I have had an SGO for two of my Grandsons, now aged 5 and 7, for almost three years. I am a single parent and also have my three youngest children living at home, aged 7, 10 and 12 years. My grandsons were taken into Local Authority foster care due to neglect and physical abuse. The youngest especially suffered serious physical abuse from his step-father and both were diagnosed with Global Development Delay. The youngest, due to developmental issues at school, has recently been given a diagnosis of having an Attachment Disorder.
Although I was advised by a social worker prior to the SGO being granted that the boys would need full time care, and I would not be able to work to be able to provide this, I had no awareness of exactly what this meant. I expected some upheaval to daily life and a settling in period, but was totally unprepared for the torrent of rage, destruction and overwhelming anxieties a two-year-old child could produce. The daily onslaught of aggression from a child who is unable to communicate his needs is demanding both physically and mentally and creates a chaotic home environment in which everyone absorbs the madness. My birth children were caught up in the behaviour that accompanies a traumatised child and I lived in fear of what each new day would bring.
Initially I asked social services for help via emails as my phone calls had not been answered and left messages not replied to. I was concerned that I was struggling to cope with the behavioural demands of my youngest grandchild and had thoughts of physically hurting him. I had no idea on the best way to help my grandson and the lack of professional support to cope with his constant demands was wearing me down. I do not smack my children, I was never smacked as a child, and the thought that I could potentially hurt him was terrifying to me. I thought that I should consider returning him to care where he could get some therapeutic help but knew this would only add to his problems of rejection and struggled on as best as I could. Months later I was contacted by a phone call from the social worker doing a routine check who stated, ‘But you didn’t hurt him did you.’ Fortunately, I had not, but no therapeutic support was offered except for funding for an additional preschool session, so I could have two hours respite, but this never materialised.
The need for my whole family to have some sort of therapeutic input is great, but it is not readily available, and the concerns of asking for it are huge. I was not aware of the impact of vicarious trauma upon myself or my own children and felt that, as time went on, it became harder to call someone for support. My worry was that social services would say I was not coping with the children and that my grandsons, and potentially my own children, could be taken into care. There have been times when I have felt desperate for respite care but have not asked as the impact on the youngest of being placed again into a fostering environment could exacerbate the problems he already has. SGO holders should have access to training before the SGO is granted to help understand and cope with a traumatised child’s greater needs. It is very easy to take it personally and doubt your abilities in a caring role when a young child is raging a physical attack upon yourself and his home environment due to his inner torment. A traumatised child can be triggered into a panic by seemingly innocuous things and dealing with this 24/7 is demanding and anxiety-provoking on everyone within the household. A support service both pre- and post-SGO, in which judgements are not made, but specifically designed therapeutic support is given to all family members is essential. The potential fallout of not providing these services is immense. The cost of providing family therapy and support during the initial settling in period, and again as needed, surely outweighs the price of services needed once a traumatised child reaches teenage years and starts to take his issues out on the wider environment.