Campaign for Permanence
Legislative reform is urgently needed to protect adoptive and special guardianship children and families, as well as families where children are ‘Beyond Parental Control’ due to poor mental health. Here is why.
The only way a Looked After Child may leave care before adulthood is through adoption and special guardianship. Both forms of permanence provide a loving family for a child to grow up in, when a child can no longer live with their birth parents. These forms of permanence are currently under threat due to outdated legislation that has not kept pace with the significant social change that has taken place over the last 30 years, with the knowledge gained about the impact of adversity in childhood, and was never designed to meet the safeguarding needs of previously looked after children growing up in second families.
When only an assessment is required if help is needed, without this being followed by positive action, families are left at risk for far too long. An assessment is not support and may be far from it – when there is no support available to give.
A family will always revolve around its neediest member and family life can be extremely intense and challenging when children have poor mental health, which may be related to early life abuse, trauma and neglect – although this is not always the case. Unlike foster carers, adoptive and special guardianship families often cannot access respite at all, or, if it can be accessed, this can only be under the auspices of a Section 20 Care Order. This voluntary Order means that parental responsibility is retained rather than ‘shared’, but it still potentially carries a very high risk of destabilising the child through the child needing to ‘re-enter care’ and this re-evoking earlier losses and traumas of separation from family. Since there are, as far as we are aware, no models for rehabilitation for these children, the short break can all too easily become a long or permanent one. We are also hearing of cases where support is refused to enable family reunifications and allow children to return home in a safe way. Once a section 31 Care Order is made the family is basically written off in a way that is dangerously undermining permanence with loaded stigmatising terminology of ‘failure’ and ‘breakdown’ being insensitively used to describe the difficult circumstances for the family. Parents and carers are being marginalised, or much worse – victimised – in harrowing and costly court proceedings – when they have reported and sought help. Help seeking should never lead to blame as is currently happening in modern adoption with many special guardians reporting they too afraid of social services to even seek help in the first place. Some special guardians will have spent their life savings paying for solicitors to help them keep their children within the family or obtain fair financial support that meets with statutory guidance. It is completely unacceptable that children who are already so much deprived, are deprived further, and that parents and special guardians are so devalued, when they make a lifetime’s commitment. It is asking too much.
What legislation change is needed to protect permanence?
We are parents and special guardians not legislation experts – but here is what the new legislation must do to safeguard permanence.
- Primary legislation is needed to ensure respite is provided to parents and caregivers of previously looked after children, and indeed all children exhibiting challenging behaviours that does not mean the child must re-enter care
- Section 20 needs a clause that ensures local authorities are not able to keep previously looked after children trapped in the care system because of their refusal to provide support for safe rehabilitation, or privileging foster care over adoption or special guardianship as a ‘system goal’. Moving children from one foster carer to the next does not resolve their problems.
- The threshold for a Section 31 Care Order needs a ‘no blame’ threshold added so that parents and caregivers of children with poor mental health are not stigmatised.
- Primary legislation is needed to prevent ‘parental alienation’ and estrangement from family for the child, on the part of the local authority, the corporate parent with ‘residence’. This legislation must a) allow the knowledge of parents and special guardians to be utilised not discarded; b) ensure parental responsibility is properly ‘shared’ and not taken away from permanent second families who can become seen and treated as ‘part of the problem instead of part of the solution’; c) ensure children in the care system because they cannot safe live with their family, are not deprived of their rights to family life; d) prevent local authorities from giving negative messages about parents and special guardians to their children based on misunderstanding e) stop local authorities providing distorted statements and partial truths to the police or courts of law that make parents and special guardians ‘look bad’ because the impact of the child’s challenging behaviour is not given due consideration or the context for it is omitted; f) work positively with parents and special guardians – prevent the use of loaded terminolgy and labelling of parents and special guardians as ‘challenging’ or ‘difficult’ to work with, as these parents and special guardians are clearly simply trying to get support in place for their children so the child’s life chances are improved rather than compromised or even destroyed.
- A final and perhaps more controversial suggestion is that where parents and special guardians cannot access legal aid/ legal representation, and this includes proceedings where special guardians fight to keep children in the family instead of being put up for adoption, then local authorities and Cafcass guardians should also not have legal representation to create a level playing field and save the public purse. What goes on in the Family Courts has become so utterly shameful. It shames our Nation. Parents and special guardians who live with violence and abuse on a daily base might as well be the rape victims who are put under scrutiny and treated as if as if they provoked the attack/violation. How can the ‘best interests’ of any child be served by the victimisation of blameless parents and special guardians trying to do their best in the hardest of circumstances? This is wrong.
Please sign our petition and share widely to help protect adoption and special guardianship permanence and safeguard the rights of all children and families where children are challenging to care for – due to poor mental health and difficult behaviours. Do not let these children be deprived of their rights of family life any more with legislation that was never designed with them in mind!!