With local authorities several years into sweeping budget cuts, support services for new parents have - in many areas - faced the axe. Social workers have warned that this is leading to a rise in forced adoptions, as Martin Geissler reports.
Video report by ITV News correspondent Martin Geissler
When I meet Louise in her hometown of Huddersfield she strikes me as a charming, cheerful, upbeat young woman.
She’s nervous as we set up the camera, but she’s determined to go ahead with our interview because she wants her story to be told.
As we start to talk, her demeanour changes. The smile disappears, her face clouds over, the pain begins to show. “It never really goes away”, she tells me.
Five years ago Louise had a baby boy. All was well with the pregnancy, but just a week before the birth she was told her son would be taken from her and put into care.
She didn’t want to give him up, she was desperate to be a mother, but it was decided that she didn’t have the necessary parenting skills - so someone else would have to bring up her child.
Louise had a difficult childhood herself, and she’s carried some issues into her adult life - but she feels she could have learned how to be a good mother.
If only she’d been given a chance.
In days gone by, women like Louise would have been sent to a mother and baby centre, where they could learn the skills they needed. Staff would have helped them in the difficult first weeks and monitored their progress.
But that wasn't available. The facilities which might have helped her in the past have fallen victim to council cuts. The safety net has been pulled away.
In essence, she was told “we can’t afford to help you, you’ll have to hand over your son”.
Louise's story is harrowing, but she’s not alone.
The UK has the highest adoption rate in Europe. It’s one of just three EU countries to allow forced adoptions (children being taken from parents who don’t want to give them away).
In many cases the system works well. Often, children flourish in new families who love them and care for them, but social workers are becoming increasingly concerned that adoption is being seen as the best solution to a problem, rather than a last resort.
And with austerity really starting to bite, a perfect storm is brewing: Parenting grows more challenging as households become poorer, but there’s less help available because of drastic funding cuts.
In short, a report by the British Association of Social Workers concludes, austerity is forcing British children into adoption. It’s as stark as that.
Louise has been assured her little boy is happy and doing well with his new family.
She receives one letter a year from his adoptive parents.
She’s now begun volunteering at a women’s centre, talking about her experience to adoptive parents and campaigning for a better funded system.
It won’t help her, she says, but it might stop others from suffering the same pain.