A number of our group have had very traumatic experiences of court, or are currently having great difficulties. Our intention with this short article is to raise awareness and bring to the attention of the public, how loving parents striving to do their best, and who were rigorously assessed to adopt and be matched with their child(ren), can find themselves involved in harrowing care proceedings, where they are viewed as a potential or actual risk of serious harm to the child they sought help to care for. This is a composite of all the potential problems that may be encountered, so not every case will have all these elements, or will be as described below, but it seems very few adopters find court a positive experience. It is not clear of what the impact is of such a hostile and adversarial process, and the imposed contact restrictions with our children, when proceedings are often protracted over many months. Nevertheless, each and every one of us will, at some stage, have asked for, and hoped for, support and help.

  1. Expect no kindness or empathy to be shown towards you by other parties if they consider your parenting, in the hardest of circumstances, to be inadequate. The best you might hope to achieve is a tokenistic comment about an appreciation that other parties consider it will be distressing for you.
  2. Expect a closing of ranks within and between organisations that is beyond anything that you could ever have imagined. You will be treated like an NHS whistle blower, but with no union to assist. There will be no one to support you. If an individual dares to speak up for you within the LA they will be swiftly replaced.
  3. Expect ruthless discrediting, blame, fault seeking and fault finding.
  4. Expect contact with your child to be altered, restricted and where possible supervised during court proceedings. Normal family life may be impossible. You may find yourself treated in exactly the same way, by those with a duty of care, from whom you will almost inevitably have sought help, as the birth parents who it is known have perpetrated horrific abuse, as your child has received substantial payments for criminal injuries sustained by them.
  5. Expect to lose your job/career if you work with children as a teacher, medical doctor, health or social care professional. Years of training and knowledge will be wasted.
  6. Expect that ‘risks’ of harm will either be exaggerated or not a focus, if the risk is to you as a parent. The risks you took on when you adopted were always there, but now every effort will be made by those with a duty of care to see you replaced with another form of care.
  7. Expect no understanding of the realities of parenting a child with severe attachment disorder or complex trauma, and instead of understanding, there may be a focus on your ‘parenting style’ or your ‘ability to work with professionals’ rather than the child to parent violence issues you were coping with. Working with professionals means agreeing with them – they are not interested in your parental knowledge. Disagreement about the approach will not be tolerated. Your compliance is what is sought, not your opinions and parenting knowledge gained from years of parental experience.
  8. Expect to be described as difficult and obstructive if you do not agree with the approach. If you have ever had cause to make a formal complaint expect to be described as litigious or complaining.
  9. If you are applying for Care Order discharge expect the court to be informed you do not accept the reason for it being made.
  10. Expect not to be believed as a parent. Expect that those that try to assist you will be ignored, disregarded or will also be discredited. Criminals are able to have a defence in criminal courts – but if you are an adoptive parent litigant, applying for Care Order discharge, because this is your child’s wish, or you are concerned that all ‘intervention’ comes between parent and child, there is absolutely no one to support you in a family court with a right of audience – when you find yourself considered, continually, as posing a ‘risk of harm’ to the child you will inevitably have sought help to care for. This is one situation where honesty and openness, in asking for help, can have catastrophic negative consequences. In applications for discharge, there will be no opportunity to prove your parenting capacity is as good as the care you are being replaced with, and professionals and carers will wish to justify their care as being superior and justify the approach and decisions taken – it will certainly not be about your child’s rights to family life. These will be totally disregarded – usually on the basis of Article 3 of the UN convention of the Rights of the Child (the principle of ‘best interests of the child’), unless your child does not wish to be reunified, according to other parties.
  11. Any rejection of you by your child may be used against you. Expect that those involved will seek to portray any rejection of you by your destabilised child as deserved. Either there will be an analysis of your child’s behaviour and responses that makes it appear that you are the problem, and if at all possible you will be presented as a harmful or neglectful parent. There may also be no analysis – and the rejection of you by your child will just be left hanging in the air. Your child’s views may come from lack of hope because of years spent in care and no dialogue achievable about going home, or from negative beliefs about you – as there will be so much misinformation and misunderstanding, or, because there are promises of trips to Disneyland or offers of funding for accommodation at university, which are conditional on the child remaining in care. Whatever your child wants, provided they remain in care, they will be offered it – so that they become an adversary in your application for discharge.
  12. If your child’s faith is different from the carer and you try to support their attendance, at Mosque, for example, this may be described as ‘back door’ contact.
  13. Expect the court to be informed that you are focused on your own needs and not those of your child.
  14. Expect to read distorted reports where partial information is given and context for parenting choices or actions is totally ignored.
  15. Expect a lack of sensitivity and appreciation of adoption issues from other parties and little interest in the Selwyn research. Once a Section 31 Care Order is made, you will struggle to achieve dialogue about reunification, even if this is your child’s wish, when the Selwyn report says it should never be ruled out. It will be ruled out. LAC reviews will be emotionally harrowing and you will have no say in decisions about your child’s care under a Section 31 Care Order. You will be continually and forever reminded about the Care Order being made. Senior managers who do not know your child and refuse to meet with you will make the decisions in covert meetings. Workers who disagree with the approach will quickly be replaced or their decisions overruled.
  16. Expect to see your child get support as a LAC child that you could never have achieved, and £hundreds of thousands of spent, when you struggled to get risk assessments, or with CAMHS support, or misunderstandings from educational professionals, and, at most, might achieve a capped fund of £5k, probably with no match funding. An argument that may be put forward against Care Order discharge is that the support for a LAC child is so much better than one who is adopted.
  17. Expect never to be eligible for the ASF once a Care Order is made, and for the status of your child as an adopted child or young person to be irrelevant from hence forth – except as a tick box exercise. The fact the child knows they are adopted is about the extent of the consideration given.
  18. Expect to be stonewalled in court by other parties, unless their case is weak and there is a need to speak with you. If the CG agrees with the LA they will meet to discuss strategy in terms of how you might be replaced. Terms like ‘placement disruption’ and adoption failure or breakdown will be employed, and the fact of there being no foster caters willing to care for your child, or of multiple foster care breakdowns, will be ignored. Whatever happens your child must not be supported to live with you, once a Section 31 Care Order is made.
  19. Expect that other parties will seek to cover negligence and failings during proceedings and afterwards. The remit of court is very narrow. It is about your parenting capacity. If there has been a failure to meet Statutory Guidance then the court will ask for this to be done – but no judge can tell a LA what to do.
  20. Expect that the instruction of court appointed experts, if there is existing evidence that stands against you, may be contested vigorously.
  21. Expect other parties to instruct experts known to them with little or no adoption support experience, or to try to ask loaded questions of experts so that negative views of you will be accepted as fact. Some judges allow these questions, some are more strict about untested opinions and remind the court that it is about the support you need as a parent – but once a Section 31 Care Order is made you are deemed to have failed and no further effort will be made to support your family, or your child by the State.
  22. If your application is for discharge and providing your case is not dismissed, expect to be disadvantaged in a contested hearing where your chance of success is so limited, because the expert evidence that is relied on is heavily weighted against you and barristers who you will never see again look for legal loopholes to see your case fail. Cost for legal expenses is not a problem for Local Authorities. This is one area where austerity has made no impact.
  23. If you do have a contested hearing as a parent litigant who made a lifelong commitment as an adopter, this will be one of the most soul destroying experiences of your life. The toll on your soul will be very great. It is something you never could have imagined, especially when you adopted, in good faith, a child that no one else wanted to adopt.
  24. Expect, if the evidence for your case for discharge is strong, that the Local Authority will not contest, and there will be no judgement made and no possible learning from the case. Don’t expect a reunification that is supported or planned. It is unlikely you will have been able to have a single conversation about it before it happens, should you, against all the odds, succeed in getting the Section 31 Order discharged.
  25. Don’t expect representation from Barprobono. The demand is so great and they are overwhelmed.