Child Protection for the Autistic Child - A Resource
Meaning -'' the state or quality of being intricate or complicated.''
I recently introduced myself as a “Parent/Carer sort of, from X’ in a meeting with professionals surrounded by other parent/carers. The ‘sort-of’ 'was unscripted, reflecting my own uncertainty about the ambiguity of my position as a parent to my son. He entered Care, does not want a Parent/Carer in any shape or form and I have no contact with him. I am still and always will be his mother.
Something flitted across the face of the professional I was looking at and I could hear the intake of breath from the people around me. I had unwittingly hit a very sensitive nerve.
When I reflected on it afterwards, I think I had hit upon one of the most unresolved issues at the heart of the parent-professional-child/young person triangle when professionals become involved in a family. The reality is for many when services become involved in these situations, decision-making begins and ends with the professional and the professional organisations (not the child, not the parent) and this may be necessary and good but is not always. Professionals should be acutely aware of, for example, the dangers of supplanting parents when it comes to decision-making so that parents are ‘edged/managed out’ of being parents in all but name on grounds of pragmatism and efficiency. It also seems to me that some politicians believe they can eliminate the problems caused by poverty, ill health and disability by giving the children of those affected to others without these problems. It difficult hard not to see many children in these situations effectively treated as though they arecommodities.
The parents I was surrounded by that day did not live with at least one of their children because the specialist support their child needed was not available locally. Many had fought for a child to get essential care and were intensely involved in their lives. Some had relocated across the country, to stay close to their child living away from home leaving a partner and other children behind for a time. They would never have identified themselves as 'parents/carers sort-of ’ even if some professionals making key day-to-day decisions affecting their child might be tempted to treat them in that way.
I sometimes meet parents/carers who have no legal right to call themselves a parent to a child because the child has been forcibly adopted. There seems to be intense unease around recognition of the losses many of these parents suffer as a result, as possibly to do so would invest them with a humanity they might be very challenging to the ‘one-size-fits-all way-we do-things-here' in England and Wales. There is no doubt in my mind that they are also 'parents/carers sort-of' irrespective of their legal status.
I am also in contact with adoptive parents and special guardians who live apart from their children when family life became impossible usually when a child hit adolescence. It would be extremely hurtful to refer to these as 'parent/carers sort-of'' (a label I give myself!) because many feel their parenting capacity is continuously questioned no matter what they do, once they ask for help and they feel particularly vulnerable as a result. I(Truthfully I'm not sure they are particularly vulnerable in this regard - what many experience might be very close to what a young Care Leaver who becomes a mother might experience for example, sort -of.?...) Many have up-sized their homes and stepped back from paid employment to take on an instant parenting role. Becoming a parent may result in financial hardship. Some special guardians will be parents already stepping in to care for a family member's child at short notice. All are likely to face difficulties helping their new child negotiate issues of identity particularly in adolescence. Special Guardians may also find themselves in conflict with a child's parent possibly because no-one explained the nature of special guardianship to either in the rush to prevent a child/family member being put up for adoption. Many children will have experienced huge losses and many may have lifelong disabilities - often unrecognised/unacknowledgedwhen the child comes to live with their new parents/carers. In this context see this Council for Disabled Children 2018 study :- Realistic Positivity: Understanding unexpected additional needs of children placed for adoptionthat looks at the needs of adopted children with disabilities. It is difficult not to conclude that these are likely to be similar to the needs of children with histories of disrupted family life including those cared for by wider family members.
I identify with many of the experiences of these different groups of carers/parents when encountering professionals but I do not entirely fit with any for reasons around my and my son’s circumstances. Sometimes ‘sort-of’ is genuinely as close as I can get to describing this complexity. It does not attempt to make sense of any of it – that would be a more difficult level of complexity again. Perhaps what referring to myself as a ‘parent/carer sort-of ’ most highlights is that there are few life stories that are not complex even though we may want ourselves or others to fit under this or that easily recognisable label.
What I think there are though, are commonalities in the experiences of families needs - for example around the need for services to accommodate complexity if they are to be effective. Services have notorious difficulties accommodating complexity at the best of times. There is this or that pathway and this or that service specification - step off the pathway or worse still fail to find the path and in many cases you fall into a dark and bottomless pit or so can seem. In a context where basic services have been eroded in ways previously considered unimaginable, accommodating complexity may seem like an impossible task but change always bring opportunity even when these are tiny opportunities relative to losses and needs.
I believe that engagement with others who face the same problems but in different contexts, rather than seeing each other as competing groups with different needs, has by far the best chance of getting support right. I do not for a moment think that breaking down barriers is easy or straightforward but building bridges is very rewarding and ultimately essential to drive the comprehensive change needed to the way society supports all vulnerable and marginalised children and families.