This post is written by an experienced adopter who has on occasion acted as a McKenzie Friend supporting adoptive parents in court cases involving adoptive children.
To counter some of the hubris of the past week, when adoption was often viewed through rose tinted glasses to encourage potential adopters, rather than present the reality faced by so many, I would like to present an alternative picture of what these new adopters might face.
Social services have a serious image problem, as do politicians, bankers, HMRC and second hand car dealers, yet it is only when they play a big part in our lives that we are able to judge whether that is justified.
What adopters and special guardians, those looking after some of our society’s most needy children, might expect:
- To find that to ask for assistance from professionals is risky, you may be left to flounder, ignored, or face intervention, interference from those who lack the knowledge, understanding, empathy, and commitment to help.
- The use of a ‘failure of parenting’ model, rather than a child’s needs model, or a ‘safeguarding model’ seeing adults as potential perpetrators (rather than the child in child to parent violence) in any assessment.
- Blame when you expected engagement and support.
- Censure when you hoped to be heard and listened to about the hardest of problems faced.
- The loss of independence, even employment, because of difficulties.
- Attending many hundreds of meetings when there is much talk but little action.
- School exclusion, perhaps home education.
- Personal injury, damage to property, increased insurance premiums, repair bills, hours waiting in A&E.
- Issues with family and friends.
- Difficulty in planning and implementing holidays and social events.
- Deprivation of liberty in rarely being able to do anything for yourself. The caring role can be all consuming.
- Procrastination, which seems endemic in the bureaucratic organisations we depend on.
- The inaccuracy of records. While you can comment and correct the assessment for approval you will not necessarily see other records and if you do you may find them heavily redacted, claiming third party confidentiality, but it is more likely to be secrecy. Records may be deleted, incomplete, selective, and contain opinions stated as fact, which then appear in other records, acquiring a patina of truth. You cannot comment or correct what you are not allowed to know.
- There is seemingly no adherence to statutory guidance on disabilities, exclusions, pathway planning, IRO handbook, guidance on reunifications.
- Both the BASW (British Association Of Social Workers) Code of Ethics for Social Work, and HCPC (Health &Care Professions Council) Standards of conduct, performance and ethics, are unlikely to be followed, and seem unknown to many workers.
- While there are some excellent, supportive professionals in whom you feel you can put your trust, to put your trust in the organisations they work for can be dangerous.
- The authorities act as a law unto themselves, ignoring guidance, failing to meet any court deadlines for submissions, trying to discredit any reports that don’t support their preconceptions.
- If you challenge the Local Authority and are unable to get legal aid, as a litigant in person you will be arguing your case in front of a judge, faced by professional legal representatives of the other parties. They follow the adage, “I’m right and you’re wrong. I’m big and you’re small, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” (Roald Dahl – Matilda.) That is bullying. We would like them to help people not attempt to dominate them.
- In refusing support for some courses of action, the risk averse may refuse on the grounds of “we mustn’t set him/her up to fail” rather than take measures to facilitate a successful outcome.
How can this image be improved?
Remember that an unhappy person has a past, while a happy person has a future. Of course everyone has a past, a present, and a future – but for many children their traumatic past dominates their lives and a happy future seems distant and unattainable. Thus a young person and their adoptive parents can move from having good expectations for the future, to hope, to loss of hope to resignation that life’s burden will get ever heavier. Efforts need to be made to reverse the process and create prospects of a better tomorrow.
Happiness is important for children and parents leading to a fulfilling and fun family life. Happiness is not just nice to have, but something we need to have for physical and mental health – it builds the resilience that is so important for traumatised children. Supporting a happy environment is supporting good parenting.
- Collaborating in planning with everyone involved at all stages, including review. Evaluating success and failures. Modifying, implementing, and constantly monitoring. Reviewing and revising. Ensuring any plans are authentic and considered with those who must live with the consequences of these plans and decisions made. No secret meetings. Timely accurate minutes and accuracy in other documents should be normal practice.
- Co-production – working with parents and carers, respecting their knowledge and experience
- Valuing creative solution finding, and positive problem solving based on available facts from reliable sources. Changing circumstances is constant and must be recognised as should the intuition of those closest to the situation I.e. the family.
- Developing trust, avoiding confrontation, and moving to a more involved, interactive, mutually respectful, more rewarding relationship.
- Moving from ‘us’ and ‘them’ to ‘we’.
- Recognising that, even though professionals may have broadly based experience and knowledge, most parents have read widely, attended courses, and are supported by and share wisdom with groups where members face similar issues. Parents have wide knowledge but most importantly in depth, detailed understanding of their own situation.
- Respect this and better outcomes can arise from collaboration.
- Not falling for the tyranny of frequent duplicate assessments, lengthy unnecessary reports, talking shop meetings which ensure everyone seems busy but little is being done. Do something —and do the right thing.
- Seeking a Life/Work balance for parents rather than a Work/Life balance. This is so important for family life and so difficult to achieve when so much ‘work’ dominates life and includes involvement with unresponsive services as well as any paid employment.
- Encouraging diversity in thinking and banishing group think. Diversity in thought, background, experience, understanding can be a precursor to better decisions.
- Demonstrating openness, honesty, and truthfulness are paramount. Those whom we cannot trust in little things are not deserving of our trust in larger matters.
- Recognising and accepting that under section 20 parents have full parental responsibility, and under a full care order responsibility is shared with parents and acting accordingly.
- Behaving in a professional manner to standards that reduces complaints to a minimum and the few that remain are resolved fairly and speedily.
We hear talk of ‘ a centre of excellence,’ and the dissemination of ‘best practice’ but for many of us the dissemination of even mediocre practice would be a vast improvement.
These few suggested changes in culture and attitudes would make a big difference to perceptions of social services. So often access to limited financial resources is cited as the reason for ineffective practices that are the focus of criticism. However the greatest resource in many organisations is in the minds of the employees and I believe a modified mindset would liberate individuals to perform their duties more effectively to the benefit of everyone.
If you are moved by the concerns raised in this blog we ask that you please click this link to sign our petition. This petition is just about promoting dialogue and discussion between ourselves – those with lived experience of the challenges faced – and those who develop policy, guidance and legal frameworks – and apply the law. We need to work together to find a better way forwards – to protect permanence in adoption and special guardianship and bring it into the 21st Century with all the social change that has taken place in the last 30 years. We do not currently have an infrastructure that promotes dialogue and properly allows us to be heard, and cases considered, when the ‘happy ending’ does not come about because the difficulties faced by the family are too great. In these cases children who have poor mental health must go back into the care system if the local authority decides to pull the plug instead of providing support – for example respite care that doesn’t entail the child re-entering care under Section 20. This legal framework carries such a high risk of destabilising the child and triggering separation trauma – it was a concern for adopters 30 years ago. In the current system the family continues to exist but the child is focused on in isolation and is no longer eligible for post adoption support through the Adoption Support Fund. This scenario is often described as a ‘breakdown’ or ‘disruption’ – but the reality is parents/special guardians just wanted help for their child – things were allowed to go too far and the family were left under too much pressure for too long.. They will often be there for the child, by their side, long after services have gone.