There are currently nine ‘protected characteristics’ in the 2010 Equalities Act. Discrimination can take two forms. Treating those who are the same differently and treating those who are different as if they are the same.

A campaign was recently launched in February 2022 for those who are ‘Care Experienced’ to become a tenth protected characteristic by a group of care leavers. Care experienced people are suffering discrimination and the group point to the fact that a quarter of homeless people and those in prison are care experienced, whilst nearly half of all under 21 year olds who come into contact with the criminal justice system are care experienced. These are stark incontestable facts and systemic change is needed. Josh McAllister, Chair of the Care Review has said: “I welcome this campaign as I’ve heard frequently throughout the review about the stigma and discrimination that the care experienced community face.

Equality is also a massive issue for unpaid carers and a campaign was launched in 2018 to make ‘caring’ a protected characteristic from Carers UK.

Adopters and special guardians are often unpaid carers raising children who are care experienced/removed from their birth parents due to abuse and neglect.

SG&AT endorse both these campaigns for care experienced people and for unpaid carers. SG&AT would also like to see special guardianship and adoption as a protected characteristics in recognition of the enormous challenges faced by children who sadly cannot be raised by their birth parents. Our children are suffering untold levels of discrimination, particularly if they re-enter care in adolescence because they become ‘hard to care for’. The crisis support we needed can be non existent and applying to the ASF (Adoption Support Fund) may be a bureaucratic process that takes far too long – and this fund must continually be re-applied for. Match funding can be a postcode lottery too and what if the local authority decides to pull the plug on the family – and provide no match funding?

Adopted children can often have high levels of of need and children’s disability, as the recent Somerset Ruling demonstrates. This Judgment provides an eye-opening glimpse of the complex needs of a small group of children where regulations were breeched for the adoption placement order. Furthermore, research has suggested levels of autism are far in excess of population norms in modern adoption and around the level of those found in Romanian orphanages.

In contrast, little is known about disability in special guardianship children. It is not not researched by policy makers who divide special guardianship up according to whether the infant or child had previously entered care, not by the legal order under which they are raised – never mind the child’s level of need. This may result in a discriminatory approach. Government won’t even rename the Adoption Support Fund so that special guardians (the one’s who are eligible at least) can know it is intended for their children and families too. It is being left to charities to inform special guardians. This makes little sense. We thank you Bill Esterson MP for raising the question anyway.

Discrimination is perhaps not Children’s Minister Will Quince’s strong point. SG&AT members parenting adoptees with disabilities who were permanently locked out of benefits in the pandemic because of the replacement of Working Tax Credits with Universal Credit (which has different thresholds) were told by Quince, then at the Department of Work and Pensions, the system had to be fair to those who wanted to invest their savings in property. Adopters and special guardians are giving up their work and careers, out of necessity, to raise children removed from their biological parents by the state – who have complex needs and high levels of disability. We do not have the same opportunities to study, work, earn or save/invest. Moreover, Carers Allowance, worth £67.60 per week, does not go far. Having a secure home is important when parents and caregivers need the children to have a sense of belonging in a community and provide stability.

The Department of Education also does not ensure the monitoring of accurate data about the legal status of children entering care, recording whether children are re-entering care from adoption, special guardianship or child arrangements orders. Each year the data is missing on thousands of children. Far more than the number of children who are adopted each year, which is accurately monitored – and has been declining steadily, despite considerable sums of public money being spent to recruit adopters as a main priority for government. Wouldn’t it be better, SG&AT members ask, to spend this money supporting those who have already adopted? So prospective adopters hear how well adoption is supported.

Going back into care after being raised in an adoptive or special guardianship family is not the same as going into care for the first time – its about time the Department for Education stopped pretending these incredibly vulnerable young people raised by adopters and special guardians have no need of the ASF if they go back into care because this would ‘duplicate’ support. Policy evaluation, were it done properly (and not the afterthought it has been with the ASF), would reveal how it can be an impossible struggle to achieve support for our children once they re-enter care. We can also find the diagnoses we have worked so hard to achieve, to get support, can be swiftly overturned by the corporate parent and there is little we can do about it- see this case of grandparents of a child with FASD being pushed out of their grandson’s life after he re-entered care.

We can find that our parental knowledge of the child is completely discarded – even after years of raising the children when children re-enter care. The discrimination can be terrible in special guardianship where caregivers are often grandparents. Attitudes towards special guardians can be hostile and adversarial to a degree that seems wholly at odds with the ‘best interests’ principle. In adoption too, the need of a child for family, birth family or adopted, can be overlooked when children re-enter care. The parenting from a distance role is scarcely recognised and narratives prevail in the media of adopters handing children back to care, making us sound rejecting as parents, which is the last thing we want. We wanted help for our children.

So we must reflect carefully about which children and families may be discriminated against and how to prevent this. Arguably, losing the right to be raised by a birth parent could be a protected characteristic, as it may have a lifelong impact.

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com

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