, I have always joined essential groups, especially ones that can provide information about groups and activities my children are involved with.
When we first fled our home and arrived in our new area, we went straight into further lockdowns. It was a relief in many ways not to have to see people, as I was terrified that we would be recognised or exposed somehow
When my youngest boys had a school place I was invited to join the class WhatsApp groups. I froze with fear and politely declined. It felt like a huge step, that my phone number would be exposed to potentially so many people. At this stage we had not changed our surnames and I wanted to remain fully under the radar.
Over the following months, as my children became friends with more children and took part in more activities, I was invited to further WhatsApp groups. Again, I politely declined, partly in fear of people knowing my number. The way I saw things, the fewer people who had my number, the less chance it would fall into the wrong hands.
Last week, my son’s school sent out a flyer about a new football team that is looking for members. My youngest son is really into football, and it seemed like a good opportunity. The coach made contact with me after I had emailed and sent me a text asking if I want to be added to the WhatsApp group. I couldn’t believe it but I found myself replying “yes” without thinking about it until afterwards. I didn’t panic or feel that familiar feeling of vulnerability, fear.
Perhaps life is finally beginning to settle.
When an online sexual offence relating to children has been committed or suspected of having been committed, where there are children living in the household, a referral is made to children’s social care. The usual process is that an assessment is made of the children, and that restrictions are put into place around the accused having supervised contact only. This is for the duration of the investigation, and up to the point of sentencing, and often beyond.
In this post I will detail the process by which we had contact restrictions gradually lifted, working with children’s social care. I will also detail the courses, learning and ongoing work that we have all done. Hopefully this might be helpful to other families and to professionals as well. Ideally professionals should be working with families to facilitate reunification, where it is safe for the family to be able to do so. This is key and I will explain more about the risk assessments that are available in order to assist.
When my ex was placed under investigation for viewing child abuse images online, the police signposted him to Lucy Faithfull. I was really surprised that social care were unaware of Lucy Faithfull and that my ex’s rehabilitation was not at all considered by current processes. I was equally shocked that in the nine months that my children were ‘held’ on a Child in Need plan, that none of us were given any actions to complete. The plan was used as a holding bay whereby the children and I were placed under a lot of pressure, for no particular purpose. So I set about researching what courses and learning we could do as a family in order to make progress. I did not find it in any way acceptable that we were subjected to invasive scrutiny and being ‘rated out of 10’, whilst not a single professional suggested any way to move forward. It was the most bizarre and pointless situation (and would have cost the state around £70,000).
1) Lucy Faithfull courses for both of us. Inform course is for friends and family members, Inform Plus is for those who are accused of or have committed online sexual offences relating to indecent images of children.
2) Safer Living Foundation (him). This was very important as social care wanted to see ongoing work from him rather than just a one-off course. Safer Living Foundation are so good that he was able to continue with them rather than a state mandated course after sentencing. He began work with them four months prior to sentence and continued as soon as he was released from prison.
3) Social care actually told us that they were assessing for unsupervised after they read a copy of the SHPO. There was a bit of confusion at first on their part as they hadn’t read it and thought they were assessing for supervised hence he didn’t see the children at all for 10 days on his release.
4) He was assessed by a forensic psychologist, and I voluntarily had a capacity to protect assessment. This was after we had moved to a new LA and social services didn’t have the case open. We were proactive and had the assessment done and thus when the case was reopened the new SW said they were really happy to have all of this information (almost 60 pages) as it was more detail that they would have been able to assess. They read every page and they also spent time speaking to my ex which no social worker had done up to that point. I had been assessed as having capacity to protect hence the scrutiny was not on me, but fully on what rehabilitation my ex was doing. Our risk assessments were conducted by Phoenix Forensic (Steve Lowe), and are also available from Lucy Faithfull, Safer Lives and many independent social workers.
5) The assessment we had had recommended us each to do work, as well as made recommendations to social care about how to work with us, and identified that social care involvement had caused trauma to me. My ex was recommended trauma work to deal with his past emotional abuse, abandonment and coercive control by parents. He had been assessed as having an addiction to porn since the age of 13 with a primary attraction to adult females and not a risk of contact offending. So he did trauma work with Safer Living Foundation and I did some therapy with ActsFast to deal with my own trauma (from the knock, the fallout from the knock etc). I had to pay a private therapist as well, as NHS couldn’t help.
6) I did NSPCC safeguarding courses, as well as having had safeguarding training in various jobs over the years. This was whilst he was RUI I did this work as no agency was making any progress with what we were meant to be doing.
7) Both ex and I attended Safer Living Webinars to learn more about this area of offending.
8) I proactively did PANTS work with my younger ones and age-appropriate Keep Safe work from the social work toolkit online with my older children. We went over this work a few times and the social worker in our new area asked the children a few questions about keeping safe etc.
9) Told my children what their father had done in an age-appropriate way.
10) Told social care when he was released that we would be willing to escalate to family court if we didn’t get the outcome we wanted for our children and asked the social worker to explain to me the process of how we get this in front of a judge if we need to. The social worker was very helpful and said that they always encourage people to challenge things and to know their rights where they aren’t happy with an outcome. I also asked what social care were stating the risk of harm was seeing as it had already been assessed. They stated a risk of reoffending, not a risk of contact offending, hence the steps to release restrictions were taken in line with the reduction of his risk of reoffending. However it has happened relatively quickly as his probation have been so supportive and he has worked so hard on himself. He still attends weekly meetings with Safer Living Foundation.
11) Since he went to prison, and beyond release, my children have had the support of an amazing charity called Children Heard and Seen.
12) My children attend Rainbows at school and one sees a counsellor. My oldest child has a mentor from the charity. Again all of this helped social care to see that a lot of people support my children and I have proactively thought of my children’s needs in all of this and found support and help for them, and someone for them to talk to.
13) Social care listened to what my children wanted and my children were given the opportunity to each articulate what level of contact they wanted with their dad and why.
14) Whilst we have not been on a plan, the schools don’t get updates from social care so I have voluntarily engaged with schools safeguarding leads at every point in this and therefore they are not in the dark about anything which has been helpful as they’ve been able to support the children and also to understand what our goals are as a family.
15) I have also kept our GP fully informed and updated. I hand delivered letters with updates as I don’t have a direct email address for the GP, only a general one for the surgery reception. The GP has been amazing and really supportive, has helped me through some awful times and has been there to talk to when I have needed. I am on monthly calls with a GP right now.
I shared in a previous post the recommendations that I made to children’s social care at the conclusion of a lengthy letter of recommendation that I was moved to send following the way in which my children and I had been treated in the previous local authority. As a follow up, I would like to share the changes that the manager told me either had been instigated or were being considered as a result of my feedback
1) Families with a parent under police investigation would be allocated a special team for support.
2) Managers to look at adopting the Hillingdon Framework for assessment of families where a parent is under investigation for indecent images crimes.
3) Managers to look into Lucy Faithfull training for staff, and to look into the other resources and charities suggested.
4) No longer using a ‘Schedule of Expectations’ (which was for us a single A4 sheet listing 5 conditions (things my ex could no longer do)) which was handed to me out of the blue, no prior discussion, and instructed us that if we didn’t sign and agree to a be ‘supported’ on Child in Need plan (which is meant to be voluntary), an initial child protection conference would be held. So I signed the document under threat. We were offered no direct support from the LA to achieve these conditions (whilst simultaneously being scrutinized and rated for how well we followed them) not signposted to what support a family can receive on a Child in Need plan (any support I asked for over the following months was refused), nor any guidance as to how to convert this into a family safety plan (I consulted fellow non-offending partners I met on the internet in order to assist with mine). My argument was that none of the above necessarily keeps children safe, especially where families are left unsupported and without guidance. The LA have said that they are now using a ‘working family agreement’.
5) Not using scaling on Child in Need review meetings. I was pleased to hear this because I wasn’t sure why we had been subjected to this traumatic process, when a Child in Need plan is meant to be 1) voluntary and 2) about support for the children and family, and this was in no way supportive for my children as the rating was arbitrary and prompted zero actions (any actions completed were on our own initiative). Even our SW did not feel it was the right system for my family but was seemingly powerless. It should be noted that my children were not on a child protection plan,
I also liaised with the safeguarding hub for the area, and they were very interested to learn from my experience and very sorry that it happened to my children and I in this way. They have since shared four academic research papers that I signposted them to, in order that professionals can use these as a reference point when supporting families like mine. They published these papers in the safeguarding newsletter. The safeguarding hub also shared in their newsletter information about Children Heard and Seen, so that professionals are aware of support that is available when children experience parental imprisonment, as my children did. For anyone interested in academic research in this area, please have a look at this brilliant resource, put together by non-offending partners.
In addition to the above, I have noticed that the local authority have held workshops to improve learning around working with families who wish to reunite, where it is safe to do so.
It’s really important that systems listen to feedback from those who have experienced them. It’s crucial that we feel able to speak up about our experiences. For me, it helped to make meaning of what we had endured, as well as trying to leave a legacy for other families to ensure that children are supported safely and effectively.
For a long while, it was very difficult to look back at photos from our old life. I find that there are things that I almost completely forgot that we did.
Having a look through Google Photos today, I found a few photos from a day or so after the birth of my youngest. It’s hard to believe that she’s almost two years old now.
It had been an incredibly stressful pregnancy, with social care involvement due to my ex being under police investigation. I had spent almost the entire pregnancy in a state of trauma, anxiety and fear. Everything had been tainted, including the run up to the birth, and my plans for a home birth (the boys were all born at home) had not gone ahead as I was simply too anxious.
The birth itself was blissfully straightforward and uncomplicated, and I was home within a few hours.
I remember asking my ex the next day to go out and buy us all some sushi and a massive chocolate cake. I recall thinking at the time that even though we had already lost a great deal of money, I didn’t really care about the cost, that I deserved to be treated like a queen after what he had put me through so for one meal and a few hours, we pretended that life was ok. My mum was staying with us as she was helping with supervising contact in the post-birth weeks, to take the onus off me. So she deserved to be treated like a queen too.
We dug out a bottle of pink champagne that someone had bought us, and popped the cork.
I found a birthday candle in the cupboard that was a number zero, and decided that the meal would be in honour of the baby’s 0th birthday. It was the only birthday we would celebrate of hers in our old house, in our old life.
It makes me smile now when I think back. There were moments of silliness amongst the darkness, and I am glad that we were able to find these small moments of joy before our lives changed forever.
Following my family’s experiences of social care involvement, I wrote a lengthy letter of complaint to the local authority. It should be noted that I did not dispute their involvement with my family, rather the way in which the involvement was executed. I made it very clear that this was the issue of the system, rather than individuals within it. I used the latest research and wrote the below recommendations in February of 2021. I was highly traumatised at the time of writing the letter, and also dealing with having relocated to a new area, homeschooling and guiding my children through parental imprisonment. Yet, it was very important to me to be able to express what we had experienced in the hope of helping others. The below recommendations have recently been viewed by Will Quince, Children and Families Minister.
Since the time of writing, I would also include an emphasis on ‘working with men’. I did mention in the body of the letter that my children’s father was the ‘elephant in the room’ as nobody spoke to him. The system simply built walls around him, rather than engage with him. He voluntarily did work with Lucy Faithfull and with Safer Living Foundation (which has been an ongoing source of rehabilitation). I would also include that children with a parent in prison should be automatically offered support. When the children’s father was in prison, we were provided with no statutory support. We received and continue to receive support from the wonderful charity Children Heard and Seen.
Another frustration for me was the inefficient use of resources. I felt very conscious that money was being wasted on my family, where it could have been used more effectively, and crucially, distributed better to help other families too. . The Child in Need intervention for my family would have cost the state approximately £70,000, and for this money, no work was done, no progress was made. The plan was used for surveillance, and even then it wasn’t very good at doing that, as we experienced the intervention during lockdown, when very few professionals saw my children. The cost of making an assessment of me would have been around £2000. The cost of an assessment of the children’s father £3000-5000. The cost of the courses he undertook, less than £1000. The cost of the courses I undertook, and the Keep Safe packs for my children were all less than £150 total. It should be noted that I repeatedly asked for an assessment of me to be made, only to be met with excuses. The only formal assessment of me was a short meeting at the start of the intervention. One of these excuses as to why I couldn’t be properly assessed was that it wasn’t possible to make the assessment during lockdown. I will leave you, the reader, to reflect on that.
1) I recommend that the local authority take note of the Hillingdon framework (perhaps incorporating some more up-to-date studies), and consider integrating this into ways of working alongside families undergoing experiences like ours. I also suggest that risk assessments of offenders and non-offending partners are based on this framework, or similar.
It seems logical that where a parent is under investigation for a sexual crime, that the first actions you should undertake as an agency, to ensure that children are protected are:
-Robustly and effectively assess the protective capacity of the non-offending partner, using an appropriate framework.
-Undertake immediate age-appropriate keep safe work with the children.
-Social workers assist a family in converting a ‘schedule of expectations’ into a robust family safety plan, identifying any support needs for the family early on. This safety plan should be a working document, reviewed regularly and updated according to need and dynamic risk.
This ‘belt and braces’ approach will always secure the safety of children, and ensure that a family’s needs are met
2) The Local Authority gain knowledge on internet offending, from organisations such as Lucy Faithfull, StopSo, and Safer Living Foundation, Safer Lives and establish ways of working together to increase understanding an awareness of online sexual offences, and to educate and support families. The Lucy Faithfull Foundation | Training and Services
3) Social workers in turn, to be educated on IIOC offences, and to undertake training with the Lucy Faithfull foundation, as to how to assess the protective capacity of non-offending partners.
4) Children to be recognised as ‘indirect victims’ of parental offending, and therapy to be offered to allow them a safe space to talk about their emotions around ‘the knock’, and to identify any traumagenic symptomology that has arisen because of the knock and subsequent changes to family life. Children to have meaningful and evidence-based professional support to make sense of these changes to their family life. Lead professionals identified to undertake this work, within a given timeframe.
5) Use research into the effects upon children when a parent is accused of/ has committed an online sexual crime (non-contact offence), to understand the therapeutic needs of this group of children, and to better support families.
6) Dynamic use of family assessment to consider loss of income over the months ahead (reviewed and adjusted as necessary), thus helping to establish any funding needs that a family may have.
7) Professionals to fully understand the process of pre-birth planning, when a parent is under investigation for IIOC, and on a CiN plan, and to take the time to inform the mother of what the process will be, at the earliest opportunity when the pregnancy is known to social care.
8) Remote assessment processes developed to contingency plan for circumstances such as lockdown, and any kind of force majeure event (because children’s welfare is always paramount).
9) Any training needs/ courses for the family to be identified early on, and funded by the local authority (a robust protective assessment would identify this need in the NOP)
10) CiN plans should not be used as a ‘holding bay’ or ‘tick box exercise’, but should reflect meaningful support to families, and should contain relevant suggestions of work to be undertaken by families, from the outset, based on meaningful research and actual support needs. For professionals ask to ‘scale’ on calls, there must be clear guidance as to what (or who) is being scaled, and what the various ratings mean.
11) An unbiased feedback process whereby a family can offer feedback to social care about how the service is working for them, without fear of retribution/ escalation of their case. Families should be informed of this process by their social worker and given forms to complete to collect their feedback. Families must be made verbally aware by their social worker at the initial point of contact that the feedback process exists, and that families may use the process without fear, to ensure an effective working relationship.
12) Where assessments are being made based upon whether a non-offending partner asks the offender to ‘leave home’ or not, that you ensure that funding is in place to provide alternative accommodation to the offender, so that the non-offending partner has true choice. Otherwise, I would strongly suggest that you remove this criterion from your ‘strengths and weaknesses’ assessment, as it seems wholly unfair to assess on this, where no option is given.
13) When referring from one local authority to another, there should be a robust way to establish that the referral has been made, rather than social workers having to ‘chase’ referrals.
14) A group of non-offending partners and family members have campaigned tirelessly to have their support needs better understood.
As a result, In October 2020 an Indirect Victims of Indecent Images of Children Strategic Group formed with notable members from: The Home Office; National Crime Agency; Police Chiefs Council; Children’s Services; NHS; Centre of Excellence in CSA; Probation & Education. It is joint-chaired by LFF, NWG & Marie Collins Foundation. There are 3 partners of offenders as part of it as ‘Subject Matter Experts’. The aims of the group are to:
- Reassess Policy, Practice & Procedure for families of IIOC suspects/offenders.
- Create resources for families & the professionals who support them.
- Identify the needs of families & the gaps in the current system.
Is this Strategic Group something that the local authority could possibly engage with to inform and improve best practice for engaging with families where are online crime is being investigated/ has been committed?
I’m sorry that I didn’t say goodbye.
I think of you all often. I had to leave and I couldn’t tell you where I was going.
I know that once you saw the media reporting, you will have understood the reasons why I had to move. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you first about all of this, and that you had to find out from the media. I hope you can understand that I was hoping that it wouldn’t be reported. If it hadn’t been reported, I would have kept in touch with you. In fact, I would never have moved away.
The problem is vigilantes picked up the case, and I had to make sure that nobody knew where we had moved to so that the children and I could live our lives in peace. Therefore, I couldn’t keep in touch because there would have been no way not to tell you where I am.
I also didn’t want to have to discuss my ex’s offending. I vowed that I wouldn’t spend a single moment explaining to anyone what he had done,as it was nothing to do with me, and not my crime to explain.
I’ve changed my name now. I’m still me though, certainly a bit older, maybe wiser.
The children have all grown up so much. The boys are doing well at school. My oldest is homeschooled which isn’t easy but she has worked so hard. They have all endured so much trauma but we have had amazing support for a charity called Children Heard and Seen
I’m sorry that you never got to meet the baby. She was born in lockdown, which at the time was a blessing for us, as life was very difficult. She’s almost two now and looks a bit like each of her siblings, as well as having her own unique look. She makes us all laugh, a real comedian.
I wish I could talk to you again. I tried to put you all in a box in my mind and seal the lid. Memories don’t work like that, though.
One day maybe I will be able to see you again. I hope that if or when we do meet, that you will understand. Sometimes I secretly hope that you will find me. Other times the idea fills me with dread, as it brings back all of the emotions from my old life, and the fear that the children and I will be discovered, and made into outcasts again, in our new town.
Sometimes I feel a bit sad that nobody has tried to find me- I kept my old email account live so it wouldn’t have been too difficult. It makes me think that maybe you just don’t know what to say, or perhaps you wouldn’t want to be in contact with me. That you might blame me somehow for my ex’s offending, or feel that “she must have known”. I wonder whether you would question what was written in the media, or accept it at face value, whether you saw through the lies that the vigilantes wrote. I wonder whether you would even give me the time of day.
I hope you are keeping well, and please know that I am thinking of you. I wish that things had been different, that we could have stayed in contact.
Sending love to you and your family.
Prior to ‘The Knock’, and the discovery of my ex’s online sexual offending, I always enjoyed being part of lots of different projects in my community. I worked at the local college teaching maths, and volunteered for a youth organisation. I had been a school governor, and a peer supporter for the NHS, helping to run a breastfeeding group for parents, served on the committee of a children’s centre, on a school PTA, and volunteered at a school outdoor leisure facility over the summer holidays. I had also run my own business for a decade. Each of these ventures brought me into contact with many people from all walks of life. I loved making connections with people and being an active member of our community.
All of a sudden, the rug was swept from under my feet. My children’s father had committed a crime and the world as we knew it ceased to be. I had become an outcast, by default.
I stepped away from any voluntary commitments, because any time available was spent supervising my ex, ensuring that we adhered to restrictions. As a family, we all became socially isolated. I was informed by police (having checked with DBS) that my ex’s crimes might be disclosed on any Enhanced DBS of mine in future. I felt tainted, unworthy and as though I would never work again. I had many sleepless nights imagining that the stigma and shame would follow me forever.
I found myself routinely sitting on humiliating phone calls (review meetings for the social care plan that my children were held on, under threat) having my parenting, (well specifically, the perceived safety of my children) rated out of 10 by professionals. These professionals would previously have engaged with me as an equal, and yet now they was a very definite power imbalance, although for me, nothing had changed. I had done nothing to warrant this scrutiny. My children were safe and well cared for, and until The Knock, they were perfectly happy. Every detail of my life was under the microscope because of my ex’s crimes and the way that the system responds.
I closed my business and eventually had to give up my job, as well as the voluntary work. I had to postpone studying for my MA in order to adhere to social care restrictions, whilst my children’s father was under police investigation. It felt like everything that I had worked hard to achieve had been eroded.
I have described feeling like something on the bottom of someone’s shoe. There seemed to be no way out and very little hope for the future, tainted by association and forever smeared by someone else’s actions, and the response of the state.
When I shut the door on my old life, it was impossible to imagine that any the doors would ever open again. I had to effectively go into hiding.
I could never have foreseen that I would be co-facilitating a support group for those caring for a child whose parent is in prison for sexual offences, as a volunteer for Children Heard and Seen. It is a privilege to have met others who are experiencing similar situations me. So many doors in my life and my children’s lives have been opened by the support we have received from this charity. In fact, the very first time I spoke to Sarah Burrows, on the phone, I felt like a valued person again, rather than an outcast. Children Heard and Seen applied for an Enhanced DBS for me, and to my relief, it came back clear. It was such a weight off my mind, and an important step in beginning to feel better about the future.
Sarah invited me to write a blog for Children Heard and Seen, and I began to realise that I could have a presence on social media, and it is possible for me to engage with the world again, and make an active contribution to conversations around parental imprisonment, non-offending partners, and social care response.
I have had the pleasure of meeting a wide range of people, from non-offending partners and other family members to child protection charity workers, survivors, social workers, online safety campaigners, forensic psychologists, criminal justice professionals, probation, academics, police, MPs (my circumstances were discussed in a parliamentary debate), to name a few.
I have taken part in research, to inform professional practice so that families receive better support and understanding. I have even spoken anonymously to the media to raise awareness. This was definitely not something I would have imagined to be possible, and a really big deal for me, as my fear of the media and of journalists was overwhelming.
I have restarted my MA, and now have just a few months left until it’s complete. I am writing a novel, based on my family’s experiences, and started writing this blog, in order to raise awareness and as a source of information for professionals and a source of support for non-offending partners and family members who find themselves in this awful predicament.
There are many exciting opportunities and projects in the pipeline, and it feels as though doors are really beginning to open up once again, in ways that I never could have believed or imagined.