Special Guardian Sarah shares her story:
Our story began when our five month old grandson sustained near fatal injuries whilst in the care of his birth parents. The hospital and children’s services took the view that his injuries were non accidental and we were asked if we would be able to care for him until further investigations were made. Of course we agreed immediately but I was working full time as a probation officer and my husband was running our family business so although it would mean making huge sacrifices, caring for him was never in question.
Once fully recovered my grandson was released from hospital in all he was wearing and anything which came from his parents was unsuitable, unsafe or too small. When we asked for financial help we were told that because we were grandparents we were just expected to swallow the cost of caring for our grandchild. We had to rely on family members to help us with the cost of purchasing clothes and equipment for him. My husband had to close our high street retail business and downsize to trading online so he could be at home with the baby as I was the main wage earner and needed to continue working to survive. Partially closing the business meant we very nearly became bankrupt. We were very quickly encouraged to take an Special Guardianship Order without being given any alternative, or really understanding the implications. During court proceedings we discovered that his parents had conceived another child and we were asked if would take this child also. Wanting to keep both siblings together we agreed.
Our granddaughter was removed at birth and placed with us immediately. Once again we asked for financial support and we were told that because we had agreed to taking her it was deemed a ‘private arrangement’ and we were not eligible for support. By this time we were also supervising contact between the children and their emotionally volatile parents and covering the cost of visits to the soft play and refreshments. Now with two babies to care for life had become very difficult.
I continued working but my husband was spending less time on our family business and making no money. It took almost a year and a half to get our granddaughters case to court because her mum and given birth to yet another child that was being placed for adoption and they were awaiting the outcome of that case. We had also had 14 social workers by this juncture, and each time there was a change the assessment process began again. Birth mum then disclosed that our granddaughter was not our sons child. The uncertainty around paternity forced the court to ask for a DNA test and we discovered that our granddaughter was indeed not our sons child. She was 14 months old and we were then asked if we wanted to give her back. Of course we didn’t we loved her regardless. By this time we had also discovered that our son had conceived twins with another girl and they were to be removed at birth also. We couldn’t bare to lose them into the care system so we agreed to take them too. By the time the twins were born we had a 3 year old, 14 month old and now newborn twins.
By this time we had learned a lot and we demanded that we were financially supported for the twins and we took on a fight with the local authority for back dated allowances for our first two grandchildren. A fight we should never have had to go through because unknown to us we had been entitled to financial support all along. This time around we were told we had to foster the twins so financial support could be authorised. We were assessed and passed the panel and became their foster carers however by the time we had done all of this it was decided that at 5 months old the twins were to be reunited with their birth mother (I’m convinced this was because it was the cheaper option and not because it was in the best interest of the children. I firmly believe had I not pushed for financial support this would never have happened) . We were horrified. Suddenly all of the concerns that resulted in their removal had disappeared in the space of 5 months.
We fought and fought to have our concerns heard but it fell on deaf ears. The twins went through four months of being sent to their mother and her returning them bruised, hungry and wet. She was telling social workers she couldn’t cope and only wanted her daughter and not her son. This backfired on her and children’s services decided to give her just her son and leave her daughter with us so that she could bond with him. This was a disaster, separating twins that had been co bedded since they were born and to give her a child she didn’t want was just unthinkable. We were in hell we had one twin who couldn’t settle without her brother the other repeatedly returning to us traumatised and two other children terrified they would also be sent away and they were missing their siblings. We were dealing with nightmares, bedwetting and difficult behaviour. After four months it was decided the reunification had not worked and the twins were to stay with us. However the damage had been done. We still, five years on are dealing with difficult behaviour.
I had continued to work full time throughout all of this with four very young children, multiple night feeds, getting little sleep and being out of my mind with worry. I then became extremely ill and a year later was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, the consultant says as result of stress. My illness meant I had to give up working. So here we are, I’ve lost my career that I’d worked hard for and I’m claiming benefits and my husband is trying to hang on to a failing business that doesn’t make any money. We struggle to make ends meet and struggle with our children’s emotional needs every day with no support and being afraid to ask for it because of veiled threats from social workers in the past that suggested that if we couldn’t manage the children would be adopted.
The children were forced to have continued contact with their birth parents every school holidays which just re traumatises them and exacerbates their behaviour. We now have one child who we believe is on the autistic spectrum, one we believe to have adhd, one extremely angry and violent child and one very sensitive and emotional child. They all conform at school and are academically very capable but at home we are fire fighting. Our struggle is a hidden one which professionals don’t seem to understand and because it doesn’t impact on schooling support or assessment and diagnosis is not forthcoming. As carers we are traumatised by our experience. I have flash backs of how my grandsons injuries looked and we were forced by the social worker to read the parents account of what happened to him, which was horrific. As a witness to such events I would have been offered support. Instead I was offered nothing and instead was questioned by social workers when they discovered I was taking anti depressants.
We have sacrificed so much of our lives to care for these children which often feels like a thankless task. I feel envious of other families photos of happy times on Facebook because every event in our lives is frought with disregulated children and constant melt downs. However I would still do it all again to keep them safe.