When we speak at conferences we always explain that the language that is used about us and our children by professionals is so important and we are heartened to learn of a new ‘Language that Cares’ initiative from fostering and adoption charity TACT. We recognise the importance of being able to identify a child’s needs and family situation and for professionals and policy makers to use terminology and acronyms that are helpful to them – but we also wish for language that is supportive and shows empathy towards us and our children.
One word that causes much upset for us and our children is the term ‘disruption’. In consultation with our children, SG&AT members have recently voted for alternative terms to the term disruption and the acronym RE-LAC has won the vote. The RE part means Re Entered. So it means the child has Re entered LAC. This acronym doesn’t need to ever be used when talking directly to a child or family, or about them in meetings. It is however an acronym that potentially offers professionals and policy makers valuable context information that may be helpful to the child to bring immediate understanding/recognition of a child’s potential level of need and vulnerability, which we explain in this article.
SG&AT believe RE-LAC is greatly preferable to the term disruption, which professionals and researchers use about us when our children re enter care. because it does not locate the reasons for the child going back into care within the child or family. RE-LAC offers an acknowledgment of a child’s history and past within the acronym that we feel is important and useful to hold in mind for the child. This is because trauma remains in the body – not in the events of the past. It is the body’s response to overwhelming and inescapable fear and stress. It is worth remembering also that the original trauma can happen before a little one is born, in the womb, when a mother experiences overwhelming stress. We all need to be remindful of the fact that birth parents can also have great challenges to care for children who have womb or early life trauma, or if there are conditions such as autism or FASD, which are not diagnosed until a child is older, or may be missed altogether.
Since 2014 there has been data collected by government on the legal status of children who become looked after – and whether the child has left care under a permanence arrangement of adoption, special guardianship or child arrangements order. We would like to ask the DfE if the acronym RE-LAC could be used to describe a child from a permanence arrangement going back into care with a suffix added to delineate whether the child is adopted, under an SGO or under a child arrangements or residence order.
RE-LAC/A – Child going into care from Adoption
RE-LAC/SGO – Child going into care from a Special Guardianship Order
RE-LAC/RO – Child going into care from a Residence Order
RE-LAC/CAO – Child going into care from a Child Arrangements Order
We would like to encourage the use of these acronyms when appropriate, but wish for the main acronym RE-LAC to be generically used to describe a child who is either not going into care for the first time (a child could be going into care for the second time or even third time), or who enters care from a permanence arrangement. Researchers and local authorities might add the suffix BM, BF, BP, or O to indicate the child has re-entered care from their birth family or been orphaned. It might also be helpful to add the suffix (S) to indicate a single parent or care giver who is must shoulder all the parental and childcare responsibilities alone.
SG&AT believe that children who are going into care for a second or third time, or from a family home/permanence arrangement, may be especially vulnerable – and being able to appreciate immediately that this is a child who has suffered substantial upheaval, loss and grief would, we feel, be advantageous for the child or young person.
SG&AT feel the term disruption is potentially unhelpful because it can imply a family break up when this may not be the case – it conveys a finality that can be very upsetting for us and our children, when the term is used inappropriately, and when we just wanted help for our children. We do not wish for our children to feel as if they are no longer part of our family and experience feelings of rejection. Sometimes we needed a respite break – but with current legistlation this cannot be achieved unless we make our child ‘looked after’ under Section 20 (See Selwyn et al, 2014, page 290). We may also need to use a Voluntary Care Order (Section 20), to make our children homeless – this drastic action on our part is sadly needed to spur the Local Authority into action, when we and the child’s brothers and sisters are left at risk because of the child’s trauma related behavior.
As well as early life trauma, conditions such as autism and FASD can also be a factor in children’s challenging behaviour and these conditions result in different approaches being needed than for neurotypical children in terms of parenting, care and education.. Diagnosis and understanding of conditions such as autism and FASD are extremely important when our children are looked after by the corporate parent, not least to avoid the child’s vulnerabilities leading to their criminalisation when it is a case of ‘can’t not won’t’, and children and young people struggle to emotionally regulate (especially during the the early stages of puberty and going on through adolescence until the higher cognitive centres are fully developed in a young person’s twenties) – yet stakeholder led research has suggested great disparities within the different local authorities in England in terms of autism recognition. This stakeholder led research has led to several ongoing further research through the ACoRN network.