A family can be destroyed very easily, and all the hard work that is done by us can be undone, when there is a lack of professional understanding.
Unfortunately, a serious systemic failing means that asking for help for a vulnerable child or young person puts a parent or guardian at risk, as the parenting of the child may be called into question when the family has reached a crisis point. There are no guarantees that safeguarding professionals will appreciate or understand adoption or guardianship issues – and it seems that too many don’t. This means that parents and guardians who are desperate for help and support can be confronted with a dearth of understanding on the part of the professionals they seek help from about family dynamics – when family members are put at risk due to a child or young person’s vulnerabilities and trauma fuelled behaviour. The child or young person may also be struggling to cope with conditions such FASD, which are poorly understood – according to Adoption UK’s Adoption Barometer, which reveals some concerning discrepancies between BAME adoptive families and others. From our perspective, a lack of knowledge about faith, culture and identity issues on the part of the professionals we need help from is putting vulnerable children and families at risk.
The reality is that professionals can be at a loss to know what to do and out of their depth – but unwilling to admit this, especially when there has been professional negligence and misunderstanding. When professionals do not know how to help us they will misunderstand risks and will come between us and our children instead of supporting our relationships with them.
A further problem is that adopters and special guardians can sadly find professionals and organisations become defensive and take umbrage when challenged, and we can find that making a complaint can make things worse not better. In this situation we can find ranks are firmly closed. There is very little we can do when this closing of ranks happens – especially when the LGO (Local Government Ombudsman) refuses to investigate complaints.
Added to this there an alarming weakening of legal protections for children in care and adopted children with the introduction of new legislation in April this year with Statutory Instrument 445. Covid 19 should not be used opportunistically to downgrade protections for our most vulnerable children who cannot, for no fault of their own, live within their birth families. Children’s rights charity Article 39 has mounted a legal challenge to this legislation, which SG&AT fully support and endorse.
Adopters and special guardians need to be able to raise concerns when there has been negligence and failings and for these concerns to be fairly and properly investigated. We are deeply concerned that the LGO is not investigating cases as should be happening. We are alarmed that several of our families have had the LGO refuse to conduct investigations when very serious concerns have been raised. The name of a particular LGO who has closed cases without any investigation has now cropped up twice, which is very worrying.
Complainants can be left feeling that raising concerns was counterproductive if the case is closed without investigation – having already got through the three stage local authority complaints process (expect this to take six months at least) – or if an investigation ends up being partial – for example, missing important context issues so the LGO investigation gets off on the wrong foot. It is unusual for an LGO to meet with a complainant – but our cases are invariably fairly complex with a catalogue of concerns – so what the LGO decides to investigate might be quite different from the issues we initially raised as problematic. Once there is court involvement in the case the LGO cannot investigate – but there is often court involvement when our children re-enter care. It is hard for us to know what can and cannot be thought about by the LGO and soul destroying when human rights issues and our children’s rights have not been given consideration in care proceedings, which have a fairly narrow remit, and are then not investigated by the LGO.
The LGO needs to understand the enormous pressure and strain that an adopter or special guardian may be under, especially when parenting from a distance. Issues of consent are complex when intervention comes between parent/guardian and child in this harrowing situation. It may also be that the child or young person’s trust has been completely eroded by professionals in care.
When a child or young person has finally had the courage to write to a Director of Children’s Services to ask to make a complaint, after spending years back in care whilst professionals did not understand the case, the least the LGO can do is give proper consideration to the concerns. It is important, both ethically and morally for the complainant, that such cases are rigorously investigated to protect our children from harm caused by unacceptably poor practice and professional misconduct,
Perhaps, also, with an estimated 2k adopted children and young people going back into the care system each year (less than 4k adoption orders were made last year), we need new and better ways to learn from these cases – rather than partial after the event investigations that don’t factor in professional misunderstanding about the case, which take months or even years to complete, and do not necessarily make much difference – as we are finding our families are having to put in multiple complaints, at the same time as dealing with 21st Century social problems (online bullying, county lines, sexual exploitation and grooming) that have been brought into the family due to the young person’s vulnerabilities.