Harrowing court proceedings – instead of positive family support and partnership working
We are a small adoptive family. Just me and my adopted son who is now 18. We had ended up in court in the first instance, or so it seemed to me, because in court, the LA were able to deflect away from their own negligence and failings, which were the subject of a Formal Complaint and media scrutiny, and to shift the focus instead onto my parental capacity. Once the case went to court the Local Government Ombudsman stops investigations, and there can be no media scrutiny either – effectively I was being silenced. I could see this but the Judge could not.
Labelling and discrediting of loving parents and carers – becoming an ‘unfit’ parent
The LA suggested to the court that I was mentally ill and a substance abuser, after care proceedings were sprung on us – when my help seeking had gone terribly wrong. I had turned to the police for protection from the misguided social workers and safeguarding teams, whose only response was to seek to remove my child, under a ‘voluntary’ Section 20 Care Order, when I had wanted help to safely care for him. Returning him to care so I could have a break, which I did need as a single parent, would unnecessarily traumatise him. By way of response the police had issued an Emergency Protection Order – without even checking their own records – which would have negated the reasons given for the Order. The Judge said the allegations made were ‘standard’, and dismissed the substance abuse allegations. But being informed by the local authority’s social care professionals that I was mentally ill – this seemingly conferred a degree of credibility to these spurious allegations, such that further investigation would probably have been necessary – a fact that legal advisors to the LA would surely have been cognisant of.
I felt held over a barrel when the Judge asked if I would consent to a psychological assessment to ‘draw a line’ under the allegations (which proved false as I knew they would). Unfortunately, by agreeing, it meant my son was removed until the assessment was done. This took four months to complete. Had I known it would have taken so long I would never have agreed. The impact of the removal, coupled with the aggressive approach – which was to treat me in exactly the same way as the birth parents from whom my child was removed, and who had never been punished for their crimes (because my child had been too frightened to speak), was that my child became destabilised. He was re-traumatised by the earlier removal from his birth family and separation from two siblings.
The LA set about trying to find fault with me as a parent with a vengeance – because of my criticisms of them. They made sure the messages my son received were that I was not a ‘safe’ parent for him, thereby potentially undoing all the good work done by others and by me.
What was really frightening was the social care professionals and their legal representatives could totally fabricate a mental illness on my part, and even specify a diagnosis, and it could go as far as it did. In their first set of instructions to the court appointed expert, who was being paid a small fortune to assess my psychological fitness, (I had been rigorously assessed to adopt so any medical diagnoses would have shown up on my records), it was postulated that I had a ‘personality disorder’ and the assessor was queried about what treatment approach I might need. It was also suggested that I could not get on with professionals at all, which was complete rubbish, since I am a professional person myself. These instructions were thrown out by the Judge, but the the court expert inadvertently picked up the wrong set of instructions and refused to believe me when I tried to explain this. If what I was saying was true, it was explained, then they would not have been appointed to assess.
In terms of being able to work with professionals, the fact that I had been a parent advisor to an Adoption Support Services Advisory Group for several years was conveniently forgotten about. I had volunteered for this group wishing to give something back, and I had worked closely alongside professionals and a small number of carefully chosen parents to develop better services for the region.
Anyway, I was not mentally ill – I had asked for help that was not forthcoming, and was frustrated and angry about this because it meant we were left at risk. A family support worker allocated to us during proceedings said she could not understand why the case was not laughed out of court by the Judge. I was told not to mention this in court by my solicitor, but I wanted the truth to come out, and did mention it. The closing of ranks and lack of professional integrity, between and within agencies, was incredible to behold. Witnesses woud not come forwards. Even the police could not be trusted it seemed – I referred the matter to them for investigation – as I felt the false allegation of mental abuse of my child and mental illness on my part, which no one would own up to making, were effectively ‘misconduct in public office’. One should not be able to mislead the police and court in this way about a parent of a vulnerable child from the care system. I asked them to come to court. I wanted to get to the bottom of the Emergency Protection Order they had issued, and to explain about a covert police strategy meeting called after I sought help from the Adoption UK helpline to explain that I could make no progress with regards to a risk assessment, which should have been done. But they would not come to court unless paid because it was a civil matter – and I could not afford to pay and on principle did not think this should be necessary when I am reliant on statutory benefits and allowances because of my son’s care needs, which had meant I had to give up my job and career. My confidence in the police has been somewhat eroded with this case. I felt the DCI who investigated the case could have done more – someone from the police might at least have come to see us, my son and I, to hear our complaint. Perhaps their own involvement in the case was a barrier to them dealing with us in a fair and proper manner.
Adoption becomes exploitative and ethically questionable under austerity, if much needed help is not provided and parents cannot feel safe to report concerns, or make formal complaints, without blame and discrediting by the police and through the Family Courts.
The local authority took away my child against his wishes, but through using court to clobber me with blame, they also took away my voice – and my child wanted me to speak for him so neither of us could be heard. Being unable to help my son and being depicted and viewed as his adversary by the court, and the LA after the Care Order was made, was mental torment.
Treating vulnerable traumatised children as mini adults
Before all this happened, we were a poster family for adoption success, and my child had only fairly recently been put forwards as one of only 15 children across the UK to meet with Baroness Butler Shloss at Westminster. He could not go because the questions that were asked of him were too distressing for him, whch I explained to the charity that organised the event. Questions need to be tailored to children – and their trauma needs to be factored in, but this was not being done. It is no good asking a child who is left traumatised through sibling separation whether they think adopting siblings separately or together is better – it just causes upset.
The problematic threshold of ‘Beyond Parental Control’
The LA won their case because of the threshold of ‘Beyond Parental Control’ – which is a huge problem for families like ours, where a child is emotionally dysregulated because of the legacy of the past, and needs to feel in control, in order to feel safe. Context is everything for families like ours – where there is trauma. It pervades every aspect of family life with invisible triggers to the past.
It beggars belief that an adopted child can be so easily removed against his wishes and those of his parent. I was just hung out to dry by the very people that should have been supporting me as a parent, and by charities and organisations that should have represented our interests. Complaining to the Charities Commission was futile – they refused to investigate without giving proper reasons. My trust in this Commission is none existent.
No way home for the child – deprivation of hope
Instead of holistic family support under a Care Order, where I shared parental responsibility for my child, there was deprivation of hope. My child went from believing he would come home to becoming resigned that this was not going to be possible until he was 18 and could make his own choices. He begged me to stop trying because the raising of hope (through the making of applications) was unbearable. Better to endure, and to withstand what he felt and described as a prison sentence. His ‘learned helplessness’, which resulted from his early life experiences, worked against us both – and he self harmed almost continually and twice tried to end his life. What a trap we were caught in!
“I am here because my child wants to come home” – I told the LA senior managers, with whom I met with to try and talk about reunification. “That is not what he says to others”- they told me. I could never prove this falsehood – not with the Cafcass Guardian, who represented my son’s wishes and feelings to the court, disagreeing with Care Order discharge. Finally I managed to to get my child his own solicitor.
I found that professionals and institutions were far more concerned with protecting their opinions and avoiding scrutiny than protecting the child. Professional arrogance and organisational defensiveness takes the place of empathy, support and care when a case goes to court.
It took me three and a half years to get my son home, with all public law orders discharged.
From my perspective, it appeared that the Local Authority’s senior managers were able to misappropriate the Family Court, without being called to account by anyone at all – they seem to be above the law. They are also able to be profligate with the public purse, with no one scrutinising their conduct – because court is certainly not cheap! The residential care my son needed, when foster carers could not be found, was also not cheap – nearer to £5k per week rather than £5k per year, which is what the Adoption Support Fund is capped at.
A lack of transparency and closing of ranks when cases go to court – no learning from cases
I could not believe what happened to my son and I after I asked for help, as an adoptive parent. Ours may be an extreme case but it is not an isolated one and adopters (and birth families), up and down the country are being victimised in the Family Courts, with no one taking positive action. Local Authorities are putting decent loving parents and families through hell in our courts – and because of the lack of transparency about what went on in court, in our case, no one could know about it. The Judge said it was one of the most important adoption cases in the country – but there could be no learning from the case. This is because the LA and Cafcass Guardian did not contest my applications to discharge Orders after we had finally achieved an assessment conducted by an adoption expert – so no judgment to be published. When I took the case to Mott MacDonald (who administer the Adoption Support Fund), and the DofE, their response was that they do not deal with individual cases. They pushed me back to the LA senior managers, who they knew were stonewalling me. It was just shut doors and more closing of ranks wherever I turned.
The final court appointed expert recommended awards for bravery be given to us both to rebuild lost trust – instead the LA continued with their blaming approach for longer, and no apologies were every given for the errors made, which had catastrophic and devastating consequences for my child and I.
As to whether the current Care Crisis Review will make a difference – I personally feel concerned about this. Service user representation at a decision making level, and on the various panels, seems woefully inadequate. I was recently unable to attend a workshop organised by the Family Rights Group because the number of places was too small to accomodate me and also accomodate another parent, with equally bad experiences of court – annoying since I had taken unpaid leave to go. But I heard afterwards that the manager who violated my child’s rights with impunity was at this event. Mediation was stopped by the mediator as I felt unable to mediate with an individual who had instructed children’s home staff not to give my son his GP prescribed medication – and I pointed out that denying a child medical treatment was rather serious. I saw my child driven to suicidal despair by this individual. I am relieved I was not able to go – I really could not have coped with seeing our persecutor again and would have needed to prepare myself for such a re-traumatising encounter. Just hearing the person’s name was bad enough. I have heard that other families and children have also suffered as a result of this individual’s arrogance and aggressive methods.
No one should be above the law
Seeing how the actions and harmful attitudes of the Local Authority and Cafcass goes unchecked, has made me realise that those who are supposed to represent the interests of children are, in effect, above the law. No one should be above the law. This is why we need to update legislation to bring about greater accountability. Legislation needs updating and it should protect those it is intended to serve – especially children with a history of severe abuse and neglect. When the system works against these children, as it did in this case, it is a broken system.
Please sign this petition, which calls for urgent action to update legislation and guidance to the Children Act 1989.
Petition to Government
Changes to Children Act 1989
Urgent action is required to give more rights & protection to parents/carers & also vulnerable children in care
Sections 20 & 31 of Children Act are currently unworkable, resulting in a care crisis. We call on government to take urgent action to make changes to legislation & guidance to protect the parenting/caring role from a distance by:
A more humane ethical family centred approach where birth & adoptive parents & special guardians can be seen as part of the solution & not part of the problem, in striving to do their best caring for their children.
Safeguarding vulnerable children with new legislation & legal frameworks that also supports parents/carers when children are ‘beyond parental control’ which may be related to poor mental health, disabilities, early life trauma, abuse or neglect.