Child Protection for the Autistic Child - A Resource
Black and White
HAPPY EVER AFTER
I know how very difficult it can be to be seen as a good parent, if your child enters Care, irrespective of the reason. Social Workers seem to get all fired up by their training to ferret out ‘bad parents’. (Ferreting out bad parents dos’ent seem to extend togood multi-agency working, record keeping, understanding complexity, speaking to familiesand information sharing as often as it should though, but social workers alone cannot be blamed for that.) Every problem that a teenager experiences, necessitating social care intervention, seems to be framed in a bad parenting context and most approaches to help come from this perspective. Looking for partnership working from professionals as a parent sometimes feels like asking for the impossible, there seems to be so many structural barriers.
Adolescence can be a roller coaster for all children but for children who are different and may not want to be, or who may want to know why they are different, extreme problems can emerge. Adopted children and their parents can find adolescence extremely challenging. Adopted children are expected to make sense of their own history and identity without many answers as to how they came to be where they are and sometimes, have the difficulties they have. This is well understood and there is a system of post-adoption support available to help children and families through some of this. It is also one of the reasons why there are more non-consensual new born adoptions within days of birth than ever before, despite the ethical issues these raise. Children who are adopted early however are more likely to have less difficulties in adolescence than those adopted later. (One of the ethical issues raised is that parents who have never had a chance to parent cannot be shown to have neglected or abused their children, no matter how you frame it.)
In some cases, challenges experienced by families containing adopted children are so extreme, most often in adolescence, that children need to enter Care under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 to enable parents to have respite and all get help, including help repairing relationships. Adoptive parents are usually looking for partnership working with professionals in a child’s best interests and instead encounter the care system in all its shockingly flawed glory. It is as though looking for the door for ‘happy ever after’ they have stumbled through the door of ‘misery and struggle’ by mistake. If things do not improve, the Local Authority may look for a Care Order and the young person may re-enter Care, often a protracted and adversarial process that depends on large part on the Local Authority proving 'bad parenting' by the adoptive parent.
It goes without saying that the Care system acts as an essential safety net for children who need it and some very good people work within it. Most are very focussed on doing the right thing for children in their care, in very tough times. The care system is however incredibly hazardous to negotiate if a young person has behavioural difficulties. Children with these difficulties can bounce around the system and end up in secure accommodation of one kind or another with little in the way of the specialist health support that is likely to have led them into care in the first place. It also gives the equivalent of ‘two fingers’ to all families and often pushes young people out the other side, as care experienced young people, with very little connection to caring adults. Decision-making is often about short term wins where few stick around long enough to understand the long-term impact of their decision-making. It can seem that it is at best, all about ‘listening to the voice of the child’ as though the child were a competent adult, not an adolescent. At worst, it can be about about short-changing a vulnerable young person, by placing them in a situation where they are bound to fail, without scrutiny or much in the way of checks and balances. Watching this from your assigned position on the sidelines when you care, no matter who you are, is very difficult. Being demonised at the same time or labelled a failure seems both heartless and pointlessly destructive.
I know many adoptive parents are very cognisant of all these issues but I fear policymakers might use some adoptive parents to promote simplistic narratives of ‘happy ever after’ that often do not serve children or families in extreme need of help, well.
I also believe that if you want real reform, It is a mistake to go down that route of looking at the Care system from the perspective of one group trying to fix their problems, without questioning whether the problems they draw attention to apply more widely. Be warned though, my own jaundiced observation, from my assigned position on the sidelines, is that lobbyists, not reformers, usually get the better reception.
All families are special/should be protected where possible and children and young people need as many caring adults around them as possible. My own happy-ever-after would be to see a real shift in the way all families are viewed and treated if they have a family member in care unless there is a reason not to involve them because they are unsafe for a young person to be around. See Ending the ‘Cruel Rationing of Human Love’? Adoption Politics and Neo-Liberal Rationality https://academic.oup.com/bjsw/advance-article/doi/10.1093/bjsw/bcx104/4616218