I adopted Jake when he was 9. Medical advisors diagnosed severe attachment disorder and suggested that autism, which was never thought about again, should not be ruled out. By the time Jake was 13 he had received therapy from 7 different therapists with many breaks and changes. There were more than a dozen social care professionals involved with us at various times by this juncture. I was the one constant in Jake’s life. It was frustrating that despite the fact he was on highest level care Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and I had given up work to care for Jake with the family being totally reliant on statutory benefits and allowances that the local authority did not and still do not recognise his disabilities – he is now 17.
Help seeking when I tried to access respite had terrible unforeseen consequences for us. Jake was taken into care and I found myself in court, facing allegations of child abuse, mental illness and substance abuse (I was informed by the Judge these are ‘standard’). A CAMHS risk assessment suggesting I was most at risk from Jake was ignored, and led to a misinformed police investigation of Jake while in foster Care. He also began self harming the day he re-entered care. It was devastating when a Care Order was given and I was viewed as a cause of serious harm to the child I had adopted – although my son was returned to my care under Placement with Parent’s regulations. The problems we faced as a family were still not understood and his school refusal was attributed to my inadequate parenting, which was compared unfavourably with foster care throughout the care proceedings, even though there were no suitable foster carers to be found. It felt as if what was wanted of me was compliance, but I wanted an understanding of our needs as a family. There was a mismatch and my frustration was so easily misinterpreted as my being ‘difficult’ to deal with, which is how I was viewed and presented by the local authority. This meant anyone new to the case made judgements about my character. It takes bravery and courage to stand up and say to an authority’s senior management team that they have got it wrong – but this was not how I was seen.
When he came home I was sent on a parenting course by the local authority having been therapeutically parenting with the help of the numerous therapists, for 5 years by this stage. He stopped going to school shortly after the reunification, and it was hard to get him to even leave the house. This may have been related to the fact he was taken from his birth family from school and by now had formed a secure attachment to me. He refused to go into foster care for respite, part of the court approved plan, so the plan was not able to be implemented. I tried to commission risk assessment work myself, also recommended by the court expert, but the agency that was suggested would only liaise with statutory agencies.
Reporting a further incident of concern led not the assistance I had hoped for. A meeting with the local authority made it clear my son would not come home. Financially I was suddenly left with no income because I had given up work to care for Jake. It was two weeks before Christmas when he was removed for the second time and I didn’t know how we would survive. Jake was so depressed and he would not attend school in care, or engage in an assessment. Life-changing decisions were made, ratified in a care review, without his input, because he could not cope with these reviews.
Jake entered a children’s home (the only care option available), in preference to foster care. His suicidal ideation at that time was met with blasé attitudes – it was attributed to his early life experiences and therefore to be expected. The CAMHS forensic psychiatrist assessor, who must surely have cost the State a fortune as he had to be commissioned specially from another health authority, paid more heed to my upbringing than Jake’s early life. He made me feel I was a care option that had not worked out and a new approach was needed. The care plan that came out of this assessment left my son needing to be put on suicide watch in the children’s home where he lived. Jake wanted to come home and I wanted professionals and agencies to start working with me more positively, however the assessment carried out, without my son, was used to inform the next assessors, and so on.
By now my grief and distress probably did make me difficult to deal with, which is what the local authority said about me (I did not accept their inaccurate assessments and rallied against their continual discrediting of me) but my emotional distress was presented without context and in the first application to discharge the Care Order, which was unsuccessful, I felt like those with a duty of care were trying to make me seem a harridan and a mother who could not cope – rather than one who had a lot to cope with. These were very difficult times indeed. None of the social care professionals seemed to have much experience of adoptions and none had ever achieved a successful adoption reunification, which was what Jake and I both wanted.
When the local authority sought to remove him to a home more than 100 miles away from home and family I managed to persuade my son, who was terrified of court, to see a solicitor. I put in an application for discharge of the Care Order expecting that the solicitor would help him come home, but the Guardian and his Solicitor managed to persuade him not to challenge the Care Order. The Guardian and I however both agreed Jake needed an Advocate but there is no independent children’s advocacy in our local authority and Jake wanted me to advocate for him, which was not possible. I managed to convince my son to have his views put to the court through his own Solicitor in a second later application, which proved successful and after 3.5 years away, Jake finally came home immediately after the Care Order discharge. The Care Order was replaced with a Supervision Order and none of the recommendations of the court appointed experts were carried through, except the reunification, for which there was no practical support or funding – we had to wait 4 months for the Adoption Support Fund to come through. Pathway Planning was not done and statutory guidance was ignored by the local authority – the Supervision Order was discharged before its term after another successful application by me, as a parent litigant. I never imagined I would have to represent myself in court when I became an adopter, to fight for my child’s wishes and feelings to be central to care decisions made for him.
Jake and I have been reunified for a year now and Jake tells me I saved his life twice – first by adopting him and the second time by getting him out of the care system for the second time.
The court proceedings and our need for privacy made it impossible to speak out. The whole experience also felt so shaming. I felt discredited for years and left to hang out to dry, and it is as if the government and agencies don’t want to know. I am stonewalled by the local authority’s senior management team, by their complaint’s team, by the Adoption Support Fund and Department of Education (who do not get involved with individual cases). The Local Government Ombudsman cannot investigate matters that have been to court. CAMHS couldn’t wait to get Jake off their books.
It also seems as if the best part of £1 million has been spent trying to remove my child from home and family, against his wishes and mine, and no one seems interested, or seems to care about this. Lack of resources are the reason given for support not being available before he was removed and again now we are reunified.
What would make a difference?
It is scandalous that those that care for some of the UK’s most vulnerable children cannot safely help seek and report concerns and that so many parents may live in fear because of violent challenging behaviour, but fear the consequences of help seeking even more.
In these times of austerity, as local authorities report that they don’t have the resources to fund adequate support, it seems better, from the local authority’s perspective, to make the child a looked after child, especially when CAMHS are also overstretched. A serious clerical error was made in this case that was eventually corrected.
I believe legislation change is needed and should be prioritised to protect children like Jake, whose hidden disabilities can be overlooked far too easily. Parents (birth parents and adopters), dealing with violent challenging behaviour, stemming from disabilities and trauma, live in fear of the consequences of help seeking.
There needs to be far better scrutinising of public services, and more accountability. Not once did any of the senior managers who put us through this horrible ordeal, and gave instructions, attend court. There could be no dialogue and the organisation closed its ranks, and professionals protected each other rather than the child. With the involvement of the court, who focus mainly on parental capacity, the Local Government Ombudsman and the Police say they cannot get involved.
Parenting from a distance is by far the most stressful experience I have ever endured. It is the very definition of ‘secondary trauma’, watching your beloved child utterly failed, and being powerless to help and to prevent harm.
We need a system that means parents of children with disabilities, especially mothers, are listened to, and not marginalised and discredited as so many are. Our families are too vulnerable.