Traumatised children can be extremely hard to care for with their trust completely broken and a need to control everyone in their lives. The Selwyn Report (2014) identified that it was children with the most severe adversity in early life who were leaving home prematurely. We try our best to stand by our children, come what may- because this is what being a parent means. When our children cannot live with us, for no fault of theirs or ours – but due to early life trauma, it is very frustrating that the state takes away our parental responsibility.

Ostensibly our parental responsibility remains with us under Section 20. In practice this is rarely what happens and partnership working is rare rather than the norm, according to our lived experience research (see the Connections Survey report (2018). We must ‘share’ parental responsibility with the local authority under a full care order – when our children are deemed to be at ‘risk of significant harm’ because they are ‘beyond parental control’. The reality is they are beyond anyone’s control neither Section 20 nor and sharing parental responsibility are working out well for adoptive and special guardianship children and families.

Special guardians can very easily be excluded completely from care planning by the Independent Reviewing Officer and children’s social worker – see for example this blog here about special guardian grandparents of a boy with FASD. By disputing the FASD diagnosis the local authority called into question the grandparent’s parenting, and then excluded them after a Care Order was made.

With adopters, its not possible to get rid of us legally, but our lives can be made very difficult when the children we love are struggling and we cannot do much about it. With adoptive mum Mary, she was advised by a solicitor to go for a full care order when her daughter was not getting the support she needed in care under Section 20, which she had been forced to use to get a respite break when her daughter was physically violent towards her. She also lost her job and had to resign from the Children’s Safeguarding board when her daughter made false allegations. This was an extremely stressful time and her older biological child struggled too – with the loss of his sister and seeing his mother so beaten down by the system. He is back on track now and in his second year at university as a mature learner.

Life did not get better under the full care order. Eventually no foster carers would look after Mary’s teenage daughter. She was sent to live in a children’s home miles away from where she was raised. She kept running away, back to Mary. The local authority then spent a fortune on unregulated accommodation for her daughter – a house that had many staff where her daughter was the only resident. Her daughter didn’t want to be there. She wanted to live with Mary. Mary, who has never stopped battling for help for her daughter, was then treated as if she was a ‘risk of harm’ to her daughter by the social care professionals who were allocated to the adoption reunification.

An agency was brought in by the social workers to provide ‘family support’ under the reunification plan but they haven’t been able to engage with Mary’s daughter as they hoped and planned. They have reduced their hours and decided to no longer to provide ‘family’ support – they will only support Mary’s daughter not support the family. The aim is, through working in pairs, to try to build a relationship with Mary’s daughter. Their approach is intrusive to family life, little sensitivity is shown towards Mary, and they pay little attention to Covid regulations. Mary is also extremely busy as the only breadwinner/working adult in the house. At work she is much valued and receives gifts from students and awards from the organisation, an education provider. At her daughter’s care planning meetings it is a different story.

The minutes of a recent meeting show what Mary is up against. The first list is the words used to describe Mary. The second list shows the words used to describe the agency brought in to provide support for her family, where the support has had to be reviewed and adjusted several times due to their inability to engage Mary’s daughter in the work they were brought in to conduct.

Mary: “hostile”, “busy”, “cannot attend”, “she kicked out (her daughter)”, “upset”, “wants information not to be shared”, “drunk”, “verbally abusive”, “unwilling”, “seems to think”, “does not agree”, “does not feel” and there is “tension” in relationships.

Youth support agency: “engaging well”, “allows”, “assists”, “open and happy”, “share and disclose”, “ease”, “really well”, “managed to enrol”, “great relationship”, “‘go to'”, “work well” and “positive”.

Mary is on Formal Complaint number 5 now. Formal complaints have previously been upheld by the LGO who has even ordered compensation to be paid for the irreparable harm that was done to her relationship with her daughter (under Section 20). Mary was not able to see her daughter for nearly two years at one stage and her daughter was led to believe Mary had rejected her, which was not at all true. Lessons are not being learned. It is the culture that is the problem. But how do we fix the culture of parent blame? It is an insidious culture here in the UK that allows parents of children with SEND to be victimised at inquests – please see Professor Sara Ryan’s deeply moving blog ‘My Daft Life’. Professor Ryan’s son Conner died in an Assessment and Treatment Unit in 2013.

We want government and legislators to know that Mary’s case is not unusual. Under a Care Order there is no need to support our families or treat parents and guardians with respect and consideration. The local authority seems to take against us, and it is hard to be wrong footed all the time and viewed so negatively, when all we want is our children to receive the help they need. We feel their pain too. We worry about them in a way that the professionals who come and go (there could easily be 100 people working with our children over a five to ten year period) just don’t seem to understand.
The latest Adoption Strategy (launched on July 26th 2021) will not change anything for Mary and families like hers and the special guardianship family where the grandchild had FASD.

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