200 days : a declaration

Today it’s 200 days since learning that our daughters’ birth parents had landed in our small town.  We are living a reduced, hypervigilant life. Every time we step out of the door with the girls we take a risk. Every time OH or I walk past the birth parents, they are totally high or drunk. Every day we scan the court reports to see if either of them have been imprisoned again. How desperate it is to hope that two other human beings will be imprisoned so that our girls can be safe! And what a damning indictment of the ‘caring’ services that we are still in this position, 200 days on.

The list of things our girls can no longer safely do in their own town is extensive. Go for an ice cream. Play in the park. Take part in concerts. Go to friends’ homes. Spend their pocket money.   Go to cafes and restaurants. Walk anywhere.  Take part in the Remembrance Day Parade. Go shopping with us. Use the sports centre. Go to kids clubs. Ride a bike. See the Christmas lights being switched on.  Visit OH at her work. Etc. Etc. Etc. 

Imagine being a child and not being able to do those things. How small your life would seem.  Heartbreaking, isnt it? Damaging too, when we’re constantly trying to help develop the girls’ attachment, confidence, social skills, and sense of safety.

A few weeks ago we finally got a completed risk assessment which, after months of battling, did not label or castigate us.  It says we’d be helped by having therapy.  We said ‘Yes please! We’d like therapy to help reduce the stress we’re under.’  Social work managers – the same ones who had signed off the risk assessment – said we couldn’t have it! The Social Worker had to ask them repeatedly, and then they demanded a report from our girls’ Clinical Psychologist about our stress levels before they’d agree to it!

Now The Adoption ‘Support’ Team are going further. They are refusing to even apply to the ASF for a sensory integration assessment for Bubble until our therapy is finished. Why? Apparently we wouldn’t be in a state to support her with it whilst we’re in therapy. But I’m currently supporting Squeak in her therapy, as they know. They tell me that’s ‘different’! And that they hope we ‘get over this crisis’ and then they will consider our request! 

Oh! And not forgetting their big fat ‘NO’ to respite so that we could have a break from caring for our disabled daughter. 

Why are we getting these responses from people paid to support adoptive families? The answer is simple. It is because we formally complained about their unprofessional and ignorant responses to our requests for support when the birth parents landed here. The big bullying local authority do what they always do when challenged: they become aggressive and intimidating.

So today, after 200 days of nonsense from the people who are paid to support adoptive families we are making a declaration: NO MORE!

We will no longer engage with petty, bungling and bullying bureaucrats who are so deeply mired in the flummery of this local authority that they have lost all sense of what social work is about. 

Like countless other adoptive parents, for the sake of our children we will go it alone. We want our girls to have fun, flourish, and grow up with confidence, believing that their horrific past does not determine their future. We can’t focus on that whilst we’re engaged in constant battles with workers who, far from doing what their professional registration dictates they should do, seem intent on increasing stress and trauma. 

So we’re stepping away. Far, far away from it all. We’re returning to living a considered life, away from the tangled, spiteful blundering of registered social workers who should know better, people whose job it is to protect and safeguard, and to promote the welfare of children. People who have lost any sense of the knowledge, skills and values that should inform social work practice, and who are instead engaged in punishing a family who has dared to complain. 

NO MORE!

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A year in adoption (or when you’re going through hell, keep going)

It’s National Adoption Week 2017. The hashtag is #Support Adoption, and the emphasis is on siblings. 5 years ago 2 sisters were placed with us.  This is a summary of our year:

October 2016 – towards the end of the month Bubble has a ‘breakthrough’ in therapy, and manages to whisper to me that how her birth parents treated her and her sisters is not her fault.

November 2016 is a great month.  OH and I say to each other: ‘this is almost what typical family life would be like!’ Bubble has no meltdowns, is not physically violent to her sister, and seems to want to attach to us.

December 2016 – our girls’ Big Sis’s adoption breaks down, and she returns to foster care, leaving her other sister in the adoptive family.  We discuss how best to tell our girls about this. We ask a social work manager for the foster carer’s phone number. We’re not allowed it. We battle to get the foster carer to phone us so our girls can talk to their sister. They need to be assured that their sister still exists, and that they will still see her.  We tell the girls on a Friday evening. Squeak is hysterical.  Bubble is furious. We keep them close. Very close. We ask social work managers if we can visit Big Sis. We are told we can’t and that Bubble’s need to see where her sister is living is ‘your problem’.  We insist on the girls seeing Big Sis before Christmas, and finally they are ‘allowed’ to do that. But not at the foster carer’s. 

January 2017 – New Year Resolution time: we decide that we are not going on holiday this year as it raises Bubble’s anxieties so much it becomes an endurance test, rather than a relaxing family break.

We ask for Big Sis’s foster carer’s contact details. We are refused them, screamed at and called ‘birth family’ by a social work manager when we’re trying to organise for our girls to see Big Sis.  We submit a formal complaint.

Squeak starts therapeutic life story work.

My adopted niece – who returned to care 2.5 years ago – attempts suicide and is hospitalised.

February 2017 – Bubble continues to be furious, and Squeak remains upset and controlling.  We attempt to carry on with Bubble’s therapy, but she is becoming increasingly withdrawn in the sessions.

March 2017 – Big Sis’s foster carer won’t let our girls see Big Sis for 6 weeks.  We explain that when the girls were adopted we promised that they would see their sisters at least once a month, and that they love sending cards and letters to them.  She ignores us. Big Sis’s social worker ignores our e-mails. A social work manager tells me there doesn’t seem to be a reason why we couldn’t have the foster carer’s address.  She then refuses to give it to us.

April 2017 – we survive the school holidays by the girls taking it in turns to go to a kids club at the local leisure centre.  This gives Squeak a break from being targeted by Bubble, and allows me to do some attachment building on a 1:1 basis with each of them.

May 2017 – we discover birth parents have moved into town. We seek social work support.  It is not forthcoming.  We make our own plans to keep the girls safe, and again insist on social work support. A risk assessment is started in which a social work manager minimises the issues and dangers, and castigates us.  (Today, 18th October, it is still not completed). A section 47 enquiry is started.  We are not involved in it, or told the results of it. Social work managers suggest that we move house. We tell them we are not going to move house. We ask them to engage in multi-agency work. They refuse. 

Apart from asking when it’s snack time, Bubble stops talking in therapy. We decide to take a break from it for a while.

Despite our new year’s resolution, we go away for 3 nights in half term, to test the waters with Bubble, as we know we will not be able to stay in our own home over the school summer holidays.  We spend the 3 days away dealing with Bubble’s heightened anxiety. We call it a success as nobody gets injured. 

Whilst we are away my adopted 17 year old niece, who has just left a children’s home, messages to tell me she is over the moon that she is pregnant. We have a messenger conversation that ends in her blocking me. 

June 2017 – we submit a formal complaint to social work, copied to our MP.  Suddenly social work managers want to see us.  They tell us we have ‘parental responsibility’ and it is up to us to keep our children safe. They suggest strongly (again) that we move house. They promise us support in the summer holidays.  (It is never delivered.) They tell us that even if they discover birth family have left town, they will not tell us. 

Big Sis tells us she would like to come to our house for her birthday in July. Her social worker refuses to let her do this. We submit another complaint, and the girls’ Psychotherapist and MP back us up.

July 2017 – Big Sis comes to her birthday party with her sisters, accompanied by a support worker, whom she has never previously met. Despite the support worker’s sensitivity, Bubble thinks she is here to take her away. She is extremely anxious all day, which culminates in her deliberately bashing her head on her bed. The following week she continues to be highly anxious. We tell her repeatedly that she is not going back into foster care. She does not believe us. 

We are visited by an Independent Investigator, who seems appalled by the response of social work to the girls’ plight.  (Today, 18th October, we are still awaiting the outcome of the investigation).

Squeak is resisting therapeutic life story work, and we decide to take a break from it. The summer holidays begin and we go to my sister’s home for 2 weeks whilst she is away.

We give Big Sis’s social worker 5 weeks notice of Squeak wanting Big Sis to come for a sleepover in August.

August 2017 – Bubble struggles with being away from home, her anxieties are huge, and she targets Squeak physically and verbally. On her birthday she tells us that she is not a part of our family and wants to return to foster care. The next week Bubble goes to pony camp for a few days, and this seems to calm her somewhat.  I take Squeak away to visit friends.  We then all go away as a family to a lovely twitter friend’s house. We meet other lovely twitter friends.  Bubble seems to be a bit less anxious to be away with us.  She goes off to PGL with her other sister for a week, and has a brilliant time.  Squeak and I go to Cadbury World, and have a brilliant time. Squeak keeps asking whether Big Sis is coming for her sleepover, and I have to explain that it’s not going to happen as Big Sis’s social worker has not replied.   Suddenly 2 days before the intended sleepover the social worker rings to say it will be happening. We cancel the plans we had made, and go with it.

September 2017 – back to school and Bubble is moved classes to give her extra support. There are lots of behavioural disturbances in the new class, and this appears to be triggering her anxiety and anger.  She cannot tell the teachers and they don’t notice.  A boy in Bubble’s class slams a door so violently that her perforated ear drum ‘pops’ and she gets an ear infection. The teacher apologises and tells us she is not meant to be on her own with the boy in the class but she was that day.

As Bubble’s anxieties are rising again, and she is self-harming, I ask the GP to re-refer Bubble to the Paediatrician.

OH and I attend a ‘contact meeting’ with Big Sis’s adoptive parents and social workers. Apart from agreeing that Big Sis does not need a support worker with her when she meets her sisters, it is a waste of time. 

Our social worker visits.  She says social work will not work with other agencies to help find a solution to the problem of birth family having landed in our town.  She also tells us that social work will no longer refer to an OT for a sensory assessment.

We go to look around a special school with a mind to Bubble’s move to year 7 next year, knowing that she will not cope in a mainstream school. The school is great and we can imagine Bubble thriving in it. 

Our MP sends us a letter the local authority have submitted.  It is full of lies about the support they have offered us.  We arrange to meet with the MP. 

We talk with Squeak’s Psychotherapist, and agree to re-commence therapy, with an altered approach.

October 2017 – Squeak’s first therapy session goes well.

We attend a meeting at school, and say that once again we are requesting an EHC assessment for Bubble, and looking to special schools for Bubble’s secondary education. School clearly do not agree with this.  An adoption support agency comes to help us.  The worker says she had to google FASD. She observes Bubble in school, writes a report supporting us and then closes the case. The social worker tells us to use some of the hours we have left for Bubble’s therapy to ask her Psychotherapist to write a report for the EHC request. We arrange this with the Psychotherapist.  The next week we get an e mail from the social worker to say her manager says we can’t do this.  I spend 2 weeks looking for a private Educational Psychologist. 

Big Sis is moving to another social work team, and the new social worker’s manager e-mails me to tell me to phone her urgently about ‘contact’ on Sunday. It’s a Friday evening, I have had enough and ping a sarcastic e-mail back, telling her I am not a worker, and suggesting that she get her ducks in a row.  I get a very apologetic phone call on Monday morning.  The next week I drive 50 miles to meet with this manager and Big Sis’s parents. Big Sis’s social worker is not there.  It seems like a waste of time.

OH and I meet with our MP.  She seems very concerned at our family’s plight, is aghast that social work will not work with other agencies to look for a solution, and decides she is going to talk to an influential and knowledgeable councillor.

I spend 6 days and 10 phone calls attempting to talk to Bubble’s old Paediatrician when I discover that the triage team have rejected the request for Bubble’s re-referral. When I finally get to speak to the Paediatrician she tells me that we need to be with CAMHS. I ask about a referral for a sensory OT assessment.  She tells me the NHS don’t do that around here.

Bubble has a meltdown one evening and eventually is able to tell me that the previous week at school she was stopped from going out to play because she hadn’t finished some work and she felt very angry but couldn’t tell the teacher.  I spend 40 minutes the next morning telling the teacher and the SENCO why this is not the best approach. We put in place a system whereby Bubble can let them know she is feeling angry without having to say it.

I’ve started to keep a record of how much time I’ve spent in meetings, on phone calls and filling in forms to get the support our girls need. In the last month alone it is 30 hours. 

 And now it’s National Adoption Week and the hashtag is ‘Support Adoption!’  Oh I do! I have! For years and years and years. But where is the support from services for our girls? As we battle on, desperately attempting to get the support our adopted daughters need, the effort drains us of the energy we need to therapeutically re-parent our children. We’ve thought about retreating from services; about attempting to cope with all the trauma, loss, attachment issues and  disability, on our own. Its tempting. But we know we need help to do this as effectively as possible. So we continue expecting the impossible: support from people who are paid to provide it. 

#Provide Adoption Support

 

 

 

Living in a pressure cooker

5 years ago we were bright young(ish) things, sitting attentively, listening to our future children’s Social Worker explain why she had decided we could not meet our future children’s birth parents, why we could never go near their home town, and why we could never send them photographs of our future children.

5 years on, and we are older, wiser and decidedly jaded things sitting on the same sofa, listening to yet another Social Worker tell us that their team is not going to work with other agencies to consider positive ways of supporting the birth parents to move away from the town they have suddenly landed in, the town that they have no links with, the very same town in which we’ve been establishing our family for the last five years. 

The word ‘contravening’ crops up. Ah! Yes! A senior social work manager has told our MP that we have asked them to ‘contravene’ article 8 of the Human Rights Act!  That’s the Local Authority’s take on our request that they do something so that we can live safely as a family. It’s a classic retort taken from The LA Rulebook, Section 3: ‘How To Justify a Bad Decision With a Totally Irrelevant But Popular Piece of Legislation To Make It Look As If We’d Like To Help, But Can’t’.

 We ask the Social Worker ‘what about our girls right to a safe family life?’ We get a shrug, a sympathetic look, and a reiteration that her team is not going to work with housing and probation agencies. We respect this Social Worker.  Highly qualified, she’s been the only worker who has previously bothered to attempt to get to know Bubble, and who has referred us on to the appropriate therapy for her. But this time she has been warned by her managers.  Threatened, probably: recently she told OH that she could not afford to lose her job over this.  We feel for her: her pained expressions tell of the inner struggle she is having balancing her professional values and pity for our predicament against what her managers are forcing her to say to us.

Back in May when we discovered that the girls’ birth parents had moved to our small town, our entire focus became how we could make this situation safe for our girls. We had lengthy discussions with each other about how we might possibly connect with ‘old mum and dad’ (as the girls call them); that maybe they didn’t pose such a threat to our girls now; that perhaps we could all co-exist safely in the same place.  We talked to our girls’ Psychotherapist. We looked at court reports.  We sought information about old mum and dad’s current lifestyle. We did not have to look very far: a walk to the town centre regularly provides ample proof that alcohol and drugs are still a dominant force in their lives.  Our clear conclusion was that old mum and dad still presented a threat, if not of abduction, then certainly of re-traumatisation of our girls. 

The adoption support team disagreed. Despite our then Social Worker telling us old mum and dad would not hesitate to cross the street to approach us, her manager decided there was no risk to our girls or family! His risk assessment has since been re-written (by a worker he supervises) and concludes there are certain and definite risks to the girls. But despite this, social services still won’t work with other agencies.

This week the Social Worker told us she will look into funding for OH and I to go to therapy, and for financing some of the time we have to go away to stay safe.  (We’re not holding our collective breath: the same was promised in June but never materialised.) But they won’t do what really needs to be done: engage in an effective multidisciplinary approach to solve the actual problem.  They have said that they won’t even tell us if they know that old mum and dad have left town. 

Our stress is sky high, and despite our best efforts it is impacting on the way we parent.  We try to hide our stress from our girls, but they are hyper vigilant, and Squeak particularly is very sensitive to any slight fluctuation in emotional temperatures. Bubble doesn’t respond well to ‘no’ and it’s becoming increasingly hard to find ways of telling her that we cannot go into town or to the park or scooting or any other of a myriad of things without saying ‘no’ and without having – in her mind – a good reason.

Every day we wake up determined that we will get through the day in the best way we can. But increasingly the situation is taking its toll. We’re living in a pressure cooker, and the reality is this may not end well. 

 

 

 

 

Day 150

It’s Day 150 on Friday. 

150 days since we discovered the girls’ birth parents now live in our small town. The same parents who subjected them to horrors that no child should have to endure. The same parents who have several recent convictions for assault; who seem to be frequently drunk out of their skulls in town; the same parents we were told not to meet before placement, and not to go near their town, or send them photos in letterbox contact. Social services now believe the very same people no longer present any risk to our girls, and why don’t we just get over it (and bog off ourselves if we’re that worried?). They take no account of the potential for re-traumatisation should our girls even glimpse their birth parents. 

To celebrate Day 150 we’re meeting with an agency to re- kick-start our campaign for an EHCP and alternative education provision for Bubble.

On Day 152 OH and I are once again facilitating a sisters meet up. The last one – 2 weeks ago – was a tad fraught. We’re hoping the Super Therapeutic Goddeses shine on us on Sunday. 

On Day 153 the adoption support social worker comes a calling. Please god she’ll finally finish the risk assessment her manager started in May & his manager had a crack at in July. 

On Day 156 I’m taking Squeak to re-start therapy after a break over the summer. 

On Day 157 OH and I are going to look round a special school for Bubble. We don’t subscribe to the notion previously espoused by a social worker that how the system works is that Bubble will have to go to secondary school, fail and be excluded in order for the authority to do anything. Yes! We were actually told that at a meeting, in front of other professionals. Sadly, it doesn’t seem amazing any more.

This is our life now.  Repeatedly explaining, begging, pleading, with ‘the professionals’, and then resorting to a useless complaints system when no help is given. All because we are not going to give up trying to get what our girls need. 

On top of this we’ve become hyper vigilant pseudo prison guards, ferrying the girls to school and back in the car, taking different routes, scanning faces for danger. No stopping at the park, scooting, biking or going for treats after school for our girls any more. Oh no! We drive them straight home, where for the most part they stay until the next school day. We can’t stop at the shops on the way home. We have to be super organised now. 

When Bubble needed an eye test recently we both had to go, OH dropping us off next to the opticians, and then coming back as close as possible to minimise the risk of Bubble being seen. We’ll have to do the same soon for dental appointments. Squeak goes to Brownies with a hat pulled firmly down. I pray for rain on those days so a brolly can shield her further.  

At weekends we get out of town so that we can have some safe time as a family. In school holidays we have to go away. Bubble hates going away with us. Her anxieties go through the roof and her needs totally dominate our time away. We count ourselves lucky if we return without bruises. 

This is our life now. It sucks. And there’s no sign of any change. 

The great divide

Yesterday OH and I attended a meeting about ‘contact’ (horrible word) for the sisters. On one side of the table were 4 adoptive parents. On the other were 4 workers.

We finally met the Social Worker who for months had not returned phone calls, ignored our emails, and made it difficult for the girls to see each other.

The meeting had been billed as a handover meeting. But the Social Worker who was about to start working with Big Sis was not there!

There was a manager from a different team who advised us she was there to observe rather than contribute. She didn’t specify what she was observing. She spent the entire meeting interrupting. 

The foster carer’s Supervising Social Worker was there. The foster carer was 15 minutes late. We sat around and waited for her. When she arrived the Social Worker started waffling. He had no agenda. I stopped him. We sorted out an agenda. 

He asked for our views. We all offered views about his lack of communication & the negative impact on our girls.  We were immediately stopped and told it was not helpful. We said we had been asked for our views, and were giving them. Apparently they were not positive enough views to be heard. 

Minutes of the meeting were being taken by the observer.  The Social Worker wanted to go over previous minutes. None of us had ever had any minutes from previous meetings. The Social Worker blamed Business Support. 

More waffle. Eventually we got on to ‘contact’ meetings. Despite OH and I being the only adults in the room at every sisters meet up, not one worker thought to ask us how it was going.  Presumably they were not interested. We advised that as organisation of the meet ups had previously been so horrendous, and that at one stage despite our protestations there had been a gap of 6 weeks, we wanted them to be sorted out for the next 12 months. The workers had no idea how to do this. So we suggested a monthly date, time and venue. The foster carer was keen to suggest a Christmas party for the girls at our house (oh! the irony given Big Sis’s birthday party debacle). Her Supervising Social Worker kept telling us she admired our organisational skills. I refrained from replying. It would have been viewed as too negative. 

We were told by the Social Worker that the weekly ‘telephone contact’ was going well. We gave numerous examples of Big Sis not phoning, and of Bubble being shouted at by an adult in tbe foster carer’s house when she tried to phone. The foster carer snapped out an apology. 

OH gave a lengthy and impassioned speech about the importance of sibling relationships. The workers nodded along to it. 

We then told the foster carer why we needed her address. We explained – for the enth time – how important it was for our girls to write letters and cards to Big Sis, that they had done that for the last 4 years, and that now they only saw her once a month it was even more important for all the girls. We explained that Big Sis did not get her birthday card or present in time for her birthday this year. We said we would not turn up at her house, that we were safe people, we had no interest in her address other than for the girls’ sake.  The foster carer said she didn’t want to give out her address.

The Supervising Social Worker said the council backed up her decision, and that any letters should be sent through the Social Worker. We asked why. She did not know.  We told her that a few months ago one manager agreed we should have the address but then later refused to give it to us. The same manager had said the foster carer wanted our girls to go for tea! I had advised at the time this would be tricky without the address. We asked what would happen if a different taxi driver arrived to collect Big Sis from a sisters meet up and didn’t know her address. We pointed out that the other adoptive parents had the address. No replies were forthcoming. Then I asked the foster carer very simply ‘what is the reason you don’t want us to have your address?’ She just reiterated that she was not giving it to us, and walked out of the meeting. 

Everyone seemed a bit stunned at that point.  I mused over the fact that in the previous discussion none of the workers had mentioned Big Sis’s Best Interests or supported her needs. Her Social Worker had sat silently whilst the foster carer and her supervisor had reiterated that we couldn’t have the address. 

OH asked the Supervising Social Worker what legislation she was working to in agreeing that the foster carer could choose for no good reason to give us her address. She had no idea. She said she was ‘prepared to keep an open conversation going about it’. I said we didn’t want an ongoing open conversation: we wanted the address. OH pointed out their stance was to the detriment of the girls. Still Big Sis’s Social Worker did not speak up for her. 

I advised the minute taker I wanted it noted that all the workers around the table needed training in sibling relationships. And then I told the meeting I had had enough, and I left. 

We had had  only 2 days notice of the meeting. OH had to take 3 hours of flexitime from work. I had to let down the social enterprise I volunteer for. Another adoptive parent had to take time from his business. And for what? All we had done was something that should have been sorted out on the phone.  Turns out the new Social Worker was on annual leave. 

Day 121 – a tired old rant & a bit of reflection.

Day 121 of knowing that birth family have moved into our town. Day 121 of living like fugitives. Yep, we’re pretty tired, pretty stressed, and comfort eating for Britain.

We had heart breaking news about one of the children from our adoption group dying at the weekend.  Everyone in the group is in shock, and attempting to support his family, who really just don’t want anyone or anything right now.

This week Bubble is at PGL; I took Squeak away for a few days; and OH returned to work after a fortnight off.   So imagine her delight when she was plagued with ‘phone calls from older sister in foster care’s Social Worker to arrange a sleepover this week.  A sleepover that we invited her to 5 weeks ago. A Social Worker who thinks it perfectly acceptable to ignore the invitation for 5 weeks, give us 2 days notice, insist on taxi times that just don’t suit us, and tell OH that she had to say yes or no immediately!

Older sis is here now, and she and Squeak are having a great time.  The taxi arrived 45 minutes before it should have done, so quite clearly there are some communication issues between said Social Worker and the transport department.  Not just with us then.

I was helping my mum with a few jobs this morning.  OH was looking after Squeak and her sister.  Imagine her delight (again) when aforementioned Social Worker chooses today to plague her with calls about Sunday’s ‘contact session’, or what we prefer to call ‘sisters’ meet ups’. Call after call after call. After call.  After call.  He’d received an e mail 3 weeks ago about Sunday, but had chosen today – knowing that older sis would be here and we would be busy – to repeatedly phone to organise what should really be a quite simple thing.  After the seventh phone call (I kid you not) he returned to the plan that poor old OH had suggested in the first place. And he had the cheek to say to OH that all he had wanted was for older sis to enjoy herself with us.  Yes! This is the same Social Worker who had tried to stop older sis coming here for her birthday party.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?

More positively, we have finally (106 days later – isn’t there a timescale for these things?) received a risk assessment that is looking more acceptable.  We need a few tweaks here and there, but at least I’m not labelled as having low emotional resilience anymore, and OH isn’t labelled at risk of losing her job. Oh yes!  The first few risk assessments actually did say both of those things.  Even though its focus was meant to be the safety of our children.  Which clearly they are taking very, very seriously. Clearly.

Whilst Bubble is away at PGL the difference in Squeak is remarkable.  Her previously unrelenting controlling behaviour seems to have dropped off the face of the earth.  We are under no illusions that it will return lunchtime Saturday with the return of Bubble.  We realise that we need to give our girls even more time apart than we are currently managing to do.  Very difficult though when we can’t actually use any community facilities in our town, and when we seem to be at full stretch separating them as much as possible over the weekends anyway. We need more ‘respite’. More PGL weeks perhaps?  I’m not sure Bubble would feel happy going without one of her sisters there though.

This week we had a surprising chat with my mother (an ex-teacher), who told us she believes, as does my sister (a teacher), that Bubble will not cope in a typical secondary school setting.  We have been banging this drum for over a year, but to no avail, with a rejected EHCP, and little understanding shown of her needs at her current school. She has one year to go before secondary school, and we know that we have no chance of a therapeutic school environment.  So we’re going to start banging the drum again loudly and ask our Social Worker to start attending the school meetings.  We’re also going to ask for a re-referral to the Paediatrician so that we have more  back up when the inevitable happens at secondary school, and we re-apply for an EHCP. It just seems so wrong that Bubble has to get to secondary school and ‘fail’ as her previous Social Worker said, before any other option can be considered.

And there we have it. Day 121 is nearly over.  We’ll get up tomorrow and do it all again.  We’re off to the beach hut with Squeak and big sis. The phone signal there is terrible – what a pity.

Day 78

Here comes the summer! School term ends today, the 78th day of knowing that the girls’ birth family are now fully installed just a mile from our home.

Last year we were quite excited about the summer holidays as OH was off work, and I don’t work anymore, so we had the whole 6 weeks as a family to look forward to.  This year it’s a totally different story.  OH is back at work.  The girls are more anxious and disregulated because one of their sisters returned to care.  And we have to get out of our home town for the summer because of the birth family presence.

In June the Adoption Support Team promised to look into giving us some help with getting away this summer, but this never materialised.  In fact, we’ve given up hope of getting any help at all from social work now, and for the good of our mental health we are not going to engage with them further once they have corrected the many mistakes in what they laughingly call a ‘risk assessment’.

So, summer survival plans. We’re going to family and friends’ houses whilst they are on holiday; we’ve got a few sleepovers for the girls lined up; Bubble is going to Pony Camp and PGL; and Squeak is having breaks with me in Dorset and then Cadbury World. OH will take a few days off here and there, and between us we will also have to make sure my mum is supported, and that our animals and garden are kept going. It’s a bit of a logistical nightmare: good job we are incredibly organised people.

I am concerned that this constant moving about is going to further disregulate the girls, particularly Bubble, who has difficulty with family holidays. Last year we returned from a week away bruised and battered, and vowed we wouldn’t go on holiday again.  Last half term, knowing we were going to have to go away for the summer,  we tried 2 days away and although Bubble’s anxieties were raised, there was no physical violence.  That was only 2 days, this is 6 weeks, and sometimes even staying somewhere already known to her causes anxieties for Bubble.  But needs must: with birth family in town – and very visibly so – we cannot take the girls anywhere local.

Super therapeutic capes on then, and all fingers crossed. First of all a bit of down time for the girls in our home, camping in the garden, a day at the beach hut, a sleepover with a sister, then 2 weeks spent half an hour’s drive away where we know the girls are safe, and we can go out as a family. We’re making sure that as many of the usual routines as possible are in place, so as to minimise anxiety levels.

We’re also making sure that OH and I get some time off, mostly separately, and with the support of friends and family, we’ll have a few days together whilst the girls are having sleepovers.  With good luck and a fair wind we will survive the summer holidays in the best way we can! And on Day 126 the girls will return to school, and we will swing into term time survival mode once again.

 

 

 

Midsummer Dream

The school holidays are upon them.  Six weeks of soft focussed, dreamy days of family fun. Relaxed parents recline in dappled shade; happy children scamper about merrily, with not a care in the world. The brightly coloured picnic rug is laden with tupperware boxes of boiled eggs, cucumber sandwiches, and fruit cake, whilst foaming bottles of home-made ginger beer cool in the ice bucket.  In the distance the tap of leather on willow and lazy claps of encouragement drift over from the village green.

But hark! What’s this? The tinkling bell of a bicycle quickly ridden can only mean one thing! Our friendly, thoroughly competent Social Worker has pedalled into the blissful scene to deliver the most marvellous news. ‘I come bearing marvellous news!’ she announces as she dismounts from her transport, careful not to scrape her Birkenstocks on the pedals. The family gather around, eager to hear what this empathic and engaging professional has to say, for she has become more like a trusted old family friend to them over the years.

‘My managers want me to tell you that they will do whatever they can to support your family, as they realise you are under immense strain and that their recent interventions have only made it much, much worse. They recognise that their incompetence, bullish behaviour and deliberate minimisation of your current situation is quite, quite despicable, and…’ the plucky Social Worker tugs at her cardigan and pauses for dramatic effect, ‘…they’ve agreed to fund an all expenses paid family trip to Disneytherapyland, effective immediately!’

‘Hurrah!’ cry the family.  ‘Three cheers for competent and effective Social Workers everywhere!’

#Siblings In Care

Siblings are the longest relationship most [children and young people] will have and we have a duty to assist in maintaining and sustaining those relationships. Siblings may be the most crucial support to each other post eighteen.” McDowell, CREATE Foundation 2015

Positive sibling relationships are a boon for any human being, child, young person or adult. For most of us they are the longest relationships we will ever have. For children and young people who are in the care system they can be vital.

Much research has been conducted demonstrating the long term emotional damage that may occur if siblings are separated.  When our girls were separated from their sisters both adoptive families did everything they could to ensure their relationships continued. Legally we had to ensure the girls met up once a month. In reality we did much, much more. We had frequent meet ups, at both homes, at our beach hut, days out, and lots of sleep overs, as well as telephone and letter contact.  Between all the adults we ensured that the girls strengthened their sibling bonds.

Despite our best efforts this dramatically changed for the worse when the eldest girl returned to foster care. We had to battle to see her to give her Christmas presents. It took 3 months to get the foster carer’s telephone number. After 6 months of asking for the address we’ve just been told we’re not going to be given it as the foster carer doesn’t want us to have it.

No effort at all was made by our girls’ sister’s Social Worker or foster carer to ensure meet ups were regular. We had to insist they happened. Everytime we asked the foster carer about them she referred us to the Social Worker.  He never replied to us. At one point the foster carer was happy for the girls not to see each other for 7 weeks. We protested. We said the girls had to meet up every month. She ignored us. The Social Worker continued to ignore our e mails.  The girls’ therapist e mailed the Social Worker twice. She was ignored as well.  Our Adoption Support Social Worker tried to intervene to support the girls. She was eventually told to back off.

The Rees Centre (2017): ‘Foster carers should help facilitate contact between siblings placed apart where appropriate.’ 

Our girls’ sister told us and the foster carer she wanted to come to us for a little birthday party with her sisters. Neither foster carer nor Social Worker did anything to organise a taxi for her to get here. We asked again for this to be done. Nothing happened. We e mailed a social work manager, who replied that they had decided we would have to meet at a bowling alley instead. No reason was given. We protested. A lot.  We e mailed senior managers repeatedly and asked our MP for help. In the middle of all this a new Adoption Support Social Worker was allocated, and we asked her to contact our girls’ sister’s Social Worker. Incredibly she had to ask her managers if she could, and perhaps more incredibly they advised her she could not.  It was not until our girls’ therapist – a Clinical Psychologist –  emailed senior managers, pointing out she had twice e mailed the SW about sibling contact and twice been ignored, that they changed their mind.

If you cannot place siblings together ask what this means for them and do all that you can to facilitate the contact they want.’ Social Care Institute for Excellence 2004

So our girl’s sister came for her little birthday party, but a support worker – who she had never met before – was also sent. Why? A manager told us it was so that if our girl’s sister was anxious she would have someone to speak to! We have established relationships with both our girls’ sisters.  If they need to say something, they’ll tell us. If they are anxious we’ll recognise the signs.

We made the support worker feel at home, and we reassured our girls that she was not a threat. Obviously they had some trouble understanding why a total stranger was in their home just because their big sister was here. Bubble clung onto us, physically at times. And Squeak ramped up her controlling behaviour.

Why were the sisters put through this? And why did we have to fight just to put on a birthday party in our home, the very place all the sisters had wanted it to be?

UK legislation makes clear the importance of sibling contact. But it still comes down to the knowledge, skills, values and crucially the willingness of the individual Social Workers and foster carers to ensure the right things are done. Despite the potentially disasterous long term impact poor practice can have on children (and the short term stress for their parents) Childrens Services managers seem happy for this poor practice to continue.

We can complain to the LA (we have done), and go to HCPC about individual Social Workers (we’re considering this), but by that stage the damage is done. Wouldn’t it be healthier and better for our children if Childrens Services listened, understood and worked in partnership with us to get it right at the beginning?

We want to ensure our children have the best possible chance to recover from early trauma, and grow into physically and emotionally healthy adults. Why don’t our Local Authority’s Childrens Services want this too?

Social media is a powerful tool. If you are an adoptee, care leaver, adoptive parent, Special Guardian, foster carer, Social Worker, manager, Therapist, Trainer, or have any other interest in promoting the welfare of siblings in care please tweet why this matters to you. Use the hashtag #SiblingsInCare . Maybe, just maybe it will help inform and improve social work practice.

The nonsense never stops

If you’ve read my blog before you will know that Bubble and Squeak have sisters they see monthly, & that the oldest one returned to foster care late last year. 

We met a few weeks ago and all sisters decided they wanted a little party at our house when they next meet up to celebrate the oldest girl’s birthday. Party food was planned, ideas for gifts were discussed, and all the sisters were excited about it. 

The oldest girl told the foster carer what she wanted. Last week we asked whether the taxi had been arranged. It had not.  We e mailed the SW manager to get it sorted. 

Then the reply arrived. SWs and foster carer have decided it would be better if the sisters went to a bowling place for 2 hours. No reasons given.  

So here I am on a supposed mini R&R break, once again having to e mail Children’s Services. This time it seems absolutely ridiculous. A Looked After Child has chosen how she wants to celebrate her birthday and her wishes have been completely ignored by the people paid to look after her. 

All she wants is to come to our house, and have a little party with her sisters. That’s all. What’s the problem with that?