Summary of consultation with Adopters Together
Held on 4th October 2017
SCIE Offices, Pall Mall
The views represented in the meeting are based on the experiences of different members of Adopters Together and their wider network. This consultation took place in order to hear testimony from across the sector from those care for children and young people.
- Adopters Together- Megan Starling (MS)
- Adopters Together- June Leat (JL)
- Adopters Together- Dave Bagshaw (DB)
- Adopters Together -Sarah (teleconference)
- Adopters Together -Sue
- SCIE- Lucy Milich (LM)
LM welcomed the group and advised she had reviewed the materials sent by the group. This included a series of cases for consideration, from group members, and a conference presentation given by Dr Mair Richards of the POTATO group for a Respect conference on 19th September 2017 entitled ‘Working with Young People: Making a Difference’. LM confirmed after the meeting that SCIE would be unable to include these cases on the SCIE website.
MS highlighted the recent BBC media coverage of adoption on 26th Septemeber 2017 about 'adoption in crisis'. 3000 parents responded to a BBC survey and a quarter of respondents indicated they were in crisis, and at risk of their children re-entering care. MS greatly appreciated this SCIE co-production meeting with AT as indeed a timely consultation with adoptive parents, in the light of this survey. It was suggested that if each of these children were returned to care the bill to the tax payer could easily amount to £750 million. Thus, investment in adoption at this juncture, seems of critical importance.
1. Parents are guardians of their children’s mental healthOpen
It is a parent’s role to look after their child's mental health. The mental health and well-being of parents and children are bound together, and one impacts on the other.
The group spoke of how a collective voice is required in adoption, to discuss concerns, because of needing to protect a child's right to privacy. This is one reason for Adopters Together being formed – opportunities to talk about difficulties that arise are very limited.
2. The ‘never’ eventsOpen
Peter Fonagy, the co chair, discussed the importance of a system being open to ‘never’ events/cases (Expert Working Group meeting 10th December 2016). Some reasons why the system is not open to these never cases in adoption were put forwards.
3. Factors increasing mental health problems Open
The team talked about how interventions, intended to be positive, can often come between parent and child instead of supporting the relationship. Adoption itself is the intervention. Professionals ought to think about how they can support the adoption – but this does not always happen. It was explained that our children can find it very anxiety provoking to engage with professionals – so even though they may need and benefit from therapeutic intervention, they may struggle to access it. Even attending a GP appointment is beyond some of the children we parent. It was suggested that the involvement of professionals, and agencies, with the family, can be problematic in itself – an unintended consequence of their intervention is that it can trigger memories, and re-traumatise a child who was removed from a first family. Sarah shared some personal experiences as an adopter of two children. One child, her daughter, was doing well, had good friendships and was really a ‘normal’ teenager. Her son however had many problems. She made the point that had she only had the experience of parenting her daughter, she simply would not have believed how hard it could be to adopt. Being 'believed' is a major concern for adoptive parents. All agreed that adopters are not the cause of the problem but part of the solution.
4. Emotional and mental health of children who re-enter careOpen
The final report has not been seen by AT, although it has been completed and gone to press. JL suggested that the project may have, perhaps, not focused sufficiently on adopted children who re-enter care. This is a small population but these are extremely vulnerable children with complex needs. Whilst accepting that it was beyond the remit of the project to consider or recommend legislative reform, the urgent need for legal frameworks that work for adopters and children who re-enter care was raised. Our children are at the edge of care and many, in modern adoption, must re-enter care. This should not mean the adoption is viewed or described as a 'disruption', or 'break down'. Such terminology can have a negative emotional impact on those involved. Adoption is permanent in the UK, and should not be about where a child lives.
The group talked about the possibility of specially trained ‘adoption guardians’ who possesses the expert knowledge to assist and represent the interests of an adopted child. This idea was the suggestion of Sue, who was not able to join the discussion until 4pm, via teleconference. Many adopters who have been through court proceedings have found that guardians were not able to appreciate the needs of the child, and misunderstandings were common.
5. Working with professionals and organisationsOpen
The following issues were raised under this topic
- JL talked about the sheer number of meetings that an adoptive parent is expected to attend – as was highlighted by a parent who appeared on the Victoria Derbyshire programme on 26.9.17. The parent read out a list of the meetings she had been required to attend in the recent past. JL explained that these meetings can increase when a child re- enters care, and inevitably this puts considerable strain on a parent.
- Co production and inclusivity – the group affirmed that co-production seemed to be a positive development that could allow their inclusion, which was most welcome, as a way of working with professionals.
- DB described how the system is built around 'risk' and 'risk management' – but for our families it needs to be about 'crises prevention', A crisis means something serious has happened or is about to. A risk is something that is subjectively perceived, and there may may be different views taken about it – it is not an event. Crises, as events, require thought about their prevention, and prompt positive action. Adoptive families often found that timely positive action is not taken and there is little or no ‘critical response’ when it is desperately needed.
- The group agreed it is important that a single professional takes responsibility to make decisions and take positive action.
- DB talked about organisational culture issues, which can be a barrier to a child focused approach – all agreed the focus needed to be on the child. The issue of 'group think' was also discussed.
- MS raised the issue of reunification not being something that is considered or worked towards when a child re-enters care – despite this being a recommendation of Selwyn. It was highlighted how emotionally distressing it can be for all involved when the family is written off and described as a 'disruption'. Most parents want to stay involved to support their children who re-enter care and hope for their knowledge of their child to be used as a resource. But they can find themselves marginalised. The only submission pertaining to reunification in the call for evidence in relation to birth family reunification – it was not appropriate for adoption as parents were viewed as a risk to their child. This is often how adoptive parents find themselves viewed, and it is distressing to be treated and viewed in this way when one has sought help and support.
- DB spoke of how the professionals and organisations involved with us can 'lose sight of the customer' – it should be about giving us (parents and children), the 'best possible' experience of adoption.
- MS talked about the principle of 'best interests' of the child – who decides what is in a child's 'best interests' in adoption? When adopters ask for help they can find their opinions and their knowledge of their child are not valued, and those of professionals are privileged.
Respite is a major issue for adoptive families. Respite, particularly when it involves going into foster care, even for one night, can be destabilising and re-traumatising for an adoptive child – yet caring a traumatised child is exhausting, and parents need a break. The issue of Section 20 as a way to access respite needs to be reviewed. Section 20 was introduced in the 1980s to enable better scrutinising of foster care. Adopted children should not have to re-enter care in order to access respite, or services, which were not previously available for their adoptive families - this legislation deprives children of the right to family life, in their own home.
Many of the members in the group shared their stressful experiences and expressed that having a strong support network in the form of family, friends, and peer support, is of vital importance. MS talked about how informal support around her child had really worked. This included mentoring role model figures to support pro-social behaviour, inclusion in groups, and offer emotional support. Support chosen and organised by parents could be far more cost effective, and seem much more natural for an adopted child. Although not discussed in the meeting, personal budgets for adopted children were flagged up in pre meeting discussions by the group as a whole, as potentially being of great help, especially for parents who must give up work because of the demands of a caring role.
LM then advised that the report does talk about the importance of caregivers own mental wellbeing- and receiving support but does not go into respite specifics as it is an evidence based project and what SCIE published is what the project received in the call for evidence. (It was noted earlier on in the meeting that of 82 submissions only 2 pertained to adoption, and 2 were submitted by parents).
DB talked about a problem for our families being when there is a slavish adherence to therapeutic models on the part of some therapy providers, instead of taking an individualised approach. This can be like the 'bed of Procrustes' – the child is made to fit the bed, instead of the other way around.
June asked LM about pathways to which LM responded that there will be new model pathways, reports, quality statements and training programmes for professionals dealing with children with complex needs. LM talked about evidence in the project including research, testimony, expert working group views and stakeholder events.
The group emphasised again the importance of having a good informal and peer support network and suggested there could be a role for professionals to help them think about and develop this network. An agency Catch point was mentioned, which takes this approach.
The group also suggested that out of the box thinking was needed to find solutions to complex multi layered problems stemming for a legacy of trauma, abuse and neglect, which are part and parcel of modern adoption.
MS suggested that what had been said about assessments (Expert Working Group 26th January 2017) was very good.
The group mentioned the negative effects of constant assessment can have on a child and their family. They cautioned against a tick box exercise for professionals, and suggested that actions and recommendations are not always acted upon. The problem of a mistaken opinion or error getting passed from one assessment to the next was also raised.
LM advised group that the final report includes a section of what the purpose of assessment is, for who and when.
The group raised the issue that professionals tend to stick to their ‘role’, which can sometimes mean the real issue is not cared for. The group suggested the best professionals were those who were willing to step out of role – and focus on the task, the task being to support the adoptive family.
10.Adoption Support FundOpen
There was not enough time for much discussion about this fund, but it was highlighted by Adopters Together that they felt many in need could not access it at all – they did not qualify for support because the child had re-entered care, or, the fund did not cover the support that was needed.