National Adoption Week – An Adopter’s view Part II

Who or what is helping traumatised children?

We are grateful for this second post about National Adoption Week from the perspective of an adopter. She queries why the only open and honest debate appears to be coming from adopters or adoptees. This is particularly so when talking about the impact of trauma upon children and their development. That the only intervention for traumatised adopted children appears to be to put them in section 20 accommodation is a ‘national disgrace’. 

I have spent a little too much time reading, listening and watching the coverage of National Adoption Week 2015. I was hoping for a bit more honesty than previous years. I am not at all surprised but am saddened that we really are having the same old tripe being spurted out by those who should know better.

The only honest, open, truly adoption focussed reality checks have come from adopters or adoptees.

We have seen this years strapline emblazoned on some important buildings in a few cities
`Too old at 4’. What the strapline or the hype don’t mention in a realistic way, is the level of trauma those children have suffered or the fight that adoptive parents will have to get them the help and support needed to live with that trauma.

A report published in 2014 ‘Beyond the Adoption Order’ gives a very detailed description of the difficulties.

Children who have suffered trauma – who promotes their ‘best interests?’

In this guest blog, I want to tell you about what can happen when those that should know better do not act in ‘our’ children’s best interests. When I use the term ‘our’ I am talking about adopted children who have, in reality, if not law, two families.

Our children’s trauma usually takes a while to surface, often years and often during the turbulent teens. There will have been a few signs during primary school days for many. Our children will struggle with friendships, with the structure of the school day. They will get far more than their fair share of fixed term exclusions and even permanent exclusions before anyone in local authority education depts will agree to assess them for an education, health and care plans.

The evidence is clear that children in care do not fair well in comparison to their peers and yet adopters struggle to get those in education to believe that our children will suffer the same , if not more, difficulties. We have been able to access the pupil premium over the last few years and we know how it should be spent to help our children. Sadly this doesn’t happen in most local authorities because our children do not have a right to have their education overseen by a virtual school head teacher like children in care do.

If our young people get through the education system, they may not be so lucky in the way their sometimes fragile mental and emotional health is concerned.

The failure of CAMHS Teams and the disgrace of long term section 20 accommodation

Despite their early maltreatment and unresolved trauma, many Child and Adolescent Mental Health (Camhs) teams fail to address the mental health of our children. Adopted children got a mention in an overview of current Camhs provision and their particular difficulties have very recently been the subject of a roundtable discussion.

Social care are often no better than education or health. Adopters have something that birth families, special guardians or kinship carers don’t. We have access to post adoption support social workers. Like many services nationwide, those services vary in quality. The good ones come into their own when our children start to live their trauma out in the here and now. The children make allegations of abuse against their adoptive parents. Thankfully, many of the allegations are false and in a tiny amount of cases where they are found to be true, we all need to know that those children will be kept safe.

However, the majority of allegations are false. We know why our children make allegations but childcare social workers have little experience of traumatised children who are now safe with their adoptive families , safe enough for the trauma of their past to leak everywhere.

Sometimes that trauma shows itself in the violence that our children perpetrate against us, their parents, to their siblings, their friends or even to animals. They can also turn the violence to themselves, taking risks that belie the range of normal teenage risk taking or self harming.
At this point in their lives, many of our children will become `looked after` for the second time in their lives. They will be voluntarily accommodated under Section 20 of the Children’s Act.

For many of our children, they will remain in the care of the local authority under S20 until adulthood. This is a national disgrace. That a maltreated child, removed from their birth family for all the right reasons, does not get the help they and their adoptive families need to resolve (or at least come to terms with) their trauma, is unforgivable in a civilised society.

My message throughout NAW was that children and young people must always be at the core of everything that is done in their name. Those who have returned to care are no different.

‘OUR’ Kids must always be the priority.

13 thoughts on “National Adoption Week – An Adopter’s view Part II

  1. lynn

    Oh all of this is so true but it is equally true where family members are caring for the child in fact in my view there is even less support for them. We don’t get the same training or advice or support we’re left dealing with everything including contact with no help no advice and when things do go wrong it seems the first step is well you can’t cope we’ll look at taking the young person into care causing them even more trauma so whilst we’re having this debate can we consider all people who are looking after children that are not with their birth parents

  2. HelenSparkles

    Adoption in the 21st children involves adopting children who have been traumatised and/or abused, the baseline is the trauma of being removed from their family of origin if nothing else, it is grief, loss and separation. Few children are relinquished and this is a good thing, we no longer live in the 1950s. Equally, adopters have experienced their own journey of trauma and loss, if only because 95% are heterosexual couples who have been unable to have their own children. In any sane world we might say never the twain shall meet.

    Certainly the emotional landscape of all parties is a barrier to information sharing, and whilst adopters often moot the point that they didn’t know what they were letting themselves in for, equally they are naïve about the task ahead on issues that have been shared. This is no criticism of those wishing for a family, just an observation. It is also understandable that those wishing for a much longed for child may not always understand the implications for children just as no parent can really anticipate the impact of becoming a parent.

    There has historically been much criticism of the adoption process being slow, and of care proceedings, both were justified. The PLO speeded up the latter and assessments are faster. Most adopters now ask for a pause after Stage 1 because it is too fast and the process used to allow for adequate preparation for those adults as well as time for reflection. It is known that trauma manifests itself behaviourally or emotionally when children feel safe and secure.

    Adoption is an order which adopters enter into knowingly and legally to form a family for that child and secure permanency. This means that parents of whatever ilk need to access universal services, just as any parent of any child with a need, and that CAMHS etc. services should be able to manage those issues. Whilst I know post adoption support is inadequate (although I would argue the knowledge base exists, just not the capacity) it isn’t for that reason I would argue that it isn’t the role of social care, rather that the whole point of adoption is that the child becomes a member of that family without the social work intervention that children in care are subject to and that those universal services should be able to provide an effective package of support.

  3. Kate Wells

    I found the adopter’s piece very interesting and was in no way surprised that so many adopters are struggling with the behaviour and disposition of some of their children. It seems that this adopter was not told the truth about the possibilities that the child’s pre placement experiences of abuse/neglect could manifest itself in the adoptive family. I know that when we carried out adoption preparation groups we certainly made it very clear that there would almost certainly be challenging behaviour of one sort or another. We firmly “knocked on the head” any notion of “love is all they need” – we talked about attachment theory and the importance of this in caring for their child. We encouraged applicants to read up about attachment theory so that they were acquainted with the basic principles, and could carry on to learn more once the child was placed. We hammered home that children WERE adversely affected by the abuse/neglect and problems could emerge at any age in the child’s development, typically at adolescence. To give a “sanitised” version of adoption is unforgivable.

    I was retired before the duty to provide post adoption services was brought in, but am very aware that the govt made this a duty, but no new money to go with it, and this at a time when adoption services (along with all other aspects of Children’s Services) was seriously under resourced. It’s not surprising therefore that the post adoption service is sketchy, and often adoption social workers simply don’t know how to help a family with a child with an insecure or attachment disorder. It is very specialised work and needs a clinical psychologist with expertise in this area, or a play therapist, and there is no funding for such therapies, hence the families are left to struggle, not knowing which way to turn.

    I have seen marriages break up, families torn apart and one of both of the parents suffering mental health issues. Small wonder that sometimes in adolescence and the young person becomes violent that the family feel that they have to “call time” to protect the other children, or to preserve their mental health.

    The only thing I wonder about is the comment that these young people will be “looked after” under S.20 for the second time in their lives, until they are adult. But what can be done? Unless LAs have a specialised teenage placement scheme, these young people will be placed in residential accommodation, with 8 or 10 other angry confused young people. A lethal mix.

    There should be specialised support for adopters and their children BUT this needs a government that is prepared to properly resource Children’s Services so that they can provide (or buy in) post adoption support, along with all their other statutory responsibilities. Instead we have a government that is demanding massive savings from ALL public services thereby cutting budgets to the bone.
    Rabbits cannot be pulled out of hats!!

  4. Anon

    Excellent article. Thank you for this.
    I hope it comes to the attention of those who can make a difference to adopted children and parents.
    I wish to stress the massive detrimental affect trauma has on the child, adoptive parents and the whole family. I have lived 9 years trying to help our adoptive children in every way possible. ‘All they need is love’, I was told when I asked the children’s social worker about attachment difficulties before adopting. Nine years of extreme behaviour partly caused by cock ups by social services and primarily caused by trauma. The reality of trauma and insecure attachment needs to be openly addressed with each and every adoption case including prospective adopters prior to any decisions by them to adopt. Education for social workers is key if adoptive families are to survive their children’s early life trauma.
    Adoptive parents well-being must be at the centre of any adoption. My adoptive daughter emotionally and verbally abused me from her early years. My adoptive son, with his uncontrollable anger, looked me in the eyes and punched me in the face when he was 7, such was his confusion about his new ‘Mummy’ and my role as his parent. Later, filled with remorse, he sat with me in the garden. This was a sign of leakage to follow in teenage years, when through a mixture of trauma, hormones, a bad crowd, cannabis, his sister voluntarily leaving home on an S20 and early life flashbacks of abuse all contributed to him going completely off the rails. Being frightened in my own home 24/7 led to hiding all the knives. Seeing doors that had been punched in throughout the house, being verbally abused and threatened was real domestic violence. Secondary trauma, lack of confidence, sleep, the need to ‘take each hour as it comes’ and hope to get through the day was common then.
    Our adoptive daughter checked out of our family 6 months ago and into Social Services via an S20. She was 15. Our adoptive son has stayed. He is 14. Those two beautiful children who’s photograph was shown to us in a magazine 10 years ago, have endured 9 years of living with the outcome of their trauma. And we have too. I grilled the Social Worker about attachment problems more than once and was told clearly…..more than once, ‘All they need now is love’
    We are all in recovery mode now and I think will be for years to come. All of us. We will always love our children. But that’s not the point.
    Every prospective adoptive parent needs the truth about adoption. And so do the children, prior to adoption. And every adoptive family needs ongoing help including financial assistance if parents are to ensure the survival of early life trauma to their children and themselves.
    And what about the future for a child on S20? Thank you for raising this and for offering guidance. I hope the people who can make a difference will be listening.

    1. angelo granda

      An excellent post Anon.
      You really bring home to all of us the pain and suffering caused all around by forced adoption policies.

      One has to analyse true to life experiences like those you describe and come up with honest answers.
      Taking note of your comments on sw cock-ups and incompetence, I think we have to recognise that the CS is the cause of most problems.

      Your children were not suitable for adoption obviously! We should all be aware that very often children are disturbed and angry not because they have been abused by their natural parents but because they have had their human rights abused by the Local Authority as a result of CS malpractice.

      The department tries to brainwash children into the belief that they have been abused and are lucky to get the chance of a new ‘mum and dad’, their own bedroom in a new home, pets and happiness for evermore .They tell them their real mums cannot look after them.They have specially made picture books and start the process very early on.

      The fact is that your children had adoption ‘forced’ upon them by the Local Authority and will have looked upon you as part of their problem.They wanted to be with their real families. Can you imagine how you would feel had you had your world completely turned upside down by dysfunctional sw’s?

      Very often children are very happy at home but are ‘forcibly’ removed.They just will not be brainwashed.They will cry and ask to go home only to be ignored!They will scream and kick only to be ignored.

      If adoption has to be ‘forced’ upon children against their wishes, it is inhumane!

      Adoptive parents should recognise that sw’s have to do a job on them too and brainwash them into the belief that the behaviours are due to the care received from parents.Very often,they are not.

      Or why should the children protest? It is the practicalities of ‘forced removal’ which causes the whole problem.

      That is why it is taboo according to law except in the most dire circumstances when every possible alternative has been examined and when NOTHING else will do.For example,temporary foster care is preferable to adoption.

      I think forced adoption should be banned to preclude any possibility of injustice.Foster care will always suffice.

      Before anyone says that very often children have been abused at home, that is true but in those cases, forced adoption is still not the humane solution.

  5. ian josephs

    YES anon “all they need is love” but that is a word that is banned by most social ,workers,judges,guardians ,and psychobabble experts.They prefer to talk of children “bonding” with fosters or adoptive parents;a word more often used to describe the relations of members of football teams like Manchester United and Arsenal where the players do bond together but rarely love each other !
    Heartless robots called social workers were originally founded to help families but as Judge Hedleysaid in the BBC video “There has been a dramatic shift of social workers from family support to “child protection”
    Sir James Munby,(President of the family courts) pronounce quite clearly in his judgements that “Adoption is a last resort used when nothing else will do”;My question to him is this:- “Most other EU countries do not tolerate adoption against the will of the parents so they must have found solutions other than adoption that “will do” so why can’t we in the UK do the same?

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      It seems that many other European countries rely on section 20 type accommodation to a much greater extent than we do in England.

      thus the child remains away from the parents but with no permanent home. Parents have truncated contact. Matter is not before a court. Yes, the child retains legal links to birth family, but the situation on the ground is not much different to an adoption.

      We need to think carefully whether this is actually a better, or worse option for everyone.

      1. angelo granda

        S20 accommodation is the ideal solution because it makes court proceedings unnecessary .It gives both parents and sw’s the opportunity to engage together and work together towards solving immediate serious problems which really do warrant temporary foster care and for plans to be put into place aimed at reducing the risk of future harm.
        Foster carers should put children before their own convenience and work towards retaining a secure bond between them and their real parents.Contacts should be regular and frequent and close to home,even at home if possible.
        I think S20’s are okay per se but ,as many other things, have got a bad reputation because the CS misuse them ,overstep the mark and abuse the trust granted to them by problem families. The idea is that parents acknowledge problems and foster- carers také them in temporarily .It is voluntary and theoretically consent can be withdrawn at any time if children are being abused by sw’s and/or carers.
        An S20 is infinitely more preferable to forced removal. Once parents can trust the CS to use them for the reason they are written into the act rather than for their own ulterior motives,then more will consent i feel sure.
        They provide the perfect safety-net not only in emergency but in the short,middle and long term.WHEN USED PROPERLY.
        We all agree,consent should never be obtained by blackmail.

        1. angelo granda

          I would also suggest that when ,under the auspices of an S20,sw’s work together with parents towards rehabilitation (as the statute designed them to be) they should be paid CASH BONUSES when the target,rehabilitation home to family is achieved.

  6. looked_after_child

    Picking up on this post almost a year later (sorry!), and as the birth parent of a young man with autism who became accommodated under s20 I’ve become very wary of taking blanket statements assigning LAC’s/adopted children’s problems to ‘trauma’ and ‘neglect’ at face value – no matter who their source is.
    Attachment theories assign blame to caregivers and hold out the possibility of ‘recovery’. Given the higher than average incidence .of SEND in LAC, ( ASD circa 5% vs 1-1.5% in the general population) I personally think this story of recovery will just not apply for many children from Care – how many we don’t yet know because children entering Care are not assessed for SEND. It is also worth noting that SEND assessment timescales ( and not all LA’s meet them) are 20 weeks and adoption timescales are 26 weeks. I personally find this disturbing although I’ve no experience in this area – surely that must act in some cases as a perverse incentive for all to assign all a child’s problems to ‘trauma’ and ‘neglect’ particularly if parents have their own vulnerabilities.
    On the subject of ‘neglect’, this fantastic report makes sobering reading for anyone concerned about vulnerable children’s welfare
    Social Services Research Group (2016) Research, Policy and Planning The Journal of the
    Special Issue on Child Neglect

    1. helensparkles

      Adoption timescales are not 26 weeks, 26 weeks is the PLO timescale for care proceedings. Timescales for adoption start at the outcome of care proceedings, if a child is made subject to a placement order.

      Most children who are made subject to placement orders, and who move to adoptive placements are too young to be assessed for additional needs, of whatever kind. There are some medical/genetic conditions that can be determined, but adopters often live with future uncertainty just as people do with their birth children. If I take FASD as an example, facial features are an indicator sometimes, but only if that child formed those features when their both mother was drinking. Early diagnosis can lead to misdiagnosis, of any number of other additional needs such as ADHD or autism, and diagnosis should be about meeting needs. There are other unknowns in so far as some children entirely escape the impact of FASD despite gestational alcohol consumption being known. (All children who move to adoption have a medical assessment at which any issues are addressed, adopters attend for a briefing, they haves to decide what level of uncertainty they can tolerate).

      Older children paced in foster care long term are routinely assessed for the ECHP and there are statutory timescales once an assessment is agreed, but the same parameters apply about age/development, it is often too soon. Ergo they don’t always assess.

      Either cohort will have experienced trauma even if you take as a baseline trauma as being separated from family of origin rather than any other issues. Either cohort can have attachment issues, if you don’t have a secure base, you have a base which is disrupted by being unsafe. That might be the baseline (again) of being separated from your family of birth.

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