It is so disappointing that the Interim Report/recommendations of the Public Law Working Group does not recognise the difficulties of making previously looked after children looked after again under S20, in order to access respite. The report with its recommendations can be seen here

Why has no notice been taken of the Selwyn Report (2014), Beyond the Adoption Order?

Selwyn et all recommended S 20 should be reviewed, as a method for us to access respite. Research suggests it’s use is undermining permanence – see page 287 of the Selwyn Report

Yet here it is, recommended as ‘good practice’ guidance for social workers and local authorities five years after this report was published.

Why doesn’t S20 work for our children?

How are we supposed to manage when we need a break but the only way to get one terrifies the life out of our children?

Why is this fear not appreciated?

S20 re-evokes the trauma of separation from family.

S20 legislation should not be the only way that adopters and special guardians can access respite.

The order is supposed to be voluntary but try refusing it when it is offered because it would upset the child too much! Sooner or later it will be needed when a family is on the verge of crisis and a local authority has decided not to offer further support or match fund with the Adoption Support Fund. We know that if our children re-enter care it will cost a lot more than therapy for them, but somehow this doesn’t seem to matter.

The reality is that once the S20 is in place it may as well be a S31 Care Order, for it is not up to us if the child will receive therapy or the help they need.

Under S20 and S31 our children may also be exposed to social harm – county lines or sexual exploitation, often living miles away from home and family. Thresholds are problematic when our children are not beyond parental control – just beyond control.

There are no frameworks or best practice guidance about how to achieve or support reunifications when it is not the parents or carers that pose a risk of harm – but the other way around – and our traumatised children pose a risk of harm to us – or other children.

All this means we are caught between a rock and a hard place and our kids can end up trapped in care. We try to advocate for them and get them help – but any support that is given will be hard won – in a system that divides and separates us from our children.

What needs to happen next to support permanence, with legislation that works?

In order to make progress we need to give proper consideration to cases where despite everyone trying their best, it has all gone horribly wrong – we call these ‘never should have happened’ cases. We are finding so many of our cases fall into this category – and there is nowhere to go – because we need privacy as families and we cannot talk about what has happened publicly – especially when the case has also gone to court. The remit of court is narrowly focused but court involvement means the local government ombudsman will not investigate our complaints.

We end up offloading on social media forums – awful cases with tragic outcomes, yet there seems to be no interest in these cases when the focus is on ‘good practice’.

If we are going to change the culture then we must have the courage to look at the cases where children and families have been failed – working in partnership to find better solutions through dialogue.