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In November last year we posted a ‘How You Can Help‘ page with a template letter to send to your MP. As a result of letters being sent to MPs, we were informed that at least three MPs wrote to Robert Goodwill, Minister for Children and Families. These were Judith Cummins MP, Helen Hayes MP and Chuka Umunna MP. Judith Cummins received a response from Robert Goodwill, which she passed on to the two constituents who wrote to her. The constitutents are both members of Adopters Together and considered Mr Goodwill’s response with the rest of our membership. We decided we needed to meet with Mr Goodwill asap as serious concerns were not properly addressed by his response. Since Mr Goodwill is no longer in post we thought we should publish our letter, as an open letter. The letter is now addressed to the new Minister instead of Rt Hon Robert Goodwill MP. We hope the new Minister will prioritise meeting with us as a matter of utmost urgency.

Campaign for Adoption Permanence
2 January 2018

Minister for Children and Families House of Commons London SW1A 0AA

Dear Mr Goodwill/Minister,

We write in response to your letter dated 11 December 2017 to Judith Cummins MP, who wrote to you on behalf of several members of Adopters Together, a peer support organisation for adopters and special guardians.

Your letter of response to Judith Cummins MP has been shared with our membership. We are extremely disappointed by your letter and frustrated by what appears to be a lack of appreciation of the magnitude of the current care crisis, and the crisis in modern adoption and special guardianship care.

We seek to meet with you as soon as possible and also draw your attention to the fact that we wrote to you on 29 October 2017 asking to meet, but have, as yet, not even received an acknowledgment of our request to meet. We have a team ready to meet as soon as you can give us a date.

As special guardians and adopters, we care for some of the UK’s most vulnerable children and young people, taking nearly 8000 of them out of the care system each year and, making a lifelong commitment to them. But when we ask for help and support, including respite, we find our children must re-enter care whilst we can find ourselves blamed for the problems we seek help for. Adopters in particular are hailed as heroes, until things go wrong, when we can find we are treated as if we are unfit to care for our children, many of whom have disabilities and poor mental health. There is no one to protect us, or represent our interests in this frightening scenario. We cannot advocate for our children when we are subjected to so much discrediting and blame, and trying to do so is more challenging than you could ever imagine Mr Goodwill.

With applications for care proceedings at record levels in England and Wales, a sector led review of the care crisis is currently in progress, facilitated by the Family Rights Group (FRG). We have copied in Cath Ashley, the Chief Executive of the FRG into this letter. It may be too late, but we are seeking representation at the Stakeholder and/or Advisory Group level for this important review, as there seems to be no mechanism within the ‘Vision for Change’ strategy by which we, as service users, can have any proper influence on the legislation, policy and infrastructure that directly impacts on our children and families.

We briefly respond to each point you raised in your letter of 11 December 2017:
Right Hon Robert Goodwill MP

1. Special guardians in our group found it very demoralising that they were not mentioned once in your letter of response. The level of communication about the ASF to special guardians is exceptionally poor and special guardians seem to be given little consideration – it seems they were an afterthought in the development of this fund. They are not part of the ‘Vision for Change’ strategy.

2. Austerity has a devastating impact on our lives and highly trained workers do not support us, as you suggest. The problems in social care in the UK, with overstretched underpaid workers leading to the removal of children were identified in Doc. 13730 13 March 2015 Social services in Europe: “It appears that threshold levels at which children are deemed to be at risk of significant harm can also vary based on workload and staff shortages in the child protection services”. We, or even our children, are, in some cases, having to pay for their own psychological assessments, when the local authority and ASF conduct and accept illegal assessments without the knowledge or consent of the family, and refuse to fund independent assessment – in direct contravention of Article 39 (UN Convention of the Rights of the Child).

3. The £5k ASF cap is insufficient in many cases and the fund is discriminatory – it is a one size fits all approach. It is not driven by the child or family’s needs, and there is a postcode lottery when many authorities provide no match funding.

4. Section 20 legislation is not designed for our families – it came into force in the 1980s as a way to enable local authorities to better scrutinise foster carers and it does not work for us at all. Re-entering care destabilises our children and undermines their sense of permanence. We are faced with impossible choices and find help seeking may have terrible unforeseen consequences in a system that separates us from our children and views us as part of the risk. We are families caring for children at the edge of care, living on the edge of crisis – and the risk management approaches used by local authorities/support professionals are problematic. We need crisis prevention approaches, and a whole family approach, not division and separation.

Our children should not have to re-enter care to achieve respite. We should not have to hand over responsibility to local authorities whose poor appreciation of the impact of trauma on family life, and inappropriate ‘rescue the child’ approaches of child protection teams, are destroying our families and ruining young lives. The threshold of ‘Beyond Parental Control’ is also hugely problematic for us for obvious reasons. It is parental capacity that is the prime focus of care proceedings, and our children are at grave risk when commitment to our support is so lacking that our children may be better off in care, in terms of accessing services, whilst local authority budgets seem to be cut for post adoption and special guardianship support, with the introduction of the ASF.

Formal complaints can go nowhere. An Ombudsman, does not challenge the opinion of a professional – it is beyond their remit, and this creates serious problems when there is poor understanding of the impact of trauma on family life Often repeated negative opinions, which serve to discredit the character of the help seeker as being ‘obstructive, difficult or disagreeable’, take the place of facts. We cannot advocate for our children if the discrediting of our character is the result of doing so. We are too easily taken advantage of for trying to help them in this system, and they are too easily removed.

Judges are not immune to judicial error and misunderstanding, when there are inequities in legal assistance, and they are misled by those that lack understanding, and in worst cases, use the impact of a child’s poor mental health or trauma, compounded by their destabilisation on being taken into care, to suggest the parent/carer is to blame, or lacks capacity. It is the support and commitment of the State that is missing in these cases – and it is wrong that this is only given when the child enters or remains in care. The rights of our children are not being respected.

Parental love and kinship bonds are not optional extras for our children but the parenting/caring from a distance role is not supported. Once our children re-enter care we are increasingly having to apply for Contact Orders, when our time with our children is restricted and constrained, to make us fall in line with approaches that we find utterly cruel to us and our children, and deprive them of their rights to family life. Lack of suitable foster carers means our children are being put into foster care placements where their religious beliefs and faith cannot be supported, with no dialogue achievable about reunification with us, when they want to go home. Their care journeys are often characterised by multiple placement breakdowns and numerous ‘missing’ incidents.

Section 20 is a voluntary order – but for a supported family, any reunification is never going to be a straightforward matter. Reunification should never be ruled out according to Selwyn (2014), but we are finding it would not be sufficiently well supported to succeed, or it cannot be talked about at all. There were no submissions whatsoever in the SCIE call for evidence for the recently completed mental health of young people in care project, to support reunification for our families, when a child re-enters care. We were unable to have our views included in the SCIE recommendations because our consultation took place after the final report was already printed.

Sir James Munby, president of the Family Division of the High Court, has said that in the absence of the death penalty, removing a child from their parents, is one of the most “drastic” actions a judge can take with consequences that last a lifetime. Trauma is inadvertently being created on an unprecedented scale in modern adoption and special guardianship, when children are removed with no dialogue achievable about support and reunification, almost inevitably after a parent or carer has sought help.

It seems bizarre and care-less in the extreme that the origins of nearly 4000 children entering care last year are not reported by local authorities but no action is taken (Source SSDA903). The DofE suggests that these children entering care, who are not accounted for by local authorities, signifies the figure of 440 children re-entering care from the permanence options of adoption/special guardianship is too small a number to be considered reliable. Small though this number is, it represents at the very least, one in 20 adoptions or special guardianships, at current declining rates, and we hope you agree this number is too large to dismiss when each case will very likely cost the state £1 million, and in some cases, where residential care or secure accommodation is required, a great deal more.

The ASF fund of £23 million should be seen in the context of the £hundreds of millions it might have saved, not to mention the human costs of a child re-entering care and growing up separated from family and community. £1billion spent on 7k children in residential care, and £23 million for the thousands more children cared for by special guardians and adopters, whose commitment and care does not end at 18 – this is not right.

We have ideas for reform and low-cost initiatives that would save money and prevent much misery and despair, and hope to be able to discuss them with you at the earliest opportunity.

We raised one of these ideas, for the first time, on the Victoria Derbyshire programme (6.11.17), where one of our co-founders, Dr Sylvia Schroer, explained that the biggest problem we suffer with is blame, in a panel discussion that included Anne Longfield and John Simmonds, and would have included Robert Haflon MP, and Tony Hunter Chief Executive of SCIE, had the BBC not cut the item because of Theresa May’s Brexit speech that morning. All five are copied in. Here is a link to the discussion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1GIKBwPwuE&t=103s

In an ideal world we would like to meet with all those copied in together – including Judith Cummins MP. We are aware that Helen Hayes MP has also written to you Mr Goodwill, to ask what steps the government is taking to protect families like ours, which includes birth families where there are hidden disabilities such as Autism, who face many similar problems – of parents being viewed as a risk to their child(ren) when help is sought. It is all families with children with hidden disabilities that are affected, when we are treated, by the State, as if we are the adversaries of the children we seek help to care for, instead of supported with understanding. We would very much like both MPs to meet with you, together with us, and welcome all those copied in to attend. We believe a great deal could come out of such a meeting.

We would very much like the Sir James Munby to hear us, and to meet with him at the earliest opportunity, and have copied him in. We greatly value the efforts he has made to bring more transparency into the family courts. We would like to talk to him about some of the problems we experience in the courts under current legislation and policy infrastructure.

We hope we can find a way to input into infrastructure, policy and legislation change, which is urgently needed, and look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards

Adopters Together

Cc: Rt Hon Judith Cummins MP Rt Hon Helen Hayes MP Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP – Commons Select Education Committee Rt Hon Sir James Munby – President of the Family Division Anne Longfield OBE – Children’s Commissioner for England Dr John Simmonds OBE – Director of Policy, Research and Development, CoramBAAF Tony Hunter – Chief Executive, SCIE Cath Ashley, Chief Executive, Family Rights Group