An SG&AT member talks about the family’s experiences under two different public law orders.
Most adopted children going back into care are unable to return home unless work has been done to help and support the child in the context of the family. This work is almost never done because once a child goes back into care they are generally seen by different professionals (professionals with limited experience of working with adopted children), and therapy is not available on the Adoption Support Fund. This may change with the recommendation from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Adoption and Permanence to broaden eligibility to include adopted children under Section 20 – but even this recommendation would not have helped my son or us as a family. It would not help Special Guardianship children. As a family, we were locked in a conflict with the local authority which was brought about by a heavy handed safeguarding approach and dreadful misunderstandings – misunderstandings that had dreadful consequences for a child.
My son’s school anxiety was not recognised as such and it meant a Section 31 full Care Order was given because he was considered ‘Beyond Parental Control’.
Under this order life was hell.
Parental responsibility was never properly shared, risks about my son were misunderstood and misrepresented and I was depicted as a harridan no one could work with after the local authority had failed to prove I was mentally ill – when I have no history of mental illness, have never been mentally ill, and was rigorously assessed to adopt my son.
I wish I had never asked for respite as a single mum. Refusing Section 20, which was all that was offered to me (this legislation was actually introduced in the 1980s to supervise foster carers not prevent families from accessing respite), when family and friends could not meet my son’s needs, meant an EPO was issued by the police. The police were given misinformation by the social worker and the safeguarding lead after a complaint had been made by me about the agency. It is supposed to be a voluntary order!! What a trauma and shock for us this was. This shouldn’t be allowed to happen.
So much mud was slung at me during the care proceedings. I don’t honestly know how I survived. My son kept me going. I had to keep fighting for him. What if I had actually been mentally ill as one in four of us are? It’s no wonder there is a care crisis.
The impact it was having on my son to be removed, whilst the court entertained the possibility that I was not fit to care for him, did not seem to matter.
Not accepting a Supervision Order (I asked for a Family Assistance Order instead), meant I was viewed as not being compliant – and a Care Order was made – although my son was returned home under placement with parents regulations. Not for long though. As soon as I sought help again he was removed.
I then found there was no where to turn. The MP said it was a matter for children’s services. The mediator stopped mediation because it wasn’t appropriate. The LGO would not investigate when the matter had been to court. The police would not come to court unless paid because it was a civil case. Charities and organisations that are supposed to support adopters and represent our views to government seemed to make awful assumptions about me – because of the Care Order. Peer support was all I had and thank goodness it was there.
My first application to discharge the Care Order failed because a therapist providing an intervention based entirely on misunderstandings that I could not correct – because the agency she worked for would not work or even communicate with me with the Care Order in place. She said that if the Care Order were removed she would stop therapy. I didn’t want to stop my son’s therapy, which he might have benefited from, and waited to reapply. When the therapist did stop therapy I went back to court. By now my son had spend three and a half years in an unregulated privately owned childrens home where the therapy provider agency had a business partnership with the company that owned the home. It cost £5k per week. All this time my poor son had wanted to come home but it was not possible for either of us to have one conversation about how this might happen. He was told it was because I was a difficult person to work with that he couldn’t return.
When the Judge realised how badly my son wanted to come home through him being allowed his own solicitor rather than the Cafcass guardian’s solicitor, and his turning down tens of thousands for university accomodation offered by the leaving care team if he continued on the Care Order, we were able to get the court to agree to adoption experts conducting a new assessment. The conclusion was that there needed to be some training for professionals involved, immediate reunification with recommendations as to how this could be supported, and awards for bravery given in recognition of the ordeal we had survived as a family.
We were described as ‘amazing’.
What happened in court was the local authority insisted on another assessment to be done immediately – and would only agree to reunification if there was a Supervision Order. I knew how badly my son wanted to come home – this was clear to all by now – and we reluctantly agreed to this Order to avoid delays and a costly contested hearing. The agreement meant there was no Judgment to publish.
My son came home that day.
There was no supported reunification.
We were abandoned.
An assessment was done without our knowledge or consent to enable funding from the Adoption Support Fund (now capped at £5k per year). When I finally saw this assessment I reported to the police and our MP about the falsehoods it contained. This achieved nothing, and the senior managers involved in decision making have since gone elsewhere. Mott MacDonald, the company appointed to administer the ASF, used this misleading as the basis for support provision. Post adoption reunification support arrived five months after my son came home. I complained to Mott MacDonald but they said that because the money was given the matter was resolved.
I went to court, again with no legal help because of legal aid restrictions. I am not wealthy and we rely on working tax credits – but owning a small property (too small for us – we have to rent), and an inexpensive car, took me over the limit.
The Supervision Order was discharged – about two weeks before it expired. All parties agreed – so once again no Judgment to publish – and no learning from the case.
The shut doors we have faced as a family are unbelievable and soul destroying. The DfE know about the case but say they don’t get involved in individual cases. The Children’s Commissioner’s senior child rights advisor says to get legal help as the LGO shuts its doors to my son. But no law firm will take on our case. I am continually told they are too busy – and I have lost count of how many firms I have contacted.
Reading about the recent research conducted by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (see page 10), I am not in the least bit surprised to learn that the making of a Supervision Order at the same time as a Special Guardianship Order is associated with a higher five year rate of disruption as measured by a return to court. Research is urgently needed to understand the reasons for this as the making of an order should not make things worse.
The journey into special guardianship is so different to the start of an adoption journey for a child. In adoption the decision is made through a panel with up to 20 people deciding on what support the child/family will need to make it work – this panel involves people with lived experience. Its not a court conveyer belt, a group of lawyers eager to get the best outcome for their clients, who are in conflict – and with reputations to protect.
Having been through four court proceedings I am not sure the family courts are the right place for our complex cases, especially when some parties have legal representation and others don’t. In our case, I can see no benefits at all of the Supervision Order for us. This order just enabled the local authority to avoid acknowledging harm and hurt caused to an extremely vulnerable child and apologising for it. It helped them – but not us.
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