Living with a missing child

In writing this article I wanted to start with some helpful positive advice and not just the grim sadness of my, and my husband’s, never-ending pain.

We all have the most desperate of situations with our children or have been through the most desperate situations and, like me, you may feel damaged as a result to a lesser or greater degree.

When this situation erupted in our home we did not know what to do or where to go. We knew nothing of this murky dark world. The way in for the groomer was the death of my mother. He seized his opportunity.

We thought we are in the right, we are normal parents, everyone will see this for what it is, grooming by a person in a ‘Position of Trust. This is where we went wrong.

The main lessons we learnt and keep in the forefront of our minds is that institutions save themselves first and not our child. Individuals in organisation are there to save their job. You are there to save your child.

It helps to be completely geared up from the start- to know what to do to try and protect your child and yourselves, to get your sanity back and take back control of your lives and that of your child. These are some tips we have come to rely on:

1. Be the investigator, it is your child, and these organisations do not feel the same as you do.

2. Start a file on each organisation you deal with.

3. Keep a timeline of key events, contacts by Police, Children’s Services and your child.

4. Correct every inch of everything that is sent to you that is incorrect; if you do not do this you are accepting mistakes. The organisation may not accept this still but you have a paper trail.

5. Write letters and keep all copies, these are better than emails. Letters should be responded to officially. Record all letters, keep the slip of paper. If you are not getting the answers you require go to the top: Police Commissioners, Police Constables, Directors of Children’s Services.

6. Take advice from Ivison Trust, use their long expertise in this subject matter.

7. Attend meetings with Ivison Trust if you can and learn what others have done.

8. Look back over your notes ahead of meetings or court cases.

9. Challenge when professionals are not doing their jobs correctly, don’t be afraid.

10. Remember you are a professional parent who knows your own child better than anyone else, never forget this or let these organisations make you feel bad.

11. Never give up hope even in the darkest of times, talk to someone a good friend, plan your next practical steps with them on this.

12. Help Ivison Trust by letting them in, so they can understand and make effective permanent legislative changes.

13. Ask the police to do a welfare check on your child and report back to you.

14. Keep searching for answers and accountability and responsibility.

15. Request Freedom of Information data and scrutinise the detail and what is missing. Keep going back until you get what you want/need.

16. Let the pain, hurt and frustration out by doing some or all of the above.

17. But above all – Be kind to yourself, plan in treats, however, small to stay sane and get through this and keep fighting for your baby!

Our story is one of exploitation by a person in a Position of Trust’ in order to groom and, we strongly suspect, sexually exploit our son. Whilst presenting himself as helpful to us and a friend, the groomer spread ugly rumours and untruths about us for a considerable amount of time before taking our child from us. This whole situation damaged our family and our reputation. This is classic grooming and puts you on a back foot immediately as people have already formed judgements about you before you have stated your own case.

The safeguarding responses from the agencies we involved were wholly inadequate and fell below the standard that we expected and required and this caused further harm, as they did not understand the situation, they were just doing their 9-5 job. Our lives had been turned upside down and inside out and we are broken as a result. We could not sleep, we could not rest, we needed answers and no one could give them to us.

We felt as if the organisation employing the abuser sought to cover it up and that police, social care and the local authority designated officer for safeguarding children refused to recognise, let alone respond to the risk. We continually asked the local authority for a specialist, with Ivison Trust’s assistance, but they did not respond. Instead they provided us with a Youth Target Worker who did not understand grooming. The police started an investigation after seven months and the DCI left to go to another team. He never imparted the outcome of the first investigation, how can that happen? The police then started another investigation and this went on for a further couple of years. We had contact with over thirty police officers but in the end everyone lost interest in our sad story except us.

We feel let down by the very many professionals who didn’t do their jobs properly. We cannot understand the lack of professional interest in such grave failings and the impact that this has had on our family.

As a result we have had no contact with our son for over 6 years; we hear very little and understand he is now living abroad with the person who groomed him. We live with constant grief and it is so painful not knowing from day to day whether our son is alive or dead, has he had Covid? Where is he? Is he okay? Is he hungry? Is he thirsty? It’s a daily nightmare and complete hellish situation to be in. We hold on to the hope that one day our son will return to us and we can support him to recover and heal.

This situation has made us overly efficient in our own lives- if we say we’re going to do something we do it. We do not let people down. The ineffectual response from the multiple agencies has had life-long lasting consequences on who we have become. We are not the same people. We are sad all the time; my husband describes the pain ‘as just below the surface’. We only had one child, and we celebrated Christmas and birthdays as a family but not anymore.

We support Ivison Trust Parent Participation to give something back and share our experience and knowledge we have gained on this never-ending journey.

Ivison Trust has been so kind and giving to us and so many other parents and we wanted to offer our help. We attend the parent open group meetings, have offered support to other parents at the Parent Network Days, have raised funds for Ivison Trust, we’ve consulted with external agencies such as the Centre of Expertise and the National Office for statistics, have given anonymised interviews with the media and more recently contributed to the development of the parent campaign and documents to encourage more effective partnerships with parents.

Although as people we all have different views and ideas, meeting with other parents through the parent open groups and sharing our experiences helps us to feel less alone and learn from each other. We can see how our concerns lead to actions being taken. Change is a slow process, but meeting with people who can make changes is a step closer. There are so many changes that are needed- we’d like to see young people protected until 18 years old, better understanding of child exploitation and greater accountability- that’s why we’re still involved.

We continue to call for justice and will for as long as we are in this situation.

Thank you for reading this article and we hope in some small way that this article has something in it that helps you or resonates with you on your path for justice.