Last night my 17 year old son was supposed to go to his first ever proper gig. He had been looking forward to it for weeks. Unfortunately he found out the person he was supposed to go with couldn’t go at the beginning of the week. But he found someone else to go with instead and he was all set. As the day wore on yesterday he became more and more anxious about going. In the end he was overwhelmed with anxiety, and he couldn’t go. I tried my best, so did the friend he was going with – but he was already so upset himself, about not feeling up to going, it just made it worse to focus on it more. I bought him treats instead, a bottle of coke and his favourite sweets. His mood lifted and we talked about how there would be other gigs in future. No professional would ever have thought he was not attending this gig because of my poor parenting.
Five years ago I asked for more support as my son transitioned to adolescence – trauma related issues came to the surface in different ways and the same parenting strategies were not working for me. Hormones had kicked in and the level of anger escalated quickly sometimes – and he wasn’t as ready to do what I asked of him. He was diagnosed with RAD and had never been that ready, but I had found ways, and we always had fun together. Ours was a happy home. But now he wanted to be on his own more, and there was more pushing me away.
My son, who had always loved school, started to school refuse around this same time, when Social Care came back into our lives, after a period of absence, to conduct an assessment. Try as I might nothing worked. CAMHS couldn’t help. School didn’t want to know and said he was a great kid and they could see no problems – the implication was the problems were at home. Social Care seemed to have two explanations for it: either I was not parenting effectively, or my child was naughty/lazy. Not one professional had thought that maybe having social workers back in his life could have been a trigger to a traumatising removal, from school, from my child’s first family. And I didn’t even know about his removal from his birth family from school at this stage. Even thinking about it now makes me feel upset. A six year old child going off to school – and never going home, forever separated from his siblings. How could this not affect a child?
The school refusal had a massive impact on our life – its knock on effects were that I could barely leave the house and I lost the business I had been trying to build. I needed respite in a way that I had never needed it before, with having to provide 24/7 therapeutic parenting care – yet I couldn’t access it, except by returning my child to care under a Section 20 Care Order. This was the only way the local authority would agree to provide it. My child was completely freaked out about the idea of going into foster care as it was – but I needed a break. We were in a stuck place and a family at the edge of crisis.
Even though my child was on DLA, diagnosed with RAD and ADHD – to the authority, in terms of the professionals allocated to work with us, he was a ‘normal’ child and his disabilities were not recognised as such. We didn’t ever meet with adoption social workers or those in the disabilities team. It also didn’t help that CAMHS, who provided therapy, and the local authority, weren’t really communicating with each other.
Several years later a virtual head became involved who recognised the school refusal as anxiety related. But by this time my son was a ‘looked after child’ again – care proceedings had been instigated by the local authority and concluded with a Section 31 Care Order, with the school refusal being considered a reason for the threshold of ‘beyond parental control’ being met. This was after my son had attended school in foster care during the care proceedings. He was not attached to his foster carer. He didn’t mind leaving the foster carers home.
Initial care proceedings concluded with my son coming home under ‘Placement with Parents’ regulations, but almost as soon as he came home the school refusal started again. The court approved Care Plan was for foster care respite, but my child barricaded himself in a wardrobe in his bedroom when it was time to go. Again I was made to feel a failure and there was no support – I couldn’t control my child. Worse was to come. Under the Section 31 Care Order my son was permanently removed when I reported a concerning incident, hoping that he might be able to have respite in the children’s home, which he preferred to foster care. I hoped by reporting he would finally get specialist therapeutic support for his trauma issues.
The local authority Care Plan was for foster care – as far as they were concerned he would never go home. It was fortunate that no foster carers could be identified who were willing to accept him – this meant he could stay in the children’s home, which he preferred. We were a family but found ourselves torn apart and described as a ‘placement breakdown’. In the children’s home where he lived my son was put on an ‘anxiety reduction’ education programme by the virtual head. The programme meant he was tutored in the children’s home for two years and he finally managed to access education, in a way that was not previously provided to him as an adopted child.
Now that my son is 17 and we are reunified for a year, I still feel so anxious whenever he school refuses. Thank goodness no one can take him away at this age, against his wishes, blaming my parenting. We have fantastic support from a specialist adoption therapist who explains to the local authority that school refusal is not because of what happens at home – it is because of what happened, or what happens, outside the home. Home is where the problems emerge.