An adoptive mother and member of POTATO (parents of traumatised adopted teenagers organisation), and SG&AT reflects on her learning about Adult Entitled Dependency at a recent POTATO conference.
I hadn’t heard of the term AED before – but so much of what Peter Jakob from Partnership Projects resonated with me. Many adopters seem to be in a similar position to me with adult children either living with us or apart from us who are really not coping well, heavily reliant on us to survive and extremely isolated socially – with few friends, if any, who don’t seem a positive influence and may even exploit them. Our children suffer with very poor mental health as they approach adulthood with a level of anxiety and fear that is hard to contain. We feel their pain yet we get little help and are often marginalised or pushed aside in a system that treats them as autonomous adults when they are in fact almost wholly reliant on us. There is no recognition of what we do for them to keep them going. Suicide attempts and self harm are common – and the level of pain they deal with is virtually intolerable without the escape of addictions, which brings further grief and adds another layer of complexity and damage.
AED doesn’t just affect adopters – and it isn’t just the UK where this problem is emerging. It is a social phenomenon that comes with the longer life stage of emergent adulthood. It is also possibly more common in affluent social groups where there are issues of computer addiction and no need to leave the family home – so perhaps less likely where there is poverty, social deprivation, housing problems and parents who have no capacity to care for their adult children. It has serious consequences for an individual and for families. You can read more about it here in this article aimed at attracting therapists to learn about it.
What became clear at the conference was the fact the system does not seem to support us as parents and many adopters were being blamed by helping and education professionals. Examples were given at the conference about statutory agencies undermining parental efforts and coming between parent and child in a way that can be counterproductive and totally unhelpful. What we do is not valued by society, even in courts of law, where Cafcass guardians find fault and cannot see the benefits of parental love and devotion to a child who has suffered trauma, tragedy and loss on a scale that would put most adults in a box underground. The child is better off in the care system they say – rather than support the adoptive family, to which the child would like to return.
We have to ask: is government really taking on board the impact of early life tragedy and the trauma of parental separation, which we live with as families – sometimes with children who have twice been separated – from us as well as birth parents?
Quite a few us are parenting adult children who can’t live with us, who couldn’t control their impulses during teenage years but as they have matured they have more self control and have gravitated back to us – for there is nowhere else for them. We have them back home sometimes because otherwise they would not survive, making huge sacrifices and sometimes looking after their babies too to prevent them being taken away – for it is clear the babies need and love their parents, who simply aren’t equipped to deal with the world. What will happen we wonder? We try to find hope to keep us going. We are in a very stuck place.
The approach of NVR offers hope but with an expectancy that the change will come from us. This is both empowering and challenging. Many of us have tried interventions before and found they haven’t worked and found therapy providers are out of their depth and simply put up boundaries, which we cannot do. Lines that they can draw and then walk away from us. Stop their therapy unless more funding is given. Using their power and professional status, their models and theories. which are all recognised and possibly even evidence based – in a way that our efforts and tacit knowledge are not.
Some parents may be ‘retracting in fear’ to their controlling children and caught in a cycle – but this isn’t how what I am doing feels at all. I feel as if I am seeing a young person who is in absolute turmoil – who really needs a level of help that just isn’t there for them under austerity – and I am the only person who really sees this and understands. But I cannot expedite the help that is needed – as it doesn’t exist or there are beaurocratic barriers and hoops to jump through that mean when help arrives it is too little and too late. It seems to be no ones role to help. The answer is always no – usually from a faceless manager at a distance.
The professionals involved just catch a glimpse – and then judge me, as do my friends and family. There are often assessments first instead of help – which reframe the parameters of need so that there is a match with what is on offer and available, instead of reflecting the reality of the child and family’s desperate situation. The only real support I get is from other parents in the same situation. Weary professionals seem to give up and walk away to the next case where they might be able to better help. We are too much for them. Foster carers hand in their notice – there are plenty more children who need help. We can’t walk away so easily. This is our child – who we make a lifelong commitment to be there for.
It is also incredibly disheartening as an adoptive a parent of a reunified adult child with AED to learn that ‘reconciliation with parents’ means an end to financial support in higher education for a care leaver. Why assume also that the relationship has broken down? It hadn’t in our case. I was meant to be a force for good and part of the solution – not someone to be kept a way from for a child or they would lose out financially in a way that might help them to live a more autonomous life. The fact that a child has chosen to return to a nuturing relationship for a bit longer instead of being alone and frightened in the care system, when there was removal instead of help during adolescence, shouldn’t mean they then lose out.
“A care leaver is a young person who has been in the care of, or has been given accommodation by, their local authority (LA) for a period of at least 13 weeks before the age of 16. They must also not have reconciled with their parents between leaving care and starting their course.” Source Student Finance England 2017/18