One of our members offers some thoughts on the Care Review.

The ‘big’ question for the review raises some serious concerns for us as adopters and special guardians. Has it really been thought about with Experts by Experience? No it definitely hasn’t. The panel of Experts by Experience were selected (in a way that lacked transparency) after the chair had decided on his big question, not ours. Perhaps the questions this review tries to answer (not just one ‘big’ question) could and should be emergent rather than a pre-decided overarching question? Perhaps the questions could come out of dialogue and discussion with those affected by the care system and the legal frameworks that support children and families? Are these legal frameworks being applied ethically, and in a way that is respectful of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child? A children’s rights approach is what this review needs.

Here are some questions that could be given consideration:

  • To what extent is child protection social work and ‘safeguarding’ harmful – especially in the long term? (removing children from families for their safety is not a neutral intervention).
  • To what extent is the Strengthening Families approach really being used?
  • Family Group Conferences are all well and good but what happens afterwards?
  • Are traumatised/troubled families being stigmatised when special guardian grandparents take on parental responsibility?
  • Are the legal frameworks that are supposed to protect children in care working?
  • What are their unintended consequences with the way the legal frameworks are being applied (S17, S20, Public Law Orders, Wardship) ?
  • Is adoption the ‘last resort’ that it needs to be from an ethical perspective?
  • Are there children in care who need to go home and how can we make this happen for them?
  • Are children, especially those with with disabilities and SEN, getting trapped in care (see this article on adoption reunifications of children with SEN at 16) because they are ‘hard to care for’ not because their parents/guardians pose a risk?
  • Are reunifications with family being adequately supported?
  • Are care leavers and care experienced adults getting the support they need.

The ‘big’ question that Josh McAllister asks is this:

How do we ensure children grow up in loving, stable and safe families and, where that is not possible, care provides the same foundations?

From an adopter and special guardian perspective, it is the phrase ‘where that is not possible’ that needs to be given consideration by the review – for this is not simply an either or situation at all.

Our experience is that many of our children must be put back into care because there is/was no respite and a total lack of critical response for families in crisis – unless children go into care under S20. This is far from a voluntary order when support is not available that is needed for the child to remain with their family. Trauma is piled upon trauma. Once in care there is no framework or guidance that enables families with ‘safe’ parents and guardians to come together again with their children, many of whom have hidden disabilities such as Autism, FASD, Attachment Disorder, Complex Trauma, PTSD and ADHD. These disabilities can be overlooked by professionals who do not know the child as we do. The family is written off with a public law order, with the parents/guardian viewed as ‘unsafe’ rather than the traumatised child’s behaviour, which has hurt and harmed family members. Once back in care there is no therapy given that supports the child in the context of their family. In adoption and special guardianship, we can find we are written off as a failed ‘placement’. Intervention that should have supported us as families trying to contain trauma, too often comes between us and our children, once they are back in care. The ‘care plan’ is not for the child to go home so no one considers how this might be supported as an ultimate goal – achievable or not. Our children give up hope. Our children may even be made to feel we rejected them when this is not true at all and the last thing we would ever want for them to feel. We are described and portrayed as ‘difficult’ when we do not agree with the approach taken. There is no chance given to prove we are capable of looking after children again under a public law care order and the odds of success in Court are stacked against us. Yet we love our children and would dearly love for them to receive the help they need to live with us – if possible – for we will be there long after children’s services have gone.

We really do not want to be replaced – so there are handsome profits to be made from caring for our children Mr McAllister, whilst we are marginalised and struggling to expedite support. There is enough of this already thank you very much.

Hopefully this review can also bring an end to the costly care proceedings where adopters and special guardians, who have asked for help that was not forthcoming, are hung out to dry in Courts by local authorities and Cafcass guardians.

Please chair this review with compassion for our children and an open mind and heart. It is disappointing that the review is steaming ahead and there seems to be no way for us to participate in it as a decision making level. The ‘big’ question you have decided on makes us feel anxious. Please allow our voices to shape and influence this review and the questions asked by it. Please, work together with us as adopters and special guardians, with lived experience of children who have re-entered care – because this review presents a rare and precious opportunity for transformational change that is so much needed.