When you think of an adoption reunification what usually comes to mind is adopted children or adults being reunified with long lost birth families – but to SG&AT and POTATO (Parents of Traumatised Adopted Teenagers Organisation) members, it means something totally different. It means at last our children have managed to come back home to us and break free of the care system where they are trapped by local authorities – who deprive them of hope of reunification and of their right to family life.
It is astonishing to us that local authorities will spend in excess of £5k per week to accommodate the children in privately owned residential care homes – but not have supported us when we needed it and not lift a finger to support our children coming home and living back with their adoptive family. Why residential care and not foster care? Because it is often the case that no foster carers in the land are willing or able to cope with our traumatised children’s complex needs and challenging behaviour – which come out of their trauma. Foster carers hand in their notice one after another with some children experiencing more than 25 moves – and with the local authority maintaining that the loving adoptive parents who battled so hard for help for their children, and recognition of the child’s disabilities – present a risk of harm to them. The therapy we fought so hard for our children to receive, to help keep them with us, is sometimes provided once back in care – but by health professionals and agencies who work with private companies and local authorities – and who will take a divisive approach with our children and us. They do not work with us as families. We are lucky if we are able to see our children at all in some cases.
Once the child comes back home (and this tends to be a rare occurrence because we have usually been written off as a family) it is not the case that all their problems vanish and it may take many months after the reunification for there to be any post adoption support provided. Local authorities do not bring families together very well. They seem to be so much better at pulling them apart.
We have just had our third adoption reunification in SG&AT – by coincidence all within in the same Regional Adoption Authority. Not that the local authorities or RAA have actually helped the reunification come about. All three children/young people have special educational needs and EHCPs. This latest reunification came about when one of the previously reunified children supported the child (through her adoptive mother connecting them) and told the child that if they wanted to go home (at 16) then the local authority could not actually stop them. Quite a few tears were shed when the one adoptee encouraged the other to go home if this was what they wanted. The parents of both children had not seen their adoptive children for many months, years even in one case when the child was in care – and the separation from their children had been a harrowing ordeal. Although with one family, two formal complaints have been upheld by the LGO (Local Authority and Government Ombudsman), scrutiny in the other two families is non existent. Concerningly, it is the same LGO officer who has refused to investigate in both these cases. The police have been informed about one case because of the victimisation of a young person, with several suicide attempts made as a result. It is doubtful they will take any action though because they informed the parent ‘things are better now’. Parliamentarians are made aware of the cases but they seem to expect us and our children to absorb the injustices we suffer, as does the Department for Education – and Mott MacDonald, the company that administer the Adoption Support Fund. There is nothing further I can do as an MP; we don’t deal with individual cases and its not our role to get involved – are the reasons for shutting the door on us.
As adopters, we take on our children’s trauma and we try to help them heal in a system that does not support us as families – but seeks to replace us – when the challenges we face become too difficult for agencies and professionals to know what to do. When this happens the child is taken back into the system -in a highly controlling way by the state, so that there is little or no scrutiny. SG&AT tirelessly try to flag up these serious problems – but we struggle to be heard as a small voluntary organisation – it is the large government funded adoption promoting charities who the Department of Education deals with – not us.
We were/are hoping to contribute to the Care Review and it was disappointing that no one with our lived experience of ‘parenting from a distance’ (or trying to!) has seemingly been chosen for the Experts by Experience Panel (quite a few of our members applied).
The ‘big’ question for the Care Review raises some concerns for us – it seems to be about replacing families when children cannot live in the family home: How do we ensure children grow up in loving, stable and safe families and, where that is not possible, care provides the same foundations? This is arguably not the right question when our children’s complex needs and trauma related difficulties make them extremely hard for anyone to care for within a perfectly safe, stable and loving family home. We need an infrastructure, policy decisions and legal frameworks that work for us. We would like the state to show the same commitment to us, as we do to our children, and to be working towards getting children home as an ultimate goal in such cases (even if this goal seems unachievable) – not one that makes them feel it’s impossible to ever go home. We may need help too – not just a social worker for our children who writes us off and tells us to go to adult services for our support – but someone who understands that we love our children and would dearly love for them to safely live with us if at all possible. Someone who understands that being a family, parent or guardian is not just about where a child lives – and we cannot just be replaced.