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Debbie Priestly - Bullied by Childcare "Professionals"

Debbie Priestly

Debbie Priestly knew that her sons were different. Though both boys are active, happy and outgoing, they were failing at school. Physically, they had problems with fine motor skills (e.g. holding a pencil correctly and writing well) and also with the type of repetitive movements often associated with autism. Their concentration was poor and their communication skills limited. Both were assessed at the Kaleidoscope Children's Centre in Lewisham over a period of 4 years. Recommendations were made by a number of professionals and sent to the boys' school, but they were never implemented.

Like any good mother, Debbie tried to advocate for her children. She spoke to teachers and attended meetings. Despite her own disability, many surgeries and mobility problems, she consistently strived to improve their lot. Hard work - positively heroic for a single mother. Her diary of the time makes for harrowing reading.

Instead of helping her sons, teachers humiliated and embarrassed them, making fun of their handwriting in front of their classmates. Following their teachers example, the other children began bullying them. They made comments about their mother's disability. They berated the boys for their "stupidity". Then the beatings began. In May 2011, one of the boys came home with a huge bruise on his forehead, which took 3 weeks to fade. The school tried to cover up what had happened by failing to issue an Accident Slip for the incident. In October 2011, one returned with a large bruise on his back. Once again, no Accident Slip was produced. The children became afraid of going to school and at a loss to know how to protect them, Debbie allowed them to take 2 days off. In an effort to avoid responsibility and cover up their own incompetence, the Headmistress reported her to Social Services.

Before she knew it, Sarah Archibald, a Social Worker from Lewisham Borough Council was visiting and insisting that Debbie sign a form. She did not explain what the form entailed or allow her time to think about it. That form granted Ms Archibald permission to visit the boys at school at ANY time, unsupervised even by school staff. It was after this that Child Protection Meetings commenced. Debbie was accused of emotional abuse, amongst other things. As proven by Social Services documents obtained under Freedom of Information Act, Kaleidoscope wrongly broke their client confidentiality and began to collude with the school and Social Services. Alistair Rice, a children's Mental Health Nurse suggested that there was very little wrong with the boys and that it was the mother who had "mental health" problems.

Debbie - quite rightly - started to feel that she was being stitched up by these people. At the Child Protection meetings she was frequently belittled, not permitted to present documents which helped her case and on one occasion not allowed to use the same toilet which everyone else there had used. With her mobility problems, these "professionals" expected her to negotiate several flights of steps to use a different one. Just who was being bullied here? Children or mother too?

Realising the system had failed her sons, Debbie sent her children to Jamaica. During this time doctors correctly diagnosed her sons with Marfan Syndrome which these so-called "professionals" in the UK completely missed. Unsurprisingly, what I have read about this syndrome states that children suffering from it need constructive criticism and praise to help them fit in with their peers - and avoid bullying.

Debbie's case with Social Services is now closed, but what an education to us all in how "professionals" collude to blame parents for what are really their own inadequacies.