Fern Foster

Fern was a quiet, thoughtful, introverted and unassuming individual who was never happier than when she was curled up with a book. Fern loved reading. She found peace and comfort in character’s lives, walking in their shoes, living in other fantasy universes. Fern was an excellent student and loved literature so much her dream was to become an English teacher. Fern also loved drama and acting in school plays.

Fern had patience, dedication and attention to detail too. This was evidenced in her teaching her younger sister Rowan to read, in her bead crafting and pottery, and in her work as a volunteer archaeologist with the Risborough Countryside Group Archaeology Team. Her friend and team leader, Paul remembered Fern not just for her skill and ‘meticulous and careful work’, but also for her homemade cakes, her stories of her pets and wildlife, her love of crafting and her friendship.

Fern had a strong sense of right and wrong, of injustice and unfairness. She supported her mother to fight to ensure her younger brother’s autism and need for 1-1 support was recognised, and to secure him the specialist education he required. He was offered the new school place she so hoped for, ten days after her death in July 2020.

Fern’s younger sister Rowan, who is older now at 23 than Fern was when she died, last saw her sister a month or so before her death. They attended a Black Lives Matter protest together. Rowan remembers it was challenging for Fern as it was loud, busy and unfamiliar, but that she was determined to attend as it important to her, a cause they both believed in.

Fern was autistic, although like so many other females with autism, it was not identified in early childhood. Fern’s mental health deteriorated when she hit puberty, and she would often feel overwhelmed. At 13 she was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, and two years later with autism.

Fern’s autism diagnosis marked the start of a journey of self-understanding and the creation of an identity and relationship with a community that supported her. Her diagnosis helped explain why she had always felt different to others, and to a degree helped her to understand better how to navigate the world. Fern was proudly autistic.

It was not all positives though. Her mum remembered Fern referring to herself as a ‘canary in a coalmine’, who ‘if you plugged her into any system would highlight its faults’. Fern took to Twitter, to find a community, and her activism included highlighting the difficulties she was having accessing autism-informed support for her mental health. She tweeted as @ElyssaLeopard.

When overloaded Fern’s response would be fairly typical, she would respond by fight or flight. This took the form of meltdowns or shutdowns for Fern, where she would often lose her ability to process information or communicate through words. Fern would sometimes self-harm if she were unable to communicate her distress in other ways.

Fern was analytical and reflective. When well supported she could describe her overwhelm, knew what she was capable of, and perhaps most importantly she had insight into the help she required to stay safe and achieve her goals.

Fern was aware that she benefited from support with emotional regulation, communication, and independence skills, on a day to day basis and especially when her mental health was deteriorating, or life was stressful.

Along the way, like so many other young autistic women, she was mis-diagnosed with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder. A diagnosis linked to her self-harming behaviour and coping strategies. Fern’s mother considers that Fern had learnt the only way she would actually get any help was by harming herself.

A couple years later a Consultant Psychiatrist removed this diagnosis, but the damage was already done. It had been entered onto Fern’s records and would reappear throughout the rest of her life. Her father recalls if Fern disputed having EUPD, health and social care professionals would accuse her of lacking insight, unsurprisingly causing Fern great distress and leading to her feeling completely misjudged.

In her late teens and early twenties Fern became what her mum describes as a ‘revolving door patient’. She would be admitted to hospital for short periods when her mental health was poor, she would then be discharged with an insufficient level of support, inevitably Fern would become overwhelmed again, she would self-harm, and the cycle would repeat, again and again.

Fern asked for specialist help, from people who understood autism, but never received any. Her father considers throughout Fern’s life the people and services who were meant to support her didn’t understand Fern, or her wishes. He says they had “little or no understanding of the role autism played in her behaviour” and consequently failed to consider or accommodate her autism in any care or treatment provided to or considered for her.

Two years before her death Fern met her partner, Max. Her family describe this relationship as being a real positive for Fern, improving her self-worth and her motivation. They felt the couple complimented each other, Fern was more cerebral and Max was good at some of the more practical day to day tasks that Fern struggled with. They made a good team.

Fern became homeless after the Supported Living placement she was in ended, in part because they wouldn’t let Max stay over with her and in part because Fern’s self-harming had escalated. During a hospital admission in July 2019, Fern discovered she was pregnant with their child. This was a complete surprise to the couple, but a very welcome one.

Fern’s family remember her as ‘delighted’ and ‘full of hope’ at the news, with a renewed positivity about the future. Her father described the pregnancy as ‘breaking the cycle’ and that from the moment Fern found out she was pregnant, until her baby was removed from her care, she did not once self-harm or put herself at risk. Fern turned all her attention to learning how to parent, and to keeping herself safe.

Fern understood she would need help and support to be a parent, and so when Buckinghamshire Council social services became involved, shortly after she discovered she was pregnant, her family remember that she did all she could to engage with them, and do as they asked. Throughout her pregnancy Fern regularly engaged with her psychiatrist, her GP, a midwife and her care coordinator and she repeatedly requested support and reasonable adjustments to enable her to engage with the requirements asked of her. When social services began child protection processes, Fern’s psychiatrist wrote to the team asking them to make reasonable adjustments to support her to engage with them.

The psychiatrist’s letter acknowledged that a degree of engagement and interaction was required from the social services team and requested them take into account Fern’s autism and make any reasonable adjustments within their power to support her. He asked that adjustments were made to keep visits and meetings to a minimum, and to provide accommodation close to her mother’s home to enable her to support her. Fern’s family believe this advice went unheeded.

There were numerous meetings, some at short notice. Fern was expected to engage with numerous professionals from social services, who changed frequently, and only one of whom appeared to have any understanding of autism or how to support autistic people. Fern hated that her unborn child was subject to child protection processes.

Her mum remembers Fern researched everything about child protection to try and make sense of the idea her child needed protecting from her. It made Fern feel like a bad person, and she was unable to make sense of it, as someone with strong morals and values. Her family consider that the psychiatrist’s advice was ignored and remember constant visits and meetings with social services were held, further fuelling Fern’s concerns. Fern became more anxious, her OCD and anxiety were triggered, and yet despite the additional pressure she did not engage in self-harming behaviour, and she worked hard to remain positive about her future.

Fern’s much loved baby was born in early 2020. The plan made before birth was that Fern, Max and the baby would return to her mother’s home. However immediately after birth, social services informed them Max was not allowed to stay with them and he would need to have very limited contact with his child.

Fern’s mum remembers they would have agreed to anything social services said, to ensure that Fern could keep her baby. Her father recalls how this sudden change of plan, and the discharge meeting where no advocate was provided for Fern, was deeply traumatic for her and seriously damaged her trust in social services.

A social worker in the discharge meeting said to Fern “we are not taking your baby yet”. Fern took the word yet literally, and this led her anxiety to spike. Her mum says they did not feel like the baby was theirs, they felt they were being tested.

What followed felt almost inevitable to Fern’s family.

Fern and her baby returned to her mum’s house without her partner. Fern told her father she felt she was being set up to fail. Fern’s anxiety was raised, and she was left to cope with a new baby without Max for emotional and practical support. Fern and her mother were not provided with any practical support from social services.

Fern’s family remember her requests for reasonable adjustments to engage with social services processes fell on deaf ears. A child protection conference held a few weeks after her baby was born concluded the baby should remain under a child protection plan, as they were at risk of neglect. Her mum recalls no one explained to Fern what she had, or had not, done. She was caring for her baby, feeding them, cuddling them, they had bonded well and the baby was gaining weight, was happy and healthy.

Social services involvement continued. Fern struggled with this additional pressure, on top of being a new mum and requested that she and the baby go to a mother and baby hospital placement, or a joint foster placement. Fern was becoming consumed with thoughts that she was a bad mother, and she recognised she required help.

Her family recall how it was suggested that she was not unwell enough to require a specialist placement, so Fern felt she were left with no option but to agree to her baby going into foster care without her.

That happened just before the baby was a month old. Fern really struggled to engage with what followed. She had to travel over an hour to a contact centre to spend time with her baby. The journey involved two buses and a long walk, even with her mother supporting her, Fern struggled. Her mum believes if an adjustment had been made, such as a taxi being provided for the journey, or moving contact sessions to a local venue, that Fern would have been able to continue with contact and spend time with her baby.

Instead, without adjustments, Fern was unable to cope with the demands on her and she only managed to attend that first contact session. She told her family that she felt like a criminal attending the secure contact centre. She never saw her baby again.

Two weeks later Fern found out social services had started court proceedings. Fern’s family describe how her mental health sharply deteriorated, and she was now expected to engage in Family Court proceedings, with social services and with mental health services. All at a time when she was even more vulnerable.

Fern was admitted into a psychiatric hospital in March but discharged a few days later. Her father recalls desperately sending emails to various professionals involved in Fern’s case, one acknowledged his “frustration” but told him that finding a mother and baby placement was “quite complicated”.

Her family consider that Fern slowly gave up all hope of being reunited with her child.

She repeatedly self-harmed and was admitted to hospital for days at a time. They believe each time Fern was discharged she was not provided with the support she required. Her family repeatedly asked for her to be referred to a placement where she could be reunited with her baby and be provided support.

In July, Max received an email from his solicitor with a letter attached. He didn’t understand what it meant and asked Fern to read it. This correspondence confirmed Buckinghamshire Council had decided to seek adoption for their baby.

Fern was distraught, calling both her parents, then her health visitor. About an hour later she called her mum again, to tell her that she loved her. Shortly after Fern’s mother received a frantic call from Max saying that Fern had self-harmed.

Fern died later that day.

Her parents believe Fern’s death was predictable and completely avoidable. Her mother recalls how Fern described social services involvement as a ‘runaway train’ which became a self-fulfilling prophecy. She believes with more and more pressure being placed on Fern, without any support being provided, her health deteriorated reducing her ability to cope as a new parent and her ability to engage with their processes.

Fern’s family hope the inquest process will explore how Fern came to die and the involvement of all the professionals involved in Fern’s life and the child protection processes.

Most of all they hope that the inquest will confirm Fern did not reject or neglect her baby, but was in fact desperately seeking support that was never provided.

Fern’s inquest will be heard over the next three weeks at Beaconsfield Coroners Court [3-5, 8-11 and 15-18 April]. I will report from court on Day One and hope to return for the conclusion.

36 comments on “Fern Foster”

Marie says:

I am an autistic and physically disabled young mother who experienced incredibly similar treatment that Fern went through. I was told there was no specialist autism support for parents, that it was ‘impossible’ to get help and 4 reports to multi-agency safe guarding were made about me when I reached out for support including two that claimed I was neglecting or abusing my baby for wearing noise cancelling headphones when they scream loudly to accommodate the sensory overwhelm I experience. My story was different as I had a lot of insight from being aware of Fern’s treatment and being able to firmly say ‘no’ to the interference and accusations of social services from the start. I also did not have the baby’s father taken away as a vital form of support.

I was forced to accept a 44 day investigation into my parenting when my baby was not even 3 months old. The social worker conducting the assessment said ‘I do not understand why I am here. There is nothing to investigate’ and closed the investigation only 6 days into the 44 days. I discharged myself promptly from all services due to their mistreatment and abuse, and have been doing it alone since. I receive no support. When I discharged myself more reports were made about me with wild accusations that no evidence could back up. Thankfully, my health visitor and my baby’s doctor shut those down as well.

It is devastating to read this and recognise myself in it. It is horrifying to think that so easily this could have been me too. The system is flawed. Support is near non-existent and the processes involved with any kind of meetings or discussions of support are deeply traumatic with nothing being explained plainly and simply. There is no where to go when the people and systems meant to be protecting and helping you, are set up to watch you fail.

Rest in peace Fern. I’m sorry that you became a statistic and I am sorry that you are a warning story to myself and all who could be considering allowing social services into their lives. You were so much more than this and your baby deserved the caring, clever, passionate, deeply kind and beautiful mother you could and would have been.

S says:

As an autistic mother, something very similar happened to be with my two children (one who is autistic) developed severe OCD. Amongst the other wild accusations appear we get the assessment it was said that I was suffering from depression but refused to take medication and that my autism but that I couldn’t parent adequately. My son volunteers at a disabled children centre and my daughter is in her first year of university degree.

Rena lane says:

This is a sad read my condolences she was failed miserably and the pressure she faced must of been traumatic justice needs to be served and social services should be held accountable.

Jess says:

Fern, you were failed astronomically and I am so sorry. I hope your baby can one day hear of the amazing woman and person you were. Justice for you all those harmed by social services.

Laurel says:

I’m so very sorry for the loss of Fern. The world needs more people like her. All we need is understanding, acceptance, and a bit of support to navigate a world that wasn’t built or designed for people like us. I don’t even think what we require, or what Fern required, is necessarily *more* support than what non-Autistic people receive – they just receive it through systems and processes that are designed for them and not for us. Cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling are much easier to access than mental health therapies that work for people with Autistic minds. Non-Autistic people attend neonatal classes and make friends and informal arrangements to receive the support they need; I’m sure this is not so easy for people like Fern. She did valuable volunteer work in the community, but like so many of us, we don’t receive appropriate financial compensation for this work because workplaces and corporate cultures are not designed to meet our needs. She even found her own support system in her partner, and this was taken away from her as well. It’s absolutely tragic how much it seems she was infantilised and misunderstood just for needing things to be different from what non-Autistic people needed.

I am so deeply sorry. Both for those who loved Fern and who must be missing her terribly, and for everyone who will never get to meet her. I sincerely hope that this enquiry leads to meaningful societal and whole-systems change and some comfort and support for those who love and miss her.

Emma says:

I am absolutely heart broken reading this. Fern and max needed support. Why anyone would think the baby was better off with a stranger i just don’t understand. I hope the social workers who made this decision remember fern, her partner and that baby every day and I hope they learn how to work with autistic adults and their families without causing trauma!!!!

Sarah-Jane says:

I remember this happening, tragic, sad and so let down. I have often re told Ferns fight to parents that have been given poor/untrue advice/support. I wish the family all the love and the outcome that Fern tried. Thinking of you all

Kirsty says:

The way the system works needs to changed. So many families are torn apart by the current system. There is no support, lower level intervention is needed and should be trialed first! In most cases things are escalated very quickly with a what if approach.The grey areas. More often than not they go in hard on the parents that try their best but are very slack themselves. Deadlines not met, information incorrect Bucks Social Services were rated up until very recently inadequate. I really feel for this girl. Unless you have been in this situation you wouldn’t know but the pressure put on you would have even the strongest of people crumble and have a nervous breakdown. The thought of her special educational needs not being approached correctly saddens me massively. The support mental health wise is just not there for adults especially in Buckinghamshire. Clearly social services can be seen to have massively discriminated her because of this. Her death is on them and they should be held accountable for the impact they had and their wrong doing

Angela says:

1 parents should of been offered to have the baby instead of being put into foster care.
2 what reason was the father not allowed around the baby and he should of been offered to look after the baby as he had PR.
I’m so sorry for your loss and I’m glad that you have the opportunity to make everything public. Common sense will show the lack of self harming during pregnancy and while caring for her baby shows her dedication and determination to care for her baby. If they don’t see this then they are corrupt.
Good luck to you in this process I hope you achieve what you need to give yourself peace. X

Mike Wilkins says:

What a heartbreaking story of a young woman let down by the medical establishment and Social Services. I was diagnosed with Autism well into adulthood. I have had a whole life of being misunderstood and mistreated by others. I feel so sad for Fern and her loving family. I hope the inquest will bring some sense of justice.

Steve Loe says:

So sorry for your loss. There certaiy seems to be a catalogue of errors throughout her life and despite that she was still striving to be the best Fern she could be.

Truly a shinning light lost to the stars to soon.

Take care of each other.
Steve

Margaret devlin says:

I am so sorry my daughter has been failed by the so called system due to not recognising her asd alot sooner, she has lost her teenage years and early adult life due to not been understood, I dare the professinals to live our lives for 48 hrs and see the damage been caused by non listening professionals, and their tick box system much love sent to your family xx

Kelly says:

I am so so sorry as a mother of autistic children this scares me social services no longer help they are quick to adopt out especially babies with no real explanation future risk of harm isn’t there always a future risk of anything happening they don’t like to support anymore gone are those days they twist and use everything against you and cause so much damage I kept my children I’m not autistic but was in situations beyond my control and although I’ve kept my children the damage done is in repairable the emotional distress will never be gone serious reform is needed they probably planned to adopt your beautiful daughters baby all along and needed grounds to do so eupd was there grounds yet it was removed they shouldn’t of been allowed to use that. They are corrupt and the family courts all being secret and gagging orders is stopping it being exposed they are never held accountable even when it’s clear they fail to support or blatant lie they put us at serious risk and brushed it off like it was ok I truly hope you get justice too many families are suffering for the wrong reasons because of a few rotten ones justice for fern and il be following the updates from the inquest

Marie Johnson says:

I am so saddened, but not surprised to read this about your beautiful daughter and the lack of support available.
I have 2 children in my care that are my foster sisters children- she was never given proper support to care for them and one of them is autistic and my fears for them in adulthood are very real, based on our experiences with professionals.
I really hope you get the outcome you are hoping for at the hearing and that it helps to inform future practice.
I am so sorry for your loss.

Theresa says:

My heart breaks for that girl and her family. All she needed was a adequate support and it’s scandalous that social services were not doing their job with her best interests as no 1. That baby was earmarked for adoption depriving the grandparents of a relationship. There needs to be an investigation

Coral Smith says:

I am so deeply saddened to hear this tragic story! Was there ever any suggestion that Ferns parents could be guardians to their grandchild? If not, this was a major failing from the Childrens Social services.

I feel so sorry for fern .they took away her baby when she was doing so well.they stripped her of everything she stood for.she was showing that she was going to be a good mum.i don’t understand why max was not allowed to live with her.they took away her love for max and the support he could give her.her mum and dad tried everything to get help but fell on deaf ears.i blame social services for not listing to fern.she needed to be listened too.things could of been alot different.now sadly she has past.her baby has not mother and father.how is she going to understand when she’s older how her mum was treated.they need to start getting things right .there’s to much wrong in this world.my throughts go out to max .baby.and ferns parents family xxxx

Kat says:

This is heartbreaking. What a disgusting series of failures that resulted in a family pulled apart and this poor lady’s death . This should not of happened.

Jan says:

There but by grace went I.

Rosie Wilde says:

This is heartbreaking. The pain a mother feels at losing a child is like no other pain.
Rest in peace dear Fern. X

Michelle Bailey says:

I am deeply saddened and angry to read this. Poor Fern and her family.
This could be my own daughter you write about up until the baby part. Clinicians are obsessed with labelling ASD young women as BPD/EUPD and it needs to stop. More training on ASD needs to be done and the family courts/ child protection services are not fit for purpose. They seem adamant on trafficking babies for some reason. Reform needs to happen now!
Rip Fern

David says:

This is appalling but not surprising. I am so sorry for Fern, her baby and her family. If it’s possible to extend belated condolences please do so. I’m going to talk about Fern, if possible on my channel @newashtoncrewmember

Sarah Game says:

As I read this post it took me back to when my daughter was young. Going through a constant battle and not receiving the right support or acknowledgement of problems. I still wonder whether these social workers chose to ignore whats in front of them or they just don’t have a clue. Either way. their neglect causes more failings than any of the parents themselves. Leading to childhood abuse or parental suicide. Fortunately for me 20 years later, my daughter is still here and able to tell the tale and ask why nobody did anything to protect her from her fathers abuse. The system is abuse!

Lou says:

God bless fern her partner her parents and most importantly her beautiful baby. A beautiful young woman pushed.over the edge by unprofessional with no training or understanding of neurodiversity, I’m guessing none if her SWs where disability ones. Really hope the babby is allowed toxbe with family and not adopted

Anon says:

I’m so sorry they failed you Fern, how was she meant to cope with this. Where was the support and care she deserved. As an autistic woman, and mother, It makes me sick to my stomach. Its gut wrenching that so many professionals dont understand autism and how they can be adding fuel to the fire. So much love to Ferns family – i can relate to her alot. Thank you for speaking out for her and what a lovely person she was. I’m so sorry for your loss. i hope change will come for the understanding of Autism. Rest in peace Fern xxx

Angela says:

Please contact me, this is my story and so many other mothers I know currently

Abi says:

My heart is breaking for Fern Max and their baby. Also for her parents and siblings.
A terrible example of how services have failed in their support of a young person.
I will follow and hope she gets the justice she deserves.

Susan says:

As a mum to a young autistic tween girl this absolutely terrifies me. The medical and social/ educational professions need to be woken up to the harm they are causing to our children. I am so sorry for your loss. Fern sounds like an amazing young woman and I hope you get the positive outcome you all deserve. You are in my thoughts.

Kerryann Bennett says:

This story is heartbreaking. Any essential support service should (by law) have to have collaboration from an ND expert – without this, the high risk of misunderstanding and miscommunication (even from the use of one word) can have disastrous consequences.

Your daughter sounds amazing and the fact that she supported you, her brother and sister so much only to be let down by the services herself is shameful.

Despite the array of knowledge we have now on ND and mental health – the support services are lagging so far behind.

My daughter aged 14 (referred aged 6 and diagnosed ND at 13) still doesn’t get the support she needs. It’s like trying to do the hurdles up a mountain. You spend your life on waiting lists only to get inadequate help at the end.

Anne says:

A devastating story. I feel so angry and frustrated on Fern’s behalf.
These sytems fail so many young people with neurodivergence. Sending you all so much love.

Dave says:

Buckinghamshire Council is corrupt throughout. They fabricate documents and children’s statements as evidence against clients, mislead courts and block and undermine their own statutory complaints process. They use the complaints process as a means to identify incriminating evidence against themselves and ensure that it is redacted or withheld from subject access disclosures. This ensures that it is more difficult for complainants to initiate court action against them. They then mislead the ICO and LGSCO, to undermine any escalated complaints.
They also shutdown whistleblowers and set them up, by informing the colleagues they are whistleblowing against. They have hidden serious failings from Ofsted, by undermining complaints processes, which was the only way they could improve their Ofsted rating from “in need of improvement”.
Nothing has improved, the corruption has merely infiltrated the complaints process and management.

Louise Morgan says:

That’s so tragically sad. It is so devastating for their child. And it is wrong. Very wrong.

CLAIRE LOUISE KING says:

Good afternoon

I am so sorry to read Ferns story. It sounds very similar to my sisters. Her inquest concluded on Monday. I hope you get the answers you are hoping for and it brings some sense of closure to you and your family.

I am happy for you to reach out if you need anything.

Anna Lore says:

This is shocking and staggering beyond words. Our safeguarding professionals lack knowledge, insite, compassion, care and their outright stupidity is costing lives. In stark contrast these morons award access to cases where a police officer dad has been a significant serial abuser for 20 years and made threats to kill! Where are we getting these idiots from and how are they going unpunished? My heart goes out to you all xxxx

A similar situation happened to me with my child who was taken from me without me being offered support. I also made an attempt on my life after learning they were planning adoption.
I was lucky and survived and fought for four years to get my child returned to me. The services involved were truly shocking and have left a traumatic scar on myself and my child. My trauma because of this is for the rest of my life.
My heart goes out to Fern who suffered, her baby and her parents. If anyone would like to contact me from the family I am willing to talk.

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