Being heard by those with the power and influence to make change is hard. There are those who listen and don’t act, because they are busy with other things that demand attention (like Brexit), or, there is little or nothing they can do. The law is the law, and it is a ‘good law’ that must not be changed, Who are we to challenge it? Or there are those who don’t listen at all, those who really govern at DfE for example, who baton down the hatches of their fortress of glass open plan offices and gleaming lifts that take you to different levels. Standing outside, as we do, we don’t know how to get in. We do all we can to draw attention to our plight – we write and conduct surveys, blog, tweet, form campaigning groups. We try to work with bigger groups who have ‘staked their claim to the territory’ and make no room for us. Our little one’s are suffering we tell those in the fortress. Those who rely on us are being hurt and harmed in ways that they can never heal from because the best time to help them is now, as they grow – or things will get worse and they will die before their time. There isn’t enough of what we need to help them and those who should be helping us – they treat us as if we cause their problems. This is their only way. Something must be wrong and it cannot be them. It cannot be any of the people who are paid – for they would lose their jobs. We hang on as long as we can losing partners, jobs, careers, and our health suffers – but we are scared to lose our young ones. If we do lose our young ones – because it isn’t safe for us, and them, to be pushed together without enough space and help, there is no way for them to come home, ever. And no strategies exist when we are in crisis – there are just assessments, scrutinising and endless meetings that don’t seem to take things forwards – there is no money we are told. There is no money for you. The pot is empty. We are doing our jobs but we cannot help you. We will take them back if you ‘fail’, but if they come back to us, there is no way home, for we can only help if it is your fault they needed to come to us. This is our only way. If they go back for a little while – to give you a break because you are so tired and ill, they are ours again. You will be responsible for them but they will be ours. We will let you meet with us every six months but we will do what we think is best because you have ‘failed’. We will make sure they know this because we don’t want them to believe it is them. They will be angry but they will be angry with you, not us. Once back in the hands of the ‘United Kingdom’ and its powerful State our little ones do not grow and thrive. The love they need to do this – it is not there, and we struggle to reach them because we have no control over what time is alloted to us to be together as a family for ‘contact’, in sterile rooms, with eyes that watch us together looking for ways to criticise what we do when we are together. They cannot survive and they are so sad inside – but they cannot show this sadness and pain – their hearts turn to stone to protect themselves, and they reject everybody, including us, especially us, because we are the one’s they must test most of all – no one matters like us, who tried to help them grow and heal.
Please let us in. Please hear us, we say to those in the fortress, shouting through the tiny hole of the letterbox. Occasionally, at some random time when we have given up hope, a head will poke out of a random window for a moment and tell us to go away. We are not wanted here they tell us. Others, who are bigger and better than us, will be paid to talk to us – but not you – we will not even pay your train fares when you come to see us, and we will not ever see you with anyone else if you do manage to slip in through a crack in the wall. We will see you and then you will be dismissed. Everything we do in this fortress will be done in secret – so you will never know what happens if you do give us information.
This is how we are governed today in austerity Britian.
Special Guardians and Adopters Together are the only group that bring the perspectives of special guardians and adopters together. We talk about the problems that affect our respective communities and share experiences so we can learn from each other. In doing so we try to bring together the perspectives of birth families with adopted families, which is what is needed in modern adoption. The more we can understand about our children, from where they came, and what happened to them, the better we can help them. We are inextricably linked together.
However, many adopters and special guardians are struggling to access support and services under austerity measures in Britain today. It is our children and families who will feel the consequences of austerity infrastructure and policies, where the gaps we fall through grow ever wider and deeper. We will live with the repercussions for many years to come – perhaps a lifetime in some cases.
One of the most difficult aspects of trying to raise awareness about adoption and special guardianship issues is being heard and being able to properly contribute to dialogue and decision making about change and improvements. This is nigh on impossible.
In December we piloted a survey on Stress and Wellbeing, which we ran in January this year, and which had 400 responses. We conducted another survey in May to look more closely at school exclusion and EHC Plans with 150 responses. We have a mountain of data and no resources and little manpower to analyse it – due to our care and work commitments. Support for this, from the DfE, which we hoped to achieve when we met with the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families on 7th March 2018, has not been forthcoming. A highly selective approach is taken in terms of whom is listened to by the DfE, and in the commissioning of research, with no transparency whatsoever about decision making about this. It seems no one with ‘lived experience’ can play a significant role in these top level decisions. The DfE rebuff us continually on the basis that they do not listen to ‘individual cases’. This is incredibly frustrating when we formed as a group to have a collective voice and it is the issues raised by the many cases we bring that we wish to be considered, rather than the cases themselves. Go to the LGO with your ‘complaints’ we are told, paying no heed to the fact that 70% of complaints made to the LoGO by special guardians are being upheld. There is no representation whatsoever for special guardians on the various Regionalisation Boards – and no proper infrastructure to provide them with the support they need.
The fact is children often require more than ‘normal’ parenting and care as they have very high levels of disability. Diagnoses such as Autism, FASD, Attachment Disorder and PTSD are common, although the diagnosis is no guarantee of support in austerity Britian.
The public are so easily misled and to them it seems that we ‘hand our children back to care’, and vanish from their lives. We are sadly not helped by the media at all in this respect with the headlines of children being ‘relinquished’ to care because we could not take any more. The reality is rather different for most. The general public often does not realise that under a Section 20 Care Order we retain full parental responsibility, and under a Section 31 Care Order it is shared until the age of 18. Our children will probably need support long after this however, and we are there to provide it as best we can long after children’s services have ceased to be involved.
The role we play, when our children must re-enter care, is not supported at all by legislation or policy infrastructure, which was never designed with our children and families in mind. We have struggled with it for 30 years now. With this legislation, which can leave our children feeling rejected and destabilised – they become ‘pinball children’, the last thing we would wish for. When our children re-enter care there may be little by way of valuing all the knowledge we have about our children gained over years of parenting and caring for them. It takes 18 years for a child to reach adulthood, and the continuity we provide when they re-enter care could be invaluable for our children, when the average length of time a social worker works in the profession is just 7 years. Our children need such a lot of support when they re-enter care, and we provide this, sometimes in the face of lamentably unsupportive attitudes from children’s services, in a blame culture, where blame is inevitably passed onto the most vulnerable – our children, and us. We must absorb so much criticism, at a time when we are all keenly feeling immense loss and grief.
There is only one ‘child protection’ model – it doesn’t seem to work very well in cases where parents and special guardians cannot be ‘reformed’ and have too much to cope with due to a child’s disabilities, or because of the legacy of the past.
We are frustrated and angry, and those in power appear to be too frightened of us and are seemingly totally resistant to engaging in meaningful dialogue with us that could enable progress to be made.
The tragic case of a teenage adopted boy who took his own life in Powys, the case of the autistic young man Connor Sparrowhawk, and the recent Leder Report findings have shaken so many of us, and we feel a sense of urgency, to try every possible avenue to try work with others, to bring about a less harmful, more family centred approach that can better protect and have long term benefits – and does not lead to so many premature deaths or tragic outcomes (drug abuse, prison, homelessness), for previously looked after children who suffer adverse childhood experiences. Especially when they must re-enter care. We wish to break the cycle of abuse and neglect not cause further distress when we cannot care for children safely with the inadequate help and support provided under austerity measures.
We repeatedly, for many months, get dismissive responses from the DfE and it has become very disheartening. We feel that without those with ‘lived experiences’ of parenting and caring for children, being able to contribute at a decision making level, the changes that are needed will not come about, or will take too long.
What you can do to help
Please go to the DfE’s website by clicking this link here, and ask, through making a ‘comment’ or a ‘complaint’ if you have your own complaints to make, that we can be heard. Please quote reference 2018-0021341.
Please request the DfE allows SG&AT, the only group to bring the perspectives of adopters and special guardians together, to contribute to dialogue and discussion, to work with others to improve things for our children and families.
Please also sign and share our petition to consider whether the 1989 Children’s Act can be improved on now, in 2018. We think its important to do this with an open mind that considers that change may be beneficial – not rule it out without any discussion, and with us never being able to contribute to discussions at all when the decisions taken will have lifelong consequences for us, and not for those who make them.