In the BBC’s recent expose by the Inside Out team into the heartbreak of adoptive mothers whose children cannot safely be looked after by them we learned that mothers who wanted help for their children couldn’t get it. What is worse is they felt they were blamed and stigmatised – they lost much more than their child, which is the hardest loss a parent will ever bear in life.
These are not three isolated cases and there has been an outpouring on the forums of adopters who hope at last their plight and silent voices can be heard. Silent because they need to protect the privacy of the child and their own families.
SG&AT have conducted a programme of lived experience research over the past 22 months and we know these problems are not confined to adopters – but also experienced by special guardians and kinship carers.
This research can be seen on our website. We provide some highlights here.
In our Health and Wellbeing Survey – of adopters and special guardians we looked at the impact of raising a child from the care system (or cases where special guardians have prevented the child from going into care and children do not have previously looked after status), on parents and guardians.
The children we care for have high levels of disability and neurodevelopmental disorders: 37% of adopters and special guardians raise children who receive disability living allowance or have an application pending for this benefit. (Health and Wellbeing Survey, Table 10). Of the 1045 children in our sample who were raised by adopters and special guardians under orders, 29% were diagnosed with Attachment Disorder, 17% had Complex Trauma, 6% has PTSD, 7% had FASD or an alcolhol related neurological condition, 7% were diagnosed with Autism and 9% have ADHD. (Table 11 Health and Wellbeing Survey)
The Health and Wellbeing Survey also showed (Table 12) that almost 90% of adopted and special guardianship children were emotionally dysregulated and had anger and rage meltdowns, 66% of children were violent to parents and guardians, 65% suffered from school anxiety and refused school, 44% suffered with anxiety and agoraphobia, 24% had gone missing, 24% had attempted suicide, 43% had sibling trauma bonds, 12% had been arrested, and 24% had made false allegations about the parent, guardian or a family member.
However, there is little let up from our challenging parental/caring role: 73% of Health and Wellbeing survey respondents had no formal or informal respite from their parental/caring role (Table 33)
Parenting and caring for children takes its toll on our working life: 51% of Health and Wellbeing Survey respondents had given up work to raise a child, 44% had reduced their hours, 17% had taken a lower paid job and 14% has taken a less stressful job. (Table 37%)
Asking for help for oneself was not thought to be straightforwards: 45% of respondents in our Health and Wellbeing Survey had avoided seeking help from their GP for mental health problems for fear this would lead to judgements being made about their capacity to parent/care for their child. This figure rises to nearly 60% for Special Guardians (See Table 34). Comments made indicated active threats of removal and fears being justified on the basis of experience of care proceedings to become a Special Guardian.
We explored the impact of school exclusion in our School Exclusion Survey, looking also at self exclusion on the part of a child – who may struggle to cope with school and refuse to go. We identified that school exclusions were significantly more common in adopted children compared with special guardianship children, a finding that is worthy of further exploration. Overall nearly 40% of our children had been excluded from school. A finding of concern was that school exclusion was associated with suicide attempts on the part of the child and serious illness on the part of the parent/carer with higher levels of cancer being found amongst adopters parenting school excluded children. This finding needs further exploration.
In our Connections Survey we looked at the reasons our children were taken into care and the support that was given to the birth parents of the children we raise as adopters, special guardians and kinship carers. We also looked at the number of children who are separated from their brothers and sisters when they come to live with us and what happens to the relationship between an adopter or carer after a child re-enters care. Only 2/41 adopters, special guardians and kinship carers in our Connections Survey reported good partnership working after a child re-entered care (Chart 24).
In our Accessing and Receiving Support Survey, we looked at support provision. We explored the barriers to achieving support for adopters, special guardians and kinship carers. There were many positives however much less so for family carers than adopters. A finding of interest was that 10% of survey respondents reported that support received had made things worse (see Chart 6), and we thought this finding was worth exploring further. The emergent themes were of not being heard/listened to; heavy-handed responses when children made false allegations where parents’ accounts were not given credibility and parental/caregiver abuse was assumed; problematic assessments; inaccuracies in reports presented to courts; lack of professional integrity and exaggeration of risk of parental/carer harm.
These experiences of parents and carers raising extremely vulnerable chidren with complex needs, and sometimes ‘parenting from a distance’ when it is not safe for the child to live within their permanence family, suggest serious systemic failings.
We come together as adopters and special guardians hoping to be part of the process of change that is so much needed and hoping our voices will be heard.