A micro moment – and some thoughts on the Care Review

I recently had a micro moment with my adopted son. A micro moment is a moment of pure joy in the life of a parent. My son, who is 21 years old, woke me up at 5am to tell me that he had been out for a walk. He has barely left the house for four months – so this was a monumental achievement! And I was so pleased he told me about it too as I have many sleepless nights wondering what to do to help him. He had been for a walk with a friend who is high functioning autistic and in a similar position – lives at home at 21, and spends most of his time in his bedroom. His friend does manage to go out alone though, to the shops, which my son has never been able to do.

Why are so many of our young people living lives of anxiety and fear? The internet explains a lot. They have online friendships and connection. They can shop. And they are cared for and loved by parents – unless they cannot live within a family, which is often the case with the children of my friends and peers in POTATO (Parents Of Traumatised Adopted Teenagers Organisation – a peer support group for people like me parenting adopted teenagers and young people).

My son is a care leaver and on a post 18 EHCP. He has a long list of medical labels. We should be getting help as his problems are due to a traumatic early life of abuse and neglect. Instead of help however, everything has been a battle and it is as if the purpose of the social care professionals is to prevent us accessing help and support – to make it as hard as possible for us to get anything at all. The post adoption support professionals do not attend my son’s EHCP reviews – and the education professionals who do attend are clueless about the impact of early life trauma. He does receive weekly therapy now at least but the providers, who have a contract to provide therapy to adults with autism and ADHD, don’t come to EHCP meetings. My son doesn’t go to the meetings either – it would be far too much for him. I attend but when I explain that his problems were the result of professional error – and him being removed against his wishes and mine – and put back into care because he couldn’t cope with mainstream school – they tell me that this was nothing to do with them and I should forget this and move on. They do not seem to realise the impact this had on my son – or care about it.

I can’t seem to get any sense out of professionals, and when I did manage to get an Adoption Support Fund application in to Mott MacDonald to support me as a mother to help my son, it was point blank refused. It is as if I am an annoyance to the professionals with my son being over 18 – someone who must be pushed aside to get to my son. Yet without me to support him none of this would work.

Although I am expected to support my son I am currently locked out of benefits in the pandemic – having switched from Working Tax Credit to Universal Credit when unable to work in the lockdown. I await a tribunal to decide if I can receive Universal Credit, which was suddenly stopped last November, with a letter informing me that I wasn’t entitled to it anymore – it was just at the start of the pandemic that I could get it but the rules were then changed. I cannot go back onto working Tax Credits now that I am able to work again, as this benefit is being phased out. Apart from £67 per week Carers Allowance I get nothing.

The LGO (local government ombudsman) and local authority refuse to accept or investigate formal complaints about what happened to us when I asked for help – as my son became a teenager and struggled to cope with school. The local authority would not accept complaints from me and asked that my son write in. The LGO would not accept a complaint I made because (the allocated LGO officer) said ‘your son has not provided consent’. Two years later when my son was finally able to cope with the re-traumatisation that making a complaint would entail and put pen to paper to write down his complaint, with witnessed consent provided (a neighbour witnessed it) – the LGO refuse to investigate it because consent was not provided previously. This is insane! How will there be learning from cases if this is how the LGO operates? Our MP has written to say they cannot not help us with regard to the past – but they can help us going forwards. But without the understanding of what went wrong in the past there is no going forwards in the right way with the right help!!! It is as if the MP does not want there to be learning from the past. MP’s are often described as being as much help as ‘chocolate teapots’ in SG&AT, and this includes Gavin Williamson the Secretary of State for Education!

Will the Care Review help? Well the review team have, to some extent, appreciated that social care professionals are behaving in adversarial ways towards parents with children with complex needs at least – but I don’t feel they have really grasped the way the system makes parents the adversaries of our children and allows us to be marginalised and bullied by the state – so that private organisations can profit from our children’s difficulties. The evidence for this in our case is unequivocal. Over £1 million was spent trying to break up my family in my son’s adolescence. Goodness knows how much the court proceedings cost. The Care Order (the threshold of ‘beyond parental control’ was met – as it would be with most teenagers at some stage), made it far harder for me to expedite help for my son. There were four care proceedings altogether, with three where I was a litigant in person as legal aid is gone. My son refused to go back into foster care and the residential care home cost over £5k per week – yet I can’t access a single penny as a mother to help my son now – not even benefits. And no one wants to talk to me about how removing a securely attached child from his mother at a critical stage of his development has made things worse not better.

Without an understanding of the impact of technology on our lives we will not help children with complex needs who need the help and support of loving parents like me. Policy and legislation, and legal frameworks that don’t work, are separating parents and children – when we need to be supported together. Businesses and corporations thrive. Families struggle. Organisations become defensive. Professionals who really want to help us – cannot do so.

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All teenagers behave like that!

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Consider this….

Eight years ago I had a breakdown and was subsequently treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of parenting my traumatised adopted daughter and suffering daily verbal and psychological abuse with frequent physical attacks. I love my daughter and understand that these behaviours are not malicious, and they stem from the chaotic nature of her early life. From conception, in utero and for the few first months of her life, she was a member of a household where conflict and abuse were the norm. She was removed from the family into the care system and became a member of my family at age two. 

Throughout her childhood I sought support wherever possible. An Adoption Support social worker did ‘life story’ work with her. School applied for a Statement of Educational Needs, allocated a one-to-one Learning Support Assistant and regular sessions with a Learning Mentor. CAMHS provided Filial Therapy, Theraplay sessions, medication for ADHD and, latterly, psychotherapy. Nothing changed at home. In fact, as she grew, the Child to Parent Violence became less easy to manage and the verbal abuse began to incorporate a wider range of ‘colourful’ language.

I repeatedly asked professionals what I was supposed to do when my daughter was assaulting me. Post Adoption Support referred me for a ‘parenting’ course! I had trained and worked as a nursery nurse and successfully raised my birth son so this was rather frustrating. I asked for other training but was told the ‘Team Teach’ course requires two people, so as a single parent I could not do it.  It struck me as ironic that the Post Adoption Support Social Worker would come to my house before Team Around the Child meetings and then repeat what I had said to her in the meeting. Finally, the local authority arranged a Family Group Conference. When my wider family realised the extent of the abuse, rather than offering support, they were horrified and advised me to return my daughter to the care system. Alone, having seemingly exhausted all support options, my mental health at an all time low, I had to admit defeat. I was not coping at home or at work and both my children were suffering. 

My daughter returned to the care of the Local Authority under Section 20 of the Children’s Act. I will not go into detail about her experiences as a ‘care kid’, as that would be a book not an article. Much is on public record in a report from the LGO ( Local Government Ombudsman) who upheld my complaint that the Local Authority “Failed to put in place any long term plan” for my daughter’s future and their actions “had a significant, detrimental and irreparable impact” on my relationship with my daughter. A full care order, 13 placements, 15 social workers and a further complaint upheld by the LGO later, my daughter came home. 

I have undertaken a course in Non-Violent Resistance for adoptive parents who suffer CPV and further ‘parenting teens’ courses. I have fought for appropriate trauma-focussed therapeutic intervention and cooperated with the local authority in their ‘Reunification Assessment’. Incidentally, the assessment made recommendations that a number of actions be implemented before they could recommend reunification, yet my daughter was already reunified under PWP (Placement with Parents) regulations. One such recommendation was the allocation of a ‘floating support worker’. The purpose of this was to offer support to us as a family to ensure we could sustain the PWP agreement. Initially, we were allocated 15 hours per week. Then, three hours were re-dedicated to admin work. After an aggressive outburst from my daughter, the worker withdrew and, subsequently, a second worker was introduced. Since they were then working 2-1, the hours had to be halved. Following a threat of physical violence to one of the workers from my daughter, they again ended the session and have said they are unable to work with us ‘as a family’, but they continue to ‘support’ my daughter.

So, and here we come to the main point I want to make, when I again asked the social worker what I was supposed to do when my daughter was abusing me, as part of a discussion as to why the professionals allocated to supporting us were unable to continue, her response was “You are doing really well.” She then went on to tell me about her teenage daughter and how “all teenagers behave like that.” How can throw-away comments like this possibly help parents like me who are put under such a high level of duress? The impact of such conversations on us is the feeling that professionals believe we are overreacting, we are not good parents and it is our fault that our children behave in this way. One of their own recommendations in their 27-page assessment was “Work to be undertaken with (mum) by the allocated social worker, around managing the risks to family members from conflict and ensuring safeguarding, constructive boundaries are in place.” Is this that ‘work’?

Speaking out when you need to protect your children & family’s right to privacy

As a mother where draconian decisions were made when I asked for help for my traumatised adopted child, I needed a place where I could speak out about injustice, and where it was safe to do so. I needed to be heard and to feel a sense of hope for the future. I am not going to talk about what went wrong for us as a family and the reasons for this – not because I don’t want to or need to – but because I can’t. We need privacy as a family. In essence this is why I started SG&AT – because in order to speak out we need a collective voice, so we can tell our stories – but in a safe way. We started as a group of adopters, but when we saw how badly special guardians were being treated, and they are raising the same traumatised children – but getting far less than us – we could not stand by and let this happen.

I have been a therapist for more than thirty years now and I know how important it is to be heard and to tell one’s story – how this can be part of the healing process. The therapist provides containment and a safe space heard – where as a bare minimum one will be shown respect and consideration. Therapy is a personal journey however, and if our lived experience is to help policy makers and legislators learn what is to be done – we need to be able tell our stories to them – and for them to listen. We need to have a sense of safety and containment when we speak because many of us will have been through extremely traumatic experiences. We do need people to speak for us sometimes too – but not people or organisations who take our voices away from us because our stories will show the government in a poor light when we have been let down as families – and our children’s futures have been destroyed.

Groups like ours and POTATO (Parents of Traumatised Adopted Teenagers Organisation) potentially have such an important role to play in co-creation of a better system. Each person can share their story and be heard, not necessarily in the group even, but in the friendships that come about in a natural way when we connect with each other. We offer each other support – and support from another who has been through a similar experience is worth its weight in gold in the healing of trauma. We develop an understanding and sensitivity to the challenges that we each face personally – and over time we understand the reasons that things are going wrong – when the same things happen over and over again.

We need for government to listen to us now -to groups like ours – if we are going to achieve meaningful and worthwhile change. Hopefully our contributions to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Adoption and Permanence will pave the way for better understanding and a way forwards that offers hope for all families living with traumatised children and young people – or parenting them from a distance.

How can we make adoption more kind?

Thank goodness Radio 4 has broken the silence about the heart breaking experiences of adoptive families in the digital age when children re-connect with their birth families on social media – and their life trajectory can radically alter. The programme used a case to illustrate the scenario. Ed and Clare were the adoptive parents whose teenage boys gravitated back to their birth family one after another – after the eldest first made contact on social media. Having raised the boys for 13 years, their legal parents now have no meaningful contact with them for the past few months. At fifteen and sixteen their children were settled and stable. Birth family contact meant a bomb was dropped into this family, who were utterly helpless. Wherever they turned no one could help. Soon the boys were involved with drugs and criminality – and no longer communicating with the loving parents who raised them.

You can hear Ed and Claire’s experiences at 1hr 33 with further discussion at 2 hrs 20 and 2hrs 40 HERE

For us this is an all too familiar story. We have many similar cases amongst our members. What can be done? Not very much it seems. The response we receive is always that there can be no comment or involvement in individual cases. How many individual cases does it take before someone decides this is actually rather cruel?

Like Ed and Clare’s boys, when one child re- enters care – siblings can become destabilised and torn. It is not unusual for both to end up back in the care system and reunified with birth families where there can be massive social problems and hatred towards the system that is misdirected onto us. Consequences can be tragic.

There are conversations happening about modernisation – but these are not with us and they are not conversations where birth families and adoptive families are coming together. The system divides us and leaves us with misconceptions and emotional distress. We fill in the gaps with stories and fantasies. Our children can be left hurting and sad. Vulnerable and destabilised. Meanwhile decisions are made about us by others who have no experience of losing a child to another family – in early life, or years later as a teenager. The third sector is powerful in adoption and kinship care with the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board. A board where no one can ever get involved in individual cases. Letters to government about systemic failure are met with responses that tell us to make complaints after its far too late and another young life has been ruined. Some families survive and come back from the abyss – when children are grown. We don’t hear these stories at all. The focus is on adopter recruitment. This means the honest conversations that need to happen don’t – it might deter prospective adopters. Are we fools to be deceived? Our desire to love and nurture taken advantage of?

One of the reasons why we wanted to come together as adopters and special guardians is that it is a way of connecting adoptive families with birth families and bringing about shared understanding. We are all dealing with grief and loss. With connection and disconnection. With pain and hurt. The same wounds – but different stories. Special guardians are often grandparents. Many raise children where siblings have been adopted. Many must deal with contact with the children’s birth parents – who hurt and self medicate. We learn from each other – mostly we learn that our problems are not so dissimilar after all.

How on earth can we help our children to become integrated and whole when the system is so segregated, dysfunctional and disconnected? Blind spots. Areas that are no go. Dialogue that isn’t happening. How can we create the safe space to come together to talk. To listen. To understand.

How can we make adoption more kind?

What happens if it wasn’t Mum’s fault?

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A recent case of an obese child who was being bullied at school & having problems with school attendance has been flagged up on Twitter by the wonderful Martin Barrow (Martin does so much to raise awareness of issues affecting children in the care system). The short Judgment was applauded.

Short judgment

M has extra needs compared to other children of his age. A parent looking after him needs to help him manage:

  • His education;
  • His worries and anxiety;
  • Making sure he goes to bed and gets up on time;
  • Keeping his weight down and helping him live a healthy life;
  • Helping him make friends;
  • Helping him find interests and activities to do outside the home.

M’s mum loves him very much.  She has tried her best to look after him. When M was living with her she was not able to give him the care he needed to keep him healthy, happy and safe. Even with lots of help from the local authority, M’s mum was not able to make changes so that things got better for M.

The judge has decided that M should stay living with his dad and [his partner C].

Since he has been living with his dad there have been some positive changes for M.  He has been attending education 80% of the time.  He has a better sleep routine.  He is more relaxed and less anxious.  His dad and C still need a lot of help to meet M’s needs. 

Oxfordshire County Council will work with [X] children’s services to help them care for M and give him what he needs. M will see his mum regularly.  At the start he will see her once a month.  If things go well he can see her more often and can stay overnight. 

My perspective on this case is that this mother may have been unfairly blamed when professionals did not really know what to do and had no relationship with the child – who was scared and anxious. In 2013 I lost my child to a Care Order due to his anxieties around school – and this did not help us as a family at all. After the Care Order was made – and my child was removed from me against his wishes, he never went to mainstream school again. He did however attempt suicide several times and he is scarred for life with self harm from his three and a half years back in the care system – where it cost tax payers £5k to keep him in a privately owned children’s home – as he point blank refused foster care. Having failed to prove I was mentally ill in the initial care proceedings, the local authority presented me as ‘difficult’ to work with to the court. I found myself being described as ‘aggressive’ and ‘threatening’ – even by the IRO! I used to sob my heart out in the LAC reviews she chaired. My son never attended one.

I finally managed to get my child home under a Supervision Order in 2016, which the local authority insisted on – to avoid a costly contested hearing. I had no legal help or advice as a parent litigant and simply could not face the ordeal of another contested hearing without legal assistance or representation. A jointly instructed court expert had recommended immediate reunification and awards for bravery for the ordeal my son and I had been put through – and that should have been enough for the local authority – but it wasn’t – and they immediately called for us to be subjected to yet another assessment and tried to undermine the credibility of the assessor.

We could not even access the Adoption Support Fund under the Supervision Order to support the reunification – and I had no choice but to go back to court – to get the Supervision Order discharged – as a way to to have external scrutiny. The formal complaints process (both the one that Mott MacDonald had then and the local authority’s complaints process) was useless and the LGO has also refused to investigate the case, timing my son out of making a complaint – even when I explained that social work managers had instructed staff at the children’s home to deprive my son of his medication to help with his sleep (melatonin). The LGO officer did not care about my child’s mental health and violation of his basic right to medical intervention. Anyway, the Supervision Order was discharged before it expired by agreement of all parties – when statutory obligations with regards to Pathway Planning were not met with. The local authority barrister told the court I had made legal history in getting two public law orders discharged within six months of each other. These were two public law orders that never ever should have been made as far as I am concerned. Nothing but harm was done under them.

The problem was that professionals had no idea what to do to help us as a family and whatever they did suggest just didn’t work. Like the social worker in this case of M, there was no relationship with my child – who also hid under bedclothes when they arrived. Like the mother in this case, I found myself not being believed in court (see point 29 of the full Judgment) when I described how professionals were behaving. They became punitive towards my son – told me to take things away from him if he didn’t attend school – which only made him more miserable.

It is positive that M is now in school – but what is his future? When he is 16 he will may well want to go home to his mum – as my son did. Who will help then? We haven’t had any help. It took years for my son to be able to access trauma therapy and I get nothing. A funding application to support me as a mother was point blank refused by Mott MacDonald – who do not want to hear from me either about the problems we experienced to access support – and the detrimental impact this has had on my son’s mental health. This is not their ‘role’. Social Work England could do nothing because so many professionals were involved and the senior managers who refused post adoption support were not members of HCPC. The DfE are not interested in dialogue with me either – they do not deal with individual cases. I just want to do my best to make sure others do not fall down the same holes we did as a family. Plenty of assessments were done but beneficial support was just not accessible – even after our reunification under a Supervision Order. When I recently participated in some research being conducted for the Public Law Working Group on Supervision Orders (as one of only 10 parent participants) – I was dismayed to see there was no mention of the fact I was an adoptive parent being reunified with my child, when school refusal had led to his removal.

How will law makers ever know if legislation is working unless our cases are given consideration?

If a child is hiding under the blanket when a social worker arrives – this really isn’t a positive sign. How will making a public law order help?

It just isn’t in the best interests of any child to blame their parents and prevent them accessing legal representation after a public law order is made.

There is no way I could have successfully fought for my son to come home without the help and support of other adoptive parents through POTATO (Parents Of Traumatised Adopted Teenagers Organisation). So many of us parent from a distance and we are treated so incredibly badly under public law orders. We are shamed instead of supported.