In a previous article we highlighted the plight of adoptive parents in court. Our children can bring out the best in humanity in terms of a desire to help. But when things go wrong for our families, they can go very badly wrong, and professionals who do not fully appreciate the impact of childhood trauma and attachment issues, can look at the problems we face – and instead of supporting us through the crises we may have to deal with, they can decide to pull the plug, and rescue the child.
With the current system, the only option for us to have a break from the intensity of family life, may be a Section 20 Care Order. If this is refused, because we feel it will be too destabilising for our child to have to re-enter care, then it is very likely that care proceedings will begin at some point soon, because we exist, as a family, in a state of overwhelming pressure, and sooner or later something will happen – the situation is too volatile and it will implode.
In this scenario, instead of adopters being viewed as part of the solution – with the parental love they offer, which the corporate parent can never offer a child, loving parents may be discredited by statutory agencies and professionals, as a potential risk of serious harm to the child they sought help to parent, in courts of law.
Child to parent violence is a particularly challenging problem for us. The poor emotional regulation of our child(ren) and the misplaced anger that mothers in particular, as the primary attachment figure, must cope with, means the parenting role is very stressful indeed. Parents that do not have the right support can feel helpless and so often, as is reported in research and in the media, end up being blamed when support has either not been provided or not been effective.
This blaming approach not only undermines the permanence of adoption – it stores up problems for the future. Our children, with their complex needs and poor mental health will struggle to cope with adult life and will, in all likelihood, need us long past the age of 18. Our vulnerable families will be left ‘at risk’ when children’s services are no longer involved after 18. With no ‘intention to reunify’ and no dialogue achievable about it with us, we will never be able to access the Adoption Support Fund, intended to help our children – when this fund continues to 21, or 25, if there are special educational needs. Serious safeguarding concerns are left to fester whilst the good relationship between parent and child is inevitably affected by the fact of the child being destabilised on re entering care.
What is heartbreaking for parents is that when care proceedings are instigated, the destabilisation of our child, and any rejection of us, can be magnified by the Local Authority and other parties.
The judiciary rely on experts and when a Cafcass guardian with poor understanding of adoption issues takes sides against the parent(s) there is usually no one calling the Local Authority to account. Court will become the stuff of nightmares when there is nothing but blame for a parent that sought help and reported. Unfortunately this is exactly what is happening for so many adoptive parents. They attend court and see other parties going off into court anterooms together, to plan their strategy with solicitors and barristers who are more used to working on cases where there is parental abuse and neglect. They look for parental fault in a forensic manner.
Who are the right experts for an adopted child in the family court? If experts are to be relied upon they must, for a decision to be just, be the right experts and asked the right questions. The right experts are not, in our experience, psychologists, independent social workers or psychiatrists with little or no experience of supporting adoptive families. We should not have to challenge the opinions of these experts in contested hearings often with no legal representation. This is a dreadful situation to put a help seeking parent in. We need to be assessed by adoption experts – professionals who understand the needs of our children and appreciate the challenges we face. But it can be very hard, in our experience, to get a court to appoint an adoption expert. Sadly, if one has assessed, and found fault with the approach, and the child has been reunified in an unplanned and unsupported way, the Local Authority will try to discredit the adoption expert and fund further assessments to prevent any criticisms of their approach reaching the light of day – for example, with the Adoption Support Fund. Organisations do, very sadly, prioritise their own interests over those of the children in their care.
In the long term we need legal frameworks and legislation that are designed, with us, for our children and families – but the obstacles to achieving this are seemingly insurmountable when we struggle to achieve any dialogue at all about our problems. It is much too easy to dismiss us when there has been court involvement and imagine the worst. It is up to the court to deal with it. But what if other parties are able to prevent what we consider to be just and beneficial outcomes by legal means?
In the meantime, and also because, whatever the legal frameworks are, we believe in the need for this new role, Adopters Together is campaigning for the training of 50 Adoption Guardians to create a national service. the cost of this will be just under £500k – but it will save so many families from a legacy of misery and despair, and cost savings could potentially be be very significant indeed, given the cost of residential care or secure accommodation, which can often be needed for our children – especially when they are destabilised.
To read more about the Adoption Guardian please click here. Adoption Guardian’s will be allocated to the child from placement, and will work with the whole family.
If adoptive parents or special guardians have the misfortune to be taken to court after help seeking has gone terribly wrong, the Adoption Guardian will be there to assist the court and to protect the child – to support the child and family through emotionally distressing care separations, which may be necessary to give the parent child relationship the space needed. The Adoption Guardian will be on hand to help adoptive families to deal with any destabilising care separations, and allow courts to see beyond any rejection of parents, or allegations that may be made, to the vulnerable, hurt and frightened child who may be rejecting parents because of fear and self protection. This will not be the first time our children have had to cope with immense loss, and it is us, as parents, who carry their emotional pain with us, in our hearts, whilst being discredited in courts of law as a risk of harm to them, to achieve threshold for the S31 Care Order or maintain its status quo in applications for discharge.