“Go way and leave me alone” shouted Max, through his bedroom door to his mum. “You can’t make my anxiety go away”
His mum, Elaine, who is on her own as an adoptive parent, worries intensely about what would happen to 21 year old Max if she were to become ill or die. He has no one else in the world and is wholly reliant on her. Max’s future looks bleak and he knows it. This leads to a vicious cycle of anxiety and depression. Sleep problems are a major factor for him and have been since he was a child. Elaine is at a loss about what to do to help. Max does have therapy, which he finds a great support, but funding is precarious and uncertain. It must continually be reapplied for. Elaine has had to battle for therapy for Max for more than a decade and it has always been ‘stop start stop’ with multiple therapy provider changes.
Max, who is also a care leaver, was finally given a post 18 EHCP three years ago. The EHCP is better than nothing but it doesn’t really seem to be working. Whilst professionals come together for an annual review of the plan, there is no multiagency approach – and with a number of different teams involved (the post adoption and leaving care teams are also involved), no one person takes on responsibility for making sure Max is getting the support he needs. Mainstream education providers are just not geared up for young people like Max who struggle to even attend courses. Out of sight out of mind is what happens when Max cannot cope with school or college, and for the fourth year running Max has enrolled on a course only to have no alternative but to suspend, when the support is not there from professionals who are able to understand his trauma and anxiety problems. To them Max looks fine – an intelligent and polite young man. Elaine is told not to worry by the new education professionals who come on board each year – and then give up. There is no scope, with the EHCP, for education providers to work collaboratively with trauma specialists after the age of 18 – and to help Max and Elaine find a way forwards.
Elaine has also asked for help from the adoption support fund – for her to have support – so she can better understand what to do to help Max – but funding was rejected flat out by Mott MacDonald. Yet the same proposal had been funded a week earlier by them for a parent of a younger child. The Adoption Support Fund, which is also supposed to be for special guardians, is administered by Mott MacDonald. Mott MacDonald are a global engineering and management consultancy firm who make grand claims about their “ability to apply our extensive knowledge and experience to support improved outcomes in both strategic and frontline provision”. They also pride themselves on partnership working: “Our social care team understands the challenges local authorities face and we have significant experience in providing support for their needs. Our approach is based on partnership.” But Elaine has found their staff unpleasant and downright rude. Thinking about the problems adoptive families were experiencing to get support was not their ‘role’. They choose who they want to listen to and they were not remotely interested in Elaine and Max’s experiences, even when a complaint was made about the local authority. Once they gave the funding that was the end of it. Giving funding was evidently being used as a way of silencing adoptive parents with bad experiences by this firm. The firm used to have a seven stage complaints process – but now parents and guardians must complain via the LGO (local government and care ombudsman). From Elaine’s perspective, the only partnership working Mott MacDonald seem to be interested in is partnering up with local authorities to cover corporate negligence and failings. The LGO will not investigate the concerns because the problems happened more than 12 months before the complaint was made – and Max, who finally managed to get himself to a place where he could write a letter of complaint to the director of children’s services about the appalling experiences of post adoption support in his teenage years (the local authority’s stance was ‘the match was a mistake’), has been timed out of his complaint being investigated by both the local authority and LGO.
The transition to adulthood after what may have been tumultuous years of adolescence, is such a challenging time for adoptive and special guardianship children, especially when children have had to leave the family home prematurely because their trauma was too hard to contain within the family. So where is the help?
For policy makers, charities and parliamentarians – adoption and special guardianship are about children, and finding families for them when they have been removed from their birth parents. But for the parents and guardians it is about loving a child for life – and whilst children’s services may cease to be involved at 18, we don’t stop loving and caring for our children – and wanting the best for them – wherever they may live. One of the first myths we needed to bust in SG&AT was the idea that adopters just ‘hand their children back to care’ if their traumas cannot safely be contained within the family. The reality is we are finding ourselves pushed out of the child’s life by local authorities when we try to parent from a distance. In Elaine and Max’s case the local authority’s stance was ‘the match was a mistake’ when Elaine asked for help – after five years as a family.
Our children may be developmentally delayed, taking longer to mature and develop than a child who has not had to cope with trauma, severance and loss – and being a parent or guardian is every bit as challenging when a child has grown – but there seems to be very little on offer for special guardianship and adoptive families who are raising young adults suffering with complex trauma. At the same time as our children need more from us than the average young person, young adults are living with their parents for longer. The average age to leave the family home (in 2017) for more than 50% of young people was 23. The ONS also reports that ‘living with parents’ is the most common living arrangement for all young people aged between 18-34 according to the ONS data
So our first message this year – to Krish Kandiah, the newly appointed chair of the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board, is to please remember that our children grow up – and please start thinking about the support our families need when they do. We also need you to appreciate that children from adoption and special guardianship may well go back into care – and if they do this isn’t because we have given up on them. We would like to be supported by professionals who understand our families are different in this situation, and who work sensitively with us and our children – who do not need to be ‘rescued’ from us.