I adopted Melanie when she was 3. I already had a birth son who was 8. Nothing prepared me for the years of being physically attacked by my daughter on a daily basis. Being unable to access the help and understanding I needed to care for her left me secondarily traumatised. I felt powerless to help my daughter and I felt even more so once she had re-entered care. I had a stress breakdown as a result of it all and was eventually diagnosed with PTSD.
Therapy was provided when Melanie was a young girl, but it was sporadic and based around specific interventions, for example: Theraplay. There were several different therapists for Melanie and I to get to know, and they would leave for personal reasons and any therapy, which was helpful when it was ongoing, would stop. The Piece of Cake course I went on was also helpful, but its benefits were not sustained when I had no ongoing support.
CAMHS were unable to help. We were put on a waiting list for a year and the therapist who was allocated to my daughter failed to engage her. As appointments progressed it was increasingly difficult to get her to enter the therapy room. She would cling to me and sob. The treatment was abandoned. There was nothing else on offer. The return to care was inevitable looking back on it as I just could not cope with the pressure. Melanie’s complex needs were too much for our small family to contain, and wider family did not appreciate how hard it was. They felt helpless too.
My birth son was very badly affected it all. His emotional state, his friendships and his education all suffered as a result. A family revolves around its neediest member, and that is Melanie.
Although we had a post adoption social worker it felt I was very much on my own. I didn’t feel right about taking a respite break because I did not want Melanie to feel rejected or different to my birth son – and this was never offered anyway. Melanie’s problems,which were of an extreme nature, were not viewed as ‘disabilities’. We were in a vicious cycle. Melanie’s behaviour caused my mood to plummet and I felt unable to cope, which made her feel even less secure, and her behaviour would worsen. I asked repeatedly for advice and training to cope with her attacks but, to this day, no one has ever been able to tell me how I should react when being physically assaulted by a very young girl.
Melanie became accommodated under Section 20 of the Children’s Act in May 2013 at the age of 9 and a full Care Order was made last year. I attended LAC Reviews, had regular contact and pushed hard to have assessments done and therapeutic treatments reinstated, for her own issues and to help us rebuild our relationship. I could not make progress.
During the years that have followed my daughter has had a succession of nine different social workers and also a period of time where no social worker was in place. The Social Work Manager failed to record important planning meetings. From as early as January 2014 her placement was not considered suitable for her needs, but it was not until November 2015 that another placement was found and she was moved.
As a result of her case being allowed to drift her behaviour further deteriorated. She was moved from a mainstream school to a special unit for children with social emotional and behavioural difficulties, then, as this was unsuccessful, reintegrated into a mainstream class, then finally excluded from the school. To make matters worse, Melanie’s behaviour in the placement was linked to her contact with me, so I was blamed for it.
In July 2015 my daughter made an allegation against me and contact was suspended. There was no further action taken but my employers were informed, and even though there was a witness to the alleged incident, their version of events was not sought.
Over the summer, supervised contact resumed and in September the social worker planned for unsupervised contact to resume. I was wary as I felt the risk of further false allegations was high and that my livelihood was under threat, being a teacher. I requested a meeting with the social worker, social work manager, my daughter and myself so we could discuss the situation in a safe environment and explain the implications to my daughter.
I cannot describe that meeting. I tried to in a formal complaint, which is still ongoing, and now, finally, with the Local Government Ombudsman. This was the day that any faith I had had that Children’s Services had my daughter’s best interests at heart were crushed forever. My daughter and I loved each other but we were only able to see each other for a total of one and a half hours over the following 18 months. We are a family, Where was the help for us? I could not cope with the LAC reviews at all for several years after this. Once every six months for a parent to have input into decision making about their child. Its not enough.
I wish we could have been better supported as a family by professionals that understood our problems. False allegations are not unusual in adoptions because of confusions, and sensory processing difficulties, which are more prevalent in adoptions than the general population or even the population of LAC children that social care professionals normally deal with. In these situations it seems important to have experts involved who understand the issues and can provide support for the child and the whole family – in a sensitive manner – appreciating the intensity and stressful nature of family life – helping the family deal with this. There seem to be so many opportunities missed in this case.
Melanie still hasn’t received the specialist therapy she needs since she re-entered care, four and a half years ago. I cannot access therapy for her via the Adoption Support Fund because there is ‘no intention to reunify’ and even if it is provided, it will only be focused on my daughter, and I will not be part of it. There will be nothing to support our mother daughter relationship.
Life moves on and for the last few years I have had to try and regain my health, focus on my son, and support my parents, both of whom have health problems.
It doesn’t matter that Melanie cannot live with my son and I, she is part of our family and always will be. Legally she is my daughter too. I will be the grandmother of her children, and my son will be their uncle. I never imagined that she would grow up so estranged from us even though we could not live together as a family. I believe parental love is important for children who have experienced trauma, abuse and neglect, and removing the child and marginalising a loving committed adoptive parent who must battle to help her daughter access therapeutic support that is so clearly needed, this does not seem likely to have positive outcomes. The human cost of such an approach is too great and I feel this is not being factored in when policy makers allocate budgets to adoption support and to the care of vulnerable children.