More and more adopters are finding their adoption journeys end up in harrowing court proceedings where they are subjected to blame and victimisation by local authorities and Cafcass guardians. This is done in order to prove the parent, who sought help for the child, is actually a risk of significant harm to the child – and parental responsibility can be taken away – to be given back to the state.
Adoptive mother Tess, whose daughter Ellie was taken into care after child to parent violence issues, was devastated to read the report the Cafcass guardian had submitted to the court. A young man in his twenties, the guardian seemed to lack any understanding of the realities of parenting a traumatised child. Tess explained to the guardian that her daughter was a very damaged child, which is exactly what social workers had also said. But when Tess used exactly the same phrase – ‘a very damaged child’, the guardian wrote in his report to the court that this was indicative of a blaming mother.
Tess remembers the guardian’s comment, which cuts like a knife, as she reflects on what has happened during the years that have passed since court proceedings and the last few weeks of Covid 19. Ellie, who is 15 and under a Section 31 Care Order, had been reunified after a six year separation just before the lockdown started. There was nowhere else for her to go. No foster carers could be found who were willing to care for her. She kept running home from her residential care placement – over forty miles away.
Two months later the police have had to come to the family home four times; Tess has been violently criminally assaulted (having warned her daughter’s new social worker this would probably happen) and she has had to register her 85 year old mother, who has dementia and is cared for by Tess, as a safeguarding risk as a vulnerable adult. As well as being verbally abused and shouted at by Ellie, Tess and her mother has been put at risk of Covid 19 since Ellie pays no heed whatsoever to the lockdown and government guidance.
There has never been any help for Tess and Ellie to support their relationship during the years when Ellie was in care. Usually in these situations, SG&AT families report that it is the foster carers who receive support – if it is given at all. Almost invariably the foster carers end the placement long before an adopter or special guardian would say they cannot cope any more. Our families are not eligible for post adoption support under a Section 31 care order. A special guardianship order is simply annulled. Decisions about the child are usually made by a ever changing stream of social workers. In adoption cases, the adoptive parents are frequently marginalised – or completely ignored. Sometimes they are made to feel responsible for the child’s difficulties, which are poorly understood. Disabilities and diagnoses, which adopters and special guardians fought hard to get for the child to access support – are dismissed as being about the poor care they gave to the child when threshold is proven. Some parents, like Tess, require treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after attending the Child in Care Reviews. There is nothing more harrowing than being unable to expedite therapeutic assistance for a much loved child who so clearly needs help. It is like watching a car crash with your child in the car – and being unable to stop it. It is the very definition of ‘secondary trauma’. This is how parental responsibility for children like Ellie may be shared with adoptive parents – who make a lifelong commitment to a child. Special guardians are out of the picture altogether. It is worth remembering that many children in the care system do have disabilities and complex needs. There is often no alternative for us if we need a respite break but to use Section 20.
Taking loving parents and guardians who fight for the child away from them under care orders is not working out very well. Section 20 is often not any better when a child cannot live at home – and the order is often treated as if parental responsibility lies with the state not parents or special guardians. It is hard to challenge negligence on the part of the state – for parents. The reverse is much more straightforwards. Formal complaints take years – and in Tess’s case the local authority took little notice after the Local Government Ombudsman found in her favour. Another complaint needed to be made – with each one taking many months to investigate. By the time the investigation is completed it is far too late and irrevocable damage is done.
Tess has just received a letter from CAMHS at the same time the poorly supported reunification has come to an end. The agency has written to say they cannot help until Ellie is ready to accept that she needs help and she is in a stable placement. No one is helping Ellie get to this place. CAMHS did not once see Ellie or Tess during the reunification.
Ellie is a very damaged child and she is considered an extremely high risk for sexual exploitation. At 15 Ellie is now being prepared for independent life and receives no therapeutic help for all the time she was in care. A brief course of Theraplay when she was seven is all the help Ellie and Tess have ever received from the state. Tess’s NVR (non violent resistance) training finally starts after Ellie has left home for a second time. The relationship with her daughter continues from a distance, as long as Ellie accepts Tess – because Tess wants her to be supported and be safe. But Tess will have no voice in decisions made about her daughter now and when Ellie is 18 she will not be informed about what happens to Ellie.
Tess has not pressed charges for the assault. She has never ever blamed her daughter. It is only ever her who has been blamed – in a court of law.
Scrutiny and accountability about care planning, and the way that adopters or any parents are being treated, has been totally removed by the Department of Education -instead of bolstered under Covid 19. This is done under the auspices of safeguarding.