Why is no one talking to us?
Is it perhaps because the government is creating potentially unhelpful divisions between those who provide permanence? Not foster carers – but dividing those who take on parental responsibility for children who cannot live with their birth parents and are unpaid. We are concerned this may be the case. We do not wish to see a privileging of adopters over other forms of parental responsibility permanence, which mainly involve the care of children by biological relatives.
SG&AT welcomes the recent debate in the House of Lords on the Adoption Support Fund obtained by the noble Lord Russell of Liverpool.
This debate was about adoption and permanence and the huge amount of work done by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) chaired by Rt Hon Rachael Maskell MP.
It was with great interest that we learned about this debate on Twitter yesterday after submitting our 65 page report to the APPG secretariat, Home for Good, in May 2019. We hoped to have an opportunity for dialogue about our findings -and the questions that came out of our research efforts. Our endeavours to systematically gather evidence have sadly not been supported by the Department of Education (DfE) despite requests for assistance. It’s been hard for us We are a small group of parents and guardians (150 members) who are put under great personal strain with the demands made of us in raising children who have been traumatised by abuse and neglect, as well as immense loss and separation. We are not well resourced to conduct research – and we do the best we can – because when we take our individual cases to the Department we are told they cannot be given consideration. Ministers tell us these are local concerns best dealt with at a local level – but we know this is not the case.
It is, to put it bluntly – soul destroying – not to be able to talk about what we have found.
Here is our report:
Its not just this report for the APPG. Over the past two years we have conducted a self funded programme of lived experience research, producing seven reports so far, but to our dismay no one is interested in talking to us about any of them.
This reticence to engage in dialogue frustrates us enormously. There is such a dearth of research understanding about special guardians who are often grandparents. Many special guardians either can’t access the Adoption Support Fund at all, or don’t know it is also for them. We recommended a name change in 2018 for this very reason in our Health and Wellbeing Survey, which had nearly 400 respondents.
Special Guardians are important and should not be continually overlooked in this way by government. Last year (2018-19) there were more Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs) granted than Adoption Orders (AOs). One would think government did not want special guardians to know about the ASF with the way they carry on – and with poor signposting from the fund’s administrators that did not make it clear what happens when a special guardianship child turns 18 and the order ceases.
So why are we not being heard as a group?
Perhaps, because the government, parliamentarians and the charities they choose to work with have actually chosen to divide us or accept the division and are content to keep adopters separate from biological families.
Opportunities to be heard do not come about very often for us and we feel incredibly disappointed to hear from Rachael Maskell that the adoption and permanence APPG she has chaired with much compassion is now defunct.
We have such a long way to go still. Yes, the ASF has certainly helped some of us, if we can access it – but many of us cannot. There are also many systemic issues that are not being considered.
Here are a few of the problems we are experiencing:
- The support infrastructure is just not there (especially for special guardians). Its a postcode lottery as to what support is available and the main priority of government seems to be adopter recruitment.
- As we keep being told, the ASF is just part of the jigsaw of support and it is a long way off the multiagency approach that is needed to support us to help our children heal.. Too often there are fractured teams with no one wanting to actually fund support for us. The ASF gatekeeper issues we identified in our research for the APPG have not been given any consideration at all it seems.
- The legal frameworks surrounding adoption and permanence don’t seem to work for us. Single parents or guardians are having to put children back into care just to access a respite break. Going back into care undermines the sense of permanence and stability we have spent years trying to create for our children. But we have no choice but to put children back into care – just to get a break from the intensity of family life.
- Many of us in SG&AT are parenting ‘from a distance’ when the help we so desperately needed was not forthcoming, sufficient or timely – or when families have been ‘safeguarded’ instead of helped – with the whole family left traumatised by their dealings with services. Where is the thought and consideration about these families? Are we continually to be discarded as a failure and breakdown? We keep flagging up that there is no guidance for social care or health professionals about reunification when parents and guardians are capable and safe – if our children’s trauma proved too hard to contain.
We believe that as experts by lived experience we have a vital role to play in permanence reform and in developing services that meet the evolving needs of children and families in 21st Century Britain.
We reach out to those who develop policy and legislation and we say: