As we go into this election we feel it is important to state that responses to letters (written to MPs) from the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families over the past two years have revealed a worrying disconnect and lack of understanding about the plight of adoptive and special guardianship families.
The Minister’s letter of response invariably begins with statements about how much people who take on the role of providing a family home for a child are greatly valued.
The concerns raised by the parent or guardian are then basically ignored and government policy and provision is reiterated – when it is these very policies and services that are being drawn to the attention of the Minister as having utterly failed the family by the parent or guardian. The letters have a condescending tone and beneath the platitudes they reveal a dismissive and concerning disregard for us amongst elected ministers, who if they are Conservative MPs affirm their agreement with the Minister and describe the concerns as having been ‘addressed’ by the Minister.
Thus the door is shut on a parent or guardian who is in a desperate situation and finds they have nowhere to turn.
Practice in permanence has not evolved in the past 20 years, particularly in regards to family contact. This is despite massive social change. Legislation is not fit for purpose, with this fact not being recognised by government. The report ‘Trends in adoption and special guardianship support and priorities for the future’ sets out a context where legislation change is unlikely to be a possibility in the medium term. Why? If there is suffering and harm then things need to change. From our perspective the system is broken and it is punishing people who care for vulnerable children suffering trauma and loss, when they ask for help for the children.
The local government ombudsman, who we are instructed to approach by the Minister, will not investigate cases that have gone to court. The opinions of professionals are also beyond the remit of the Ombudsman. To no avail we try to flag up how local authorities are misappropriating the family courts, where they have the upper hand with legal representation funded by the public purse whereas our children and us must pay, and may incur costs. Children and young people who have received monies under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Award scheme cannot find legal help to take on cases of human rights violations in care – as the monies they receive as compensation for abuse at the hands of their birth parents prohibits legal aid -and insurances against them having to pay legal costs are so expensive that the compensation they might receive is not worth the solicitor’s time. The law cannot be applied.
In too many cases we find we have no choice but to put children back into care to keep ourselves and other children safe. This heartbreaking decision is not the fault of the child or our fault – it is because of earlier life losses, traumas and neglect or because of neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism or FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder). But the past is ignored and it is our parenting or care that now becomes the main focus – in a toxic blame culture. Our children are potentially destabilised and their trust in us is undermined – but no one seems to care about this if they can’t live with us.
Respite, which may be needed by parents and guardians, can be a double-edged sword as going back into care can trigger earlier trauma memories for children and can result in feelings of failure or rejection for children. Professional knowledge about how to support these vulnerable children and young people and their permanence families is totally lacking. For example, assumptions prevail, in the only guidance that exists to achieve reunifications (see Option 13 of the Care Crisis Review), that children come into care because of problematic families rather than the child having complex needs, perhaps related to a child’s traumatic past.
The ready persecution of parents and guardians as ‘unsafe’ when they have asked for help is harmful. It is far too heavy handed and families are being crushed under the safeguarding sledgehammer – instead of being helped.
And things often get worse if the child goes back into care. Findings from an SG&AT survey (the Connections Survey) found that it is rare that adopters and special guardians can achieve ‘good partnership working’ with professionals after a child has re-entered care.
We strive to do our best for our children and we never expected to be treated as child abusers and lose our jobs when we asked for help – or to lose our children because no one could help us and the Adoption Support Fund cap has meant it is perceived as a quota – once used up the plug is pulled.
One adoptive mum who has written to her MP four times and asked to meet with him to no avail says:
“We have to view adoptive parents as systemically discriminated against by all social structures in society – everybody wants to pat us on the head but nobody wants to actually help improve our situation or our children’s situation. Its all part and parcel of the same adoption myth…the happily ever after and then if not – the persecution and blame, because you fucked up our fantasy that all you have to do is provide love (& unicorns and trampolines)”