Strengthening Families – All-Party Parliamentary Group for Adoption & Permanence, The Care Review, The Spending Review – Is any of it enough?

The long awaited APPGAP report relating to adoption and permanence has now been published. It’s title is “Strengthening Families: Improving Stability for Adopted Children”.

Download the APPGAP report

The report states: –

“This inquiry was conducted to feed into the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care in England, to ensure that the experiences and needs of adopted children and their families are taken into consideration as part of this ‘once-in-a-generation’ review.”

“One of the central conclusions of the inquiry is that the adoption sector needs a paradigm shift from ‘family finding’ to ‘family building’.”

The ongoing care review of Children’s social care in England may make some reference to the difficulties and issues for the Potato groups membership and we hope that the spending review will not only focus on the first 1001 days of a Childs life, but also on the family life of children where they are no longer able to live with their 1st families.

There have been many ‘reports’ but who actually listens and hears the real lived experiences of loved, but
traumatised children, teens, young adults and us their adopters, special guardians or kinship carers? More
importantly, who will listen enough to actually bring about paradigm shifts in the Children’s Social Care system?

Potato response to the APPGAP Report

So – did the report and recommendations go far enough?

On a positive note, we recognise that there now appears to be an understanding that sometimes it is absolutely necessary for us to parent at a distance and that re-entry to the care system should not be viewed as adoption disruption.

And yet, within the report or recommendations there is no reference to what happens when our children re-enter care under S20 in England, S76 in Wales or via S31. S31 requires ‘blame’ to be cited upon adoptive parents in order to secure a court order and suggests by it’s nature that there is adoption disruption. The very point of parenting at a distance requires parental responsibility, which we have in abundance and SHOULD enable us to be advocates for our children, teens and later , when our children become adults in the legal sense of the word.

This is one critical and fundamental shift that does not seem to have been heard. One recommendation
of the APPGAP is that those of us that parent at a distance should have ‘a’ meeting.

“Such multi-disciplinary conversations are essential for improving practice and preventing young people in future from experiencing the trauma of having to leave their home prematurely and/or re-entering care.”

Sadly that recommendation will not address the ongoing rise in those families where our beloved children re-enter care.

There are no recommendations around multi disciplinary best practices involving not only social workers and educational specialists but other statutory bodies such as the criminal justice system or DWP. If there is to be a paradigm shift it needs to be across the board.

The report talks about the impact of adoption on birth parents, It says

“The voices and experiences of birth families are not listened to enough, and yet we recognise their important role in an adopted child’s journey. The adoption sector as a whole must do better in creating safe spaces and mechanisms for listening to and drawing on birth families’ experiences to inform practice.”

Perhaps ‘birth families’ should be replaced with “birth families and where children re enter care , adoptive families” – our experiences MUST also be informing best practice when ‘our’ children re enter care. Here at the Potato Group we think there is still some considerable way to go before those responsible for decision making within Children’s Social Care truly ‘get it’. All the while that they don’t, we remain fearful for the future of our adult children and the future of adoption overall.

While we appreciate these quotes from Potato evidence used within the report;

“Not all teenagers are struggling with their identity, trying to understand their place in the world, abuse their parents, trash their homes, self-harm, are exploited both sexually and criminally and become familiar faces to our local constabulary and courts.”
Members of the Parents Of Traumatised Adopted Teens Organisation (POTATO) group

“Often our traumatised adopted teens need crisis mental health support, but due to a lack of trauma informed mental health provision, our young adults are more often arrested rather than helped in any meaningful way.”
Members of the Parents Of Traumatised Adopted Teens Organisation (POTATO) group

It feels very important to us to publish the words of a young adult that was adopted from care who re entered care in their teens and our full evidence given to the APPGAP.

Click here for Molly’s evidence

Potato Group Evidence to APPGAP

The Potato Group, with over 600 adopters parenting over 2000 children UK wide, were given the opportunity to present evidence to the APPGAP inquiry. Our evidence centered around loving and living with and without our children, the much needed support that traumatised children and their adoptive families so desperately need and yet, thus far, has been forgotten about, despite being assured previously that our information is helpful.

We represent those families that Selwyn referred to in 2014 ‘Beyond the Adoption Order’ which looked at adopters living with traumatised children displaying challenging behaviours and those unable to live at home.

As a group, Potato is very clear – things must change.

The Potato Group was given only 10 minutes to present this evidence. Our evidence therefore focused on the extreme end of spud land and some significant issues we would have included with more time were omitted; such as the significant number of children, teens and adults in mental health units. Considering the paradigm shift that the inquiry is suggesting, 10 minutes to truly understand the changes Potato members consider vital hardly seems adequate.

Click here for the Evidence Potato Group Provided to APPGAP

We know about the long-term effects of early adversity. So the Government, the Dept of Education and Health, children and adult social care and the criminal justice system must fully support our children and families; not just in the early years but long term.

Children’s Social Care hold so many keys to removing children, decision making on permanence, training,
approval of FC, adopters and SGs. They also hold the keys to support and therapy via Regional Adoption Agencies. They are responsible for the safety of the whole family until the child reaches 18 or 21 or 25 if our adult children have re-entered care. Potato group members evidence points to LA’s talking of being trauma aware and fully understanding of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) and yet supporting families in a sensitive manner when they really need it is at best inadequate and often has enormous negative life changing consequences for adopted children and adoptive families precisely because they don’t put any understanding into practice.

Potato’s experience many challenging behaviours, particularly as their children enter adolescence. And yet
Children’s Social Care suggest we need to put in boundaries, be more flexible, we need to safeguard our children more and tell us that ‘all teenagers do that’.  This advice is not what should be expected from those who claim to be trauma aware. The vast majority of teenagers don’t have to deal with the traumatised child’s experiences of struggles with identity, understanding their place in the world, they are not violent and or abusive to their parents, damage homes, harm themselves, get exploited sexually and criminally and sadly become very familiar to local police officers.  

So we find that the only service that can help in moments of crisis is the police. What our traumatised adopted teens often need is crisis mental health support but due to a lack of trauma informed acute mental health provision our teens and young adults are more often arrested rather than helped in any meaningful way. We support our child when the CPS choose to prosecute our children, we write letters to the magistrates and judges to inform them about our child’s early adversity and how they, and we, have been let down by so many state services.

When family life is unsafe for all, but not because the child is at risk from us, our worlds can mirror what ‘our’ children’s first family went through but without the same level of care and understanding that is afforded to many of them. When our children re-enter care or have to leave our homes prematurely, we are faced with hostility and a lack of care in most cases. Many parents find themselves ‘blamed’ by social services for the family disruption that child to parent abuse causes, requiring re-entry to care. LA’s seek to evoke care proceedings where voluntary accommodation under s20 is most often enough. They seek to take parental responsibility from us, to alienate our children from us. This is morally corrupt.

Where our children are accommodated by the local authority, so many are then ‘cared for’ by private providers who don’t understand their trauma histories or the importance of our continued role of parenting at a distance.  They need to.  Our children are parents of tomorrow. They must be know our love, care and support for them despite them not living in our homes.  

Molly’s words resonate with hundreds of members of the Potato Group, on all the issues she raises. Our
commitment to our children is life long and yet we recognise the familiar exclusions from LAC reviews because our child, so they say, doesn’t want us there, to judges having to record in judgments that we must remain involved in order to support our children.

Our Potato experience is that following re-entry to care our traumatised young people and adults are more often than not involved in the Criminal Justice System, NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training), our young women pregnant, in poor or sub-standard supported living and with a variety of supposedly trauma informed professionals who don’t support in a sensitive manner, create unnecessary wedges between us and our children and then move on at their earliest possible convenience.

Our sister group, SG&AT (Special Guardians and Adopters Together) have submitted a wealth of information about what happens when our children re-enter care under S20 ,S25 and via S31. We are hopeful that you will include that evidence in your report. The data on re-entry to care is a national disgrace when over 4.000 children re-enter care but LAs purport to not knowing their previous permanence status and, one that all in authority should be deeply ashamed of.

We remain hopeful that those in a position to change things for the future of the children being removed today will listen to the experiences of care experienced young adults, and that true support for them and those that love them will follow. 

We have to have hope because none of us want Social Care to be offering condolences and help with funeral costs when our children die as care leavers or adults, rather than truly helping and supporting them before they believe there is no other option for them but to die at their own hands.

Social workers telling us that our teens and young adults need to learn that there are consequences to their actions, telling us to stop financially supporting our adult children, telling us to let them stand on their own two feet when they are living away from us when they are trying to do so on a single person under 25s Universal Credit in supported and semi supported living has got to stop. The assumptions that we can care for our grandchildren under child arrangement orders rather than fully supported Special Guardianship arrangements also has to stop.

‘Our’ children deserve better. We, as their parents deserve better. Society needs to step up. Decision makers, policy makers and holders of the purse strings need to step up. Social Care, family courts, the criminal justice system and the DWP need to step up.

Here are a few things that we, with the ‘lived experiences’ suggested could be sorted within the lifetime of a parliament that would go some way to addressing the broken system:

  • EHCPs to become a legal document to cover education, health and [social] care across both Depts of Education and Dept of Health and Social care. To be automatically issued by the courts when an adoption order is granted. To be re-assessed at an interval of not less than every five years until the adopted person reaches the age of 21. Should it be decided that the EHCP is no longer required, that the plan can be re-assessed at any point in the adopted person’s journey. This new true education, health and social care plan should be informed by a neuro sequential model of therapeutics.
  • That when we ask for ‘support’ we do not have to jump through hoops and have to battle for the support that is needed in education, health and social care (in effect a true EHC Plan that covers all three).
  • Where it is safe to do so, Children’s Social Care ensure that ‘letter box schemes’ are brought into the 21st century to ensure that ‘our’ families have ongoing, helpful communication with each other to the benefit of ‘our’ children.
  • That CSC do not view a need to re-enter care (or a family’s need for respite) to be turned into a blame game in order for our children and us to be able to be fully supported in our role of parenting at a distance.
  • That the ASF recognises that some adopted young people leave home prematurely, that access to the ASF is not based on‘reunification’ but their need for therapeutic input.
  • That the family courts consider whether there is merit in cases of children re-entering care due to the sequalae of their trauma histories rather than risk of harm should remain S20 rather than LAs having to go down the CO route because they believe that they are following guidance from a previous President of the family division.
  • That our much-loved children, no matter what age, can have us as their advocates within social care, the Criminal Justice System and any and all aspects of their involvement with the DWP.
  • That our child’s full and open, non-redacted SC files are available to them as adults and that they are fully supported to access that information.
  • Consider your language. We may have had a period of family disruption – not adoption disruption.

Recommendations made that are pertinent to our evidence are: –

The lack of clarity around how a supportive relationship between adoptive parents and a child who has left home prematurely and/or re-entered the care system should be addressed. Therefore, social workers, adoptive parents, and other professionals involved in the young person’s life should conduct a Reflection and Response meeting to allow for holistic reflection, learning, and the formation of a detailed plan to support the family to remain in relationship moving forward, wherever possible. It is vital at this critical point that families feel listened to, supported, and involved in decisions made.

The ASF should be made available to all adopted children who have re-entered care, as even when it has been deemed unlikely that they will return to live with their adoptive family, many parents remain parenting at a distance.

We will see how the £200 Million talked of in the spending review and the budget announced today will help us, our traumatised adopted children (and those with SGO’s) to be strengthened as families living separately but where our children and young adults are parented at a distance.

Since the publication of the APPGAP’s report, many organisations have been giving their thoughts to the Review of Children’s Social Care. A recent report from the Nuffield Foundation talks about birth children of Foster carers or carers but totally ignores the potential issues for birth children of adopters. The Review of Children’s social care talks about how 1st families needs in the social care system deserves and needs to be looked at separately to the care review – we don’t disagree with that but what about adoptive parents, special guardians or kinship carers of previously looked after children that re enter care ? We aren’t to be considered as having needs too? Apparently not. It’s not good enough for the 4,000 children per year that re enter care for the second or subsequent times in their lives.

Following the success or otherwise of the usual narrative of National Adoption Week and the Care Leavers week we now await the Spending review and whether the calls for the Adoption Support Fund (which is open to Special guardians and should be renamed to reflect that) will be funded for 10 years will have been heard.

Hopefully that will be the case, but without the needs of traumatised children and their families being heard – warts and all – the ASF will remain a drop in the ocean that does not address the knowledge and understanding that ‘our’ children and us, ALL, their parents need from all manner of professionals that is required to allow ‘our’ children to become good enough parents of the future. No amount of money can fund professionals to emotionally care for that child and their family.

Those professionals that do – we thank you.

If you are an adoptive parent and would like to join our group please visit our membership page

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