- From E Munro, Effective Child Protection, 2nd Edition (2008) page 149
Adoptive mum Jenny talks about her experiences when a group of professionals turned against her to try and remove her teenage child against the child’s wishes.
To my mind this group think and closing of ranks is one of the biggest problems facing adoptive and special guardianship families as our children hit their teens and trauma emerges in ways that leave us and other family members at risk from our children. Legislators and policy makers have not really got to grips with this issue and the charities and organisations we turn to for help seem to be suffering with the delusion that during the course of care proceedings when our child is subject to an ICO, or after a care order is made, there will be ‘partnership working’ with us. There will be partnership working – within and between agencies and professionals – but not us.
Firstly, and I speak from lived experience, an Interim Care Order seems to be extraordinarily easy to obtain with false allegations made, either by the police (to get the case into court) or children’s services, to suggest a parent is a risk of harm to a child, when in fact it is the other way around. Once the ICO is granted, life is hell for the help seeking parents or special guardians. All the local authority needs to do is hint that we might be psychologically unwell and that we are mentally abusing our children – who may well be self harming because of trauma, but this is nothing to do with us. The Judge will not throw the case out of court because the child is clearly in trouble and something needs to be done.
The next stage is to use the ICO as an evidence gathering exercise against the parent or guardian. Care proceedings are a horrific ordeal for any adopter who was hoping for help for a child in trouble. It also truly doesn’t matter that the child wants to go home. This won’t matter at all. If the local authority starts slinging mud to deflect from their own negligence – this will be given credibility in court. Ranks will be firmly closed against the parent because of the unwavering belief in the group’s inherent morality – and the obstinate refusal to admit a potential error or fault on the part of a professional.
Opinions of high status professionals are what counts most, so the ‘group’, which may sadly include a Cafcass Guardian who is adversarial towards a help seeking adoptive parent (and who takes the lead on the instruction of experts), will set about building their case against the parent/guardian by asking leading questions of the expert. Bias is thus introduced and the expert’s objectivity is likely to be influenced. This is the same with assessments that are conducted after a public law order is made, where the local authority is firmly in control of the assessment process. Objectivity goes out of the window and the aim is to prove the social worker and their manager (decisions are never made by one person to protect professionals) were correct and to gain control. The inference after a public law order is this is a ‘bad parent’, or why would a care order have been needed? Parenting under a care order is grim and awful. Fault is assumed and parents are marginalised. Being a single mother meant there was no one to support me in the endless meetings I had to attend where no one cared what I said and which my child found too distressing and overwhelming to attend. When my child had to be put on suicide watch after the care plan was changed to foster care there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t access legal aid to take the case to Judicial Review. Neither the local authority or Local Government Ombudsman would investigate when the case had gone to court. By the time my child gave consent – the LGO timed the complaint out. Complaining to the professional regulatory body (the General Medical Council) when a psychiatrist had been influenced against me and uncritically accepted the derogatory opinions being expressed about me without testing them was also futile. At first the regulatory body refused to investigate – and then later they excused the assessment, which had not even been conducted according to their own guidance. The complaint was not upheld and the whole complaints process had been a miserable and retraumatising experience.
No one seemed to understand that adoption is supposed to be permanent. It was simply a case of replacing me with foster carers and telling the court the match had been a mistake, as far as the local authority was concerned. But my child refused foster care ever again after the initial care proceedings. So rather than try to reunify, as my child wished, the local authority spent £thousands every week on residential care. The Adoption Support Fund, which we couldn’t access under a care order, is capped at £5k a year – so it seemed such a false economy. The whole system seemed to be designed to prevent my child ever coming home!
Worst of all though were the police, who abandoned us after making false allegations that I was mentally abusing my child to issue an Emergency Protection Order when I sought their help, and did not inform me my child was arrested – for an incident I reported, involving me as a ‘victim’. They released my child from custody and told me that there would be no prosecution. The last thing I wanted was an arrest. How unfair was this? We needed help as a family, not criminalisation of a vulnerable teenager with a much younger emotional age. My child’s difficulties were not appreciated and trauma related disabilities were discounted – the therapy my child needed was not provided and it isn’t surprising that there were behavioural difficulties when we were pushed deeper and deeper into crisis. Every agency closed ranks against us once I reported to the police, and ‘risks’ became greatly exaggerated along with a false narrative created that I had brought the problems upon myself and didn’t deserve to be a parent. Stigmatised and socially isolated my child was incredibly lonely, never recovering from the shock of arrest and removal from my care. Fast forward a few years later and the police steadfastly refuse to delete the criminal record. The police do not care about the impact this criminal record has on a young person, by now a traumatised care leaver. They also do nothing about the suicide attempts that were reported by me, as a desperate parent when my child was in care. They take the moral high ground telling a young person that the public must be protected from them.
I believe these are systemic failings so I have sometimes written about them in the third person. We have been totally and utterly failed as an adoptive family. Victimised by professionals and organisations who take the moral high ground and excuse an unconscionable lack of consideration and integrity. Without access to legal aid, which we don’t have due to the criminal damages my child received for early life abuse, we cannot challenge those who take advantage of our need for privacy as a family. We are lucky to survive but I do not hold out much hope for the future as the refusal to delete the arrest record has been a major blow to my child who is fragile emotionally and suffers poor mental health because trauma has been piled upon trauma – and so much of the childhood years were completely messed up by the system. My child is not well enough to contribute to the Care Review and our story seems to be one that government would prefer to never be told. It would surely deter any single woman from adopting, which is not really what I want at all – as I dread to think what would have happened to my child without being adopted and someone to provide the unconditional love that is every child’s birth right. I have done the best I can and it was more than good enough to create a loving bond – but I couldn’t prevent the trauma from leaking out – and when it did, it could not have gone more wrong for us.