As parents and carers our commitment is a lifelong one. Our care and parenting responsibilities do not end at 18, when children’s services are no longer involved. They do not end when our children re-enter care.
In the year ending 31st March 2017, 440 adopted and special guardian children are known to have re-entered care: Source SSDA903. This figure is 2% of the total 32,810 children entering care. It is basically disregarded as being so ‘small’ that it is difficult to read into it by the Department of Education, when the legal status of a further 12%, (3,937 children), is totally unknown. It seems this data is not submitted by Local Authorities. This is a significant number of children to be uncertain about, and in this context, the reliability of the 2% figure should be given consideration. Small or not, this figure means that in almost one in 20 adoptions, a child re-enters care, and in each case this has a significant impact on the child and the whole family. It is likely there will be a story of grief and loss, for every adopted or special guardian child re-entering care.
Once in care, the heartache does not end. Our child’s care journey may be characterised by destabilisation; rejection of us because of attachment problems, which may come with false allegations (which are extremely common in traumatised children since trauma is experienced in the present – even though it occurred in the past), and multiple placement breakdowns. CAMHS may not provide support at all because they do not offer support unless a child or young person is in a stable placement, which may never happen again, with our children. Our children may reside many miles away from home, because of a shortage of foster carers or limited places in local residential care homes. Residential care, which costs £3k – £5k per week, is often needed when our children re-enter care. Our children are extremely vulnerable. Many have trauma related disabilities and needs that are not well understood. They are soft targets for grooming and drug dealers.
It is hard to feel our children are truly safe for many reasons, not least because so many seem to go missing. Approximately one in ten children in care had a missing incident during 2017, more than 6% went missing more than once, and 331 children were missing at the end of 31st March 2017. Again, these cold statistics do not convey the anguish, worry and despair for a parent, or special guardian, if their child that has gone missing.
With the number of children entering care rising, and the number of children leaving care falling, we hope that the government will be looking very closely at these statistics and hearing us, when we remind them that each of our journey’s began with hope, and for every child re-entering care, a parent or special guardian will almost inevitably have asked for help and support, many many times in some cases.
We feel it is time to invest more in support and services – to prevent our children needing to re-enter care. The £5k per annum cap is sounds a lot but a residential placement might cost £5k per week and secure accommodation a great deal more.
If our children do need to re-enter care please remember that we are still there, loving them and caring about them. This love and care is not something the corporate parent can offer, and it is arguably not an optional extra for our children.
If we seek reunification with our children, please talk to us about this. Do not let the fact of our child’s re-entering care mean that we are written off as a ‘failed care option’, never to be supported again. Please don’t fight to keep our children in care, and seek to find reasons why we should not be supported as a family again. Give us the space to ask for help safely, without risk of blame.