Unresolved trauma

My adopted son is the victim of horrendous crimes that go unpunished – because he was unable to speak out about what happened- he was too frightened. No therapy was given to him in foster care for two years after his removal – until he was adopted by me, when it all came out in the first therapy session. This denial of support to a victim of appalling crime would be unthinkable for an adult – but it seems to be routine, possibly a way of rationing services, for our very young ones – who suffer the same crimes. Had I not adopted my child it seems unlikely he would ever have been given therapy at all – unless his behaviour became too unmanageable for his carers. Post the Adoption Order being made I have had to battle and battle for every piecemeal scrap of support given to us – mostly given to my child actually, because the ‘child focused’ system does not support those who re-pairent these vulnerable children well, if at all. Instead of help I was taken to court when I refused to put my child back in the care system under a Section 20 Care Order – when I needed respite as we coped with the difficult transition to adolescence. I felt I would go under without a break but I also knew that going back into care, to be looked after by strangers, after five years, would undermine the sense of permanence that I had tried so hard to create for my child. There was no one to help me resolve this dilemma. My son was on highest level Disability Living Allowance. Why could we not be dealt with by the disability team or see a post adoption support specialist to think together about the difficulties we faced as a family? The generic child protection social workers allocated to the case and to conduct our assessments, didn’t seem to understand the issues we had to deal with as a family at all. How any foster carers would support my child and I when they would have been ‘managed’ by these professionals was not something I could understand. His medical diagnoses and terrible past was somehow completely overlooked in the needs assessment that was done, instead of help given, when we reached a crisis point. I had to continually remind professionals about these important context issues, and draw their attention to the problems we faced stemming from the legacy of the past. I should not have had to do this and doing so left us at risk as a family because then the view was then taken that it was all too much for me to cope with – and the match was inappropriately made.

Once in court things got much much worse – with the adversarial nature of care proceedings. We have created a system where loving parents cannot advocate for children unable to speak for themselves, who do not want to think about what has happened, and wish us to speak for them. It was so hurtful to read the police and social work reports and see the way I was portrayed and discussed by professionals I had trusted. But the more upset I became in court – because my son was now self harming and suicidal in care whilst my mental health and parental capacity (which had been rigorously assessed in order for me to adopt), was re-evaluated to ‘draw a line’ under the spurious allegations I was confronted with after asking for help – the more it seemed I couldn’t cope. I was completely overwhelmed by the sledghammer approach. The Judge saw a hysterical woman and a boy who was severely damaged. A Care Order was made.

After this Order was made life was pretty unbearable for the both of us. A strategy of ‘hope deprivation’ appeared to be the way my son was dealt with – he could not come home till he was 18 and make his own choices, whilst I was relentlessly humiliated and discredited as a parent. It felt my child was being made to suffer to prove a point – that I could not cope – and there was nothing I could do to stop this. It was utter torment. There was never an opportunity given to prove I was anything other than a ‘risk of harm’ to the child I loved and sought help for. There was never any help for us as an adoptive family under the Care Order. It was nightmare existence I would not wish on anyone.

Pulling the plug

When the Adoption Support Fund was introduced in 2014 we were told my son was not eligible to recieve this support, ostensibly created for him and families like ours, because there was ‘no intention to reunify’. The plug was pulled on us. We were described as a ‘failed adoption’, or a ‘placement disruption’, and no dialogue about my son coming home was achievable – even though this was what he wanted more than anything else in the world. The risks are very high to care for a traumatised child (health and safety regulations mean education professionals cannot be alone with our children whatever their past), so no foster carers wanted to look after my son. This was just as well as he did not want to go into foster care ever again after the first care proceedings. This was still the Care Plan for him however, until the professionals that ruled our lives finally gave up on this and tried to move him to a children’s home a seven hour round trip away from me, his friends and community. My son said he would take his own life if this happened. At least the Judge was critical of the local authority for doing this when an application to discharge the Care Order sadly failed. I tried again. I had no legal help because of legal aid restrictions – but what choice did I have as a parent other than make applications for the Care Order to be discharged when my child wanted to come home and no dialogue was achievable about it? The LAC reviews were horrendous. I would often end up breaking down and my child could not cope with them at all.

Coming back home

Reunification finally happened after a second application to discharge the Care Order was successful. In these second proceedings my son was represented by his own solicitor and we finally managed to get an adoption expert appointed by the court to look at the case with fresh eyes.

There was no rehabilitation plan or supported reunification. When I look at the NSPCC’s framework for reunification, the only one I can find for families where children live apart, I am so grateful we were not subjected to this as an adoptive family. This framework begins with the premise that there is a risk the child might suffer further abuse and neglect if sent home and adds insult to injury with families like ours where the abuse and neglect happened before the child arrived.

Too many shut doors

The Adoption Support Fund finally arrived five months after my child came home – and I had to go back to court to get it, applying for a Supervision Order to be discharged to have any dialogue about the support that was needed. A waste of time in some respects because the senior managers making decisions never came to court and the managers who did attend said they had no authority to make decisions. The organisation closed in on itself and I was still out in the cold instead of a unified team working in partnership with me. The Order was discharged by the court a few days before it ran out anyway. Unfortunately the remit of the court was too narrow to look at many facets of the case and the violations of my son’s ‘Rights of the Child’ when he was back in care. To make matters worse the company appointed by the government to administer the Adoption Support Fund accepted an illegal assessment, done without our knowledge or consent, as a basis for their provision of funding. This company could and should have insisted on using the court appointed expert’s report when they were made aware this was an adoption reunification. But once the money was given there was no reason to complain from their perspective and the complaint I had tried to make, about the way the assessment was conducted, and the untruths and unfounded allegations it contained, was simply dismissed.

It has proved to be the case that there is to be no learning from our case. With no Judgments needed when the local authority capitulated, the outcome of the proceedings remains out of the public domain. The DfE do not consider individual cases. The LGO will not look again anything that was considered to have been ‘investigated’ before – not even in the light of knowledge gained subsequently – through all the court battles I had to fight alone. Neither the LGO or the local authority complaints team want to deal with me it seems – but I am told my son could make a complaint. Unfortunately his knowledge of what happened is very limited and he is understandably far too traumatised by it all to want to deal with it himself. Why are his vulnerabilities not taken into account by those who are supposed to scrutinise? So it seems no one will investigate or scrutinise the many many injustices that befell us, after I asked for help – and the only option they gave me was removal of my child.

I feel my son and I are very lucky. We survived a system that tried to separate us, and in the end it made us stronger and more determined to be together again – the more we were pulled apart.