The BBC Inside Out Yorkshire/Linconshire team have produced a hard hitting short film on adoption breakdown, aired in some regions on 28/10/19.
Before the programme aired adopters felt anxious about it:
“My key concern in the report on the BBC news website related to this programme is the language used. I really dislike the phrase “gave back” when talking about children re-entering the care system. It suggests they were only on loan to us. In our case, our daughter made the decision to re enter care. I’d spent months telling her when you’re adopted, it’s permanent, like any other child, and we couldn’t/ wouldn’t “give her back”.
When older birth children enter care due to difficulties with behaviour etc, no one talks about giving back or giving up on those children. This language undermines the permanent status of adoption and the extremes we go to in order to keep our children with us. This is such a difficult issue and the language used is very important.”
Adopters wondered also, in reading the BBC news report that preceded the programme, whether the programme would focus too much on children’s violence and aggression rather than some of the other reasons we are seeing for children re-entering care. It can be so easy to sensationalise our stories whilst at the same time, if for example there is a history and acting out of our child’s sexual trauma, we cannot tell our stories, even to our closest friends and family. Talking about problems within Adopter’s Voice, which is how the government and Regional Adoption Agencies get to hear about our difficulties, is also a challenge. We may be told the forum isn’t for us – it is only for ‘broad adoption issues’, according to adopters like Al Coates, who represent our views to the DfE on the adopter reference group. Al Coates is also often looked to as a spokesperson on adoption issues and child to parent violence by the media.
Where are we to go? This is why we started SG&AT.
The media focus tends to be on the struggles of adopters to get support but the reality is that special guardians and kinship carers may have it far worse. The start of the journey into kinship care is very different and it may begin with harrowing court procedings rather than a matching panel, which includes experts by experience to scrutinise the support planning. The SGO (Special Guardianship Order), and CAO (Child Arrangements Orders), both end at 18 and unlike the (Adoption Order), they can be annulled.
We believe it is important to draw comparisons between the different forms of permanence as these are the same children who have suffered trauma and loss – they cannot live with their birth parents (see our accessing and receiving support survey). Brothers and sisters may be separated with some growing up adopted and others in kinship care or foster care. More than half of SGOs were granted to a child’s former foster carers last year (54%), and at the same time there were almost as many SGOs as AOs (Adoption Orders) – 3,470 SGOs compared with 4,370 AOs. It is through charitable organisations that voices can be heard by the DfE. The Regional Adoption Agencies seem to be predominantly about adopter recruitment and to a lesser and greatly variable extent they cover our post adoption support. It is all very confusing for us and it seems that too often the infrasturcture to support adopters, and especially kinship carers and special guardians, is totally lacking, particularly when we parent from a distance if a child re-enters care, or the child is older than 18 and still very much needs our support.
As we explained in this article, adoption and permanence disruption is hugely complex and we feel it can only be properly understood by considering what happens after a disruption has occured.
SG&AT have done our best to support the programme’s researcher Abi Jaiyeola, including putting one of the mother’s forwards who appeared in the programme. We had also shared with Abi our excitement about the recent launch of the Beyond Disruption project, which looks to help children and families survive permanence care separations.
Despite our initial apprehension the general consensus about the programme was of sensitive reporting of the matter under investigation especially within the very short time constraints of the programme.
It was hard to know what was more saddening watching this film – the desperate stories of adopted children completely unable to get the therapeutic support they needed in their adoptive family, or back in the care system – or the Department of Education’s response, which effectively shut down any consideration or discussion of the tragic cases the programme makers brought to the public’s attention, by telling us that any and all decisions made in adoption were in a child’s best interests.
The reliance on the best interests principle (Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child), is deeply problematic because there is a lack of agreement on who can determine, or be responsible for deciding what is in a child’s ‘best interests’ and there is no consensus about the basis upon which such decision should be made.
Adoption UK’s CEO Sue Armstrong Brown informed programme makers that the system wasn’t yet fit for purpose and shared her vision for what a fit for purpose system would look like – it would be child centred putting the child’s need to recover from trauma at its heart. It would also be assessment driven and would include an assessment of need at placement followed by regular assessments of need and fully resourced plans for the child throught a child’s lifetime. Sue has a wealth of knowledge about adoption issues. The vision sounds great but there may be unforseen problems and unintended consequences of an assessment driven system. Being child centred also sounds good in theory but this can leave parents and carers marginalised or not considered. As the Inside Our programme pointed out – one of the mothers had lost her career in children’s education following her child going back into care because of being viewed as a source of harm to children. SG&AT can also forsee a few potential pitfalls with an assessment led approach. Any professional understanding of needs, risks and best interests is inevitably a subjective one. which cannot be scrutinised by the regulator as the opinions of professionals are beyond the remit of the LGO (Local Government Ombudsman). Assessments take time and can delay support when a critical response is needed. Parents and carers can be left feeling undermined when professional understanding is poor, as too often seems to be the case, and when there is no chance to build relationships with professionals for us or our children with such high professional turnover. It is rare for a professional to make a decision alone. Professional decisions made by groups or managers at a distance can be hard for a parent or guardian to challenge and create pressure when what is being asked of the parent or guardian is unrealistic, simply not working or not what a parent or carer feels is at all in the best interests of their child.
Another issue is the lack of any guidance or framework for our children to be reunified or support to help professionals to help us build or maintain relationships with our children. This seems indicative of a very poor commitment to adoption permanence on the part of the government and we are very worried indeed about what is happening, not just in adoption but in kinship care and special guardianship where carers may be relatives of the child and also, increasingly, a child’s former foster carers.
The story of the family does not end when a child goes back into care – we are hearing about reconciliations after nearly 40 years between adoptees and adoptive mothers who were separated from each other. An adoptive mother who needed a break had never wanted her child to remain in care but was unable to get her daughter back. This is still happening today – we need to understand how and why – without being told its not important, we are too negative, or this is not a broad enough issue to be considered.
SG&AT would like to be part of the solution and we invite the BBC to give us more opportunities to be heard – not just about our awful experiences, but about what we think needs to happen to help us to help our children heal from trauma.
Well done Inside Out! Thank you for listening and thank you to the brave mothers whose stories were told. We hope their children get the help they need but feel this is unlikely to happen – even though we sign up to providing it as a member state of the United Nations- it is there in Article 39 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Please see our latest Issue of SG&AT News to learn more about the Beyond Disruption project and read the article ‘Not the right time for therapy’ on page 5, to better appreciate why mums like the ones in the programme can’t get their children therapeutic help once they go back into care.
Parliamentarians in the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Kinship Care and on Adoption and Permanence, and members of the judiciary making Care Orders for vulnerable traumatised children would do well to consider that whilst it is hard for parents to get support for their children who live with them, it is virtually impossible when the child re-enters care.
Good partnership working with us after a child re-enters care is the rare exception – at least this is what our Connections scoping survey, done for the Transparency Project conference on future emotional harm, has suggested – only 2/41 were able to achieve ‘good partnership working’ after a child from permanence had re-entered care.
What is needed urgently, as a top priority for government, is fit for purpose legislation and infrastructure support to assist people providing permanence to children who are hard to care for. This should protect children and families and support relationships, wherever our children live. As this BBC programme has revealed – the system can try (and succeed), to turn us into unsafe parents/carers, when our children cannot live safely with us. We lose our careers if we worked with children. This makes no sense. The problem is a blame culture – it takes just one professional’s opinion to be wrong, one missed opportunity to help, one misjudged assessment, one misunderstanding or inaccurate report – and a child’s future is in peril – when organisations cannot admit to being at fault. We apologise all the time to our children as we learn how to parent them – but never are any apologies given to us or our children when our help seeking has disastrous consequences for us and them.
We need a government that has our backs – not allows stigma, blame, guilt and shame to be heaped on us when there is no alternative but to return a child to care.
We hope this programme can be the start of a conversation between all stakeholders involved with adoption and permanence (which must include kinship care and special guardianship orders),-and with government -to find a way forwards that allows parents, carers and families providing permanence to truly be the resource to a child that they should be in life – wherever the child lives.