The 1989 Children’s Act, along with subsequent reforms, have, from a parental/carer perspective, 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. An important speech from the outgoing President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, raised serious concerns about the fragmentation within the family courts and the fact our family courts cannot be problem solving as they need to be in complex cases – they can only ‘persuade’ local authorities. The issue of ‘assessment rather than help’, which is focused solely on the child and not the family, is also raised by Sir James Munby, who describes how “the pace of the necessary change has, for much of the time, been maddeningly slow”.
When we are in crisis, or on the verge of one, we don’t need an assessment – we need action. Adopted and special guardianship children who have suffered immense losses as well as abuse and neglect, can so easily end up back in care when help is not sufficient or timely. Once back in the system we find that we cannot help our children. 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 – with no guidance for professionals as to how to bring the family back together or support relationships. We are usually labelled a disruption, which can be very unhelpful as it means no further effort is made to support us as a family. Families don’t cease to exist when children live elsewhere!
It’s not a case of handing our kids back to care, discarded like faulty goods! The very last thing we want in this difficult time of family separation is for our children to feel rejected – we just want them kept safe and receiving the help that is needed to overcome their traumatic past as swiftly as possible – so that they don’t have to live apart from us for longer than necessary. But sometimes they can’t come home – and they do feel rejected despite our best efforts, especially when contact with them is constrained and decisions are made by general social workers allocated to the case with limited experience of working with families like ours. Its down to luck whether the professional who is allocated to the child has adoption or special guardianship experience with a child re-entering care. Also, unfortunately, as it is now, we have to make our children ‘looked after’ just to get a respite break to enable us to go into hospital – if we are single parents/carers – which increasingly many of us are. Their hidden trauma-related disabilities don’t seem to get factored in, in the same way as physical disabilities. In worst case scenarios we find the impact of the past is very poorly understood and it is our parenting and care that is scrutinised and considered through a ‘prism of risk’ first of all – See BASW enquiry into the role of the social worker in adoption. What was it like for the child’s birth parents we wonder, if it is like this for us?
Elevation of foster carers to parent status, one after another, until there is no one willing to care for our children and residential care or secure units are needed – whilst keeping us out of the picture, only able to participate in six monthly reviews, and often barely able to see our children – this isn’t in the best interests of any adopted or special guardianship child. These child care reviews, where care plans are made, can be very hard on parents and carers who feel everything works against their child getting help when professionals give up on the family. These professionals will all vanish when a child is 18 – but our commitment is for life.
The general public will also have no idea about what goes on in court, because of a need to protect the child’s identity. But the family courts are leaving parents and carers completely traumatised. We walk out of ghastly hearings where reports, which are distorted and inaccurate, are submitted at the last minute, to see a new adoptive family celebrating the Adoption Order being made – small children all dressed up and looking adorable – with happy beaming new parents – and we want to scream that they will need protection from the very professionals who were supposed to help.
Transparency is improving in the family courts but without a contested hearing in the court proceedings, there is no Judgment to be published. Past errors and negligence don’t not have to be acknowledged, never mind apologised for. Furthermore, going to court means the Local Government Ombudsman won’t investigate or will only conduct a partial investigation with such narrow parameters that its a pointless excercise. If the LGO does investigate a complaint, the whole process can take years – with three stages of the local authority investigating itself first. Far too long to be of use to the child and family in a crisis! Even if the complaint is upheld it doesn’t change anything, as with this case of Ms X whose daughter re-entered care initially under Section 20. The case drifted for years and her relationship with her child was eroded. The LGO eventually 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”
A small sum of a little over £2000 was suggested as compensation for the avoidable loss of relationship with her child.
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 facing shut doors and closed ranks – only able to discuss complaints about a service.
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.
We need a system where there can be learning and change – but what we seem to have is a system and infrastructure that maintains systemic failings rather than tackles them.
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 our participation and the sharing of skills and knowledge to achieve this common goal needs better supportive structures to optimise success in what is a difficult and complex task – in order to speed up change, and bring the care system into the 21st Century, where it needs to be.
We have initially taken a research-oriented evidence-based approach to raising awareness about the problems we experience, and you can read our latest report about accessing and receiving support here:
Accessing and Receiving Support. A Research Report. 30.5.19
As a group we are doing a lot of work to raise awareness, as the first stage in co-creating change – because we don’t want what happened to us to happen to others. Please support our efforts by making a small donation towards our expenses by clicking HERE.
If you are a special guardian or adopter who would like to see change speed up, 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 and you are not a special guardian or adopter.