In March 2017 these two cases, with suggestions and recommendations, were submitted to an adoption Regionalisation Board.
An adoptive mother wrote this document together with another adopter (who had supported her as a Mckenzie Friend from Sept 2014 -Feb 2017), to submit to the Adoption UK CEO Hugh Thornbery. She had been excluded from Adopters Voice due to misunderstandings but was determined to be heard, so that lessons could be learned from her case after the LA did not contest the discharge of two public law orders, which meant no judgments could be published. She also wanted to demonstrate that the issues were not down to a single isolated case which could be easily disregarded or overlooked as an unfortunate one off.

Mr Thornbery suggested the issues should be used as a “touchstone for the development of the three Regional Adoption Agencies in the area and that of the social work teams in the local authorities and for CAFCASS who are represented on the board”. However, once submitted by Mr Thornbery, there was no feedback given about how these cases were recieved or whether they had made any impact.

Without feedback and opportunities for proper discussion that includes a wide range of adopters, some of whom may have had negative experiences of services, we do not understand how there is any possibility of genuine co-production or beneficial progress made.

Feb 2019 Postscript to the cases.

In the case where there is no reunification, (family K), a complaint was eventually upheld by the LGO in 2018. The relationship between mother and child was considered to have been irrevocably broken by the actions and inactions of the council and their complaints investigation was considered flawed. Compensation was awarded by the LGO. In the case where successful reunification has been achieved (family M), the LGO refuses to accept a complaint from either the mother or the child. Although very serious errors were made there are no apologies. The mother is stonewalled by the LA’s senior management and AUK. The DfE will not discuss the case with her and she remains excluded from Adopters Voice – her letters and emails are not even acknowledged after she chose not to make a formal complaint about her continued exclusion – hoping to resolve misunderstandings about her through informal discussion.

Representation to the Regionalisation Board

xxxxxxxxx – Adoptive Parent – 16.3.2017

I have been asked by two mothers (C and F) to represent their cases (Families K and M respectively) to the Regionalisation Board. They would like to see learning from their cases and changes implemented to prevent similar problems occurring in future. In terms of their own current situations there is an urgent need for action to be taken, particularly in the case of family M, where F is estranged from her daughter under a Care Order after a near 5 year separation, having sought post adoption support, which was not provided. In both cases removal of the child followed help seeking.

I believe full consideration of the following can contribute to the success of regionalisation. 

Adoption Today (April 2004) gave feedback from social workers on workshops on adoption support . Three outstanding points.

1. Assessments should “prioritise a family’s own assessment of their own situation”

2. And should give families the confidence to “tell it how it really is.”

3. Acknowledge the underlying assumption in many agencies that “parents are a significant cause of their children’s difficulties” and the barriers that this can create for adoptive parents who are living with the “imported pathology” of their children.

Thirteen years later these good intentions have not been realised.

Professionals have a duty to inform, support, and educate adopters, and adopters have a reciprocal duty to educate professionals. To succeed in this is to the mutual benefit of all concerned.

These two family situations are indicative of how even well intentioned people can take actions and pursue strategies that can be harmful and set events on a path that is difficult to divert

Both these cases demonstrate that the permanence of adoption is being undermined by current policy and infrastructure in 2017, and the fact that the families are in different parts of the region indicates the problems are region wide. The issues and concerns raised by both family situations, and others, suggest this is a nationwide problem of significant magnitude. Suggestions and recommendations for action follow a discussion of the lessons to be learned from these cases.

As a POTATO (Parents Of Traumatised Adopted Teenagers Organisation) parent mentor/supporter and a McKenzie Friend, from 7.9.14 until 26.8.16, I supported C (Family K), at every meeting with professionals and in Court and Legal meetings. At the child’s request I advocated for him from July 2016 when he thought that no one else was representing his views. This has given me a detailed overview of this case and I will begin with the learning points from this case from the perspective of professionals, the child and the parent.

Learning points for Professionals:

  1. The Adoption Order creates a permanent family, not a placement to be disrupted when parents request help.
  2. Accuracy, verification and thoughtful analysis are important and basic requirements for any assessment processes
  3. Offering empathetic support will cultivate a culture of trust and positive relationships can develop.
  4. The knowledge, expertise and in depth understanding of a parent, gained over many years of parenting, should be seen as an asset rather than a threat.
  5. Team work, good communication with other professionals and partnership working with parents is in the interests of the child. 
  6. The greatest resource in an organisation is in the minds of it’s members and ways need to be found to utilise this.
  7. Parents should not be resented and blamed because of the strains of parenting the most difficult to parent children. Their commitment should be respected.
  8. Ethics and professional standards are of paramount importance.
  9. Accountability and the authority to take appropriate action can lead to better outcomes.
  10. The child’s view matters and to thwart a wish to return home, and deprive a young person of hope, as in the case of J (K Family), for no good reason, smacks of cruelty: the child’s view as told to me prior to the CCR of 21st July 2016 when he had hoped there would be some initial planning to return home- prevented by the IRO who claimed the existing care plan was still appropriate. The Care Order was discharged by the court less than 5 weeks later on 26.8.16.

The Child (J) – his perceptions in August 2016

  1. Even if the Care Order was originally justified it certainly is not now and has not been for two years.
  2. I feel I have been in prison, powerless and controlled by others.’
  3. This could have been sorted out two years ago.
  4. The role of social services has been to say NO to visits home, holidays with family and have denied and obstructed my wish to return home, I have expressed for three years.
  5. “They continue to perpetuate a dead cause.”
  6. On discharge of the order J rejoiced and immediately returned home and is now trying to recover from the nightmare of the last three and a half years and the loss of those years growing up in his family.
  7. After the second removal, which again followed his mother help seeking, and following a brief reunification, he had expected to go home again soon. He moved from expectation to hope to loss of hope to resignation and had to endure years of separation from his home and family as a Looked After Child.
  8. He lacked trust in most of his social workers and the guardian for failing to represent his views and there is no effort made by the LA to regain and rebuild J’s shattered trust. “Its just them in their high up jobs and us (referring to his mother C)”
  9. The childs admiration and appreciation of his mother who has twice rescued him from the care system, firstly on adopting him, and later on successfully fighting for discharge of the Care Order ensuring the granting of his wish, previously denied, to return.

The Parent (C)

  1. Asking for help may have immense unintended consequences when those involved with support do not have adoption expertise.
  2. Bereavement issues are not appreciated or recognised, frustration at injustice will be resented, and resources of intellect, commitment, determination and stamina are tested to the limit.
  3. A total commitment to your child will be misunderstood and emotions misinterpreted.
  4. Having to fight for your child as a litigant in person, treated as an adversary by all in court save the judge, without legal representation, facing legal professionals in advocates meetings and court hearings, one lasting five days – this is an unfair demand on anyone.
  5. Nowhere to have a voice. Issues of contempt of court and the need for anonymity and privacy.

The K Family were reunified in August 2016 but delays on the part of the LA to apply to the ASF meant there was no support until December since the Local Authority refused to provide any support for the family. The recommendations of court experts, who are adoption specialists and are providing support to the family, initially through a charity on a probono basis, are ignored.

There are a number of parallels in these two families: both C and F are single mothers parenting severely traumatised children (J and B), who could not cope with main stream school. Removal of the child from the family home followed help seeking, and in both cases no dialogue was achievable about reunification over a period of 3.5 years in the case of the K family, and 5 years in the case of the M family.

The M family remains in a precarious and dangerous situation and there is little incentive for F to fight for a reunification that seems unlikely to be properly supported and where reasons for her daughter being taken into care have not been addressed. Mother and daughter have become estranged and there has been no face to face contact for the past 7 months. F’s efforts to secure therapeutic help for her daughter have been unsuccessful and the family is unable to access the ASF whilst there is no intention to reunify.

Common Themes and Concerns

Rights of child not respected

In neither family’s case were the rights of the child to family life respected and in the case of J, he was not able to take the medication prescribed by his GP, and collected from a pharmacy by his mother at his request. The children’s home staff, acting under the instruction of the service manager, would not give him the medication, which was to help him sleep. He had used the drug, melatonin, for 4 years. Being unable to use the medication meant he could not sleep and could not engage with his education for a month, until able to use it, after he had himself seen his GP.

Selectivity about the child’s wishes and feelings

J was unequivocal about his wish to return home during the entire period of his removal but became resigned to this not happening and accepted the children’s home as the least worst option over foster care. His wish to return home was not reported, even by his guardian in court proceedings. Only when he was able to access a different solicitor from the guardian were his wishes and feelings heard. For C, this was also traumatizing, as she felt powerless to assist her child and to advocate for him under a Care Order (whilst ostensibly sharing parental responsibility), especially as J expressed suicidal ideation, self harmed and tried to take his own life on at least one occasion.

A child or young person separated from an adoptive parent may say they do not wish to see their parents but there may be a number of factors behind this that are not given sufficient consideration by professionals: the loss is so hard to bear (saying goodbye is too hard); attachment issues; need to control the parent.

Lack of consideration about the adopter’s welfare after the removal of the child

C found herself left without any income after reporting concerns; concerns that had meant she herself was put at most risk, and she faced the prospect of losing the family home when all the benefits and allowances the family relied on were suddenly stopped, 2 weeks before Xmas 2013.

F, who was a school governor, and on the local authority children’s safeguarding committee, had to move jobs, as her work involved working with children.

Both mothers felt that the stress of being removed from one’s child and bereavement issues were not recognised or acknowledged and that their emotional distress could be seen as difficult behaviour or as signifying poor parenting capacity – not coping.

Reunification not considered or worked towards, reunification not supported

For both families it has proved impossible to have dialogue about reunification as an ultimate aim to work towards, achievable or not. There were no adoption professionals involved with either family except, in the case of the K family, when C applied for Care Order Discharge, which was successful after a second application where the jointly instructed court experts were adoption specialists (immediate reunification was recommended by these specialists). The reunification of the K family occurred abruptly with no planning and no support.

Problematic assessments with no positive action taken

Assessments should lead to positive action and support but did not do so in the case of the K family. Assessments were inaccurate and several did not involve the family and were done without the knowledge or consent of family members: one conducted by CAMHS and another conducted by a post adoption social worker, who never met the family, with this assessment submitted to the ASF. C considered these assessments misleading.

Changing risks with the child or young person’s maturation and development

Risks were not thought about as mobile and changing with the child’s development and maturation and no consideration was given as to whether they might be manageable by either adopter, with support, when these parents made a lifelong commitment and would probably at some stage have to manage problems, without support, when the young people reached 18 – or before if not in education.

Poor communication between professionals, numerous changes of social worker

Communication between professionals from different agencies is poor leading to misunderstandings. In both families the children have had frequent changes of social worker and little opportunity to build relationships J has had 6, and B has had 8 since returning to care.

Lack of adoption expertise and lack of consideration of adoption issues

Assessments could be highly problematic, inaccurate and showing no sensitivity to adoption issues. Once there is a separation the child or young person does not ever see an adoption specialist – it is as if the adoption is a historical fact and not of lifelong relevance. When asked, none of the social workers involved with the K family had ever been involved with an adoption reunification never mind a successful one. Both mothers are highly educated and found they were better informed about the impact of childhood trauma and attachment than the professionals allocated to help them.

Confirmation bias

Inaccuracies, attitudes and professionals’ views were accepted without question. The LA accepted uncritically assessments not done through court in the case of the K family, but disputed the assessment of the jointly instructed expert in adoption 2016, yet this was the only assessment that consulted the education provider, care home, social worker, parent and child, and over 1000 pages of documents.

Parental responsibility not properly shared

Parental Responsibility was not properly shared and LAC reviews were too stressful for either mother without support. C was given 10 minutes to take on board the life changing decision to keep J in care until adulthood, immediately before having to participate in a LAC review, which she was informed would take place without her if she did not hurry up. The authority cancelled a TAC meeting, an agreed action from a LAC review, giving 40 minutes notice. Later it became apparent that the LA proposed to move J to a care home 100 miles from his mother only informing parent and child three weeks after the decision. This autocratic behaviour is not sharing Parental Responsibility.

Standards and Procedures

The IRO failed to hold the authority to account for it’s failings. Statutory guidance in the IRO handbook and on Pathway Planning was ignored. The latter should have been started at the LAC review prior to the J’s 16th birthday and completed soon after. It was only completed over a year later after a court order when C applied for discharge of the Supervision Order.

In the case of the M Family, F is still waiting in March for the LAC review report from the November 2016 LAC review.

It was confirmed that there was full commitment to making a second reunification a success for Family K. After one review meeting the Supervision Order was ignored and no support was given to the family. In fact the authority refused to underwrite the cost of therapy recommended to court so it could not start to support reunification until the ASF could be accessed, this despite a much greater financial saving as the LA were no longer funding a children’s home place.

The LA failed to meet the requirements of court orders, filing late on numerous occasions while adopters invariably file statements on time. On one occasion C had been ordered to respond to a statement from the LA that was not filed until two weeks after the date her response was due.

Lack of partnership working, decisions and plans overruled by managers

The team working in partnership, sharing and complementing each individual’s contribution from a shared understanding.

In December 2014 it was proposed by C and I, that adoption specialists should be involved to support and provide joint training and bring together all those involved in J’s care. 

The response: from education : yes please, can it be arranged on Thursday to enable most staff to attend.

from the care home: lukewarm, little interest.

from the social worker: we know all that, unwillingness to promote team working

An agency social worker supported the request of J for an overnight stay at home over Christmas. This was refused by a manager late in the afternoon of Christmas Eve. 

Breakdown of Trust

Trust can be eroded when the response to help seeking is removal of a child with no dialogue or consideration given to reunification. In both cases parents felt unable to trust the authority and it was evident they came to be viewed as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. In the case of F this aspect of a formal complaint was upheld.

In the case of the K family the court appointed experts recommended an award for bravery be given to both C and J to rebuild lost trust. This was not acted on.

Resources

In the case of the both families the costs of family separation spiralled after no suitable foster carers could be identified and both children spent two years or more in institutional care.

There has been a willingness to expend financial resources amounting to many hundreds of thousands of pounds to try and justify the LA’s stance in the K family case. Accommodation costs, legal costs, SW time in court, numerous assessments etc, money that could have helped the child within the family (and numerous other families) had the LA not persisted in trying to justify its position in spite of evidence to the contrary. In addition there has been an immense price paid by C and J, the lost teenage years in his family, and the deprivation of the right to a family life. There is no one accountable for this expenditure and harm.

Suggestions and Recommendations

Keeping a good relationship between adoptive parents and children, and wherever possible reunifying with the necessary support for success will mean considerable short term and long term resource savings, which mean our suggestions will be self funding. Our main recommendation is that specialist adoption professionals are needed to work with adoptive families that appreciate adoption issues and provide empathetic support to families with continuity of care. Adoption sensitive assessment work needs to be conducted on a regular basis to preempt problems and to keep families being considered as families when there are separations. Periods of separation may be needed in adoptive families because of the intensity of family life and the complex relational dynamics, during adolescence in particular.

  • Shared care arrangements should be explored to enable families to stay together, or come together in a way that supports the parent(s) in what is “the most difficult job in the world” (Margot Sutherland).
  • Adoption specialists from the local authority working, or from outside the LA, with the family from transition of responsibility
  • Training for professionals and a teamwork approach, recognising the parent as part of the team, where ‘group think’ is avoided and creative solutions to complex problems can be considered
  • Assessments undertaken by those that will provide care
  • Timely risk assessment involving adoption specialists when parents help seek – ASF to potentially fund
  • Specialist assessment by independent adoption agency prior to any court proceedings – ASF to potentially fund
  • The Selwyn report recommended that reunification never be ruled out, but it is evident from these cases and many others, that this is precisely what is happening. In view of this we recommend independent ‘reunification assessments’ every 6 months with independent adoption specialists becoming part of the family’s support team during any severances of care, and attending LAC reviews – relationship building between adopter and child and risk reduction planning should reunification not be possible. ASF to potentially fund