Leeanne and James’ story

The turning point for us was when our kids were taken away from us. That day we swore we would get them back, somehow. It took us three long hard years.

You see us today, we look just like anyone else: back then you wouldn’t recognise us. We were in a bad way. We were addicts. Not only were we shoplifting, to support our habit, we were selling drugs.

Our home was a cramped tenement flat, three kids in one bedroom, us in another. It was in a street where there were other people with addictions. We could not get away from the scene. Not that they were worse than us – no one was worse than us, we were terrible neighbours. We were constantly getting busted by the police and we ended up in court on charges.

Neither of us can claim we came from a bad home, in fact we had great parents, both of us. The childrens’ granny and grandpa suffered such pain, because they were worried for us, and we pressed them to loan us money too. That’s how bad things became, taking money off pensioners.

The day the children got taken away our first thoughts were we were terrified at letting them into someone’s care. Our children Jordan, Josh and Jamie are
the dearest, most precious things in our lives. Our second thoughts were how we were dreading telling their grand parents that we had our children taken away. Those thoughts were more than we could bear.

Probably it was the realisation that we’d failed the people we cared about most that made us turn round and take a look at ourselves. We did not like what we saw. At that time we thought maybe it is for the best – maybe our children deserve better, maybe we are not good enough parents for them.

We’d get a couple of hours of supervised visits and when we saw our children we knew the love we felt was too strong to let them go.

We got to know the children’s foster mother, Jeannette. At first we were not sure how we would get on with her but she was just amazing! The children just loved Jeannette and her family: meeting her turned out to be a lucky break: she inspired and encouraged us.

Jeannette said: if you want your kids back you’ve got to speak up and tell the social workers that! You’ve got to find
a way to fight and win them back! In addition she said – I am taking care of your kids, but I am taking care of them for you! So they will be fine when you get them back. Jeanette’s belief that we were good for our children was the first chink of light.

Joan at NUC helped us find our way through the maze of support that was available to us. We started to get clean. We were helped by the addiction support people at Phoenix Futures.

We attended a wee club where we were encouraged to talk and share experiences with other addicts. It helped us to find our voice and speak up, and that gave us more confidence.

We needed all the confidence we could get when it came to attending meetings with our social workers. There were times when we really hated them. It seemed sometimes they had all the power.

There was one meeting we will never forget: the permanency review. When children get placed in foster care the social workers will consider whether they should make fostering permanent. James stood up and said there was no way that this should happen and we wanted them back and we were going to do everything we could to make it happen. We realised from their reaction that they wanted this for us, provided we were able to look after the children properly. We had realised that if we ‘owned’ our problems we had the power to fix them and get our children back.

We went on parenting programme Triple P, which is first rate. We learned how to deal with not just being clean but staying that way. We had setbacks, we let ourselves down by getting caught with possession. There was one point when we had to say – we want our children back but we need more time, we are not ready.

Though at first we did not much care for our social worker over time we came to respect her. Joan from NUC helped us by explaining how the social work team were managing our case and she encouraged and reassured us when we felt everything was against us. Sometimes it seemed a confusing and harsh way of doing things, but Joan helped us realise our social worker was just doing her job. Now we think of our social worker as someone who was doing her best for everyone: when she said that ours was the most successful case she had worked on we realised how much the well being of our family, especially our children mattered to her. The day she said we could get our children back was the best day of our lives!

Now things have moved on: James’ father passed away not long ago but he lived to be reunited with his grandchildren.

Unexpectedly we were allowed to stay on in his home and now we have a great house with a garden that is big enough for our three active sons. We are so proud of what we’ve done.

But every day we live with a little fear that some how we will slip. I do not know when that will go away but we know that Joan is always there for advice. Leeanne is working towards getting a job now and we would love to get involved with helping people who have their kids taken away from them. So many people give up hope when that happens. They just go to pieces. But you can fight back and win. We are the proof.