For us, trying to create change on our own is impossible. There are those who listen to us and try to help, but cannot make much progress in a system designed to maintain the status quo. There are those who listen and don’t act, because they are busy and there is little or nothing they can seemingly do. The law is the law, and it is a ‘good/well made law’ we are told, that must not be changed, Who are we to challenge it? Changing it won’t help anyway. The problems are deeper than this and they lie not with the law but with its application. And there are those who don’t listen at all, a lot more of these it seems, who baton down the hatches of their fortresses of glass open plan offices and gleaming lifts that take you to different levels of the hierarchy.
Standing outside, as we do, we don’t know how to get in.
We do all we can to draw attention to our plight – we write and conduct surveys, blog, tweet, form campaigning groups. We try to work with bigger groups who have ‘staked their claim to the territory’ and make no room for us. We are small. We are new. We have no track record and are given little credibility. Our cases cannot be considered because they cannot be tested. Even those tested in courts of law – even this is not enough. We cannot speak out because we need our privacy, especially our children. It isn’t easy.
‘Our young one’s are suffering’ – we tell those in the fortress. Those who rely on us are being hurt and harmed in ways that they can never heal from, because the best time to help them is now, as they grow – or things will get worse and they will die before their time. There isn’t enough of what we need to help them. Those who should be helping us scare us because they don’t seem to understand our children. They are there for ‘the child’ not us, or their brothers and sisters, they tell us – as we hang on as long as we can, losing partners, jobs, careers, and our health and other children suffer. If we do lose our young ones – because it isn’t safe for us, and them, to be pushed together without enough space, support and help, then there is no way for them to come home. No models exist for this when we do not need to be ‘reformed’, and our young ones are in peril back in the care system. We feel powerless to help. They are put back with all the other ‘rescued’ children.
No strategies exist when we are in the crisis that led to this scenario – there are just assessments, scrutinising and endless meetings that don’t seem to take things forwards. There is no money we are told. There is no money for you. The pot is empty. We are all doing our jobs but we cannot help you and your child beyond only a fraction of what they might need – because this is the fair way.
We will take your young one’s back if you ‘fail’. But if they come back to us for a little while – to give you a break because you are so tired and ill, they are ours again. You will be responsible for them, or we will share responsibility with you – but they will be ours. We will only allow you to you meet with us every six months, and we will do what we think is best for them. We don’t want them to believe they have failed so it is best if we say it is you. They will be angry but they will be angry with you, not us. It is most important we help them settle into their new lives, with others, and without you. You cannot help them now. You had your chance and ‘failed’ – your family is a ‘breakdown’ now. We will call this a ‘disruption’ if you are an adoptive family, and talk about your family as a ‘placement’, and we will ‘look after’ your little ones.
Once back in the hands of the ‘United Kingdom’ and its powerful and just State our little ones do not grow and thrive. The love they need to do this, is not there. We struggle to reach them because we have no control over what time is alloted to us to be together as a family for ‘contact’, often in sterile rooms, or public places, with eyes that watch us, spending time together and look for signs that our children need to be protected from us. If things go badly wrong back in care, and a Section 31 Care Order is needed to keep them safe, we must go to court, and defend ourselves as those who ‘look after’ our children try to prove thresholds against us, or say that our children cannot be controlled by us, when they probably no longer live with us anymore and are completely destabilised. We, who tried for so long to get them the help they needed, cannot speak for them – we have become their potential adversaries now, and the adversaries of those we turned to for help.
Our little ones cannot survive and they are so sad inside – but they cannot show this sadness and pain – their hearts turn to stone to protect themselves, and they reject everybody, including us, especially us, because we are the one’s they must test most of all – no one matters like us, who tried to help them grow and heal.
Please let us in. Please hear us, we say to those in the fortress, shouting through the tiny hole of the letterbox. Occasionally, at some random time when we have given up hope, a head will poke out of a random window for a moment and tell us to go away. We are not wanted here they tell us. Others, who are bigger and better than us, they will talk to us – but not you – we will not even pay your train fares when you come from miles away, to see us, and we will not ever see you with anyone else who has knowledge of what is needed, if you do manage to slip in through a crack in the wall. Everything we do in this fortress will be done in secret – so you will never know what happens if you do give us information.
Too many adopters and special guardians are struggling to access support and services under austerity measures in Britain today. It is our children and families who will feel the consequences of austerity infrastructure, silo mentalities and unintentionally harmful policies, where the gaps we fall through grow ever wider and deeper. We will live with the repercussions for many years to come – perhaps a lifetime in some cases.
One of the most difficult aspects of trying to raise awareness about adoption and special guardianship issues is being able to properly contribute to dialogue and decision making about change and improvements. This is nigh on impossible we have found – after almost a year of trying.
When we try to raise concerns, the DfE rebuff us on the basis that they do not listen to ‘individual cases’. This is incredibly frustrating when we formed as a group to have a collective voice and it is the issues raised by the many cases we bring that we wish to be considered, rather than the cases themselves. Go to the LGO with your ‘complaints’ we are told, paying no heed to the fact that 70% of complaints made to the LGO by special guardians are being upheld. There is no representation whatsoever for special guardians on the various Regionalisation Boards – and no proper infrastructure to provide them with the support they need. Our politicians and the media are beginning to speak out.
What is undeniable is that our previously looked after children often require more than ‘normal’ parenting and care as they have very high levels of disability. Diagnoses such as Autism, FASD, Attachment Disorder and PTSD are common, although the diagnosis is no guarantee of support in austerity Britian.
The public are so easily misled and to them it seems that we ‘hand our children back to care’, and vanish from their lives. We are sadly not helped by the media at all in this respect with the headlines of children being ‘relinquished’ to care because we could not take any more. The reality is rather different for most. The general public often does not realise that under a Section 20 Care Order we retain full parental responsibility, and under a Section 31 Care Order it is shared until the age of 18. Our children will probably need support long after this however, and we are there to provide it as best we can, long after children’s services have ceased to be involved.
The important role we play, when our children must re-enter care, is not supported at all by legislation or policy infrastructure, which was never designed with our children and families in mind. We have struggled with it for 30 years now. When our children re-enter care they are completely destabilised – and they often become ‘pinball children’, the last thing we would wish for. There is little by way of valuing all the knowledge we have about our children gained over years of parenting and caring for them. It takes 18 years for a child to reach adulthood, and the continuity we provide when they re-enter care could be invaluable for our children, especially when the average length of time a social worker works in the profession is just 7 years. Retention to this profession has become so poor. It is such a hard job to do, and we know this because many of us have done it ourselves – or been doctors, or teachers, or police, or lawyers or therapists. Our children need such a lot of support when they re-enter care, and we try as hard as we can to provide this within a system that contrains us, sometimes in the face of lamentably unsupportive attitudes from children’s services. In a blame culture, blame is inevitably passed onto the most vulnerable – our children, and us. We must absorb so much criticism, at a time when we, and our children, are all keenly feeling immense loss and grief.
There is only one ‘child protection’ model – it doesn’t seem to work very well in cases where parents and special guardians cannot be ‘reformed’ and have too much to cope with due to a child’s disabilities, or because of the legacy of the past.
The tragic case of a teenage adopted boy who took his own life in Powys, the awful case of the autistic young man Connor Sparrowhawk whose family were due to meet and talk about him coming home just two days after he had died, and the recent Leder Report findings have shaken so many of us, and we feel a sense of desperate urgency, to try every possible avenue to try work with others, to bring about a less harmful, more family centred approach that can better protect and have long term benefits – and does not lead to ‘pinball kids’ or so many premature deaths or tragic outcomes (drug abuse, prison, homelessness), for previously looked after children who suffer adverse childhood experiences.
We wish to work with those who support to break the cycle of abuse and neglect not cause further, irreparable distress and deprivation, when we cannot care for children safely with the inadequate help and support provided under austerity measures.
We repeatedly, for many months, get dismissive responses from the DfE and it has become very disheartening. We feel that without those with ‘lived experiences’ of parenting and caring for children, being able to contribute at a decision making level, the changes that are needed will not come about, or will take too long.
What you can do to help
Please go to the DfE’s website by clicking this link here, and ask, through making a ‘comment’ or a ‘complaint’ if you have your own complaints to make, that we can be heard. Please quote reference 2018-0021341.
Please request the DfE allows SG&AT, the only group to bring the perspectives of adopters and special guardians together, to contribute to dialogue and discussion, to work with others to improve things for our children and families.
Please also sign and share our petition to consider whether the 1989 Children’s Act can be improved on now, in 2018. We think its important to do this with an open mind that considers that change may be beneficial – not rule it out without any discussion, and with us never being able to contribute to discussions at all when the decisions taken will have lifelong consequences for us, and not for those who make them.