Hearing the Children’s Minister’s comments to the nation on Channel 4 News about the ‘baton of responsibility being handed to the corporate parent’ in response to the film ‘Superkids’, it would be easy to imagine abandoned children from families where children were abused, harmed and neglected – having to go into care because they had no one capable or willing to care for them. This is true for some but not for all.
The reality is that in the UK our children with disabilities are treated in exactly the same way as children who are abused and neglected – and so are their parents, carers and families. The same laws. The same care system. The same Child in Need teams. The same ‘safeguarding’ approaches. The same ‘Looked After Child’ reviews if they go into care under voluntary or public law orders. The same stigma when children cannot live with their families.
Family life will always revolve around its neediest member. Families where children have disabilities need holistic help. This help may not be provided when the approach taken is ‘Child in Need’ and not ‘Family in Need’ and the impact of disabilities that are not always obvious, such as autism, is not properly appreciated. Recognition of autism is very patchy in the UK, according to research conducted by the University of Southampton. Autism, which is much higher in children adopted from the UK than the general population, can take years to diagnose, leaving parents and carers at their wits end as they battle for understanding and support. With some invisible conditions, such as FASD, which hit the headlines this week and is also extremely common in adoption and special guardianship – the child will have challenging behaviours that are all too easy it seems to attribute to parental failure. Attachment disorder is another invisible disability. One that is very hard to cope with as a parent or carer, because the child pushes you away when they need comfort and love. Their trust is broken.
It can take a lifetime to rebuild trust in a child who cannot live with their birth parents and the last thing any adoptive parent or guardian needs, or any parent needs when a child has invisible disabilities that make them hard to look after, is to be permanently separated from their child, their ‘contact’ restricted, and the child and parent/carers made to feel a failure. So it breaks our trust when our minister tells the nation that the corporate parent holds the baton of parental responsibility, and children must go into care for reasons of abuse and neglect on the part of parents. For we do not ‘hand the baton over’ to the corporate parent. If our children are in care under Section 20, we retain FULL PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY for them and under a Section 31 Care Order, parental responsibility is supposed to be SHARED with us.
I have just written a blog for the What Works for Children’s Centre about the ‘parenting/caring from a distance’ role. Please click on this link to read it. Please do not believe that all children in the care system have no loving families that care about them when many do. We can battle in vain for years for our children to get the help they need, in a system that stigmatises and shames us. Having to make the decision that we cannot safely look after our children is heartwrenching and we need support more than ever in this scenario if we are to survive as families and help our children navigate through life after children’s services have long gone.
Our children are indeed Superkids if they end up losing two families as Lemn Sissay did. We must try to make sure this does not happen. True disruptions, where parents and children want nothing more to do with each other, do happen in adoption – but they are rare – usually we just want help for our children. Although I have used the prefix ‘Super’ about adopters and special guardians we don’t want to be thought of as heroes – we just want our children to have what others take forgranted as a birthright – the chance to grow up and know they are always part of a loving family, regardless of where they live.
Sylvia Schroer PhD (Chair, Special Guardians and Adopters Together). 1st December 2018
Special Guardians and Adopters Together are a group of parents and carers who come together, in a system that normally divides adopters from the children’s birth families, because we are passionate about the children we love and achieving the best outcomes for them. Please join SG&AT if you are a special guardian or adoptive parent who would like to make a difference to others in future. Please click HERE to complete a membership form.