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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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!’

Forewarned is forearmed.

Well here we are. The beginning of the ultimate nightmare scenario for us as adopters has happened. Our daughters’ birth parents are now living just one mile away from us. We live in a very small town. The likelihood is that we are going to come across them.

It is not safe for the girls to have any contact with their birth family. Enough said. 

I can’t say how we found out that they have moved here. But if there is a positive in all of this it is that we did find out. 

We’ve spent a frantic day ensuring school put additional measures in place, and desperately trying to get hold of the social worker to ask her to set up an alert with the police. Our adoption group was timely last night, and allowed us to vent and to take on board their wise words and support. 

We’ve realised that we’re not going to be able to take both girls out together, especially if there is just one of us around. We’re going to have to decline any offers from friends of taking the girls out locally. We’re going to have to avoid certain places,  the town centre, sports centres, local soft play and so on. Activities with local clubs will have to be closely monitored or curtailed. We won’t be able to use local kids clubs. In short, our world will shrink dramatically. 

This feels dreadful. I feel a horrible anxiety pervading every fibre of my being. Goodness knows how this is going to play out.  The most important thing, of course, apart from keeping the girls safe, is that they don’t pick up on our anxieties. 

So we carry on, attempting to re-parent as therapeutically as possible. And to look after ourselves. We’re going to have to keep calm, hold fast and just do the best we can. Wish us luck!