Netherlands, return autistic Australian boy Martin to his family

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On 1 February 2018 our beloved then five year old son Martin was taken without any explanation, in the middle of the night, by Dutch child protective services (CPS) from our Hoofddorp home near Amsterdam. Martin was at that time being home schooled with the written permission of the local council.

Until now, still no credible indication has ever been provided to us as to why Martin was taken. Removing children from their families according to Dutch legislation should always be a last resort and even when this is truly necessary (which has never been proven in the case of Martin), family reunification should remain a central aim. Meanwhile, several of Martin’s fundamental human rights have been broken.

After all standard medical and psychological research of Martin was completed by Dutch CPS on 12 September 2018, the now seven year old Martin is found to have clinically strong indications for autism, with all suspicions of parental physical or emotional abuse or neglect having been scientifically rejected.

It took 13 months after his removal, before Dutch CPS finally granted Martin permission to see his parents for the first time, yet consistent with the research results the visit proceeded very smoothly, with Martin clearly delighted and relieved to see his parents after so long.

Yet despite all the clear expert reports exonerating the parents and repeated parental requests to return him home, inexplicably to this day Martin still lives in an institution, where he receives no school, or autism related therapy, or instruction in his native English, and regularly skips meals due to being offered a diet not adjusted to his specific preferences, potentially stunting his growth. (Dutch CPS have refused to share any medical details of Martin's height and weight relative to his age group, since mid 2018).

It is long overdue that Martin be returned back to his loving parents.

However Dutch CPS refuses to heed the expert reports clearing the parents and instead since 25 April 2019 have continuously pressured parents to sign an unrequested “care plan”, to investigate “whether a foster home would be a good place for Martin after the institution”, backdated to Martin's first day at the institution (29 June 2018), which would make it retrospectively look like the parents voluntarily placed him there. However nothing could be further from the truth: the "care plan" certainly does not reflect the parent’s wishes, all research has long ruled out any concerns of abuse or neglect by parents, and the family doctor has clearly stated he has full confidence in the parent's capacity to raise Martin.

In addition, Martin’s psychologist has been consistently clear that she sees only the child factors of autism and autism comorbidity as reason for his development delay in her 12 September 2018 report, which she verbally confirmed to parents again on 21 May 2019. After a written request from parents on 7 August 2019 as to whether she saw parental factors as well, she has not deviated from her original position.

Yet Dutch CPS chooses to continually ignore the expert opinion of Martin’s psychologist and unduly claims that it is “unclear where the behaviour from Martin comes from” despite the clear research results, and Martin being in their full-time care for over two years surrounded by child doctors, child psychologists and child psychiatrists.

Signing one’s own beloved child for a foster home is of course the last choice any capable and loving parents could ever take. In parallel Dutch CPS have also continuously threatened to remove parental authority, despite a total lack of indication for doing so, since 30 September 2019.

Below follows a list of documented procedure breaches, expert opinions ignored and human rights breaches, all performed by Dutch CPS against Martin’s best interests.

Procedure breaches by Dutch CPS

29 January 2018: A neighbour who admitted to not knowing the parents, makes an alert of suspected “child abuse” citing “closed curtains”, which was investigated by Dutch CPS, even though such reasoning was not consistent with the UN definition of child abuse.

31 January 2018: Dutch CPS records clearly state: “Father agrees. Father has indicated by telephone… he will cooperate in a head to toe check-up (of Martin).” Dutch CPS later claimed that the parents had 'refused' to cooperate in the medical check-up of Martin, despite clearly contradicting their own record of the event.

1 February 2018: Three days after the neighbour alert, Martin is removed from home, despite no hard evidence of any child abuse or neglect, only blaming the parents for Martin’s undiagnosed (and for everyone then unknown) autistic symptoms. This was a breach of Dutch CPS’s own procedures, which requires that “alternative explanations for a child’s situation be considered” - specifically mentioning autism - prior to any child removal.

2 February 2018: The court order authorising Martin's removal is signed, one day after he was already taken. The parent's point of view was neither mentioned nor taken into account simply because the parents were never invited to the sitting. The order mentions only vague 'suspicions' but does not mention a single specific example of either abuse or neglect. (Indeed in the intervening time interval, no such specific example has yet been provided by any expert).

7 February 2018: Dutch CPS accepted the untenable opinion of a special needs supervisor who claimed without any observation of child-parent interaction (which was against the governing Dutch procedures) that Martin was probably “traumatised” and “unsafely attached” to his parents. This opinion was later on 12 September 2018, completely refuted by a psychologist who performed tests upon Martin.

9 April 2018: Parents requested Dutch CPS to transfer Martin to Australian CPS to allow the family to repatriate in line with their plans commenced in 2017 due to the father’s pending work contract end. Such a transfer is provided for under the 1996 Hague Convention, with the preservation of any Dutch court orders. Dutch CPS promised to arrange the transfer within three months, but they never completed the simple three page application form to trigger the transfer.

3 May 2018: Dutch CPS’s (ARIJ) actuarial risk assessment of parents revealed zero risks against all 38 questions. For this reason alone they have no reason to hold Martin apart from his, according to their own assessment, safe parents.

30 September 2018: A second Dutch CPS’s (HAVIK) actuarial risk assessment of parents revealed zero risks against 11 new questions and clearly concludes: "There is no question of even a suspicion of actual unsafety".

6 November 2018: Dutch CPS met a foster care organisation and undertook initial attempts to place Martin in a foster home, despite psychological results already known to them since 12 September 2018 that Martin had no trauma or attachment problems, only autism. The foster care organisation informed them they could not proceed on this basis.

27 February 2019: Martin’s first contact with his parents since his removal is inexplicably delayed to 13 months from that date. Prior to that moment, his carers noted that he was signing unusually often the nursery rhyme “daddy finger, mommy finger, where are you?” The meeting proceeds flawlessly: Martin smiles at, laughs at and hugs both of his parents, and leaves the meeting room hand in hand with them. Subsequent visit reports and photos reveal this positive interaction has remained consistent over time.

3 June 2019: Dutch CPS publish a document claiming that Martin is "intellectually disabled", which according to Dutch standards means having an IQ of under 75 and is caused either by inheritance, Down's syndrome or brain damage. Yet the conclusion is not supported by any psychological or medical findings. Martin's IQ to this day has not been measured, nor have any of the causal factors been identified either. Martin's speech therapist has actually confided to the parents she does not think Martin is intellectually disabled since she observes his "problem-solving ability".

30 September 2019: Dutch CPS apply for parental authority to be removed from Martin’s parents, despite such a request completely contradicting the unanimous research findings that his parents are safe. Bizarrely, their own request contains their own very positive description of parent-child interaction: “The contact moments between Martin and parents are going well. Martin takes great pleasure from the moments and enjoys the one-to-one attention. Martin makes a relaxed impression when he returns... he often goes to bed very relaxed afterwards. During the contacts with Martin, parents are caring and kind to him”.

25 February 2020: Dutch CPS admit in writing "there is no specific reason for the minimal contact between parents and Martin."

4 June 2020: Dutch CPS informs the court and the parents that they plan to lock up Martin his whole life until his death in a Dutch institution for mentally disabled people without access to schooling, in response to the parent's request to allow Martin to repatriate with them to Australia (as is possible under the Hague 1996 Convention). This proposal was made despite the fact that no examining psychologist has ever concluded that Martin is mentally disabled.

Expert opinions ignored by Dutch CPS

1 February 2018: On the same evening of his removal, Martin was examined by a hospital medical doctor and found not to have been abused and found a “cared for child, with clean skin, hair and nails”. His community doctor was also contacted that day and informed Dutch CPS that Martin had “loving and involved parents”.

13 February 2018: A child doctor questions whether, rather than neglect, Martin has “a development delay?”

13 February 2018: Another child doctor performs a more thorough medical examination of Martin and concluded that his “growth in terms of length and weight are of a normal level”.

3 April 2018: A Dutch child psychiatrist examines Martin’s latest dossier, photos and videos and declares that “his behaviours strongly indicate the existence of autism spectrum disorder” and that “a child mainly develops socially-emotionally faster within the safety of its own home than within an institution, as a constant loving presence at home is usually better guaranteed”. Dutch CPS subsequently refused an offer from the child psychiatrist to immediately test Martin for autism.

25 June 2018: On behalf of the parents, a senior representative of a Dutch parental support group spoke directly to a director of Dutch CPS, requesting Martin be immediately returned to his parents based upon thirty signs of autism of Martin she listed. The director replied that Martin (who at that time had not seen his parents for five months), 'needed another six months of separation from his parents to cool the relationship down', despite no expert report confirming any issue in the relationship of Martin with his parents.

13 July 2018: At the request of Dutch CPS (and without indication) a qualified Australian psychologist thoroughly examines both parents on the DSM-5 scales and on parenting skills. In his report he concludes that neither parents exhibit any psychoses and that they are both capable and loving. He also recommended that Martin be returned home immediately.

12 September 2018: A qualified Dutch psychologist performed a test to see whether Martin showed symptoms of trauma, unsafe attachment or autism. She concluded he had a high autism score (in the 100th percentile for autism, i.e. more autistic than 100% of the human population) as well as some common autism comorbidity (sleeping issues, withdrawn behaviour, etc): “looking at the DSM scale he scores clinically high on… autism spectrum disorder”. She noted no signs of either trauma or unsafe parental attachment.

7 November 2018: Dutch CPS informed parents that the institution recommended they are not a suitable place for Martin, that he needs a family life and that he should not stay there too long.

14 December 2018: After an investigation, the Dutch Ministry of Health attributed the responsibility for not recognising Martin’s extra care needs, to the local council and to the community doctor.

11 March 2019: A photo test conducted by the institution reveals that Martin also shows affection for his parents even when they are not there, by caressing their photos with his hand, then staring at them for “30 seconds at a time with smiling eyes”.

19 April 2019: The (non-treating) system therapist stated that given Martin’s diagnosis, the parents should be “declared innocent” and that “neighbours should be informed about Martin’s status and they should not make any more accusations against the parents”. He further requested Dutch CPS to “either send a letter or arrange a meeting to explain Martin’s diagnosis to their neighbours and to remove the guilt from the parents”, however Dutch CPS have refused to respond to repeated reminders to carry out his request.

10 May 2019: Eight months after the psychologist’s report is completed, and only after concerted legal pressure, was the report finally shared with parents.

3 June 2019: A Dutch doctor confirmed once more that Martin had autism, stating “what is notable next to his autism, is his speech delay” (a common autism comorbidity).

23 September 2019: A Dutch family doctor declares that “every reasonable person should be able to see that the parents don’t belong in a CPS case”.

27 September 2019: Martin’s speech therapist told parents that Martin’s autism was “obvious” and wrote that “she recommends in his future treatment that consideration be made of his autism.”

19 November 2019: A university medical hospital again confirmed Martin’s autism by writing “indication: learning disability, reason: autism spectrum disorder”.

26 May 2020: According to the Dutch institution evaluation, Martin has exhibited the following signs of severe psychological stress under their care:       

- “Could not be left alone to play outside and needed someone standing within a few metres of him at all times or else he would climb over the fence and run away.” 

- “Regularly used his sleeves to wipe away tears from his eyes due to communication frustrations with his carers.”

- “Frequently expressed anger including screaming and throwing his whole body against the wall multiple times per day, from 5 to 60 minutes at a time.”

4 August 2020: A Polish registered psychologist confirmed the following diagnosis of Martin:

- "Autism."

- "The relationship with the mother and father is correct."

- "The parent's caring and educational competences are correct with respect to the boy's conditions, disorders and family situations."

Possible human rights breaches by Dutch CPS

European Convention on Human Rights:

Article 8: Right to respect for private and family life. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child:

Article 8: Protection and preservation of identity. Every child has the right to an identity. Governments must respect and protect that right, and prevent the child’s name, nationality or family relationships from being changed unlawfully.

Article 9: Separation from parents. Children must not be separated from their parents against their will unless it is in their best interests (for example, if a parent is hurting or neglecting a child). Children whose parents have separated have the right to stay in contact with both parents, unless this could cause them harm.

Martin was separated from his parents for 29 months of which the first 13 months were zero contact after being removed due to subsequently proven false alarms of “child abuse” related to “closed curtains”.

Article 12: Respect for the views of the child. Every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously. This right applies at all times, for example during immigration proceedings, housing decisions or the child’s day-to-day home life.

Martin shows tremendous affection at each of his parent’s visits, smiling, laughing and hugging them. He also smiles at and pats his parent’s photos according to the institution when they are not there. Yet despite his clear desire for reunification with his parents and the complete absence of evidence of abuse, his clear desire to be returned home is denied with absolutely no logical explanation.

Article 23: Children with a disability. A child with a disability has the right to live a full and decent life with dignity and, as far as possible, independence and to play an active part in the community. Governments must do all they can to support disabled children and their families.

Martin scored on the 100th percentile in autism by a Dutch psychologist during a screening test. However he is denied access to standard occupational therapy most autistic children receive to improve their basic life skills.

Article 24: Health and health services. Every child has the right to the best possible health. Governments must provide good quality health care, clean water, nutritious food, and a clean environment and education on health and well-being so that children can stay healthy.

Martin receives standard institution food which is not customised to his needs as a fussy autism eater. Consequently if he does not like the food that is cooked in the evening, he simply skips his dinner altogether, without the opportunity to eat something according to his taste. This happens quite regularly and has likely stunted his height and weight.

Article 28: Right to education. Every child has the right to an education. Primary education must be free and different forms of secondary education must be available to every child. Discipline in schools must respect children’s dignity and their rights.

Martin has been enrolled in a day centre designed for short term assessment of 0-6 year old behaviour problem children despite being seven years old and having no identified behaviour problems outside of his autism. The Dutch law does not allow school age children to miss school without express permission, which in the case of Martin is not applicable as his parents have strongly indicated the desire for him to attend a school applicable to his needs.

Article 30: Children from minority or indigenous groups. Every child has the right to learn and use the language, customs and religion of their family, whether or not these are shared by the majority of the people in the country where they live.

Martin receives one time per week a 45 minute of speech therapy in the for him foreign language of Dutch, which due to his autistic preferences he simply refuses to learn, yet receives zero exposure to his preferred native language of English.

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