Sometimes we ask for help and it does not come – or it is given to us – but things get worse instead of better – if for example trauma therapies and lifestory work bring up the trauma of a child’s traumatised past. Perhaps our child is being bullied, or their behaviour, stemming from trauma and possibly from feeling unsafe at school, has led to exclusion from the school – and now they are in a bad place. Or our child may behave well at school – but all hell breaks loose when they come home, not because we are bad parents but because trauma and difficulties that happened outside the home, or a long time ago – are acted out within the family home. Perhaps our child does not act out their trauma but becomes fearful and anxious, struggling to sleep, not making friends or making the wrong friends – being drawn to children who are troubled and to chaos.
Sometimes the child’s school keeps saying everything is fine – and it is only us that say it is not fine and we explain that we need help, our child needs help – we say this again and again. We can be extremely vulnerable to blame as parents in this situation where difficulties occur at home and less elsewhere. The social care professionals who assess our needs may not be adoption or special guardianship specialists – and they may not appreciate the pressures we are under as a family because their focus is predominantly on the child.
We feel more and more desperate. Now, on top of everything else, we are not believed in any more as parents or carers.
Where is the help and understanding that what is happening is not our fault we wonder?
There can be many factors that mean we reach a point of crisis. Finally things erupt (often at the weekend or in holidays when there are no social care staff available), and its just the EDT. What we really need now is a bit of space – but this is not possible unless we put our child back into care under Section 20 (supposedly a Voluntary Care Order). We are faced with impossible choices now as we know going back into care will retraumatise our child and exacerbate their separation trauma. But sometimes we have to make this choice – to protect others, ourselves, or the child’s brothers and sisters. Whatever the reasons for the child going back into care, if a Section 31 Care Order is made we lose much more than our child, which is in itself a massive bereavement. This Order has major implications for our status in society, our work and our life, and in practice ‘shared parental responsibility’ can mean very little sharing or ‘partnership working’.
Our recent Connections Survey (N=179) found only 2 respondents out of 41 had managed to achieve ‘good partnership working’ if their child had returned to care.
Reunification may not be wanted as our children push us away. It may seem unachievable but this is no reason not to try or work towards it as an ultimate goal. At least doing this will not cause harm – whereas not doing this might do. It might cause a lot of harm when our children feel rejected and alone and when they are so extremely vulnerable. At least if work is done to support the child’s relationship with their family, this is going to be beneficial and positive – holding the child in good stead for the difficult teenage years and transitioning to adulthood. They can feel safer knowing there is someone who loves them and looks out for them – even if reunification is not achievable.
One very serious problem is there simply are no suitable reunification frameworks for our families.
The recently updated NSPCC framework is not appropriate when it starts with the premise there was abuse and neglect in the family home – but there is nothing else.
“For some children, returning home from care is the best possible outcome. But research shows that for many others this can result in further abuse and neglect, with many children ending up back in care”
Our vulnerable children often self-sabotage reunifications, which may never get off the ground at all as the child vacillates and feels unsafe in the world fearful of risking to love again. It is also a great shame when the child or young person is repeatedly asked whether they want to go home (as if they were subjected to maltreatment there and have cause to be fearful).
If reunification is to have any hope of success the child and family may require expertly done highly skilled reunification work and good post reunification support to help them overcome their fears and ensure success.
So why are children in this situation not eligible for the Adoption Support Fund, which could help bring about the specialist help that is needed? This makes no sense. It can seem, from our perspective, the only beneficiaries are the owners and shareholders of the privately owned residential care homes where our children often need to be accomodated – and the foster carers who manage to cope – albeit with respite care packages that we could only dream about.
Just one week in residential care can easily cost as much as £5k – the equivalent of one year of support for a child with the Adoption Support Fund.