Kerry McDougall is living a nightmare. Deemed unfit to parent her two young sons, aged three and five, the young mother has fled her home country of Scotland for nearby Ireland in order to protect her unborn child from being taken from her, as well.
Kerry and her husband Mark say that leaving their two boys, Sean and William, with the foster family they have been placed with has been the “hardest thing,” but, as Kerry pointed out, “They’d already been taken from us. The social workers think because I can’t spell long words I’m incapable of love or caring for children.”
And Kerry is not exaggerating. The mother, who has been described as having learning difficulties that specialists term as “mild to moderate,” and are difficulties that are largely academic, has had her children taken away because Scottish authorities have termed her “too dumb” to parent her own children.
Kerry admits that her reading and writing skills lag behind those of other adults, but her learning delays have never interfered with her parenting abilities and her abilities to cook, clean, pay the bills, and provide a safe and loving environment for her boys. She does all of those things, and yet social services removed her children from the care of her and her husband in a move that others are terming “vindictive,” especially considering that the two boys were both happy and healthy before social services removed them, a fact that breaks Kerry’s heart.
“I can’t describe how it feels to know your children are somewhere else and are unhappy. I just have to trust one day we’ll get them back.”
This is not the first time the beleaguered couple has been forced to flee their home country. In fact, the saga of Kerry McDougall and her husband goes back several years, to two days before the two were to wed in Fife, Scotland. As the two prepared to marry, with Kerry pregnant with their first son, social workers ordered registrars to not marry the two, claiming that she lacked the mental capacity to understand the vows she was about to undertake.
In addition to that, the couple was also told that their first child would be taken into care and perhaps even placed for adoption.
And so the two fled to Ireland, where firstborn son Sean was born, and then followed by brother William two years later. In Ireland, the couple was allowed to marry and, monitored by social workers, they were declared to be fit parents. In fact, confident in the couples’ parenting, Irish social services eventually withdrew all involvement.
The couple was happy in Ireland, but, as Kerry explained, Ireland wasn’t home.
“We moved to Ireland because we knew we’d have a better chance of keeping the boys – they don’t have forced adoption. When we got there, the social workers monitoring us couldn’t understand why Fife had such a problem. They gradually withdrew their involvement and then left us alone to look after our boys. We were happy and healthy — all of us. Mark had a job and I would take the boys out every day, to the park, swimming, or for walks. Come rain or shine, we got our wellies on and went jumping in puddles. Life was everything we wanted, except we weren’t back home.”
Like many couples, the McDougalls wanted to raise their children around loving aunts, uncles and grandparents. But before making the decision to return to Fife, the couple reached out to social services there and asked: Could they return with their family without fear of losing their children?
The answer, Kerry and Mark claim, was a resounding “yes.”
And so, once Mark landed a good-paying job back in their home country, the two returned — and their two children were immediately placed on the “at risk” registrar.
And then the boys were forcibly removed from the care of their parents by Fife social services.
Kerry, who was forced to watch her small children kick and scream as they were physically dragged from her home, says she feels as though she has failed her sons.
“I felt I was letting them down because there was nothing I could do. I did my best to be a good mum. I never smoked, drank or did drugs. They were always clean, never hungry and were happy, happy boys. It wasn’t enough. For weeks before they were taken Sean begged for us to move so the social workers couldn’t take him away. I feel we failed him by not doing so sooner.”
And so now, pregnant with their third child — another boy — the couple has made the decision to once again flee to Ireland, leaving their two sons behind in foster care. And their decision is not just about keeping their unborn son in their custody — the couple believes that relocating again to Ireland may help them regain custody of their other two boys. As Kerry explains, “The Irish authorities have promised to help and we have to trust them because we have no one else on our side.”
A similar case in the United States sparked off a federal investigation when a baby was removed from the care of a mother with mild learning disabilities just two days after birth. The mother recently regained custody of her daughter after a two-year legal battle. Click here to read more about how many parents with disabilities that do not impact their parenting abilities still have their children removed from their custody.
[Photo by Ian Waldie / Getty Images]