The response to letters (written to MPs) from the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families reveals a worrying disconnect and lack of understanding about what is going on in adoption and special guardianship – where children have complex needs and families struggle to achieve timely adequate support. It is not just the current minister however – we have observed a pattern of responses over the past two years with three different ministers.

Modern adoption is in crisis with adopter recruitment still being the relentless goal of government, whilst special guardianship has no proper infrastructure to support the children and families. These are the same children – with complex needs and traumatic pasts. But trauma is in the child – not in the past.

  • Financial support, for special guardians especially, becomes a battleground with families being forced into poverty in too many cases
  • Respite, which may be needed by parents and guardians – especially when more of us are single parents/guardians, can be a double-edged sword as going back into care (out of necessity under Section 20) can trigger earlier trauma memories of separation for children and can result in feelings of failure or rejection – which results in their defences going up. Our children may try and protect themselves from further loss by pushing us away – with this being misinterpreted or misrepresented as us deserving their rejection.
  • 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). However, the past is ignored and it is our parenting or care that will almost inevitably become the main focus – with problematic thresholds for us being seen as a source of harm to our children – like the threshold of ‘beyond parental control’. Our children are ‘beyond control’ – not beyond parental control – because their basic sense of safety in the world and trust was broken long ago – putting them in care with no way home may keep us and other family members safe but it doesn’t solve the child’s problems, which may get worse. It is proving so hard for us to get therapy for a child once they are back in care – if they will even accept it.
  • Professional knowledge about how to support vulnerable children and young people is lacking once the child re-enters care. Asumptions 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, which are related to a child’s traumatic past, and/or neurodevelopmental conditions.
  • IROs and Cafcass guardians do not take cases back to court as they should be doing, especially when a child wants to come home, and parents and guardians end up being treated and viewed as if they have abused the child.

Any ministerial or government response we have seen over the past two years will invariably begin with platitudes about how much people who take on the role of providing a family home for a child are greatly valued.

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 child and family by the parent or guardian.

From our perspective, the system is not fit for purpose, with this fact not being recognised by government. A government 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 surely need to change?

The avenues of redress suggested to the parent or guardian by the minister are all exhausted.

  • The local government ombudsman will not investigate cases that have gone to court.
  • The opinions of professionals are beyond the remit of the Ombudsman. They can discredit us with impunity and ignore the child’s past.
  • Making a complaint takes months or even years – and by this time the family’s crisis may have deepened and a child is already returned to care or come to harm.
  • To no avail we try to flag up to government, and the organisations they deal with, how local authorities are misappropriating the family courts, where they have the upper hand with legal representation funded by the public purse – whereas we must pay for legal assistance, and may even incur legal costs. Any natural justice goes out of the window in our courts where there are legal inequities and when adversarial parties exploit our naivety if we can’t afford lawyers.
  • As well as local authorities, who are overly concerned with protecting their reputation, we are having terrible problems with Cafcass guardians and with some of the experts that adversarial parties instruct and use. Getting the right experts can be a nightmare and a total impossibility with the legal test of ‘necessity’. The legal advocates of other parties want to win their case – this is how the courts work. They undermine us and try to trip us up at every stage. All we wanted was help for our children! Our children and families must live with the consequences of their moral complacency and veiled hostility towards us (masked by a veneer of mannered politeness) for the rest of our lives. We didn’t cause the problems! We were supposed to be part of the solution!

We take our tragic stories to legislators, influencers and policy makers only to hear the mantra, again and again, that individual cases cannot be considered. They are best dealt with at a local level we are told.

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)”

We see so much harm being done but we cannot do anything about it if our concerns are not given proper consideration and we cannot be part of the dialogue about change. We have not a hope in hell of breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect if the voices of people actually raising the children are not heard, amidst the myth of ‘happy ever after’.

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