#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. 

Adoption breakdown

The Children Act 1989 is clear about social workers responsibilities when placing a child who can no longer live with their parents. The Act is clear that the social worker is required to consider preferable placements with wider family/friends. Indeed guidance is clear that this will always be the first choice, provided that the welfare of the child is never compromised.

Two weeks ago I informed a post adoption support social worker of my concerns for our daughters’ sister and her adoptive family.  I was clear that we had offered and would continue to offer to take her on a short term basis should the adoption break down.  Surely it would be better for her to be with her sisters and two adults who love her, and with whom she has a positive bond, than in a placement where she knows no one. From this place we could help ease her transition to a longer term placement.

This week the adoption broke down. Instead of coming to us X was placed with emergency foster carers. We have spent the last 2 days re-iterating our offer to support her short term until a suitable long term placement can be found.

Our offer was ignored. We persisted.  Our phone calls were not returned.  When we finally managed to speak with him, the social worker would not even agree that the post adoption team’s social worker had spoken with him about our offer! He hid behind ‘confidentiality’.  He told us he could not place a child without assessing the potential carers.  Come and assess us! we begged.  We’re here.  We are adoptive parents.  I am still  registered as a social worker and my partner works in the care system. We have nothing to hide.  We are concerned for X’s welfare.  He did not even reply.   Later he advised he would speak to his manager and get back to us.

I gave him 2 hours to phone back.  Of course he did not.   I contacted the head of service.  Immediately the situation looked brighter.  Perhaps we could be approved as temporary foster carers through regulation 24.  A manager would call us back.  No phone call was forthcoming.

4 hours later we finally managed to get hold of a manager. As far as she was concerned X was safe and ‘calm’.  I asked how they knew X was calm. She’s extremely compliant, and even at the happiest of times would say anything she thought an authority figure wanted to hear. This was met with a tirade of how experienced the social worker is.

This manager had made her decision.  She was not going to change it.  We enquired whether X had been asked if she would like to come and stay with us on a temporary basis.  She had not. We questioned why she had not been given this option and pointed out that the Children Act 1989 dictates that the views of the child should be sought. Silence. Then we were informed that the manager will be considering future options for X on Monday, but that would not include her coming to us.

We asked for contact details for X.  She refused to give us them. She wanted X to be ‘more settled’ before she had contact with us. We pointed out that X had nobody she knew to speak to this weekend. Point blank refusal. Why?  X has been suddenly wrenched from her adoptive family to a placement where she knows nobody.  She has not got a mobile phone.  She has no means of contacting anybody she knows.  We cannot offer her any comfort: this weekend she will not hear us tell her that we love her and will always be there for her in any way we can.

We’ve submitted a complaint.  I have no doubt it will be treated with the callous disregard already amply demonstrated in the last 48 hours. And, anyway, the damage is done.

Today I am going to buy a scrapbook.  We are going to fill it with photos and messages and love and happiness.  And next week we will get X’s contact details, and will be visiting her, and giving her the book, and reassuring her that we are here for her no matter what.