Preventing discrimination in adoption and special guardianship

There are currently nine ‘protected characteristics’ in the 2010 Equalities Act. Discrimination can take two forms. Treating those who are the same differently and treating those who are different as if they are the same.

A campaign was recently launched in February 2022 for those who are ‘Care Experienced’ to become a tenth protected characteristic by a group of care leavers. Care experienced people are suffering discrimination and the group point to the fact that a quarter of homeless people and those in prison are care experienced, whilst nearly half of all under 21 year olds who come into contact with the criminal justice system are care experienced. These are stark incontestable facts and systemic change is needed. Josh McAllister, Chair of the Care Review has said: “I welcome this campaign as I’ve heard frequently throughout the review about the stigma and discrimination that the care experienced community face.

Equality is also a massive issue for unpaid carers and a campaign was launched in 2018 to make ‘caring’ a protected characteristic from Carers UK.

Adopters and special guardians are often unpaid carers raising children who are care experienced/removed from their birth parents due to abuse and neglect.

SG&AT endorse both these campaigns for care experienced people and for unpaid carers. SG&AT would also like to see special guardianship and adoption as a protected characteristics in recognition of the enormous challenges faced by children who sadly cannot be raised by their birth parents. Our children are suffering untold levels of discrimination, particularly if they re-enter care in adolescence because they become ‘hard to care for’. The crisis support we needed can be non existent and applying to the ASF (Adoption Support Fund) may be a bureaucratic process that takes far too long – and this fund must continually be re-applied for. Match funding can be a postcode lottery too and what if the local authority decides to pull the plug on the family – and provide no match funding?

Adopted children can often have high levels of of need and children’s disability, as the recent Somerset Ruling demonstrates. This Judgment provides an eye-opening glimpse of the complex needs of a small group of children where regulations were breeched for the adoption placement order. Furthermore, research has suggested levels of autism are far in excess of population norms in modern adoption and around the level of those found in Romanian orphanages.

In contrast, little is known about disability in special guardianship children. It is not not researched by policy makers who divide special guardianship up according to whether the infant or child had previously entered care, not by the legal order under which they are raised – never mind the child’s level of need. This may result in a discriminatory approach. Government won’t even rename the Adoption Support Fund so that special guardians (the one’s who are eligible at least) can know it is intended for their children and families too. It is being left to charities to inform special guardians. This makes little sense. We thank you Bill Esterson MP for raising the question anyway.

Discrimination is perhaps not Children’s Minister Will Quince’s strong point. SG&AT members parenting adoptees with disabilities who were permanently locked out of benefits in the pandemic because of the replacement of Working Tax Credits with Universal Credit (which has different thresholds) were told by Quince, then at the Department of Work and Pensions, the system had to be fair to those who wanted to invest their savings in property. Adopters and special guardians are giving up their work and careers, out of necessity, to raise children removed from their biological parents by the state – who have complex needs and high levels of disability. We do not have the same opportunities to study, work, earn or save/invest. Moreover, Carers Allowance, worth £67.60 per week, does not go far. Having a secure home is important when parents and caregivers need the children to have a sense of belonging in a community and provide stability.

The Department of Education also does not ensure the monitoring of accurate data about the legal status of children entering care, recording whether children are re-entering care from adoption, special guardianship or child arrangements orders. Each year the data is missing on thousands of children. Far more than the number of children who are adopted each year, which is accurately monitored – and has been declining steadily, despite considerable sums of public money being spent to recruit adopters as a main priority for government. Wouldn’t it be better, SG&AT members ask, to spend this money supporting those who have already adopted? So prospective adopters hear how well adoption is supported.

Going back into care after being raised in an adoptive or special guardianship family is not the same as going into care for the first time – its about time the Department for Education stopped pretending these incredibly vulnerable young people raised by adopters and special guardians have no need of the ASF if they go back into care because this would ‘duplicate’ support. Policy evaluation, were it done properly (and not the afterthought it has been with the ASF), would reveal how it can be an impossible struggle to achieve support for our children once they re-enter care. We can also find the diagnoses we have worked so hard to achieve, to get support, can be swiftly overturned by the corporate parent and there is little we can do about it- see this case of grandparents of a child with FASD being pushed out of their grandson’s life after he re-entered care.

We can find that our parental knowledge of the child is completely discarded – even after years of raising the children when children re-enter care. The discrimination can be terrible in special guardianship where caregivers are often grandparents. Attitudes towards special guardians can be hostile and adversarial to a degree that seems wholly at odds with the ‘best interests’ principle. In adoption too, the need of a child for family, birth family or adopted, can be overlooked when children re-enter care. The parenting from a distance role is scarcely recognised and narratives prevail in the media of adopters handing children back to care, making us sound rejecting as parents, which is the last thing we want. We wanted help for our children.

So we must reflect carefully about which children and families may be discriminated against and how to prevent this. Arguably, losing the right to be raised by a birth parent could be a protected characteristic, as it may have a lifelong impact.

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Adoption & Child Sex Abuse

A fair number of adopters will be parenting children and young people who were sexually abused before coming into care. We are astonished by the radio silence about the trauma of child sex abuse by the Care Review that is currently underway. The Department of Education and the adoption charities also never seem to speak about child sex abuse. So we thought it was time to speak out about it.

Social workers may well have been trying to take the children into care for a long time before they are finally removed. Birth parents might be known sex offenders but it can be surprisingly hard to remove children, especially when their mothers are also involved with the abuse. Deals can be done by the police in these cases that mean the family court is the only court that the birth parents will see. The police may well not prosecute. This is because frightened traumatised children are not able to give evidence.

Once the child is removed they may not get therapy in foster care – not if the plan is to have them adopted. The council will probably wait until the child is adopted and settled.

One of the most difficult situations is when agencies – the police, CAMHS and the council – all close ranks against the parent(s) and decide the adopter should be replaced with foster care again, regardless of what the child wants – after a parent has reported trauma related problems. When this removal of the child against the child’s wishes becomes the ‘system goal’ it is an extremely hard situation for adoptive children and their adoptive parents. The rigorous assessments done before the parents were approved as adopters seem to be disregarded.

The child’s risk of harm to the parent can also be greatly exaggerated, as a way to control the child. This is the risk monster at its worst. Male child sex abuse victims who harbour sexual confusions are especially vulnerable. Little consideration may be given to the negative impact on their identity or how confusing it will be that they are viewed through the prism of risk of sexual harm when it was they who were raped as children.

The privately owned residential care homes where children live when foster carers can’t be found (foster carers are not keen to care for children who are assessed as a risk of sexual harm) can easily cost £5k per week. Once the child is 16, they can be sent into unregulated accommodation. Child sex abuse victims who were tragically sexually aware from a young age are being criminalised by the police – yet those who perpetrated horrific sexual crimes upon their children walk free.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse is drawing to a close now. It is disappointing that adopted and special guardianship children who were sexually abused within their birth families were given no consideration and are not within the remit of this review. The impact of child sex abuse can be lifelong. It needs to be spoken of, or children and families will not get the help they need.

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Groupthink in child protection- “An unquestioned belief in the groups inherent morality”*

  • From E Munro, Effective Child Protection, 2nd Edition (2008) page 149

Adoptive mum Jenny talks about her experiences when a group of professionals turned against her to try and remove her teenage child against the child’s wishes.

To my mind this group think and closing of ranks is one of the biggest problems facing adoptive and special guardianship families as our children hit their teens and trauma emerges in ways that leave us and other family members at risk from our children. Legislators and policy makers have not really got to grips with this issue and the charities and organisations we turn to for help seem to be suffering with the delusion that during the course of care proceedings when our child is subject to an ICO, or after a care order is made, there will be ‘partnership working’ with us. There will be partnership working – within and between agencies and professionals – but not us.

Firstly, and I speak from lived experience, an Interim Care Order seems to be extraordinarily easy to obtain with false allegations made, either by the police (to get the case into court) or children’s services, to suggest a parent is a risk of harm to a child, when in fact it is the other way around. Once the ICO is granted, life is hell for the help seeking parents or special guardians. All the local authority needs to do is hint that we might be psychologically unwell and that we are mentally abusing our children – who may well be self harming because of trauma, but this is nothing to do with us. The Judge will not throw the case out of court because the child is clearly in trouble and something needs to be done.

The next stage is to use the ICO as an evidence gathering exercise against the parent or guardian. Care proceedings are a horrific ordeal for any adopter who was hoping for help for a child in trouble. It also truly doesn’t matter that the child wants to go home. This won’t matter at all. If the local authority starts slinging mud to deflect from their own negligence – this will be given credibility in court. Ranks will be firmly closed against the parent because of the unwavering belief in the group’s inherent morality – and the obstinate refusal to admit a potential error or fault on the part of a professional.

Opinions of high status professionals are what counts most, so the ‘group’, which may sadly include a Cafcass Guardian who is adversarial towards a help seeking adoptive parent (and who takes the lead on the instruction of experts), will set about building their case against the parent/guardian by asking leading questions of the expert. Bias is thus introduced and the expert’s objectivity is likely to be influenced. This is the same with assessments that are conducted after a public law order is made, where the local authority is firmly in control of the assessment process. Objectivity goes out of the window and the aim is to prove the social worker and their manager (decisions are never made by one person to protect professionals) were correct and to gain control. The inference after a public law order is this is a ‘bad parent’, or why would a care order have been needed? Parenting under a care order is grim and awful. Fault is assumed and parents are marginalised. Being a single mother meant there was no one to support me in the endless meetings I had to attend where no one cared what I said and which my child found too distressing and overwhelming to attend. When my child had to be put on suicide watch after the care plan was changed to foster care there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t access legal aid to take the case to Judicial Review. Neither the local authority or Local Government Ombudsman would investigate when the case had gone to court. By the time my child gave consent – the LGO timed the complaint out. Complaining to the professional regulatory body (the General Medical Council) when a psychiatrist had been influenced against me and uncritically accepted the derogatory opinions being expressed about me without testing them was also futile. At first the regulatory body refused to investigate – and then later they excused the assessment, which had not even been conducted according to their own guidance. The complaint was not upheld and the whole complaints process had been a miserable and retraumatising experience.

No one seemed to understand that adoption is supposed to be permanent. It was simply a case of replacing me with foster carers and telling the court the match had been a mistake, as far as the local authority was concerned. But my child refused foster care ever again after the initial care proceedings. So rather than try to reunify, as my child wished, the local authority spent £thousands every week on residential care. The Adoption Support Fund, which we couldn’t access under a care order, is capped at £5k a year – so it seemed such a false economy. The whole system seemed to be designed to prevent my child ever coming home!

Worst of all though were the police, who abandoned us after making false allegations that I was mentally abusing my child to issue an Emergency Protection Order when I sought their help, and did not inform me my child was arrested – for an incident I reported, involving me as a ‘victim’. They released my child from custody and told me that there would be no prosecution. The last thing I wanted was an arrest. How unfair was this? We needed help as a family, not criminalisation of a vulnerable teenager with a much younger emotional age. My child’s difficulties were not appreciated and trauma related disabilities were discounted – the therapy my child needed was not provided and it isn’t surprising that there were behavioural difficulties when we were pushed deeper and deeper into crisis. Every agency closed ranks against us once I reported to the police, and ‘risks’ became greatly exaggerated along with a false narrative created that I had brought the problems upon myself and didn’t deserve to be a parent. Stigmatised and socially isolated my child was incredibly lonely, never recovering from the shock of arrest and removal from my care. Fast forward a few years later and the police steadfastly refuse to delete the criminal record. The police do not care about the impact this criminal record has on a young person, by now a traumatised care leaver. They also do nothing about the suicide attempts that were reported by me, as a desperate parent when my child was in care. They take the moral high ground telling a young person that the public must be protected from them.

I believe these are systemic failings so I have sometimes written about them in the third person. We have been totally and utterly failed as an adoptive family. Victimised by professionals and organisations who take the moral high ground and excuse an unconscionable lack of consideration and integrity. Without access to legal aid, which we don’t have due to the criminal damages my child received for early life abuse, we cannot challenge those who take advantage of our need for privacy as a family. We are lucky to survive but I do not hold out much hope for the future as the refusal to delete the arrest record has been a major blow to my child who is fragile emotionally and suffers poor mental health because trauma has been piled upon trauma – and so much of the childhood years were completely messed up by the system. My child is not well enough to contribute to the Care Review and our story seems to be one that government would prefer to never be told. It would surely deter any single woman from adopting, which is not really what I want at all – as I dread to think what would have happened to my child without being adopted and someone to provide the unconditional love that is every child’s birth right. I have done the best I can and it was more than good enough to create a loving bond – but I couldn’t prevent the trauma from leaking out – and when it did, it could not have gone more wrong for us.

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Being pushed aside or negatively viewed when our children have re-entered care

Traumatised children can be extremely hard to care for with their trust completely broken and a need to control everyone in their lives. The Selwyn Report (2014) identified that it was children with the most severe adversity in early life who were leaving home prematurely. We try our best to stand by our children, come what may- because this is what being a parent means. When our children cannot live with us, for no fault of theirs or ours – but due to early life trauma, it is very frustrating that the state takes away our parental responsibility.

Ostensibly our parental responsibility remains with us under Section 20. In practice this is rarely what happens and partnership working is rare rather than the norm, according to our lived experience research (see the Connections Survey report (2018). We must ‘share’ parental responsibility with the local authority under a full care order – when our children are deemed to be at ‘risk of significant harm’ because they are ‘beyond parental control’. The reality is they are beyond anyone’s control neither Section 20 nor and sharing parental responsibility are working out well for adoptive and special guardianship children and families.

Special guardians can very easily be excluded completely from care planning by the Independent Reviewing Officer and children’s social worker – see for example this blog here about special guardian grandparents of a boy with FASD. By disputing the FASD diagnosis the local authority called into question the grandparent’s parenting, and then excluded them after a Care Order was made.

With adopters, its not possible to get rid of us legally, but our lives can be made very difficult when the children we love are struggling and we cannot do much about it. With adoptive mum Mary, she was advised by a solicitor to go for a full care order when her daughter was not getting the support she needed in care under Section 20, which she had been forced to use to get a respite break when her daughter was physically violent towards her. She also lost her job and had to resign from the Children’s Safeguarding board when her daughter made false allegations. This was an extremely stressful time and her older biological child struggled too – with the loss of his sister and seeing his mother so beaten down by the system. He is back on track now and in his second year at university as a mature learner.

Life did not get better under the full care order. Eventually no foster carers would look after Mary’s teenage daughter. She was sent to live in a children’s home miles away from where she was raised. She kept running away, back to Mary. The local authority then spent a fortune on unregulated accommodation for her daughter – a house that had many staff where her daughter was the only resident. Her daughter didn’t want to be there. She wanted to live with Mary. Mary, who has never stopped battling for help for her daughter, was then treated as if she was a ‘risk of harm’ to her daughter by the social care professionals who were allocated to the adoption reunification.

An agency was brought in by the social workers to provide ‘family support’ under the reunification plan but they haven’t been able to engage with Mary’s daughter as they hoped and planned. They have reduced their hours and decided to no longer to provide ‘family’ support – they will only support Mary’s daughter not support the family. The aim is, through working in pairs, to try to build a relationship with Mary’s daughter. Their approach is intrusive to family life, little sensitivity is shown towards Mary, and they pay little attention to Covid regulations. Mary is also extremely busy as the only breadwinner/working adult in the house. At work she is much valued and receives gifts from students and awards from the organisation, an education provider. At her daughter’s care planning meetings it is a different story.

The minutes of a recent meeting show what Mary is up against. The first list is the words used to describe Mary. The second list shows the words used to describe the agency brought in to provide support for her family, where the support has had to be reviewed and adjusted several times due to their inability to engage Mary’s daughter in the work they were brought in to conduct.

Mary: “hostile”, “busy”, “cannot attend”, “she kicked out (her daughter)”, “upset”, “wants information not to be shared”, “drunk”, “verbally abusive”, “unwilling”, “seems to think”, “does not agree”, “does not feel” and there is “tension” in relationships.

Youth support agency: “engaging well”, “allows”, “assists”, “open and happy”, “share and disclose”, “ease”, “really well”, “managed to enrol”, “great relationship”, “‘go to'”, “work well” and “positive”.

Mary is on Formal Complaint number 5 now. Formal complaints have previously been upheld by the LGO who has even ordered compensation to be paid for the irreparable harm that was done to her relationship with her daughter (under Section 20). Mary was not able to see her daughter for nearly two years at one stage and her daughter was led to believe Mary had rejected her, which was not at all true. Lessons are not being learned. It is the culture that is the problem. But how do we fix the culture of parent blame? It is an insidious culture here in the UK that allows parents of children with SEND to be victimised at inquests – please see Professor Sara Ryan’s deeply moving blog ‘My Daft Life’. Professor Ryan’s son Conner died in an Assessment and Treatment Unit in 2013.

We want government and legislators to know that Mary’s case is not unusual. Under a Care Order there is no need to support our families or treat parents and guardians with respect and consideration. The local authority seems to take against us, and it is hard to be wrong footed all the time and viewed so negatively, when all we want is our children to receive the help they need. We feel their pain too. We worry about them in a way that the professionals who come and go (there could easily be 100 people working with our children over a five to ten year period) just don’t seem to understand.
The latest Adoption Strategy (launched on July 26th 2021) will not change anything for Mary and families like hers and the special guardianship family where the grandchild had FASD.

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.