Bristol Couple With Learning Disabilities Fear Baby Would Be Taken Away

A Bristol couple with learning disabilities are too afraid to have a longed-for child in case the baby is taken away from them. Andrew and Michelle Bennett, who have been together for 15 years, have already had one child adopted against their wishes.

They say they have been treated like second class citizens and should not have to go through social services assessments to prove they would be good parents.

Andrew, 32, has a borderline learning disability while Michelle, 34, is deaf, which affected her education.

The couple, who both work, married in 2000 and live in a flat in Willow Close, Patchway.

After their baby was born, in the mid 1990s, an assessment was carried out by a clinical psychologist who concluded that the couple were unable to meet the child’s needs.

The child, who does not have learning disabilities, was adopted against their wishes at the age of three, following court action.

Michelle said: “I was 21 when I was pregnant and we were not living together at the time.

“When the baby was born I had to go to a mother and baby unit which was not a very good experience.

“It was difficult for me. Because I am deaf I could not hear the baby crying. They gave me a pager which alerted me to when she cried.”

The baby was fostered when she was a year old and later adopted.

Today the couple have no idea where their child, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, lives. They receive letters and photographs once a year.

Andrew and Michelle, who works for Sainsbury’s, complained to South Gloucestershire Council about their treatment but an internal council investigation concluded that all actions undertaken were in “the best interests” of their child and that none of its actions were prejudicial.

But the couple say that they have been told that if they have another baby the council’s social services department will intervene once again.

Andrew said: “They say they will put a support package in place but I just don’t believe them. If Michelle got pregnant they will assess us again.

“No-one else has to go through that just to have a family. There are parents out there who have drink or drug problems, who are paedophiles and they don’t get assessed. It’s not fair.”

Section 48 of the 1989 Children’s Act states that every local authority has the duty, wherever possible, to promote the upbringing of children by their families.

The council has said it will not comment on individual cases.

Andrew and Michelle both feel they are capable of looking after a child with the proper support.

South Gloucestershire Council spokeswoman Sarah Hudspith said: “The authority has a duty to safeguard the welfare of children, and while we cannot comment on individual cases South Gloucestershire Council does not assess people on their suitability as parents.

“We seek wherever possible to retain children within their families and have a range of support package available to help parents.”