Living with the long term effect of abuse and neglect.
This is a post by an adoptive mother, who shall remain anonymous.
Adoption is a cornerstone of social policy in the UK for children living with abuse and neglect, and without legal reform, adoptive families are at high risk of having their children removed as a crisis measure when they seek help for a child’s extreme difficulties as a result of earlier abuse/neglect. This piece is written by an adoptive parent and many of the experiences described may be common to parents of children with disabilities including cognitive disabilities and mental health difficulties, who seek help in the form of respite or specialist support for challenging behaviour.
A new round of joint targeted inspections by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, and probationary inspectorates into the impact of childhood neglect, will have begun this month focussing on middle age children (age 7-15) who are at risk of exploitation and/ or showing challenging behaviours (Community Care, 17th April 2017). The impact of childhood neglect may last a lifetime and it is not clear whether the inspections will focus solely on children whose needs for love and care are not being met currently and children that may have entered the Care system for reasons of neglect and abuse, and they and their carers are living with the effects of previous neglect.
As an adoptive parent I know that neglect can occur in isolation but often involves abuse too. Concerns were raised by the Selwyn report (2014) about adoptive families accessing appropriate support for what can be extremely challenging behaviours, well beyond the bounds of normal parenting, stemming from abuse and neglect. The report identified that parents struggled to access services, especially crisis support, and that children’s disabilities are often not recognised or acknowledged in adoption, in terms of accessing post adoption support and services, even for relatively well known conditions such as autism.
My son experienced profound early life neglect and abuse. When problems emerged in the early years of adolescence and I reported problematic behaviour that was clearly related to my son’s abuse history, it seemed removal, which neither my child or I wanted, was the only option considered by the authority. Only after a period of several years, and a number of court proceedings, did my son return home with no public law orders in place, and when this happened our reunification was not planned or supported. We found ourselves back to square one, albeit with a capped Adoption Support Fund, that we had been unable to access whilst my son was living away from home. The Pathway team say that their support, which runs out 6 months after Supervision Order discharge, is not for young people like my son, who live with their family. As a result of our family’s experiences I believe that the child protection system, particularly as it relates to adoptive families, needs to change. It seems too divisive of parent and child and totally unsupportive of parents reporting and seeking help.
These are my thoughts.
Reporting of problems needs to be safe
There should be an expectation of support for parents dealing with challenging behaviour, especially in the child’s middle years when the repercussions of removal can be life altering. We cannot have a situation – which we have now – where there is fear to report the problems because the consequences of reporting may be worse than keeping silent.
Recognition that removal of the child brings its own new set of problems
Removal of children from their home and family, sometimes, at a great distance, may solve the problems (although this may be necessary), but more problems may be created when the focus remains almost exclusively on risk and if intervention continually comes between parent and child. Risks and benefits need to be carefully considered, with parents involved, and both short and long term outcomes need to be thought about.
Children can be traumatised by their removal from family, feel rejected and frightened by the enormity of what is happening to them, and they can express their frustration towards those it is safest to do so with – their parents. There will be a natural move towards independence in adolescence and parents can be pushed away by their child and at the same time find themselves marginalised by the responsible authority. Identity issues come to the fore in the middle years, and in adoptions, the approaches taken can push a child or young person to seek contact with birth families. This is in itself an emotionally intense situation to deal with and the reasons for the child being taken into care may have not been addressed. Risks can be far greater than they ever were before.
Recognition that reunification can be problematic after a child has been in care
One recommendation of the Selwyn report was that reunification should never be ruled out – but coming together as a family can be problematic after a child is living away from home, especially after a Care Order is made, for example, if secure accommodation was needed.
Law orders and court proceedings should not be an obstacle and barrier to family life for the child, particularly children living with neglect. Family life, and parental love can offer protective benefits and ameliorate risks associated with neglect.
Reunifications can be especially challenging if a child has suffered corporate trauma or negligence as a result of their being in care and it is highly unlikely this will be recognised by the agencies involved.
Infrastructure change and new models of support are urgently needed
New models of support are required, to support the family as a whole, when middle age children exhibit challenging behaviour resulting from neglect, trauma, disability and cognitive impairment. Timely respite and periods of separation may be necessary and it should be much easier to come together again afterwards. Infrastructure and legislation must support partnership working with agencies and authorities. It is regrettable in my view that adoptive families cannot access the ASF (Adoption Support Fund) – administered by Mott MacDonald, if there is no intention to reunify on the part of the local authority – and that this fund, recently capped at £5k, is only accessible through the local authorities. Effectively this can mean that adoption support via the ASF is potentially not available to the adopted children and families that need it most.
An approach that sees parents blamed and removes children instead of supporting families is not just a systemic failing, which sees the Rights of the Child violated, it is likely to be extremely costly. Residential care costs £3k per week on average according to a recent review by Sir Martin Narey. Parents are key to the future welfare of their children, especially so where there is previous neglect, abuse and disability, and they should be seen as a resource. Committed parents are not adversaries of our children or the state. Legal reform is needed so that we are not treated as such, and the decisions, actions and performance level of agencies can be better scrutinised, with repercussions for organisations where there has been corporate negligence.
Finally, becoming an adoptive parent has been the best thing that I’ve done and I believe in the Care system. I want no child to enter it who does not need to be there and I want the Care system to have the capacity to meet the complex needs of the children who enter it. Without comprehensive change for children in need, at the edge of Care, including children who have been adopted, living with the long term effects of neglect, I believe that this dream of a Care system ‘fit for purpose’ will remain just that – a dream.