A view from our Chair, Dr Sylvia Schroer
On 28/10/11 BBC’s Inside out team uncovered three appalling cases of adoptive mother blame in the UK. These three cases are the tip of the iceberg – what is underneath is a national scandal that shames our nation.
These mothers, who are the reason I co-founded SG&AT with Janet Barraclough in 2017, were completely traumatised and needed therapy for post traumatic stress disorder for the guilt, shame and stigma they were expected to deal with. Some had even lost their careers, if they worked with children, instead of getting help and understanding for what is one of the most difficult roles in life a person can ever take on – rebuilding trust and a sense of safety in a child where this was smashed to smithereens in the womb, in infancy or in very early life.
The earlier the trauma, the more damage to the brain, explained leading child trauma therapist, Renee Marks to the BBC – and what we are learning from the field of pre and perinatal psychology is that the earliest times of development and attachment are absolutely crucial. The trauma comes from the mothers who are blamed in the past – but it is not their fault either. They will almost inevitably themselves be victims of multiple traumas – and if they are involved with child protection social workers and children’s safeguarding, as we are when things go wrong, they may be put under an enormous amount of deeply unhealthy pressure and strain. How do we know this? Because we are their mothers and the grandmothers to their children – and we see the cycle of abuse and neglect repeating with our grandchildren, who have a very high chance of being removed for adoption or going into care.
If adoptive mothers are this badly treated by the system then what does this say about birth mothers?
The mothers in the BBC programme had no choice but to put their children back into care. I know this because I am an expert by experience. A mother who refused Section 20 to access respite because it would terrify my son to go back into care – so I could get a break. As the Selwyn Report points out, there was no alternative but to put a child back into care to access respite – and my refusing Section 20 led to harrowing court proceedings and my child’s removal by the state. In order to try and get him home, which was what he wanted, I had to represent myself in court as a litigant in person. This was a horrendous and deeply traumatising ordeal- when I was, at the same time, being so heavily criticised by the authority’s and Cafcass guardian’s legal advocates. The focus on my parental capacity meant the multiple failings of the local authority were not scrutinised or considered. There can be no learning from the case when the LGO (local government ombudsman), refuses to accept a complaint – even from my son – because the case went to court. The local authority used the family court to avoid scrutinising of their failings – a technique or method of distraction by mother blame.
My son was unable to cope with school because of anxiety. We were couped up all day in a tiny house. I could not afford to move and had I lost my research career when the university where I was finishing my NIHR (National Institute of Health Research), funded PhD made me redundant during the introductions week with my son. Relocation for my career was out of the question after all the moves my son had, and his need for stability and security was my paramount concern as a mother. But the help I was getting from professionals, who didn’t seem to have a clue what to do, after the three year transition of responsibility, made things worse not better. The new local authority ignored all the recommendations of my son’s previous therapist – who was supervised by leading trauma expert Valerie Sinason and right up to the top of the organisation, they thought they knew better. It was obvious to me that they just didn’t want to spend money on specialist therapy.
I was told to take things away from my child if he didn’t go to school – to show him the consequences. This doesn’t work, for reasons that are explained far better than I can by people like Gabor Mate – who understands completely the trauma of removing a child from their mother – as a Hungarian holocaust survivor whose mother had to give him to strangers to save his life.
Once I had my child back home the local authority went into full on organisational defensiveness -protect their reputation mode. An illegal assessment was conducted without our knowledge or consent to achieve funding from the Adoption Support Fund, which does not cover my son’s therapy costs – and the local authority refused to match fund. It did not help at all that funding only came through five months after reunification – and after the local authority had insisted on a Supervision Order for my son – for us to avoid a contested hearing, which would just have delayed his return and cost tax payers even more money. The seven stage complaint’s process of Mott MacDonald, the private company who administer the Adoption Support Fund, was completely frustrating and useless and I had to put in an application to discharge the Supervision Order to get the monies released from this company – who then refused to speak to me.
My son was always going to come home – it was just whether this would be before he was 18.
One of the worst things now is not being able to speak about the impact of the separation at such a critical time with any of the professionals involved or the pathway planning team who will help my son, as a care leaver as he was in care on his 16th birthday. They say it doesn’t matter and it’s not relevant to their future help or provision of services. But it matters to my son! Neither of us can complain or claim compensation. I can’t complain because in a child focused system I don’t seem to matter. My son can’t complain or claim for compensation because his CICA award for the injuries he suffered at the hands of his birth parents, means he cannot get legal aid. Without legal aid no human rights lawyer will take on the case – because of the insurances being cost prohibitive if legal costs were to be awarded against my son. We are in a stuck place now – and must absorb a catalogue of human rights abuse. If you can help please do get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org. This is not an isolated case of a child not getting help and support after adoption.
To break the cycle of abuse and neglect we do not need a child centred system. We need one that helps mothers to nurture their children. Mothers like me, and mothers like my son’s first mother who was under the influence of a very bad man – a man who was himself a victim of abuse and neglect.
We need legistlation that protects mothers if we are going to break the cycle of abuse and neglect. Platitudes about the child’s best interests from the Department of Education will not cut it. In the bitterest of ironies, the DfE will not speak to me or meet with me as the chair of SG&AT and the man they have put in charge of permanenence modernisation – who sat on the Adoption Leadership Board for many years, saw me excluded from Adopter’s Voice when he was the CEO of Adoption UK. Adopters Voice was part of the government’s Vision for Change (2016). My exclusion meant that I was silenced not heard by policy makers and parliamentarians who needed to know what was going on. We are not going to find solutions to complex social problems by shutting down and silencing people like me who were supposed to be part of the solution for a child.
Please don’t dismiss our concerns or shut us out when we learn so much through our parenting role about systemic problems. We have a lot to contribute.