In January 2020 my then 15 year old adopted daughter came home to live with me after six years living away from home and refusing to return to her residential care placement – which was over 40 miles away from her school, family and community. This arrangement was formalised in February when a Placed with Parent arrangement was agreed. Although the LAC review meeting in March states clearly I ‘will require support to maintain Y at home’, none was forthcoming even before lockdown. Difficulties escalated throughout the period and the first meeting between my daughter and her new social worker in April 2020 resulted in an agreement to source an alternative placement (at my daughter’s request). That afternoon my daughter assaulted me and was removed by police to an emergency foster carer.
To give you some background and context, my daughter has been subject to a full care order since 2014 due to being ‘beyond parental control’. Basically, as a single parent to an adopted child with ‘attachment difficulties and symptoms suggestive of ADHD’ I could no longer cope with the daily verbal and occasional physical abuse I was being subjected to and my mental health deteriorated to such an extent that I was unable to care for her, myself or my birth son in the absence of appropriate, effective support from the placing authority. My daughter was initially accommodated at the age of nine under a Section 20 of the Children’s Act. She spent almost three years in a local children’s home during which time her behaviour deteriorated further, she was excluded from school and, despite the placement admitting they could not meet her needs after less than a year, no plan was put in place to either rehabilitate her to our family or find a more appropriate placement – until I consulted an adoption specialist lawyer and was advised to push for a care order to achieve this outcome.
I battled for therapeutic help for her to no avail under both these legal frameworks.
She has subsequently had nine failed placements. One placement ended when foster carers took all the other young people in the placement on holiday abroad but left my daughter to go into respite care. She was so hurt she never went back.
I have had two lengthy complaints upheld by the LGO (a range of comments can be seen below). A third complaint is in the pipeline (submitted in July 2020) but the LA are struggling to find suitable officers to take on the stage two investigation. This complaint relates to shortcomings in planning, support, providing appropriate accommodation and safeguarding issues over the period of February to July 2020.
Forward to today. My daughter is living with me at home along with my elderly mother, for whom I am carer, and who has dementia – as well as my son who has come home from university to study online during the Covid restrictions. Both mum, who doesn’t go out, and I have ended up getting Covid.
The Local Authority social workers are conducting an assessment based on the NSPCC Framework for Reunification – which seems quite insulting frankly, given the upheld complaints and the premise of unsafe or even harmful parents this framework uses as a starting point. Anyway, it was decided that this assessment was to be undertaken in a planning meeting on July 6th and I was told the estimated timeframe for this to be completed was 45 days. Meanwhile the only support available is at her placement. Said placement is a semi-detached three-bedroomed house on a corner plot with a large garden. It is staffed 24-hours a day from Monday to Friday and for four hours on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
My daughter, if she lived there, would be the sole resident.
She has not slept there for over two months and previous to that was at home approximately 80% of the time throughout August.
I receive no Child Benefit as she does not officially live at home. She is NEET and unable to motivate herself to look for work or re-engage with education. Our three bedrooms in the family home are occupied by my mother, son and daughter and I am making do with sleeping in the damp cold conservatory. I have also paid out over £1000 to the same solicitor as before to instigate proceedings to have the care order discharged – as this is what my daughter wishes for, and it seems important for her sense of self. Being in care on her 16th birthday she is a formerly relevant child so there is the same duty of care as if she were in care – so there seems to be no purpose for the care order anymore.
I cannot even estimate the cost to the LA of the placement and support workers. Can you? It must be many £thousands. The law doesn’t actually require post 16 semi-independent accommodation to be regulated and I am not sure this place is. And what an utter waste this accommodation is when she is not living there! If only this money had been spent supporting us as a family in 2014 and on therapeutic support for my daughter’s trauma issues (the Adoption Support Fund is not available to adopted children on a full care order) – her future might look very different and she would not had all those years of being deprived of family life.
There was not a day when she lived apart from us that I did not feel my heart ache for my daughter.
Comments from the Local Government Ombudsman
“There is significant fault in the way the Council supported the family and planned for Y’s future. The initial plan was for Y to return home however there is no evidence of any work taking place to facilitate this or any timescales set as to when a return home was expected to happen.“
“The delays in developing a long term plan for Y were exacerbated by fault in the LAC review process. Agreed actions were vague and were not linked to any long term plans for Y’s future. There were also very few timescales put in place by which action should be taken or decisions reached. The minutes of the LAC review meetings were also not circulated after the meetings in line with guidance which says they should be produced within one month. In one instance, it took 5 months for minutes to be circulated. The Council says an “outcomes report” from LAC reviews are place on its systems within 5 working days of the meeting however I did not see these when I viewed the files at the Council’s offices.“
“Although the Council decided to consider obtaining a care order in March 2015 there is no evidence it did anything about this until it was contacted by Ms X’s solicitor in October 2015. Ms X should not have had to instruct a solicitor to force the Council to take action regarding a long term plan for her daughter.“
“The Council was also at fault for stopping Ms X’s contact with Y in September 2015. Y was accommodated under section 20 of the Children’s Act 1989 and the Council had no legal basis for stopping contact.“
“I could never say if Y would have returned to Ms X’s care if the Council had planned her long term future when Y was first accommodated. However, it is clear that the uncertainty about Y’s future over such a prolonged time has had a significant, detrimental and irreparable impact on Ms X and Y’s relationship with one another.“
“Ms X has shared parental responsibility for Y. Therefore, the Council cannot restrict her access to information about Y even if Y says she does not give consent for Ms X to have such access. If the Council wanted to change this it would have had to apply to court to remove parental responsibility from Ms X.“