Did the children torn from their grandparents to be adopted by the gay men fall prey to…
The photograph on the mantelpiece of their grandparents’ home outside Edinburgh seems particularly poignant today.
It shows a baby girl in a pretty red dress and her smiling brother enjoying ice-cream in Princes Street gardens in the city centre. Underneath someone has written: ‘You bring so much joy and laughter.’
They say the camera never lies. But this picture does; figuratively, anyway.
For just hours after it was taken, the lives of these youngsters changed for ever and a heartbreaking domestic drama turned into a scandal that is still unravelling and causing untold anguish.
Now scandal may be too strong. So too ‘blackmail’, ‘brutal’ and ‘bullying’.
Yet few who are familiar with the story — or have been caught up in the sometimes harrowing process of adoption themselves — would dispute their sentiment.
Mother of the children who are being adopted by a gay couple pictured with her grandparents
For, as many of you will be aware from our reports this week, the children’s mother is a recovering heroin addict.
The father of her five-year-old son was a schizophrenic who hanged himself two months before he was born. The father of her four-year-old daughter disappeared long ago, after making another woman pregnant.
It would be hard to imagine a more tragic or traumatic set of circumstances.
But the one — indeed only — source of stability and support in the lives of these youngsters (we can’t identify them for legal reasons but we shall call them Stewart and Fiona) were their grandparents.
They insist social workers said: ‘Stewart and Fiona’s contact with their grandparents is very positive, and it is a warm and enjoyable environment for them to be in.’
Here, for the first time, we piece together the chain of events that resulted in Stewart and Fiona being removed from that ‘warm and enjoyable environment’ and placed with a gay couple.
When the Mail broke the story on Wednesday there was a public outcry. Religious leaders and family groups were incensed. The Tory group on the Edinburgh city council has called for an inquiry. So how could it have happened?
It is certainly a harrowing journey. The love their grandparents felt for Stewart and Fiona, and they for them, is apparent to anyone who visits their bungalow, where the children were brought up almost from birth.
On the sofa are Noddy and Bunny, the cuddly toys they once played with. One card, penned in glitter, from Stewart says: ‘I love you Grandma’, another, from Fiona, says:
‘Love you Granny.’ Their christenings, first day at nursery, and trips to the beach are chronicled in photo albums.
And, of course, that picture on the mantelpiece. It was taken shortly before Stewart and Fiona saw their grandparents for the final time on October 7 last year.
At about 4.30pm that day they were dropped off at a building in Oxgangs, Edinburgh.
The graffiti-scarred concrete block, of the kind still common in Eastern Europe, is where the social services department is based, and as a metaphor for what was about to happen, these soulless surroundings are apt.
Inside was social worker Heather Rush, 39. Mrs Rush is no more or less to blame than her colleagues. Yet her attitude, you might think, typifies the brutally insensitive, bullying manner in which Stewart and Fiona’s grandparents say the children were treated.
One scene, on the ground-floor corridor of the Oxgangs building, still haunts the family. ‘Excuse me, can I speak to you?’ Stewart, politely asked Mrs Rush moments before the emotional handover.
‘Yes, what is it?’, she replied. Stewart then told her: ‘I don’t want to go. I want to stay with my granny and grandad.’ Stewart’s understandable anxiety was, says his grandfather, met with thinly disguised irritation, if not anger.
‘No, that’s not possible, you can’t stay with them,’ Mrs Rush replied curtly. ‘Now go and get your stuff.’ Instead, Stewart sat down, covered his face with his hands, and cried.
Embrace for comfort: The grandparents were distraught when they were told they were too old to look after their grandchildren
‘I thought the way Stewart was treated was appalling,’ said his tearful grandfather. ‘I told her [Mrs Rush] that she had no right to speak to a child like that. But she ignored me.’
You may wonder why Stewart and his sister had to go through this. After all, didn’t their grandparents provide a ‘warm and enjoyable environment’ for them to grow up in the absence of their mother?
Officially, at least, the couple were told they were too old to look after the children permanently — even though the grandmother is only 46, and her husband 59.
But after pressure from social services and concern about further disruption to the youngsters’ lives, the grandparents took the agonising decision to withdraw from the legal fight to keep the children.
If they knew then what they know now, they would never have done so.
The ‘incident’ in the corridor of the Oxgangs office, they soon discovered, was not an isolated one. Nor, it seems, was the attitude of Mrs Rush.
It was Mrs Rush — who has two children herself by different fathers — who contacted them again. She had some ‘good’ news. They had found a new home for Stewart and Fiona. They were to be placed with a ‘male couple’.
The children’s grandmother burst into tears. Their grandfather was furious.
You might have expected such sensitive information to have been delivered in person. In fact, it was imparted over the phone — with a warning: support the adoption or risk never seeing Stewart and Fiona again.
The family are not homophobic; they have a number of gay friends. But if believing that children are best raised by a mother and father living together constitutes homophobia, most people probably are.
In 2006, the Scottish Parliament approved adoption by gay couples — despite an official consultation that showed nearly 90per cent of Scots were against the move.
The family had not heard the last of Heather Rush. On Wednesday afternoon she was on the phone to Stewart and Fiona’s 26-year-old mother, after the story first appeared in the Mail. ‘Tell your mother, that’s it,’ Mrs Rush snapped. ‘No contact.’
The front-page article, she claimed, would not make ‘good reading’ for Stewart and Fiona when they were older. Not good for them, or not good for Edinburgh social services?
A document the family produced shortly after Mrs Rush phoned on Wednesday made rather better reading. At least for Mrs Rush.
It’s called ‘Having Your Say At Your Review — Young Person’s Report’. A review, the preamble explains, is ‘where changes can be made to your care plan’.
Respondents are encouraged to give their views by ticking a series of boxes. One such form was filled in for Stewart by Mrs Rush on November 28, 2008 — just weeks after he had broken down in the corridor.
Question: I see my social worker, too much, about right, not enough?
Answer: The ‘not enough’ box is ticked. In the space below an adult has added: ‘I’d like to see Heather more.’
Question: Are you happy with the contact you have with your family and friends?
Answer: The tick appears in the box marked ‘yes’.
Question: What decisions would you like made at your review?
Answer: ‘I would like Heather to find me a new family’ is the answer written underneath.
Are we really to believe those answers represented Stewart’s true feelings? Most children of this age are keen to please and will reply in a way they think the adult wants them to.
Listening to children and trying to meet their needs is one thing, politically correct propaganda another.
The family of Stewart and Fiona are in little doubt about which category the reports falls. In one way, the pernicious culture of political correctness is at the heart of this story.
‘This happened because the family is Scottish and working class,’ said a woman who, until recently, was a senior social services manager in the Edinburgh department.
‘Any social worker who, for example, presented the black parents of a black child with the kind of ultimatum that the family of Stewart and Fiona were given, which risked the child losing contact with cultural and family ties, would be sacked.
‘Political correctness is a big issue in local government, especially in social work. I am not aware of any official quota system, say, to ensure a percentage of adopted children go to gay parents.
But if you ask me, could it be happening informally in certain areas that like to be seen as progressive — and that usually means the big urban authorities? Then, yes, I believe it is more than possible.’
Recent figures suggest almost 3,000 drug addicts in Edinburgh have children at home who are at risk of abuse or neglect. In Edinburgh, it seems, drug addicts are thought to make better carers than loving grandparents.
The grandparents in question have seven children of their own. Two of them, aged 15 and 13, are still at school. Their 17-year-old also lives with them, while the rest of their children, who are all older, live away from home. All are making their way in life.
The mother of Stewart and Fiona is their eldest child. For the past six months she has been on a methadone programme to help her kick her longterm heroin addiction.
Over the years, she has suffered domestic abuse in a series of relationships and has been convicted of many offences, including theft and breach of the peace. She is not a bad person, just a troubled one.
‘I’m ashamed of what I’ve done and what I’ve put Mum and Dad through,’ she says.
‘They have been brilliant every step of the way.’ They are not perfect, of course. Nor would they pretend to be. Their bungalow could sometimes be a little chaotic. But it’s a happy home — or it was — and Stewart and Fiona were happy there.
Nine months after Stewart’s birth it became apparent that their mother was in no state to bring up a child (Stewart’s father had already committed suicide).
So her parents brought Stewart up as their own. When Fiona, who has never even met her own father, was born a year later, they took care of her, too.
‘We thought it was our duty as grandparents,’ said their grandmother. Duty has become a forgotten word in Britain today, and one, it seems, on which Edinburgh social services places little value.
Initially, social services appeared concerned to ensure only that the children avoided contact with their unstable mother. But gradually the emphasis changed.
The children, they suggested, should be taken into foster care, while maintaining regular contact with their grandparents. After much soulsearching, the couple agreed.
It was, after all, only temporary. But that was two years ago. The grandparents have no criticism of the foster parents. But Stewart and Fiona missed their own home terribly.
Stewart would ask his foster mother: ‘When am I going to see my granny and grandad again?’
She would put calendars in their bedroom with stars marking the dates when they would spend the weekend at their old home; strangely, there is no mention of this on Stewart’s Having Your Say report.
The weekend visits happened once a month — until social workers began to press for them to be less frequent.
Gradually, the department’s true intentions emerged. They did not believe the grandparents should look after Stewart and Fiona at all. They thought the children should be adopted.
From what the grandparents could establish, social workers were concerned about their age and health. True, the grandfather has angina and has suffered a heart attack.
But that was in 1998 when he was working up to 18hours a day on a farm. He was signed off work a year ago and now leads a normal life.
The grandmother is 46 and has diabetes. But as she points out: ‘How am I able to look after my two youngest children?’.
She is an active mother, who regularly took Stewart and Fiona swimming and bowling. Last year, she even went skiing.
She revealed: ‘At one stage they told me it was selfish wanting to look after the children. How can it be selfish to want to look after your own family?’
The couple have records from four court hearings which show that two sheriffs — the Scottish equivalent of magistrates — heard the case at different times over 18 months and were sympathetic. The sheriffs refused to remove their parental rights.
Yet eventually, the pressure from social services became overwhelming, and the couple were assured that if they gave up their parental rights, they would still have regular contact and would be involved and informed in all aspects of the children’s lives.
In August, they gave up the fight. In a letter to Edinburgh Sheriff Court, the grandfather wrote: ‘These are the reasons for making this choice, which I might say has been very difficult for us.
‘We feel that due to the time involved in this process and the various objections raised by the social work department it would be in the best interests of the children that we gracefully back out of the proceedings and give up all rights to our grandchildren.
‘I must admit that I feel bitter about the whole situation, as they [the social work department] are determined to have them adopted, regardless of our feelings.
‘We have tried very hard and have co-operated with them in every way possible. Both my wife and myself love Stewart and Fiona to bits, there is nothing we wouldn’t have done for them.’
The following month, the children’s mother said goodbye to them during a trip to Edinburgh Zoo. A few weeks later, their grandparents handed them over to Heather Rush at the Oxgangs office.
Stewart wanted a toy lawnmower as a farewell present; Fiona a bubble-making machine.
Stewart and Fiona have had several meetings with the men who are soon to become their full-time fathers. They are understood to be seeing them for a few hours daily and have visited their home.
But will their grandparents ever see the children again? ‘When they get older and ask why, we will have the necessary paperwork to prove that we both fought for them and the reasons it was not to be,’ said their grandfather.
Will Edinburgh social services department be able to do the same?
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