SG&AT members are somewhat disappointed with the government’s new Adoption Strategy, which came out of the blue and was launched without any consultation on 26.7.21. For some families there will be sufficient support and this strategy will work. However, care separations during adolescence are increasingly becoming a feature of modern adoption and to pretend otherwise, as this strategy does, is not helpful. The grim reality for many adoptive families is that once the child re-enters care, the harsh discriminatory treatment that is meted out to adopters, (documented in the Selwyn Report, 2014), many of whom hope for help for their children and for reunification, is resulting in children becoming estranged and alienated from loving parents. The parental knowledge we have gained over years of raising our children is not valued, and neither are we. There is no ASF support for our children if they re-enter care and we are made to feel a sense of failure and even a sense shame by the state. There is much talk of adoptive parents ‘handing back children to care’ in the media. But our own lived experience research tells a different story of increasing desperation and heart-breaking decisions being made when there is only one way to keep family members safe from harm. Section 20. Once the child re-enters care, there is often no way back home for the children because ASF support discontinues. Furthermore, getting a public law order discharged is a monumental challenge for a parent or guardian, especially without legal aid. Reunification could and perhaps should be a system goal, achievable or not – as this would encourage relationships to be supported after children re-enter care and encourage local authorities to ensure children are accessing therapeutic help from trauma specialists – as is their right (according to Article 39 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child).

The perspective of professionals is different to that of a parent and the perspective of adopters who have never experienced challenging behaviours is also totally different to those who who are living with very severe adoption related problems. Our government has created a system where the voices of parents whose children are challenging to parent, and have gone back into care, are not being heard. Perhaps because prospective adopters would be discouraged. The new Adoption Strategy means the only way to be heard will continue to be via Adopter’s Voice, Adoption UK’s government funded initiative. Instead of helping us to be heard, and amplifying our voices, when our experience of services has been far from adequate and even detrimental to the development and mental health of our children, we are simply silenced. Some of us are excluded. Told the forum is not the right place for us. This is a great shame because we need to be heard if adoption is ever to be modernised in a humane way. Silencing doesn’t help adopted children or families.

Our own research conducted specifically to inform policy development , which includes research into the ASF, and the way it is being accessed, continues to be disregarded in favour of the policy evaluation methods & future research that are to be commissioned by a government whose agenda may be to conceal any failure to properly support adoptive families – to show how well they are doing. The fact that there is no accurate data collected on children re-entering care under the various different types of orders (S 20/Full Care Order) is troubling to say the least. This erodes confidence and trust.

You can read our research reports here.

Another problem that is not spoken of, which was also the reason we chose to work together with special guardians is the unfairness towards special guardians whose children were not previously looked after. As adopters, we were so shocked by the way that local authorities pressurise a child’s relatives into taking on parental responsibility – but at the same time these professionals knowingly deny the child access to specialist therapy later on in life, when statutory provision may be far from adequate. This exploitation must stop, especially when infants are being born addicted to drugs or there are clearly issues with FASD. Our own research has suggested that special guardians do not always appreciate the ASF is for them. We have recommended the ASF should be renamed and be made available to all special guardians. Perhaps good news is to come with the new strategy for Kinship Care that is promised? We certainly hope so! We have reached a point where families are being driven to desperate measures to access the support they need. Special guardians are told to put children into care and considering doing so, to access the ASF. Adopters whose children re-enter care are hoping that private foster carers will become special guardians to the children – so that their children can finally access ASF therapy. This is clearly not what should be happening.

Child Sex Abuse – an unmentionable trauma

Its about time government started to address the issue of child sexual abuse more openly too. Child sex abuse in early life was identified in the Selwyn Report as being significantly more likely to have occurred in children who had prematurely left the adoptive family home. Perhaps because it is so difficult to think about, it is almost never mentioned by policy makers. From our lived experience perspective this trauma can be incredibly hard for a family to deal with as professional understanding of its impact on family life can be poor. Instead of help, our children can too easily end up being criminalised – and even treated as sex harmers instead of the victims of abuse they are – when the focus is on confused sexualised behaviour in adolescence, not the cause of it. NICE guidance is being ignored by agencies. Going down the route of ‘sexual harm’ can be extremely detrimental to a child’s identity development and mental health if they are an abuse victim. The police are not working with children and families in a supportive way and vulnerable children are being seriously harmed because the risks of harm to others are exaggerated whilst the risk of harm to the child through suicide is barely considered. Policy makers are turning a blind eye to the trauma of child sexual abuse in adoption and charities and even the Care Review team do not seem to realise that our need for privacy prevents us talking about this trauma in the context of adoption and special guardianship. Again there is a silencing of voices that need to be heard.

In conclusion, whilst it is encouraging to see policy makers give consideration to adoption issues, we are concerned that this new Strategy will not address some of the key issues in modern adoption, and we feel worried that families who are dealing with the biggest of challenges will continue to be let down. No one wants children to languish in care, deprived of a loving family – but it must be recognised that a child going back into care for a second time is not unusual in adoption nowadays. Consideration needs to be given as to how families can be helped to survive a care separation. Not giving children and families in this situation access to the ASF seems unwise, and writing us off as a failure is the last thing we need.