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Adopter ‘Mandy’ describes her adoption journey

I would like to describe the process of adopting a child and my adoption journey, from my perspective. 

The decision to become an adopter was taken over many years. I had a brain tumour – a benign one – that meant I could not conceive. This took years to discover. I decided I did not want to use IVF. It just did not feel right for me. 

I spoke to friends about whether I should use an adoption agency or the local authority. The view was I would get better after care support with an agency but the children would be harder to place.

I called a well-known agency and they said I was too old (I was 45). With the Local Authority I had to undertake a training course over 4 weeks (a day a week) with a group of prospective adopters. The social workers seemed to be highly experienced, understanding and compassionate people who genuinely wanted to help children. I felt an affinity with one of the workers and asked if she could undertake my assessment. She was not available to work with me immediately. I decided I would like to wait to work with her (about 4 months). Shortly after the assessment began I met a man who I started to date. He was fun and interesting (a mountain climber!), and lived in another part of the country. Being an open person I spoke about this new relationship to the social worker. She said unless I stopped the relationship she would have to discontinue with the assessment process – and left my house. I wasn’t expecting this. No one had explained I could not date or have relationships. I said I would give the relationship some time. The pressure on the man I was seeing was too intense despite my best efforts. He did not want to see me forever forgo the chance to be a mother. After some months the relationship ended. A couple of months later I got a letter from the social worker saying she would be closing my file unless I got in touch. I called her and we started the assessment again.

The assessment took about four months before it was ready to go to panel. The panel meeting involved about fifteen people – a mix of social care and health professionals and several adoptive parents. I was asked lots of questions. I took along a good friend for support and my social worker was with me. I was approved to be a mum and would be able to be matched with a child ranging from 0-8years of either sex.

After the panel for some months the local authority could match me with their children. there was one child who they put forwards. The child was under two. I wanted to find a child who I felt I could be the best mum to – and it did not feel I could be in this case. I hoped there were others. 

After some months, other local authorities were able to deal with me as an adopter. I looked at ‘Be My Parent’ and saw a girl of five. I contacted the local authority, a large city where there was a great deal of deprivation. The girl had been adopted and they put me on their books. Two months later I saw another girl. They agreed to send me information about her and wanted me to consider another child. He had given up hope he would ever be adopted, as his siblings were, separately, because of their complex needs. He had been with his ‘temporary’ foster carers for two years and many other children had come and gone. My social worker told me it would be hard. Medical advisors told me it would be hard and recommended I put in for Disability Allowance, which they would support. My son’s social worker told me it would be hard and I must forget about the ‘Super Nanny’, approach, which would not work.

The match went to panel – there were about 15-20 people at the matching panel and I remember at least one being an ‘expert by experience’ – an adopter. Other panels in local authorities do not use this approach – I was astonished recently to discover that EHC Plan panels have no ‘experts by experience’ involved with decision making. How do they imagine they can make decisions without our perspectives? Anyway, the match was approved provided the LA offered considerably more support in terms of respite and funding for me. This was sorted and introductions began.

I will never forget the introduction process and meeting the child I would become responsible for, for all my life, come what may. I was as nervous as hell – but nothing compared with my child, who buried himself in a DS and in games, to hide his fear of going to live with a complete stranger. He could barely look at me. Only the DS seemed to calm him – his world of safety.

On Day 3 of introductions (which took 10 days), the foster carers left me alone with my son in their house and suggested we go to a nearby park. There was a small hillock in the park and I suggested it might be fun to run down it. ‘Am I allowed?’ He asked. ‘Of course you are’ I relied – saying I would watch him and make sure he was safe. He ran down the hill screaming ‘this is the happiest day of my life’. I had to push back tears as I realised how desperate this child was to have someone to love him. He had lost everyone. He was disappointed he didn’t have a father and we talked about this. He had been given an Argos catalogue by his foster carers to select presents for Christmas – it was the beginning of October – and this would be his third Xmas with them. I quipped that finding a father for him would not be like looking in Argos, remembering how I had not been allowed to continue my adoption assessment with the mountain climbing hunk in the background. He did not appreciate my sarcasm about this very important matter. I apologised for the first time – one of many apologies that would come. But two weeks later I overheard him using the same explanation himself for not having a dad to another person – and this is how he explained it for a few years, enjoying the laughter that came with this response.

I love being a single mum. But the infrastructure re-shuffles meant no one was around for long to support us in child protection social work. The attitudes also changed immediately the Adoption Order was made and different workers took over. Support dwindled and everything became a battle, and much worse when the three-year transition of responsibility happened – and austerity had really kicked in. Misunderstandings were impossible to correct and even when the passage of time had revealed errors had been made there were never apologies given. The impact of errors was catastrophic.

By the time the Adoption Support Fund was introduced we could not access it. My son had been removed, against his wishes and mine. No foster carers would look after him and he preferred residential care anyway. A narrative was created of him doing well without me. Many legal battles followed to get him home – where I had no legal representation and struggled to access advice. I battled the Cafcass Guardian and the Local Authority for years to achieve an assessment by an adoption specialist. When it came immediate reunification was recommended along with awards for bravery for my son and I for the ordeal we were put through. The local authority agreed to reunify us without any post adoption support in place, under a Supervision Order, which was later discharged when statutory obligations were not met in regards to Pathways Planning by the agreement of all parties. I was very saddened when the court ordered, at the request of the Local Authority, that the hard won court assessment could not be used to inform the Criminal Injuries Compensation Award Tribunal. I found this extremely troubling. After more battling this was allowed but it was too late by this stage and the Tribunal appointed assessor had done the assessment and formed opinions without being able to read it. My son had to self-fund an assessment from his award monies in the end, which I organised. The psychologist who assessed was brilliant, and the assessment eventually paved the way for a successful EHC Plan. This was the quickest plan ever to be agreed I was told. From my perspective it had taken six years, and four court proceedings, to get the local authority to provide the support we needed – and my son is an adult now.

I am currently stonewalled by the DCS, and the LA complaints team, who will not accept a complaint about matters that have been to court – but where the remit of the court was far too narrow to consider the issues I would like to be thought about.

I am most certainly not complicit in any government strategy and the thought of children being removed when there is not enough support, and harmful persecutory attitudes that see fault sought in parents or children, fills me with horror, having been on the ‘other side’ of child protection social workers trying to remove a child. 

I have seen both sides of the adoption triangle with a dear friend, sectioned for the past five years, with severe mental health problems that seem connected to her child being adopted over twenty years ago. Episodes of illness would be triggered by her son’s birthday. The adopters did not follow through with letter box contact. Every year her episodic illness would be triggered by the birthday. I have made her my son’s godmother. They truly care about each other. When I visit her in hospital the ward is full of young women who have had children removed. They write their children’s names on pieces of paper, which my friend photographs and send to me along with her son’s name. It is a desperate situation and last week I learned that many are driven to suicide by the loss of a child through the charity ‘Back from the Brink‘. I hope that SG&AT can work together with this charity, which scoops people up when they are in such pain and need, and with all involved in the system to create an approach to modern adoption that makes it an ethically sound social policy where unintentional harm, when it is done, can be given serious consideration.

Thankyou for reading this post

  • Removing a child from their family is a most drastic measure that will have life long consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and family. SG&AT would like to see help seeking made safe for all parents (including adopters), and special guardians, who face many similar problems. We would like children to be helped within their families. Removal should be the last option after all efforts are made to support the child’s birth parents and wider family to keep the child and for the child to be reunified if removed. This is especially important where parents suffer with episodic mental illnesses. To have a child permanently removed during a bout of illness creates deeper illness that will never be healed. The stress of child protection agencies working with mothers and fathers with anxiety issues with a solely ‘child focused’ approach can push parents over the brink. The system does not seem able to discriminate adequately between harmful abusive parents and parents who need help because they are under too much pressure.
  • We would like to see parity between special guardians and adopters, regardless of whether a child was ‘looked after’ before the Special Guardian Order was made.
  • We would like to see those with ‘lived experience’ being properly involved in developing ethically sound social policies.
  • We would like to see myths dispelled about ‘child stealing’ adopters – because the anger and distress of having a child removed can lead desperate people to blame us, which puts us and our children at risk. There have been violent attacks on adopters, by children, who learn to blame their adopters in unsafe contacts with birth family that occur more and more frequently through social media. The child is removed and in a Kafkaesque nightmare, the adopters may be blamed by the social care professionals. We can be made to feel as if we are not ‘real parents’ by misguided professionals who are allocated or appointed work with us, and assess our children, but don’t have much training in adoption issues, and imagine we can be replaced by foster carers. What we offer is love, and a sense of identity and belonging. These are important aspects of humanity that have immense and imeasurable value, and build resilience, but they are not commodities. Having people in a child’s life who are not paid to be there, and do so as family, and do not go off on holiday without the child (this is very common in foster care, which is viewed like a job with respite breaks offered that adopters and special guardians can only dream of) – this can be incredibly important to a child’s developing sense of self, especially in the difficult years of adolescence.
  • We would like the British public to understand that we do not just ‘hand our children back to care’ – we look out for them when they go back into care and do our best for them in a system that divides and does not support our role in this very difficult context. We are trying to change this and have a petition to sign enable dialogue and discussion about whether legal change is needed. Please see our petition by clicking here.
  • We would like to see good practice guidance developed for adopted and special guardianship children who re-enter care, to keep links positive with second families, in order that we can help our children transition to adult life.
  • We will be there for our children long after children’s services have gone and would like the Adoption Support Fund to be available to children and families after a child has re-entered care, regardless of whether there is an intention to reunify. Sometimes our children cannot live with us, but they still need us, and need help, as an adopted or special guardianship child – when this is part of who they are, and always will be. 

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