Modern adoption is not fit for purpose and we are collapsing under the strain of a failing system. A blog on the POTATO (Parents of Traumatised Adopted Teenagers Organisation), entitled ‘I am Tired’ pretty much sums up how many of us are feeling – we are struggling to cope – especially when ‘parenting from a distance’. You can read the blog HERE
As the President of the Family Division explains in his introduction to best practice guidance on Supervision Orders
Some have predicted that, if the current situation continues, the family justice system will “collapse” or “fall over”, but, as I have said before, I do not think systems collapse in these circumstances. Systems simply grind on; it is people who may “collapse” or “fall over”. Indeed, that is already happening and I could give you real examples of this happening now.
As adopters and special guardians we face very particular challenges as families. Our children often have complex needs and numerous mental health and neurodiversity issues such as autism; PDS (pathological demand avoidance); ADHD; FASD; Complex Developmental Trauma; PTSD and Reactive Attachment Disorder – as well as physical health issues and genetic abnormalities. Instead of help, too many of us are finding ourselves pushed into dispiriting and prolonged conflict with agencies, from whom support was/is sought (and needed) for us and our children. These cases can often end up in court where misunderstandings about us are perpetuated and conflicts are not always resolved.
In the family courts, or in meetings with children’s services about our children, our own emotional response to being put under too much strain- can be so easily taken out of context. Munro describes this as ‘The Fundamental Attribution Error’, which is explained as the “tendency to describe other people’s behaviour as due to personality traits, without analysing the environment in which the behaviour occurs” (Effective Child Protection -page 146),
It is our children’s traumatic past and the impact of this that should be the focus of the professional and legal gaze – not our own upbringing or perceived character failings – once an Adoption Order or Special Guardianship Order is made. It is impossible to read reports that describe us as ‘aggressive’, ‘threatening’ and ‘hostile’, or have our mental health called into question (by professionals or in adversarial court proceedings) in a most insensitive way, and not feel victimised by the state – when all we ever wanted was help for our children! It is true that the stress we are put under can impact on our own mental health. Adoptive parents and special guardians responding to our Health & Wellbeing Survey (2018) reported being affected by anxiety, depression, secondary trauma, PTSD, ‘blocked care’, and stress and mental health breakdowns. In this context, one of the most alarming findings of the survey was that nearly 40% our respondents 147/389) reported they were avoiding seeking help from their GP for mental health problems due to fears that judgments would be made about their capacity to parent and care for their children (see Table 34 of the Interim Report). Removing children from parents and carers who are struggling to cope, depicting the parents/guardians as a risk of harm to the children, and permanently putting the children into foster care – this is not the answer!!!
Once our children re-enter care or a public law order is made – the unwanted conflict is not resolved – and this is seriously impacting on how much we can influence what happens to our children. The more we challenge decisions – the more we can find ourselves being marginalised. As this blog illustrates – local authorities are refusing to accept that our children have FASD and further assessments are demanded. It is all so wasteful – when support for us as families would be so much less expensive than court proceedings and putting children permanently back in care.
It’s not a case of addressing problems like addiction or domestic abuse for us. We were never neglectful parents/guardians – although the local authority might try to argue this was the case. Our children are far more likely to be a risk of harm to us than we are to them. So there is nothing we can ‘change’ to get children back home, when the care plan that is approved by the court is to permanently replace us with foster care/residential care – which are usually privatised now. It is galling in the extreme to see a privately owned residential care home being paid £5k per week to look after our children – and not managing very well – when we were lucky to be able to access £5k per year from the capped Adoption Support Fund. This fund cannot be accessed at all when there is ‘no intention to reunify’ on the part of the state.
When will the state understand that we are the ‘victims’ when children take out their frustrations and anger on us – unable to regulate their emotions due to trauma. Making us into a ‘risk of significant harm’ to the children we seek help for in this scenario is a complete nonsense. It’s such a waste of public money – as well as being a harrowing ordeal for us and our children – to hang us out to dry in court – after we have sought help that was not forthcoming. Depicting us as ‘aggressive’ and ‘difficult to work with’ doesn’t help our children when we are fighting for them – and for understanding about them. How can anyone imagine this will work?
We are finding that local authorities make absolutely no effort to work towards reunification once a full Care Order is made – and take a highly selective view of the child’s wishes and feelings. Little help is given when reunification happens, even under a Supervision Order. From our perspective, local authorities are using this order to cover up their own abysmal failings, professional errors and misjudgement – and avoid public scrutiny. If there is no contested hearing – there is, conveniently, no judgment to publish where the negligence and failings of a local authority would be out in the open. Most parents will readily agree to a Supervision Order to avoid a much longed for reunification that is delayed by contested hearing where we would inevitably be pitched against barristers instructed by professionals who have no ethical qualms about ‘victim blaming’ in court proceedings. Being portrayed (by a solicitor or barrister) as the cause of the violent physical and sexual assaults and the mental abuse that may be inflicted on you as a parent caregiver by a traumatised child or young person – this is horrible. It is eroding confidence in the integrity of legal professionals with how we are treated in court as parent/guardian ‘victims’. We don’t blame our children – we want them to receive help – so it is even worse when the state begins to criminalise them – as they struggle with the transition into young adulthood – and they end up in prison instead of getting the help they should have been given as children (under Article 39 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child). Far too many of us are parenting children who are in prison.
We also draw attention to the fact that the NSPCC framework for reunifications is now routinely used for adoption reunifications when children have re-entered care. This may perhaps be an unintended consequence of the Care Crisis Review’s ‘options for change’ recommendation. It is used without any consideration as to whether it’s application is ethically sound – when it has been the parent or guardian who was harmed by the child, or put at risk – or left without support for too long and pushed into crisis. Conflict is not resolved by treating us as neglectful or abusive parents when planning reunifications with an inappropriate framework. This adds insult to injury.
In 2018 we took this utterly tragic Powys case to the Department of Education and the Chief Social Worker (Isabelle Trowler). An adopted teenager (accommodated under Section 20) had committed suicide in foster care just before his 18th birthday. This could so easily have been one of our children. This is a case that perfectly demonstrates the harmful impact of exhausting unresolvable conflict between professionals and adoptive parents. These are the awful consequences that can ensue – when those who have parental responsibility for the child, and who love the child, are marginalised, pushed aside – and not listened to. We know from experience that these adopters will have attended endless meetings – and been able to make little headway.
We have to find a better way to support those who are raising children with complex needs who are affected by trauma – than depicting us as a risk of harm to our children and marginalising us.
The bottom line is that we need support when we ask for help – not harsh judgment of our character, mental health and parenting capacity. This is not how we will break the cycle of abuse and neglect.