I write this post as the Chair of Special Guardians and Adopters Together – the views expressed are my own.
The Adoption Support Fund is supposed to be available to all adopted and special guardian children up until the age of 21, or 25 if there are special educational needs. It is capped at £5k (plus £2.5k for a specialist assessment), and if further funding is required then the LA must be prepared to match fund. £5k sounds a lot of money – but it doesn’t go very far when the sort of specialist support our children need, rarely available through CAMHS, is so costly.
Many LA’s do not match fund – so support is not needs driven, it is resource driven. However the cost of not match funding may be far greater further on down the line, in terms of parental or carer illness, and the spiralling costs to stabilise and protect our extremely vulnerable children who have had to re-enter care because they can no longer safely live with us. These greater costs are an inevitability when support is not sufficient or delayed – or if the wrong approach is taken, which causes further stress, and dis-stress, instead of alleviating problems. What is needed is rigorous policy evaluation with a health economics component and proper representation of service user’s views and experiences (especially those under most pressure), on the various boards so their problems are appreciated – in this contest special guardians in particular seem to be given little consideration or no representation at all.
The reality is also that the fund is NOT accessible to every adopted or special guardian child – as if a child re-enters care, and, for whatever reason, cannot safely live at home again, and there is ‘no intention to reunify’ on the part of the LA, then these children/young people and their families, may NOT ever access the fund – even if the child returns to live with their family post 18 – the agency just say its a ‘disruption’. It is also unclear when the Special Guardian Order ends at 18, what this means in terms of accessing the ASF. It is as if all this has not been thought through properly – but surely this cannot be the case? We are talking about our most vulnerable children and young people here – the ones that can never go back to live with their biological parents for whom other permanent orders were given. The Adoption Order in particular cannot be revoked.
The struggle to achieve adequate post adoption or special guardianship support, provided in a timely manner, means many families do not get what they need – although some of course do – the system does not fail us all. Nevertheless, when the support is lacking or delayed, the pressure on the family increases, and the risk greatly increases of a parent or special guardian becoming ill, sometimes seriously ill, or a child on the edge of care, needing to eventually re-enter care. The costs of supporting our children in care are so much greater than if they are supported within their family – so these are the costs that need to be factored into a policy evaluation of the fund that includes a health economics – full cost benefit analysis.
One of the main problems for us is that there are no models to bring our children home when they re-enter care other than those where we are seen through a ‘prism of risk’ (See BASW enquiry), as part of the problem, instead of part of the solution. In this context it is notable that the recent call for evidence from the SCIE for their project on the mental health of children in care, including adopted and special guardianship, did not identify one single submission (out of 82), to assist children and families in cases where there is a safeguarding care separation needed, even a short term one, because, through no fault of the parent or child they cannot live together. Section 20 is surely an ethically questionable piece of legislation if it means we can achieve respite in no other way and we can never achieve the support we need for our children to come home safely by consenting to it?
In our group we are finding that contact with our children may be severely constrained by agency group decision making, often behind closed doors in professional’s meetings. Some professionals misguidedly believe that rescuing our children from us, and preventing them from seeing us, will help the child. There is no child on earth that benefits from being separated from a loving supportive adoptive or special guardian family, and made to feel this family is not ‘safe’, and it is a violation of the child’s right to family life. Children, parents and special guardians can be driven to despair with such inhumane approaches but there is no one to call these professionals to account when the opinions of professionals are beyond the remit of a Local Government Ombudsman and professionals are considered ‘experts’ in the family court. To make matters worse the professionals have legal representation whilst we may have none, if contesting the discharge of a Section 31 Care Order, as a way to bring about a more humane approach. Independent Reviewing Officers are not bringing cases back to court, even when our children want to go home – and we would like to be able to talk about it and what support might be needed to make this safe.
Sometimes no foster carers will look after our children as they are so hard and ‘risky’ to care for, especially if they have confusions around sex due to sexual abuse in early life. Few foster carers are willing to care for a child where there is are concerns about confused sexualised behaviours towards care givers and parental figures – this is almost inevitable when children that were sexually awakened at an early age reach adolescence and hormones kick in. It would be naive not to imagine some degree of fall out from very severe sexual abuse in early life – and it makes parents and carers of these children extremely vulnerable – and the children themselves of course. Or, if our children can only live within families where their faith/religion is not respected, they cannot be supported to pray, attend their Mosque, and are given forbidden foods – due to a shortage of Muslim foster carers. Eventually, it can come as no surprise, these children in secular mixed racial placements may come to reject their faith – and their parents/family. These are hard to care for hard to place children with complex needs and poor mental health. Removing them from their family and community, and having them move from one placement to the next, is hardly going to improve things.
Residential care may be needed for our children – and if it is the costs are more likely to be £5k per week than £5k per year. Secure accomodation costs are far higher – around £600k per year.
Why can’t these professionals and so called ‘experts’ appreciate that rejection of the primary attachment figure, especially if the child is feeling wobbled and unsafe because of care changes, is part and parcel of attachment disorder, which so many of our children suffer from? This lack of understanding leaves our children and us so vulnerable to a highly selective interpretation of what is in the child’s ‘best interests’ – if they are made to feel unsafe with us by professionals, and then reject us as a consequence of this.
Our experience is that coming home will very likely not ever be considered in the child’s ‘best interest’s’ by an LA, if there is a Section 31 Care Order in place. The reality of this Order is that no work is done towards reunification or needs to be done towards it. What does this mean for a child or young person leaving care with no family at all? When so many of our children have poor mental health and disabilities – 190/569 (33%), in our recent survey were receiving Disability Living Allowance or PIP – they will struggle with independence and may well come back to us – but we can get no support to help them, and returning to us means they are no longer LAC either. It means they/we are left in limbo. A daughter may, for example, return home to her family if she is pregnant and has nowhere else to go – but no specialist therapeutic support is available from the ASF to help this young woman or her family at such a critical juncture.
One does not have to be a maths genius to see the long term costs of an inaquequate ASF that is not accessible to all. This lack of timely adequate support will eventually pose a far greater burden on society (never mind the human cost), than if the support was given in the first place. But don’t take my word for it – as someone whose case alone cost £1million, when my child was removed against his wishes after I asked for help. Commission an independent cost benefit analysis of the Fund. It will be money well spent to have this accuracy of information on which to base sound policy decisions.