Fern Foster Inquest – Family Statement

Three of Fern’s family members, her mother Dominique Jowett (report on her evidence here), father Kieran Foster (report on his evidence here) and sister Rowan Foster (report on her evidence here), gave evidence to the coroner during Fern’s inquest. They also provided a pen portrait of who Fern was. At the end of Fern’s inquest they had this to say:

We are pleased that the lack of advocacy provided in Fern’s care, and the inappropriate delivery of the proposed care plan for adoption that the local authority had submitted, have been recognised as the causes of Fern’s death. Mothers who face their children being removed should be supported, especially autistic mothers, as autistic women have a 13 times higher risk of death by suicide. It is tragic that there was never a clear plan to support Fern to be a mother, nor to protect her safety when she was told that would not be possible.

Fern herself, and we as a family, stressed the importance of proper advocacy and the need for all staff involved to have training in autism and make reasonable adjustments to the way they engaged with her to account for her disability. These essential requirements were repeatedly ignored, inevitably pushing Fern to breaking point. This was no way to treat a vulnerable, disabled, first time mum.

We continue to believe that, in refusing to provide the advocacy, support and the reasonable adjustments Fern was entitled to, Buckinghamshire Council cost Fern her life and a baby her mother. With the right support, Fern would have become a wonderful mother. Instead, they made her feel like a bad mother, without telling her why or giving her a chance to try.

Fern felt she was continuously set up to fail due to lack of reasonable adjustments. She could not process the decisions that were being made that were often based on inaccurate information, and we couldn’t explain those decisions to her, because they didn’t make sense to us either.

We believe that the lack of understanding and acceptance of autism in women and girls significantly contributed to the poor care that Fern received. She was diagnosed late, repeatedly labelled with a personality disorder that she did not have, and the stigma around this led to her being harmed. Fern was open about her suicidality, yet she was not taken seriously. The misdiagnosis of personality disorders must end, as must the punitive and dangerous culture of care which comes alongside them. Fern felt very strongly about this.

Finally, we feel that the right of autistic parents to access the support they deserve is not adequately protected in policy or law. It is imperative that this changes and that autistic parents are protected in future.

I have offered Fern’s family the chance to talk to me, or write something, on their reflections of the inquest process and what they heard, in a few weeks (or whenever they’ve had time to process things). I was only able to attend the opening, and last two days of Fern’s inquest, but all my reporting is available here.

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