The last time Diane Berresford saw her baby daughter she was crying.
Little arms out-stretched, calling ‘mummy, mummy’. That was 17 years ago.
“She didn’t want to go. She knew something was wrong,” says Diane.
“I will always remember that day. I knew it was the final contact I’d have. She was crying her eyes out and trying to cling on to me.”
Diane, a cleaner from Newbold, was forced to hand over her daughter Sarah to Derbyshire County Council social workers and she was later adopted - against Diane’s will.
Now she is appealing to trace Sarah who turned 18 in February.
Diane said: “I felt like I was being bullied. I had no choice.
“A day after my daughter’s first birthday they came to remove her from my care. They wanted her to go into foster care. I said ‘over my dead body’ but they said if I didn’t co-operate, they would call the police.”
Diane, 37, had six months to prove she was a good mum but the surveillance put her under pressure.
She added: “When you have someone watching you constantly you feel like you’re doing something wrong when you’re not. They were like vultures over my shoulder. It was difficult to show them I could be a good mum when I was having the supervised contact.”
Diane claims that years later after submitting a Freedom of Information request, council case files showed the intention had always been to put Sarah up for adoption.
“They didn’t give me a chance, they were looking at adoption behind my back. They had it planned from the moment she was placed into foster care,” she added.
In July 2000 social services told the court that Sarah could be at risk from ‘future emotional harm’.
Case files suggested Diane had mild learning difficulties, something she disputes and social workers had also done background checks on Sarah’s dad and feared he could be a risk to his child. They demanded they did not live together.
Diane and her daughter went to stay with her parents and later cut all ties with Sarah’s dad but were still closely monitored by social services.
Diane eventually moved in to her own house and believed she was a good mum.
“Sarah was well fed, clean and loved. She was a happy, well behaved girl. But they were adamant I could not protect her from harm,” she said.
Diane acknowledged that social services are often criticised for not doing enough to protect vulnerable children, even from their own parents, and procedures have to be followed.
“There are times when they need to step in and take children in danger but I feel social services abused my human rights - I was a vulnerable 19-year-old,” she said.
“I work, I don’t have a criminal record. I’ve never taken drugs or been an alcoholic.”
In August 2000 when Sarah was 18 months old Diane, her parents and brother said good-bye to her.
Diane said: “I was asked if I would sign the adoption paper and because I refused, the court took away my parental consent.
“I was crying my eyes out, shouting and swearing. I was an emotional wreck, It broke my heart. It was like they had a knife and stabbed me in the heart, I was broken.”
Diane believes she now suffers with a post traumatic stress disorder and thinks about her daughter daily.
She said: “I now suffer with fertility problems. I have had surgery and X-rays to try and find out the cause but there isn’t much hope for me to have another child naturally. My only chance to become pregnant again would be IVF and I’ve already asked for a free try on the NHS but have been refused because I already have a child. I also know social services would become involved again and possibly remove any future children from me at birth too.”
Through a social media appeal to try and trace Sarah, Diane says she has been contacted by dozens of women who are in the same situation and have been forced to hand over their children. She is now petitioning Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins and the government to investigate social services and stop forced adoption.
After Sarah was adopted Diane received yearly letters.
They told of a little girl who loved music and dancing, had a quad bike and a ginger cat called Monty and had been to Disney Land.
But when Sarah was nine the contact stopped and although Diane continued to send letters and birthday cards, she did not receive a reply.
Diane added: “For years I’d look at every blonde haired, blue eyed little girl and think ‘is that her’? I still think about her every day. It’s like your child is dead - but they’re not - it hurts just the same.
“I want her to know I love her very much and miss her and would love her to get in contact so we can start to get to know each other.”
A spokesman for Derbyshire County Council said: “We have a duty to ensure the safety and well-being of all children in Derbyshire and where a child is thought to be at risk we work with the family to support parenting and prevent family breakdown.
“Unfortunately, in some cases, the risk to the child’s safety and wellbeing continues and they’re taken into our care either through agreement with their parents, or through court proceedings.
“It is for the courts to decide if the separation is justified based on the evidence and whether a child should be adopted rather than returned to its parents.”