Yesterday, as the Chancellor proclaimed an end to austerity, I sat in a demoralising meeting about my disabled child, who is struggling to look to the future when it seems to hold nothing for him, and saw that it never will. Its impact has destroyed the childhood years of so many children and seen families who struggle, torn apart by those who should be helping them to grow up in their families. Helping children and families to survive.
The way the local authorities beat you into the ground as a parent is to close ranks against you. They will almost inevitably, in adoptions, use a ‘failure to parent’ approach – taking this to our courts where the dice are too much loaded against parents – in an insidious blame culture. Blame always travels downwards onto the more vulnerable. This way of working with our families is often the approach taken during the teenage years when the natural tendency is for children to push their parents away. Any slight suggestion that your child might not want to live with you, which they will be repeatedly questioned about, and it is assumed you must be some sort of monster – and it is the job of the state to prove this. In adoptions our children will push us away much more than securely attached children because of attachment disorders that are part of their complex trauma – not because we are ‘bad parents’ or abuse our children. Asking for help for a child should not mean you are viewed as a potential source of harm to them – but in our Kafkaesque system this is exactly what may transpire. The system does not seem to be able to discriminate between parents and carers who need help because too much is asked, and those who systematically abuse their children – we are all treated in the same way – as if there is always a potential risk of harm. The system infuststucture is adversarial and divisive. It does not unify and support – it divides and rules.
The family courts are, by the admission of its previous President, in his eloquent Eleanor Rathbone lecture, ill equipped to deal with complex cases where the corporate parent cannot care for a child better than the one who is hung out to dry as a ‘failure’. They can keep them more safe and secure than a parent can by locking them up in secure units and taking away their liberty – but that is all. Medical help can be offered, but it is not easy to find beds for our children, under austerity, when the NHS is in crisis.
Love, including parental love, is a child’s birthright – but it is not something the corporate parent can offer. Our traumatised children need to know they are loved and cared about – that they are held in mind. Our relationships with our children can be destroyed by the very organisations and agencies who are supposed to support our families. Positive relationships can even be seen as a hindrance if the local authority are trying to build an attachment with foster carers – to replace the adoptive parents. Adoption was never meant to be like this but under austerity it has become viewed as a mechanism of social engineering. Seen as a way for the state to save money. If it doesn’t work out then no matter. The parents are expendable. Are they even ‘real’ parents anyway? They can be labelled a ‘disruption’ and no one will care – least of all the birth families who they were removed from in the first instance. More and more divisions are created when we the reality is we are connected through our children and always will be. We raised the children. We didn’t remove them.
If you do manage to beat the system as an adopter, and by some miracle get your child back home when no models for reunification or rehabilitation exist, you will be back to where you started. Closed ranks. An army of professionals who say NO, when you ask for help. NO, the money is not there. NO, it cannot be found. NO, your child cannot have the help they need. NO NO NO. Not a penny will be spent over and above the £5k cap for the Adoption Support Fund if you manage to get this support – it doesn’t matter whether it is sufficient to meet your child’s needs or not. It doesn’t matter that it cost £5k per week to keep your child in the children’s home where they did not want to live, when no foster carers could be found to care for them – and they did not want foster care anyway – they had enough of foster care when they were small. NO, this money will not be spent. Not that the professional from the adoption team that attends the demoralising meeting has any decision making authority anyway. They will tell you that a decision cannot be made at the meeting, wasting everyone’s time, and come back to you with an email, some weeks later, telling you the response is NO.
Austerity has created a new organisational culture – where parents who need help, because they care for disabled traumatised children who are hard to care for, are seen as enemies. It doesn’t matter how much the government now spends – this will not change now. Local authorities have been given carte blanche to rule over us. If we do make complaints, and these are accepted by the LGO after a lengthy 3 stage process, they will take so long to investigate that the harm caused is irreparable. Organisational defensiveness will demoralise further and erode trust, without which we can never truly come together to work in partnership. The only way to change this and undo the legacy of austerity is with new laws to protect children and families from those who are supposed to serve them and have a duty of care for the child – and family.