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An adoptive mother describes what the lock down scenario really means.

My son gave me a wry, rare and very lovely smile when he told me that lock down had finally made him a model citizen, as it began a few weeks ago.

He hasn’t had an awful lot to smile about in his life – his early life was the stuff of nightmares – and the big concern for both of us now is what would happen to him if I got ill or died. It is something we both think about. Of course we do. But we do the best we can to get through it – with no help. Services seem to have vanished and it is totally impossible for my son to begin receiving the therapy he so clearly and desperately needs to help him recover from his traumas, and move forwards into adult life, actually being able to go out into the world.

My adoptive son is 20. He has barely left the house since he was 16 and he was reunified with me after a traumatic three and a half year separation, when he was taken back into care. This separation came about as a direct consequence of me asking for help to get him specialist trauma therapy that CAMHS could not provide. We also needed some sort of respite – because we were struggling to contain such a lot of trauma in our little family – and it was just me holding it all together during a difficult developmental stage. This help wasn’t forthcoming – as a result of an assessment being done to say it wasn’t needed. Then, instead of support, we got court to try and remove my son. And instead of help we were subjected to so much institutional abuse – for which restitution seems impossible to achieve.

Local authorities have far too much control over the assessment process. Assessments are done instead of providing help. These problematic reports are sometimes commissioned from professionals who never meet the child. Their professional status and role confers credibility – which a parent doesn’t have – especially in court it seems where experts are relied upon and the appreciation of adoption issues on the part of any expert really does matter.  Experts need to understand the way help seeking parents are put into conflict with those with a duty of care – especially under austerity. One assessment feeds into the next and we can find oft repeated errors and misunderstandings will take on the patina of truth. It would have been impossible for me to rectify misunderstandings without going back to court. A court where I felt the local authority exploited the fact I had no legal aid and where a Cafcass Guardian seemed to take an ends justifies the means approach, taking advantage of my child’s vulnerabilities and his absence from the proceedings. My child’s Guardian’s solicitor completely disregarded my son’s wish to come home.  A turning point came when the Judge allowed my son his own solicitor. The child’s advocate instead of a solicitor is another way I have observed children being taken advantage of by a local authority – who fund the advocacy service.

After reunification and Care Order discharge the local authority were too embarrassed to send the court expert’s assessment (which said we should both be given awards for bravery) to Mott MacDonald (who administer the Adoption Support Fund). Instead they conducted and sent an illegal assessment (done without our knowledge or consent), which was accepted by this privately owned engineering company, given the contract to administer the fund. The people I dealt with at this company didn’t care about us – or about accurate reports. They were doing their job and there were other adopters they drew upon to give them information – they did not need our views, which were not important at all it seemed. Our case- and what was said about us by the local authority to enable them to dish out the public money – didn’t matter – and they were just administrators – this is what I was told.

As an adoptive parent, I knew my son’s history better than any of the many social workers allocated to the case over the years and I knew the risks because of his past. Accepting these risks as an adopter made me a sitting target for institutional abuse when I needed help, especially as a single parent.

Both of the two individuals ultimately responsible for this abuse are now responsible for many other children as they have moved on to head up different local authorities as service directors. They are completely untouchable as they are not social workers or members of a professional body that regulates them. Social Work England say they can do absolutely nothing. No one seems interested in what has happened to us. Certainly not the Department of Education or any of the government ministers I have communicated with about the case. The same old platitudes about valuing adopters are trotted out when I write, along with much justification for inaction. Deaf ears and shut doors.  I receive a description of all the avenues we have already tried – and where we have been met with more shut doors. The fact that neither my son nor I can get legal aid is a major hindrance as this is such a complex case – and we could not manage without legal help that is completely inaccessible. The Local Government Ombudsman is so restricted in what they can investigate when the courts were previously involved and the opinions of professionals are beyond their remit anyway. We are the ones who needed help and deserve privacy – which the courts could provide – but we cannot access justice.

Everywhere I turn I find the limitations of an organisation’s or an individual’s role are pointed out to me – usually as a way of beginning any written any communication with me – and continually used to justify inaction.  These are serious ethical and moral issues – and without giving them attention can we honestly say that we live in a civilised country or even one that respects the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child? Too much is asked. My son has developed a weary and cynical outlook. Not surprising when ours/his experience is of people caring far more about their jobs, roles or organisations than him or us.

To make matters worse, the government has just taken away what inadequate scrutiny and safeguards there were for children in care and will now speed up adoption so that people like me, with lived experience, cannot scrutinise the support on offer through adoption panels, which become an optional extra. So more families will be set up to fail.

The Children’s Commissioner has asked for these changes to be revoked. This won’t improve things but at least they will not get worse.

The Children’s Commissioner’s statement can be read HERE

The Indian author Arundhati Roy has described the pandemic as a portal – we cannot go back to how things were before. Lets hope so because how they were before was terrible and I want my son to be able to say he is a model citizen for very different reasons than not being able to leave the house.

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