Special Guardians and Adopters Together provides a collective voice and platform, which allows individuals to speak out about their views and experiences, whilst preseving anonimity and the right to privacy of children and families. One adopter shares her views below, about the Judgment of a recent case of a 17 year old girl who wished to become a kinship carer, from the perspective of being a respondent/applicant in care proceedings. As a parent litigant this adopter succeeded, eventually, in getting two public law orders discharged when errors of judgment were made about her parenting capacity. With the discharge of these orders not being contested, there can be no learning from her child’s case as there were no judgments to publish.
Here is a link to the Judgment about the case of B. B wished to care for her two youngest sisters to prevent them being removed from the family for adoption, with the very real prospect the two little girls would never be seen again, or at least until adulthood. Now a traumatic severance of siblings and family is on the cards.
The judge’s heart and mind were not in accord in this case and all the professionals and various experts giving evidence were against B taking on the role of caring for her sisters. Reading their negative views of this courageous young woman, who is also decent and loyal about her mother, despite having many challenges to face as a child and young person, it is understandable perhaps that the BASW enquiry into the ethics of the role of the social worker in adoption found that care proceedings were felt to be ‘fait accompli’ by birth family participants. It seemed to birth families that children are sent off for adoption rather than parents and family members being properly supported.
The BASW enquiry did not consider what happens to adopters in court – but it is exactly the same for us. Our parenting is hung out to dry and we find we can’t do right for doing wrong. Our character and parenting are relentlessly scrutinised with the sole purpose, it seems, of finding fault with us. Mistakes in practice are also are sought – that may have led to us being wrongly matched with a child. If we should not have been put together in the first place then this may be good reason to separate us now seems to be the rationale for this. The ethics of this may not be questioned. Too much emotion shown on our part and we are depicted as emotionally and mentally unstable, loving the child shows we are ‘enmeshed’ with them, whilst too little means we are cold, uncaring and callous. Disagreeing with the approach and decisions sees us victimised as having an uncooperative and disagreeable nature – perhaps this was down to our own parenting – is one theory that professionals and psychologists sometimes entertain. Our lives are now re-examined, but with a highly selective negative focus, rather than consideration of how our own early life adversity might have made us stronger people. It must be someone’s fault. It must be ours. There is no one to stop this persecution it seems. The views of the local authority and Cafcass Guardian, no matter how preposterous they seem to us, must be entertained and tested in wholly adversarial courts that look on us as a potential source of harm to the child we sought to help and protect – the child we wanted to give the chance of a better life.
Once a Care Order is made, our children can so easily get trapped in care – for there are no frameworks for their rehabilitation with us if the reasons for them being removed were not down to our abuse or neglect. Parental responsibility is not likely to be properly shared but there seems to be little we can do about this if we cannot safely live with our children, through no fault of theirs or ours. We are treated in the same way, with the same system, as parents who have abused and neglected their children. The same looked after child reviews – once every six months. We may find that the child’s wishes take second place if they do not agree with those of professionals. If the child can’t cope with the LAC review their views will be read out at meetings, possibly put forwards by an advocate, and then simply put aside – if they want to come home. Only if the child says they no longer want us and becomes rejecting of us, are their views acted on. In this nightmare scenario there is nowhere to turn. The local authority becomes an incredibly powerful adversary with an army of professionals closing ranks. Anyone stepping out of line is swiftly replaced.
We are unable to comprehend how the system, which made us heroes when we were recruited as adopters, now turns against us with a vehemence that one could never have imagined. Our victimisation and the lack of support we continue to battle for, may continue, through the years, until children’s services are no longer involved. By this stage they will have made such an awful mess of our child’s life, and we will be very fortunate indeed if our children are not addicted to drugs, in prison, homeless, or reunified with the birth family they were removed from in the first place. Multiple placement breakdowns, being targeted by drug gangs, mental illness, suicide attempts and our children being raped in care – these are commonplace occurences for adopted children cared for by the corporate parent – after we sought help. We are the only ones who care enough about the child to take the case back to court when the local authority gives us no opportunity for dialogue about working towards reunification. This, we are told, is not the ‘care plan’. All our hopes are destroyed along with everything we tried to achieve. To add insult to injury we are labelled a ‘disruption’, described as a ‘breakdown’. Our status in society could not be lower – as a potential source of harm to a child.
If our children and our relationships with them survive, as mine did, and they wish to complain, we may find the Local Government Ombudsman will not accept their complaints and solicitors will not take on the case. The reason most often given by these law firms is that the firm lacks capacity and they are too busy on other cases. The law cannot be applied. The DfE will not consider our case – because they do not consider individual cases. There is literally nowhere to go, only shut doors confront us and professionals who tell us that it is not their role or responsibility to consider the impact of all this injustice suffered by our child, due to the derogatory opinions of us that were perpetuated by those with a duty of care. Somehow, as our child moves through adolesence and transitions to adulthood, we must find a way to try to rebuild their shattered trust, all over again, when ours is utterly broken. We wish it were not like this.
To return to the start of of a child’s journey into permanence, when family members like B would, one hopes, have been considered and supported instead of adoption, how very sad that the kinship carers journey is so much harder on the carer than the journey into adoption was for prospective parents like me. For prospective adopters there is, importantly, a relationship that is built of a common purpose that is often lacking for kinship carers and special guardians – who are most often family members. In adoptions, the adoption agency will wish to see parents approved and matched with a child – if at all possible. Decisions are made by two panels – one to approve the prospective adopter and another to approve the match with the child. What makes these panels so different from courts is firstly they are not inherently adversarial towards the person wishing to make a huge personal commitment to a child, and secondly they include people with lived experience – to assist decision making and help ethical and fair decisions to be reached.
In courts the decision is the judges to make. But a judge can only decide on the basis of the evidence that is presented. In cases where a group of respected professionals and experts goes against the respondent it will be nigh on impossible to challenge their opinions, whilst one assessment and report will have informed and shaped the next. Professional opinions become far more entrenched through the adversarial process of court where there are advocate’s meetings instead of dialogue and discussion. If the Cafcass Guardian takes an adversarial position to a parent litigant, one might easily find that together with the social workers, solicitors and barristers, other parties head off into court anterooms barely big enough to contain them all, whilst a parent or carer may be all alone. As a respondent, facing such opposition, it will be extremely traumatising when the outcome means losing a child – but to the other parties, often dashing from one court room to the next to work on other cases, its just another case to be dealt with. It feels like one is on a conveyer belt.
B and her siblings will live with the consequences of this judicial decision, based on the evidence that was presented by the local authority and the Cafcass Guardian – who plays the most significant role in the appointment and instruction of experts, for the rest of their lives.
I believe we have to find more humane and ethical ways to evaluate, support and work with kinship carers, special guardians and adopters – who wish to provide permanence for a child. Society cannot ask any more of a person than this.