Modern adoption is in crisis and we agree that it is time for legal reform to be considered, to better support adoptive children who must re-enter care. Adoptive parents often have years of parental knowledge when their children re-enter care – but can find that this knowledge is not valued, and they are blamed and not treated with respect.
Adoptive parents whose children re enter care are heartbroken. They don’t want to give up on being parents. They love their children and made a lifelong commitment when they became adopters. But sometimes, most often in the years of adolescence, they cannot live with their children. The last thing that is needed in this scenario, for those involved, is to be labelled a ‘disruption’ or ‘breakdown’, which seems to have come about as an unintended negative consequence of the Selwyn Report. It makes little difference to a researcher or Social Worker what terminology is used – but it makes a massive difference to us, as families. Quite apart from not differentiating between the original meaning of a disruption, which is when the child is returned to care before an Adoption Order is made, these are heavily loaded terms that confer a sense of failure and provide little incentive for Social Care to work on supporting relationships between parent and child at such a traumatic time of family separation. Adoption is not like a divorce – it is permanent and the Order is irrevocable unless the child is freed for adoption again and a new Adoption Order is made.
It is also a concern that there is no differentiation in the system between an adopted child that re enters care, and a child who is ‘rescued’ for reasons of abuse and neglect. It is the same Looked After Child reviews every six months and the same challenges to achieve therapeutic support. Actually it can be harder because CAMHS usually don’t provide therapy when it is needed, they wait for ‘stability’, which may never happen again, when an adopted child re enters care – and there are the infrastructure problems on top of this. Dame Christine Lenehan points out that “firstly, if no one ‘owns’ these children, no one commissions for them – after all you cannot commission into a vacuum, and secondly, their are too few funds and resources”. Its not going to be easy for a parent to achieve therapy for their child when they are viewed as part of the problem and blamed. The Adoption Support Fund is, regrettably, no longer accessible for these children and young people who re enter care when there is no intention to reunify.
How many times are those in charge of adoption policy going to hear parents telling them they were blamed by Social Care, after they sought help? What are the powers that be waiting for before positive action is taken?
We believe it is time to think about whether the two legal frameworks are really working for adoptive children and their parents who are ‘parenting from a distance’. The third legal framework of Wardship is very rarely used in adoption and we know of only one case – see case 8 in these cases that we presented to the SCIE for our consultation with them. The two main legal frameworks for our children are: Section 20, a voluntary order where parents retain parental responsibility and Section 31, which is a full Care Order where parental responsibility is shared.
Section 20, designed to better scrutinise foster carers, was foisted on adopters in the 1980s. For nearly 30 years we have had to put up with a piece of legislation that means our children, many of whom has disabilities and special needs related to their early life abuse and neglect, must re enter care, so we can have a break. Adopters at the time cautioned about how unwise and destabilising this would be – but weren’t listened to. Enough is enough. Please lets have legislation that is developed for the needs of modern adoptive families now. Since Section 20 was introduced a significant minority of adopters are single parents – and clearly caring for a child with a legacy of trauma and a dysregulated nervous system is going to be especially hard for a sole carer. Should these adopted children be returned to care but those adopted by couples not? If Section 20 is refused, because it is considered too extreme and upsetting for the child to return them to care, the chances are that a Section 31 Care Order will be sought anyway by the Local Authority. The reality is there is little proper ‘sharing’ of parental responsibility with this order, and in worst cases parents are treated as if they were the reason the child is in care again, and contact is suspended – see case 5.
Sharing parental responsibility with a local authority can, in some cases, be likened to sharing parenting with a devious, secretive, manipulative, gaslighting, all powerful ex partner who works together with the police and voluntary agencies, and who has unlimited pockets to pay for legal assistance in a court system where there are no powers to order authorities to take positive action, unless statutory guidance is ignored, by which time irreparable damage may already have been done. Every attempt may be made to discredit a help seeking parent, with total impunity, to shift the focus away from negligence and failings, which cannot be properly scrutinised anyway because the opinions of the professionals are beyond the remit of a Local Government Ombudsman investigation. Parents and children alike, are totally failed, when the parents, in the hardest of circumstances, are scrutinised to find fault, rubbished and discredited.
The threshold of ‘beyond parental control’ is hugely problematic for our children because this is a symptom of their trauma, for which we were supposed to be the solution. Our children are beyond the control of the State – and sometimes containing them safely is the only solution. But they should not lose their adoptive family and we adoptive parents find the relationship with our children is undermined and possibly even severed altogether by State intervention, which is surely meant to be positive? Where is the support for permanence when an adopted child re enters care? Adopters are seeing more effort made to reunify our children with their birth families than with us – in some cases, with tragic consequences, and ruined lives – see case 2. No one can be the perfect parent but at least we are trying to be there for our children, by their side, offering guidance, unconditional love and support when they cannot live with us. Parental knowledge, love and support, when it is given for so many years, should not be thrown away by the State, and those who offer it blamed and discredited.
Are the current legal frameworks truly in the ‘best interests of the child’? Are they protecting adoptive children who must re-enter care? Are they protecting parents?
Parents may find that they lose jobs and careers as an outcome of help seeking and that instead of being valued by the State they are persecuted in courts of law, in adversarial care proceedings, where their parenting capacity is the focus – rather than the negligence and failings of the Local Authority responsible – who did not provide timely effective support and left a family at the edge of crisis for too long. The system is built around ‘risk management’ – not crisis prevention (see SCIE consultation – Working with professionals and organisations), and focuses not on the needs of the family as a whole, but on the child, in a hostile manner – in all likelihood involving Child Protection procedures and decisions made by managers, from afar, who have no contact with parents and child. How very different this adoption experience is from the earlier stage of the journey – the approval and matching processes and assessments, where everyone seemed to be behind the parent(s) – and where those providing support were adoption specialists not general Social Workers, often with limited experience of adoption work.
As we said in our SCIE consultation – what is needed is a crisis prevention approach. A crisis is different from a risk. It means something bad has happened or is about to happen.
Rescuing our children from us when we ask for help, and labelling us as a ‘disruption’, does not support permanence – it does the opposite, and it violates the Rights of the Child. This approach cannot be in the ‘best interests’ of any child – much less one one who has already suffered the trauma of being taken away from their birth family.