It is widely acknowledged that there is a ‘care crisis’, with too many children in the care system and not enough support for their families. Sometimes adopted and special guardianship children end up back in care, when understanding is lacking; when help was not sufficient or timely, and once back in the system we find that because of systemic failings – legislation that doesn’t seem to work for us, we cannot help them – this creates great distress. The state does not recognise or seem to value the ‘parenting/caring from a distance role’, and sees us separated from our children after we have sought help for them.
The 1989 Children’s Act has left us in the 20th century when we need to be in the 21st. Many children and families are suffering – and the courts struggle to deal with the volume of cases. In a recent speech, the outgoing President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has raised serious concerns about the fragmentation within the family courts and the fact our family courts cannot be problems solving as they need to be in complex cases – they can only ‘persuade’ local authorities. The issue of ‘assessment rather than help’, which is focussed on the child and not the family, is raised by Sir James Munby, who describes how “the pace of the necessary change has, for much of the time, been maddeningly slow”.
We need a system where there can be learning from what Professor Peter Fonagy, one of the co-chairs of the SCIE project on the mental health and wellbeing of looked after/previously looked after children, called the ‘never cases’. We do not have this in place at the moment. It is wrong that a child has to die, or suffer extreme violence/abuse/neglect, for there to be an investigation into the case and what actually went wrong. We need a system where there can really be learning from the experience of families and individual cases, especially cases that have gone to court or been investigated by the Local Government Ombudsman. Transparency is improving in the family courts but without a contested hearing in court proceedings, there is no Judgment to be published, and local authories avoid public scrutiny about serious failings that have left children and families in great duress. When the Local Government Ombudsman investigates a complaint the whole process can take years – far too long to be of use to the child and family, and even if the complaint is upheld, as with this case of Ms X. For five years, having asked for help, Ms X is marginalised and not involved in care planning for her daughter. The LGO concluded:
“uncertainty about Y’s, future over such a prolonged time has had a significant, detrimental and irreparable impact on Ms X and Ys relationship with one another”
The LGO also found fault with the local authority’s investigation process, with stage 2 taking over a year to complete, casting doubt on its conclusions. Despite these findings, Ms X struggles to meet with the local authority’s senior managers – she is only able to meet them in the context of them adjudicating on complaints made. Loving parents and carers who seek help for their children should be a resource, not face shut doors and closed ranks.
Far too many of us are having to make complaints to try and achieve the help and support that was needed but wasn’t or isn’t forthcoming. There were 147 respondents, out of 389, who took part in our Health and Wellbeing Survey, who had to resort to the complaints process. This is a sign that something is seriously amiss and should not be ignored.
So we are petitioning people of influence to help us create a better system by working together with us – valuing our tacit knowledge gained from years of experience of parenting and caring for the UK’s most vulnerable children. The problems we deal with are so complex and we so much need to find ways to come together with people of influence, researchers, professionals and experts.
With so many caring people, adopters, special guardians, professionals and experts from a range of disciplines we hope to find better ways of minimising the trauma experienced by children and their families. We feel participation in sharing skills and knowledge to achieve this common goal needs better supportive structures to optimise success – in this difficult and complex task – to speed up change and bring the care system into the 21st Century, where it needs to be.
Please click this link to read/sign our Petition
If you are a special guardian or adopter we would warmly welcome you into our campaigning community and ask that you please complete a membership application form. Please click HERE to complete this form.
Please do get in touch using the contact form below if you would like to work with us to create change.