We all know by now there is a care crisis and that children in care are greatly suffering, often with many placement moves, separated from their brothers and sisters. What we learned last night on Lemn Sissay’s inspirational poetry writing workshop programme may have shocked some but will have come as little surprise to the many adopters and special guardians whose children must return to care when help is not timely or forthcoming with austerity measures social care. Many of us whose children enter care for a second time suffer with secondary trauma – legal frameworks don’t seem to work for us and we are rendered powerless to help our kids by a system that seems to view all parents as a potential source of harm to their children when they are parented by the corporate parent. This must change, or the permanence and stability offered by adoption and special guardianship will be undermined.

We would like to point out to the children’s minister Nadhim Zahawi, who was interviewed by Channel 4’s Jackie Long about the programme, that we do not ‘hand the baton over’ to the corporate parent. If our children are in care under Section 20, as many are, we retain FULL PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY for them and under a Section 31 Care Order, parental responsibility is supposed to be SHARED with us. This is not the first time the minister used this phrase about batons being handed over. It is there in many of his tweets to the nation and the speeches that are made.

Family is incredibly important when our children become destabilised by having to go into care again, which is often the only way we can access respite, as earlier separation traumas are triggered by the removal. Children and young people need our support and to know we are there for them – until they are able to fend for themselves. Their mental health, which suffers when there is adversity and traumatic removals from family in early life, is not improved by contact restrictions that see us being depicted and treated as unfit parents, and from deprivation of hope of ever going home. Families are not helped by being labelled as a ‘failure’ or ‘breakdown’.

Children and families are not safe in a system where there is so much blame heaped on parents for the behaviours our children exhibit, even when it should be blindingly obvious these behaviours come out of their early life trauma. Anything to lay the blame elsewhere when understanding has been poor and families were failed. In courts of law this means that we are faced with an army of professionals and legal advocates who confer together in court anterooms to seek fault in the parents and guardians that were supposed to be the solution. Courts are adversarial in nature. They are there to resolve disputes. Our disputes can last decades when understanding is poor, in a society that is quick to blame parents. The making of a public law order may be the end of the case for those involved in court proceedings, but it is the beginning of a new chapter of our adoption and special guardianship journey as parents and carers. The corporate parent is not a parent that supports us to parent and care about our children from a distance, when they cannot live with us. This role, which is very important, is not recognised by the state and its legal frameworks, none of which seem quite right. Its often a case of the least worst option. We need to do better than this.

Parental blame is a relatively new social phenomenon, emerging over the last 30-40 years. It is deeply unhelpful for adoptive and special guardianship families, or for families where children have poor mental health due to trauma, or conditions such as autism and FASD that are not recognised. The ‘Safeguarding’ approach may not be safe at all – it is often too heavy handed for us and one individual, with poor understanding, perhaps overworked and overstretched, can wreck the efforts made over many years to rebuild a child’s shattered trust.

SG&AT have undertaken research, as best we can with no support from government, and found that the health of parents and caregivers is greatly suffering in a way that those who make policy and plan services seem to overlook. Our survey on the health and wellbeing of 400 adopters and special guardians identified that 10% of us suffer with PTSD as a result of our parental/caring role. We are not battlefield soldiers. We are parents and carers, caring for children from the care system who have lost the right to live with their birth parents. This survey also suggested links between school exclusion and with parental/caregiver illness including: Mental Stress Breakdown; Depression; Anxiety; PTSD, Cancer and High Blood Pressure. These findings were reported in our report on School Exclusions Report. Special Guardians and Adopters Together 6.5.18 and discussed further in our Working Together To Help Our Children report. We submitted our report to the School Exclusion Review – only to never hear anything back.

Other findings of concern from the Special Guardians and Adopters Together Interim Report 6th March 2018, which we met with the DfE about in March, hoping for help from government to complete the analysis of findings with academics and clinicians who are pre-eminent in their field, were that levels of heart attacks, auto-immune disorders, irritable bowel syndrome and pain conditions seemed high and may be higher amongst adopters and special guardians than population norms. We received no help and were told recently (on November 21st), we would not be spoken with again. This is a shut door from those who seek to modernise adoption and special guardianship that we never expected.

Our research, which we struggle to have proper discussion about, is seemingly replaced by newly commissioned reports and reviews, which are used to inform policy about us, by boards where there is no transparency about policy decision making, and no accountability.

We also struggled to contribute in any meaningful way to the Care Crisis Review, where opportunities for dialogue were very limited, and where ‘experts by experience’ were poorly represented on the various boards overseeing the review. There has resulted in knowledge gaps that leave our children and families extremely vulnerable, but the review seems to be accepted without any reflection about whether it has addressed the problems.

Our research questions seem to be quite different to directors of services and academics and to the individuals and organisations that are commissioned and funded to undertake reviews. We see a very different picture in our peer support groups and our perspective is rather different as parents and caregivers.

If we continue not to be heard, and treated as if we are part of the problem, instead of part of the solution, the Care Crisis will deepen and policies foisted on us will cause harm and distress to so many families, instead of supporting us and our children.

We 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.