As an adoptive mother I had a very hard job to do. I had to rebuild trust and awaken love in a child who had his trust destroyed, probably before he was even born – in his mother’s womb, and had then lost everything, over and over again. I imagine my child as a little one, unable to feel a sense of safety as he grew in his mothers womb and in his early years. Beaten, starved, neglected and violated by those who should have nurtured and unconditionally loved – but whose own lives were tragic and awful, leaving them with no moral compass and unimaginable losses and wounding. It is unbearable to contemplate. What a task lay ahead for me as a mother. On the other hand, in comparison with what had happened, I could only do better – it was impossible to do worse. This was not an ambiguous case. Serious harm had been done.
After five years of therapeutic parenting, working with five different therapists over the years, my son became securely attached to me and our home was his safe place. More so than school, which he stopped going to, when social care professionals re-entered our lives to conduct an unecessary assessment, when my son was 12 – at the transition of responsibility, which happens three years after an Adoption Order is made and the local authority where the family live takes over. The presence of these workers may have triggered my son’s early trauma of being removed, from school, by professionals who did not want to confront parents who might be threatening and dangerous. Unfortunately neither they nor I realised this at the time and since it is a parent’s responsibility to make a child go to school, I was in the firing line – eventually, a year later, this was why a Section 31 Care Order was made (due to the threshold of beyond parental control) – when I did not want the Supervision Order other parties wanted to see, having been taken to court some 5 months previously after refusing Section 20. Section 20 is the only way adopters like me can access respite. The refusal of Section 20, which I felt would have compromised my son’s sense of permanence and stability with me, led to an Emergency Protection Order being issued by the police, who I had turned to in sheer desperation, for protection from the social care professionals. This didn’t do me any good at all as I was then confronted with allegations that I was mentally ill and a substance abuser. Of course I was none of these. Things went from bad to worse when the court appointed expert accidentally picked up and used the wrong instructions to assess me – believing he was assessing someone with a personality disorder who was also a conspiracy theorist and very difficult for professionals to deal with. He would not believe me when I pointed out he had picked up the wrong instructions. When he found out he had made a mistake he would not meet with me to talk about the impact this misunderstanding had on the assessment process. He offered to act as a mediator between me and the local authority to make progress, but given he worked for the local authority this didn’t seem a very good idea to me. I wanted these people out of our lives when their intentions were not positive towards me, my son’s needs for love and family life seemed an afterthought, and I could do nothing about the harm they were inflicting. My trust was completely destroyed.
Our troubles had begun many months before when the recommendations of my son’s very experienced therapist, who was surely the real expert about our needs, were simply disregarded -as the local authority sought to put a new slant on things – one that absolved them of having to provide services, which they struggled to offer under austerity. So how did they do this?
- They allocated child protection safeguarding social workers to the case instead of adoption specialists. These workers had very limited adoption knowledge and my son’s past was basically ignored – they were here to sort things out as they were today – and the past was not considered relevant and barely mentioned.
- They denied my child’s disabilities. The fact he was on DLA since being placed was an irrelevance. Worse – it could lead to me pathologising him and not seeing him as ‘normal’.
- They did not mention his diagnosed conditions in their assessment. These included: ADHD, Reactive Attachment Disorder; PTSD and Developmental Trauma
- They depicted me as being a mother who wasn’t really coping as well as she should be, and they sought fault relentlessly -with my views and character. They knew better. They wanted compliance and really had not the foggiest idea of attuned parenting or therapeutic parenting and what this might entail. They were the wrong people to help.
- They discredited the therapist whose views they did not agree with. Surely after all this therapy the child should be better? It obviously wasn’t really working. They knew better.
One event that changed the course of our lives in this terrifying ordeal was my mother having a heart attack and dying shortly after care proceedings were instigated. In some ways the fact that my son was in care at this juncture was a blessing – as it meant I could be with her when she fought for her life, in the two weeks after the heart attack occured. But it also meant that on her death bed, as she took her very last breath, I was on the phone to my solicitor instead of being present with her. It also meant I could not challenge the ICO with having to sort out her funeral. I just had too much on my plate to do this. I had to trust that the assessment by the court expert would improve our situation and the foster carer would be supportive. I had called my solicitor, feeling distraught, because when I asked the social worker why they believed a foster carer could do a better job than me, an adoptive mother, she explained that the foster carer was ‘an experienced parent’. My son is my only child so I could not prove experience. It seemed that what I had done basically counted for nothing. I was replaceable. I was now seen as just a ‘risk’ to the child I had asked for help to care for by the state. The court looked on me as a risk and the protective benefits of being in my care, being nurtured by a loving mother, were hardly thought about. I was beside myself and needed to speak to someone so called my solicitor. The foster carer eventually submitted a statement to court portraying me as a neglectful mother and after my son had tried to take his life in her care, with me being the last to know, she said this must be because he was going home to me. This was absolute tosh – he longed for reunification and almost gave up hope that this could happen when the IRO went to see him at the foster carers some weeks later. The IRO, who knew very little about the case, and made a lot of erroneous assumptions, destabilised my son when she explained to him that although a reunification plan was underway, with him due to come home at the end of the week and him spending more and more time with me at home, he would not go home until the Judge said he could. He told me I had lied to him about coming home and he temporarily rejected me feeling I had built false hope.
Anniversaries and dates in the ordeal we suffered arise each year and bring back memories of it all. The day my mother died, is an especially poignant day for me. My mother had been a good mother to me but just after she died, as I mourned her, her parenting of me came under attack as if somehow I was the problem for professionals rather than my son’s truly horrific past – and she had caused my failure as a parent. To this day I cannot believe what I was subjected to in the adversarial court proceedings. At one stage, with legal aid gone, I was up against two barristers, two solicitors, a Cafcass Guardian, the manager and staff of the children’s home, CAMHS and social care professionals including a psychiatrist, a forensic psychiatrist, and a therapist working for a therapy provider organisation with a contract with the privately owned children’s home – who had only met briefly with me once when I organised my own ‘Child in Need’ meetings for my son with a supporter from the POTATO group – and invited her along. The only professional potentially on my side (by now my son had completely stopped going to school and it was obvious this was nothing to do with my parenting of him), was the virtual head – but she wasn’t called as a witness and waited outside the court for two days to give evidence. I did not know I could call her as a witness. I did not know I could call the court expert as a witness. I hardly knew anything and just felt as if I was on trial – and everything about me was relentlessly discredited. On top of this I was silenced because of the need to protect my child’s anonimity. I had nightmares of being drowned as a witch when I was excluded from Adopter’s Voice by the charity Adoption UK. In the initial care proceedings I had begun to think of taking my own life and of writing a suicide note that asked for help for my child. Later on, when nothing seemed to improve, I thought of going on hunger strike -as this seemed the only way to get our little family the help and understanding we needed – but what my child really what he needed was me, so this was not the answer.
I realised also that if I was being treated like this, as a mother, that birth mothers in care proceedings must have very little hope. And when they lose their children they will carry a lifelong grief. The three and a half years that it took to get my child home meant I woke every day with an ache in my heart. I was bereft. But instead of empathy I was viewed as a mother who would say anything to get her child back and be decietful and dishonest.
Where was the help that was needed for us? It certainly wasn’t there under austerity – and far more money was spent trying to break up my family than supporting us to be reunified once the case had gone to court. We were basically abandoned after the local authority got the Supervision Order they had wanted. I agreed to this Order to avoid a contested hearing, which would just have delayed the reunification – and put my son through more uncertainty. The Adoption Support Fund took five months to come through and only came through when I went back to court to apply for the Supervision Order to be discharged. The formal complaints processes were utterly futile and useless and allowed us to be victimised with impunity. The discharge of these orders meant no Judgments – and no learning from our case – which will not be an isolated one I am sure.
I got my child home eventually because over time it became more and more apparent that a securely attached child had been removed and this was having a dreadful impact on my son’s mental health. But many adopted children are not securely attached. They will be cast adrift in a system where their rights are not as important as a local authority’s reputation, and their adopters blamed as I was. Having his own solicitor and not being represented by a Cafcass Guardian -who did not value what I had to offer as a mother at all – was a necessary step to achieving justice. Those who were against me tried to suggest my child was ambiguous about coming home. They were believed over me.
So often in adoption a child cannot live safely at home – but they still need their family. What do we do? Sever the links and call it a ‘disruption’? Please don’t do this – please stop using this term, it is awful to be described in this way as a family, and it made me feel we were not a real family at all. It is a harmful term because it stops effort being made to support the family.
My son does not want to know his birth mother or father. He can hardly bear to have anything to do with his siblings – can’t bear to see them -it would overwhelm him to meet them at the moment. I am his family now. I am all he has, and he very nearly lost me.