My beautiful boy. Who could believe looking at his cheery smiling face what he had been put through. I knew about his abuse history before he was placed. He needed a mum more than any boy on this earth it felt, and I was his last chance – it was long term foster care otherwise. So it came as a great shock that professionals decided that Alfie should be removed from the adoptive family home and placed in foster care when I sought help, after five years as a family. I had hoped, and expected, that my reporting of concerns, which clearly pertained to his abuse history, and might have been expected, given what had happened to Alfie, would enable him to achieve specialist therapy at home. But there was to be no specialist support for us as a family.
Assessments of my son were done without him, or with us both barely being involved, and life changing decisions were made, without discussion with him or me. Professionals closed ranks and made decisions behind closed doors but were ratified in the Looked After Child reviews, which my son could not cope with because of anxiety issues. One Care Plan – for foster care – ratified by such a review – actually left Alfie needing to be put on suicide watch in the children’s home. He was relieved when no foster carers would accept him. He said he had his family and he would never live with another.
At one stage the local authority sought to remove Alfie to a residential home more than 100 miles away from home and family – with this being presented as a decision that had been taken already ‘in his best interests’. The Social Worker said he thought Alfie would enjoy it. Alfie shared with me his suicide plans should he go.
It seemed as if my son was being criminalised as a sex perpetrator rather than helped, and those involved with providing the ‘help’ and conducting the harrowing assessments using the AIMS 2, were making rather a lot of money. They had no adoption expertise and the therapy providers were not even Ofsted registered to work with adopted children.
I was given no alternative but court by the local authority’s senior management team to try to achieve the reunification that Alfie wanted. So court it was. In what seemed to be a totally Kafkaesque scenario, I, the person considered most at risk in assessments, became Alfie’s adversary in trying to support him to come home, in the court proceedings. By now therapy was, after much battling on my part, provided by a specialist organisation – but once commissioned they refused to communicate with me because of the Section 31 Care Order. This meant information was broken and filtered to the therapist through social care and health professionals. I found myself viewed as a mother that would say anything to get her child back and factual errors made about incidents could not be corrected. It became like Chinese Whispers – errors were passed from one report to the next – becoming magnified, along with my increasing frustration about the approach taken. My emotional distress left me vulnerable to being depicted as ‘difficult’ for professionals to deal with. My child was even told I was ‘difficult’ to deal with. The impact of all this on my child and I, on our relationship with each other, and on our trust in those who were supposed to help, did not seem to be a consideration at all. professionals were obsessed with risk but would not quantify it in a way that was meaningful or reassess it, which meant they could go on being paid, and so could the privately run children’s home who were business partners with the therapy provider organisation.
Assessment should be at least every six months according to the manual for the JSOAP-II, a widely used instrument for assessment of sexual harm in juveniles:
“When assessing risk with sex offenders in general, and with juveniles in particular, the stakes are often very high. In assessing the risk posed by a juvenile, we have an enormous burden of responsibility. Decisions based on our evaluations can have a profound impact: on the one hand, protecting society from genuinely high-risk youths, while on the other hand, possibly resulting in severe, life-altering consequences for low-risk youths. It is imperative that clinicians who assess the risk of adolescent offending be very knowledgeable of the challenges involved in assessing this population. Unlike adults, adolescents are still very much “in flux.” No aspect of their development, including their cognitive development, is fixed or stable. In addition, their life circumstances often are very unstable. In a very real sense, we are trying to assess the risk of “moving targets.” Since risk status may change, sometimes dramatically, in a brief period of time, we strongly recommend that youths be re-assessed for risk at a minimum of every 6 months. At the very least, Scales 3 and 4 should be rescored every 6 months.”
The therapy provider, who worked with my son for almost two years, undertook no assessment at all. Therapy was suddenly stopped, just before Alfie’s GCSEs and no information was provided to the child care review. She did not attend these reviews.
What did these professionals imagine would happen when my child reached 18 – and only I remained – his only family? If they had their way we would have been estranged from each other. It made a mockery of the adoption.
Worst of all though, through my trying to achieve the right help for him, Alfie had become a figure of fear, which clearly did not help his developing sense of self. This was the last thing I ever wanted when I sought help.
It felt like those who were supposed to help were ruining our lives and my child’s future. My poor child, was a sexual abuse victim, but was being treated as a perpetrator – when he needed the right help for his trauma. I do not know how we got through this horror, looking back on it now. How can we ever hope that our sexually abused children will come to terms with their trauma if we treat them as sexual perpetrators and fill them with even more shame?
I was also left feeling very dubious about the widely used AIMS 2 assessment tool. The biggest issue for a sex abuse survivor is, according to trauma expert Dan Siegel, their enjoyment of sex – but no one speaks of this.
However, this story has a happy ending. It turned out that what we needed was not sexual harm experts – but trauma experts with adoption understanding, who looked at the abuse in context and understood and worked with dissociation. It took 4 years from when I reported an incident of concern until we could finally work with the right experts – and once they became involved we have not looked back.