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We have recently conducted a survey – see Special Guardians and Adopters Together Interim Report 6th March 2018, to look at the stress factors for adoptive parents and special guardians, and what helps them cope. We asked respondents whether they, or their children had suffered discrimination in accessing services and support. This was a response from a mother, who is both an adopter and a special guardian to two children, in regards to her eldest son, who is mixed race and autistic and was subjected to a violent hate crime of a very extreme nature:

“Our adopted son is mixed race. He was racially abused many times in the local community, and was the victim of a brutal attack by a group of people in a house, who were “re-enacting” a scene from “This is England” when a Pakistani boy was kicked to death. Our son escaped thanks to one person who gave him space to run away. His clothes and other belonging that had been left behind or ripped off him were burned and those at the house party were intimidated into denying that our son had ever been there. He was bleeding and bruised as well as traumatized, and was found by a member of the public wandering down a street, who called an ambulance and the police when he told her that he had been attacked. The police officer assumed he was drunk because he curled over with his head in his hands (he has autism). She asked him if he wanted her to call anyone. He takes things literally so said “No”, and he was left alone in a side room in the hospital, told to “sleep it off”, when he curled into a ball. I vomited when a witness to the horrific attack told me what had happened. I rang the police for further information and was horrified by their lack of disability awareness. They had not realised that he had an autistic disorder. The police officer said “I asked him if he had been drinking and he said yes.” I asked if the incident had been reported as a race hate attack and they said no that our son had not asked for that. I said that I wanted to report it and they wouldn’t allow it. I had to go to a more senior officer – and even then I had to explain that a third party even if not present – could report a racist attack. Whether or not the incident actually was recorded as a hate crime I very much doubt. Victim support was offered about a week afterwards, and when I asked if the people involved had been trained in race hate crime or in autism, the answer was “dunno” – so we just supported our son ourselves. As always”

These parents were supporting their extremely vulnerable child ‘from a distance’ – a role that is not recognised or supported by the government. There are no legal frameworks that support adopters and special guardians when, for no fault of our own, or our child’s, it is not safe for us to live together. This is equally true of birth parents whose children may be difficult to care for at home due to poor mental health, although adoption and special guardianship have particular problems because we will bear the brunt of the anger, rage and despair our children feel inside. Instead of the support they hoped for, parents and special guardians may find themselves blamed. Our biggest problem can be the lack of understanding we recieve when we ask for help, and the lack of respite, which means our children may have to re-enter care in order for us o get a break. We may find we are viewed as ‘part of the problem’ instead of part of the solution – as the mother of the autistic boy above was:

“Previously terrible experience of seeking support to preserve family relationships with our first (adopted) child. We were treated as part of the problem not the solution by Children’s Services and after three very difficult years of our child going missing, heavily abusing substances, being attacked in the community and putting himself at risk in all kinds of ways, and being unable to keep him safe, we finally said that we could no longer have him live at home as I did not feel safe when my husband was at work, due to his abusive and unpredictable behaviour. It was three months before his 18th birthday. So technically he re-entered care, as he was accommodated by the local authority (via Barnardos), although how this was recorded we do not know, as we never received any paperwork from Children’s Services. It was difficult to preserve our relationship as we were actively discouraged from doing so, and were told we had “abandoned” our vulnerable son”

We are campaigning for this ‘parenting/caring from a distance role’ to be recognised and supported by new legislation and statutory guidance so we do not get blamed and our children do not lose their parents and family, when they cannot live with them safely.