Being able to ‘tell it like it is’ is crucially important for Adoption and Special Guardianship because without properly understanding the impact of policy and legislatory frameworks, one cannot improve the lives of those whom these policies, and frameworks are intended to serve.
Social change has been exponential in the years since the legal frameworks surrounding adoption were put in place – with the Children Act 1989, and Special Guardians were not even ‘invented’ at this time, with this Order being just 14 years old. Changes in adoption have been manifold too and there are now, for example, many single parent adopters, and even more single special guardian carers, who must on their own, frequently without the support of family, shoulder parental and care responsibilities for some of our most troubled, vulnerable children and young people – often without recourse to respite. Achieving respite that works for both child and parent/carer brings its own problems for families where a child has Attachment Disorder, and who can be so easily de-stabilised by changes in care (see page 24 of our Interim Report, 6th March 2018) Special Guardians and Adopters Together Interim Report 6th March 2018. It is wrong that in order to access respite we must put our children back into care, under Section 20 Care Orders, when this makes them feel rejected by us. This is a flawed policy and a flawed framework for us – it might work for others – but not for us.
We seek help in an environment that is percieved and experienced by us as frightening and hostile, where fault is too quickly and too often sought by agencies – in response to our help seeking. Criticism and blame are much too frequently the outcomes of our seeking support. No one wants to be put in the shame corner when they are under great duress and ask for help and support, but this is what we are asking of Adopters and Special Guardians – and it is too much to ask. No one should fear the removal of their beloved children in this situation. This will clearly compound stress, not alleviate it.
Parents and guardians are, we discovered, in our survey, which looked at parent and carer stress, too frightened even to seek help from their GP, lest their capacity to parent and care for their children is called into question as a result. 147/389 (nearly 40%) of survey respondents, declared they had been frightened to seek help from their GP about the impact on their mental health of stress arising from their parental or caring role (see page 47 of our Interim Report).
Why are they so scared? Are their fears founded?
Special Guardians and Adopters Together believe that parents and carers are not simply deluded and paranoid people. The system is letting us down. It is letting down many people, but here it is letting down people who are trying to parent and care for children who would otherwise be in care.
As we see it, the threshold of ‘Beyond Parental Control’ is one of the most serious problems for our children and families. This is because children who have been traumatised by early life losses, abuse, neglect and possibly multiple changes in primary carer during the seminal developmental stages of life, seek to control those that parent and care for them – because the loss of control is perceived as a survival threat to them. When our children are younger it can be hard to cope with and exhausting, but as they reach teenage years it becomes impossible, at times, to contain them and look after them safely. If we cannot get the help and support we need at this stage then they are in big trouble.
Returning our children to the system under Section 20 Care Orders to access respite, or Section 31 Care Orders if the LA takes the case to court, is leading to ruined young lives when the threshold of Beyond Parental Control is proven in contested hearings. Whatever short term benefits are envisaged for our children by learned members of the judiciary, leaving us in the shame corner with a Section 31 Care Order is not going to help us move forwards as a family. Under this Order we are totally unable to utilise our parental knowledge or care experience, because we are viewed by the State as a ‘risk of serious harm’ to the child we sought to help. This Order means a legal framework that works against us, and our children, who still need parents and families – even when they cannot safely live with them. Our children are only ‘Beyond Parental Control’ because this is a legacy of their past, which we are trying to help them recover from.
To make matters worse there is a ‘closing of ranks’ within and between agencies and services once the Section 31 Order has been given, which can extend to charities and organisations that purport to represent the interests of our children and us.
We draw attention to the fact:
a) There are no models for rehabilitation for our children when they re-enter care. There is no training given to professionals who work with our children about how to achieve this.
b) There is no willingness on the part of agencies and professionals (because there is no need for them to do this), to work towards reunification as an ultimate goal – achievable or not
c) There are no funding sources for our children to be supported in the context of their families – our children get no support from the Adoption Support Fund if there is ‘no intention to reunify’ on the part of the LA
d) There is no accountability when Care Orders are implemented in ways that result in our children coming to serious harm after re-entering care, or having their rights violated. The reality is that Independent Reviewing Officers and Cafcass Guardians do not bring cases back to court (see, for example, Jakes Story). If we bring them back to court they are more likely to try to argue that the decision of the Court was right, which means our children are trapped in the system.
e) There is clearly no ‘partnership’ working when one party discredits and blames the other, takes them to court and discredits them further.
f) Our children will find transitioning to adulthood even harder if relationships with family have not been supported by those with a duty of care – when they have had to live apart from us, for reasons of safety.
In order to make progress Adopters and Special Guardians need to be able to ‘tell it like it is’. We need to be able to talk about the problems that affect us and get in the way of us being able to help our children without fear, and also talk about them with the DofE and with government.
This is why we ask you to sign our petition, and ask you to please share it widely.
Petition to Government
Changes to Children Act 1989
Urgent action is required to give more rights & protection to parents/carers & also vulnerable children in care
Sections 20 & 31 of Children Act are currently unworkable, resulting in a care crisis. We call on government to take urgent action to make changes to legislation & guidance to protect the parenting/caring role from a distance by:
A more humane ethical family centred approach where birth & adoptive parents & special guardians can be seen as part of the solution & not part of the problem, in striving to do their best caring for their children.
Safeguarding vulnerable children with new legislation & legal frameworks that also supports parents/carers when children are ‘beyond parental control’ which may be related to poor mental health, disabilities, early life trauma, abuse or neglect.