When we published our interim report at the beginning of March the statistical data from our survey revealed a chasm of unmet need for Special Guardians and Adopters and the children they care for and parent. Perhaps most concerning of all was the finding that trust was missing for those with a duty of care – so much so that 147 (nearly 40%), of our 389 respondents reported that they had avoided help seeking from their GP about mental health problems due to fears judgements would be made about their capacity to care for a special guardian or adopted child. These parents and carers are not parenting ordinary children – they are parenting and caring for children, who for no fault of their own, will test them to the limits, and who will almost certainly have huge difficulties at every developmental stage of childhood and with transitioning to adulthood.
Knowledge about the impact of childhood trauma is excellent – but these parents and carers have seen a different side of social work practice that has undermined confidence and trust to an alarming degree, and calls into question the ethics of adoption and special guardianship where the environment for us can be so incredibly hostile. Why is it that knowledge of trauma is now pretty reasonable, but when we ask for help and report we can find our biggest problem is likely to be blame?
We did not ask how special guardians and adopters came to care for and parent their children but we know from our survey data and the discussions that take place in our unique group, which brings together adopters and special guardians, that the routes are rather different. Adopters, who may have had bereavement issues and been unable to have their own children, and/or who adopt because of altrustic motives, are recruited and courted, they must undergo an assessment process that may be intrusive but they are never blackmailed or threatened in the way that special guardians might be – that if the child or infant, often a grandchild, is not cared for by them, it will be put up for adoption never to be seen again. What sort of choice is this? How surprising is it that trust is eroded under with such coercive and ethically questionable practices. Once the Order is made, special guardians may fear asking for help, because of the possibility that their children may be removed if they do – see Naomi’s story, a story that seems to be far from uncommon. The Adoption Support Fund is not promoted to Special Guardians. FOI requests are needed to find out about whether they are accessing it – when this is surely information about public monies spent that should be in the public domain. Our Interim Report identified that many Special Guardians had not heard of the fund.
We have learned so much about Special Guardians since campaigning with them and from our survey. We discovered that one of the most stressful issues for special guardians was ‘birth family contact’. Along with financial worries this was scored equal highest, out of all the factors that we asked special guardians and adopters to rate as contributing to their stress. Special Guardians have considerably lower incomes than adopters. It was scored higher than coping with your child’s difficult or challenging behaviours, which was the highest stressor for adopters. There may be reasons why adopters find caring for their children more challenging – on average – than special guardians in our survey, and we believe this discrepancy is worthy of further consideration. There are many more questions to be answered in regards to our survey as we have more than 250 pages of qualitative data to analyse, which will enable a higher level of evidence synthesis of the qualitative and quantitative data, and explanatory accounts to be developed. Given calls for adoption to become more open it seems incredibly important to find out about the troubles Special Guardians are having with birth family contact and hopefully or data analysis can shed further light on this.
We realised, pretty early on, that the data we have collated was too much for just one or two individuals to consider and analyse – combining this with demanding caring roles and other work committments , and perhaps we were, with hindsight, overly ambitious when we developed our survey, in our eagerness to find out answers to questions we believed to be of vital importance. We asked Professor Anna Gupta and Professor Brid Featherstone, leading researchers in the field of adoption and social work practice, who had done such a brilliant job on the BASW enquiry, for their assistance, and they were keen to help in any way they could. Through a preeminent child psychologist who is a personal contact, we were linked together with a number of psychologist/researchers in the UK, keen to assist and work with us. We had a potential team that could really help.
The next step was to come together and try and get some funding to take the project forwards. To this end we met with Isabelle Trowler at the DofE, hoping to meet with research collaborators together, with Isabelle, whom we hoped would take an interest in the project. But time would not allow Ms Trowler, who sits on the Adoption Leadership Board, to come together with the researchers, and she could only manage a brief meeting. The Children’s Commissioner was too busy, and we are waiting for her to get back to us, and no one else from the Dof E could help. No staff could be provided to enable us to meet with the collaborators and we were told to meet in a local coffee bar, which we did not feel was appropriate with teenage suicide on the agenda. Why are they not helping you take your project forwards? Asked Channel 4’s News Editor Jackie Long, with whom we have been working for some time. Good question we thought. Why not help us?.
We met with Professor Gupta anyway on our self funded London visit, and she tried to get some funding from her university, (a grant of £5k), but unfortunately this did not come through in the end, because it did not meet the specific criteria set. We only heard about this setback on Monday 2/4/18 and it was a bit of a blow as we had been planning how we could manage the project – with work and childcare commitments.
We then had another set back, and perhaps a more serious one, in that the DofE and the soon to be renamed Adoption and Special Guardian Leadership Board, are not, it appears interested in our survey or in helping us, or even in allowing us to be part of the dialogue about the changes that are needed in adoption and special guardianship. This is a great disappointment. We are the only group that represents the interests of both these communities and have done such a lot of work to bring these communities together, building bridges of better understanding about areas of common ground/similariry, and divergences/disparities.
We also learned yesterday that shortly after our meeting with the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, wich appears to be just a one off event, and not the ongoing relationship we had hoped for, a workshop was held to discuss special guardianship issues, to which we were neither informed or invited. We learned about this through social media.
To make matters worse, negative comments have been made about our efforts to bring better understanding on Twitter that have suggested we ‘sensationalise’. We are demoralised and disappointed. The data is so alarming, and speaks for itself. We have also discovered that the reason the DofE were not interested in talking to us is seemingly because they had appointed, already, and without any consultation with service users.
We believe there is no merit or benefit in our continued exclusion and in the under representation of special guardians and our authentic adopter’s voices from the recently renamed A&SGLB and Regionalisation Boards, and we are concerned about the commissioning of new projects – without any proper consultation. We hope room is made for us and support is given to us to finish our work before there is more expenditure on a project we have no input into, no influence with, and which is not service user led.
Please help us finish our survey analysis and continue to develop understanding through the medium of high quality policy evidence. No one else will ask the same questions as we will – those with lived experience of the problems. No one else will be as critical. It is critical thinking, done with us, in a fair and rigorous manner, that is what is needed now, for the transformations that must occur to improve our lives and the life chances of our children. There is no need to fear us – and avoid – we all want the same outcomes – a better future for our children.
How you can help
if you can afford it please help us crowd fund to complete the data analysis by clicking this link here. We have asked for the same amount that Professor Gupta was to give, although she recognised this was not fair recompense for the work done. We also had expenses that are not yet covered – the costs of Survey Monkey itself and the travel expenses to meet with the DofE.
Please also write to your MP using the template below if you wish, and ask for the DofE to take a more supportive and inclusive approach to us; to assist us to bring our survey to completion, and allow us to have representation on the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board, which is weak in terms of service user representation. Representation is important because it brings our perspectives to the discussion table and allows feedback, transparency, and trust in those that govern and make policy decisions. We really need open ears not more shut doors now.
Dear Insert Name of MP
A recent Interim Report of a survey conducted by Special Guardians and Adopters Together gives cause for concern about the stress and duress experienced by these parents and carers, and the way support is provided.
Please will you write to the DofE and Andrew Christie, the chair of the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board, and and ask that service user representation on the board is strengthened by the inclusion of representatives from the following key groups: Special Guardians and Adopters Together; POTATO (Parents Of Traumatised Adopted Teens Organisation), and More Than Grandparents.
Please will you ask that support be given to complete the analysis of the Stress and Wellbeing Survey that Special Guardians and Adopters Together have conducted, working with their chosen collaborators, and ask that due attention is given to the findings of this important peer led research survey.