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!’

#SiblingsInCare

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? 

Day 38

It was day 38 yesterday.  38 days of knowing that Bubble and Squeak’s birth family had moved to our small town. 

Day 1 – We tell the Adoption Support Team. 

Day 7- Social Worker and supervisor meet with us in a shambles of a meeting that leaves us feeling angry and unsupported.

Day 11 – Incompetent Risk Assessment presented to us. It makes no mention of girls’ history  or long term impact on them if they saw their birth parents here. The assessor believes I have no resilience, and my partner is castigated for telling me the birth family have moved here. We submit a formal complaint.

Day 14 – ‘Amended’ Risk Assessment shoved through our door.  Only two minor changes made and still complete rubbish.

Day 30 – Response to our complaint received. In summary, ‘we’re sorry, we’re sorry, we’re sorry, you’re too anxious, we’re not going to do anything, but we’ll send a couple of managers round so you’ll shut up. Maybe you could move house.’ We move to next stage of the complaints procedure. 

Day 38 – Two Adoption Support managers visit with the Risk Assessment, which they have clearly ripped from the supervisor’s hands and amended. This time it even bothers to mention why our girls were removed from the birth parents! Hurrah! But I still have low resilience and my partner has still put her employment at risk by telling me something I need to know to keep our children safe. We protest calmly. We agree to e mail them our thoughts on their Risk Assessment Version 3. 

The managers are keen to express that they want to work with us, and ask us what we need. We tell them. They agree they can re-allocate our old, brilliant Social Worker but what is our ‘work plan’ and our ‘time scale’? We dont shout at them that we are parents not workers. We calmly advise we’ll discuss that with the Social Worker. More prodding and poking about timescales. I enquire about the length of a piece of string. That’s clearly not considered helpful. Eventually my partner utters some magic words which seem to satisfy them: ‘3 months initially, to be reviewed’. 

We tell them what we’re doing to keep our girls safe. We tell them all the things our girls can’t do because of the birth family presence.  The managers have no suggestions, and can’t tell us anything their enquiries have uncovered,  but hope our ‘confidence will grow’. My partner and I look at each other and simultaneously reach for the pre-arranged ‘don’t respond to any bollocks in an exasperated way’ signal, a hand on the other one’s arm. We extract our hands and arms and move on. 

Their enquiries have only focussed on the possibility of abduction and violence. Even here their conclusions are based on 6 year old evidence. What about the recent numerous convictions for assault? we ask. They seem surprised, even though we have previously told them, the Social Worker, the supervisor, and written it in our complaint. 

Their enquires do not appear to have concluded anything about the possibility of significant harm and re-traumatisation of our girls should they walk past their birth parents in the street or glimpse them from the car. We start talking about the long-term psychological and behavioural impacts this would have. Clearly they either don’t understand or don’t agree. One of them suggests we could give the girls a hug and re-assure them if they see their birth parents. We advise that whilst we have devised a safety plan that deals with any immediate situation, we are concerned about the long term impacts on the girls. They don’t appear to understand.

They bang on for a bit, reiterating the girls’ safety is our responsibility but they have a duty to help us. Then out it comes, the suggestion we’ve been expecting, the suggestion they clearly believe is the best solution, the suggestion which would be the answer to their prayers. We could move house. Not should. Just could. They can’t tell us we have to. We tell them we’re not moving. We give them heaps of valid reasons. One of them says something like ‘I had to move house once, and it was a relief’. I take a deep breath, put my hand on my partner’s arm, slowly look from one manager to the other, and calmly repeat ‘we’re not moving’. 

We tell them that the summer holidays are going to be a nightmare as we can’t use any local facilities including kids clubs. Though Bubble has hightened anxieties when we go away as a family we will have to do so in the summer. We have organised house swops, PGL etc but we have 2 weeks that aren’t covered. They offer to pay a percentage towards a cottage somewhere. We thank them and agree that we will let them know when we’ve got some ideas and costs. We are told this is not a ‘long term solution’ and what are we going to do in the future? I bite my lip and my wonderful partner tells them we’ll discuss that with our re-allocated Social Worker. 

Time is up. They have to go. We thank them. We shut the door. I’m left wondering, once again, why people who work in an Adoption Support Team don’t understand the impact seeing birth parents would have on the girls at this stage of their lives.  Why do workers think it relevant and helpful to draw comparisons with their birth children? Why do they talk in jargon that is meaningless to parents and families? 

I believe that the managers who met with us yesterday really did want to help. But they didn’t understand how this situation is impacting on our family. They didn’t comprehend the long term effects of possible re-traumatisation. And they wanted us to solve the situation by dramatic action that we had already said we had considered and discounted. 

It’s necessarily true that unless you have lived with traumatised children, you haven’t got a clue about the crushing reality of adopters’ everyday lives. Wouldn’t it be so much better for adoptive families if workers acknowledged this, listened to us, and worked with us to find ways forward together? Wouldn’t it be better if adoptive families weren’t left feeling judged and unsupported?

Sobbing in the shower

I’d say I was pretty resilient.

In the last 4 and a half years since our daughters came to live with us we’ve been through various stresses and trials. 

Until the ASF was introduced we had to fight for everything the girls needed from SS. We were told that Bubble’s presentation was ‘typical’ and that we were ‘anxious’. Turns out she has ARND. Not really typical then. We were promised support that never materialised. It wasn’t until we complained that a SW was then allocated. 

Both our fathers and a granny died. My adopted niece went for respite and never returned. The girls’ sister returned to care. We’re still fighting SS to ensure our girls get to see her regularly. 

My flexible hours were suddenly stopped and I had to leave work when I challenged a manager’s decision which left a vulnerable young woman in an abusive situation. I fought back, and when they then made up some totally false disciplinary charge against me, I won.

We live with trauma, deregulation, anxiety and highly controlling behaviours from both our children 24/7. 

We have been battered and bruised by Bubble just because we decided to go on a family holiday. 

And now the girls – and us – are under threat of significant harm by their birth family. We’re coping with this the best we can, doing everything in our power to protect our girls and keep us together as a family. Tomorrow we are seeking legal advice. Again. 

Yep, I’m pretty resilient, but this morning I sobbed in the shower. 

Questions questions everywhere, when we’re on the brink

From the girls: 

Mummy, why can’t I walk into town with you? Why can’t we go to the park? Can we go scooting? Can we bike? Can I go to spend my pocket money? Why can’t we go to see mummy at her office? Can we go to the cinema? Can we go for a babycino? Can I help you in the shop? Why can’t I have the car window down? Why do I have to wear my baseball cap all the time? Why do I have to put my school bookbag in a rucksack? I’m not cold, why do I have to wear my coat? Why can’t we go to the adoption group family fun day? 

From Adoption ‘Support’: 

Why do you want a TAC meeting? What do you mean ‘what legislation are we working to’? You’re not very resilient are you? Do you want therapy? You do realise by telling the ‘third party’* you are in breach of data protection? We can’t exactly walk up to their door and ask them why they’re here, can we?

From us:

When you’ve repeatedly told us birth family are a danger to our children, and now to us, why are you not fulfilling your statutory duty to work with other agencies and us to do everything in your power to safeguard them and promote their welfare?

*Me. Yes that’s right I am a ‘third party’, not the ‘other mummy’, not ‘partner’, just a ‘third party’.