‘That’s your problem’

7 years ago Bubble and Squeak were removed from their birth parents along with two older sisters. The oldest two were adopted in one family, & Bubble and Squeak came to us. For years we ensured that they saw each other as often as possible, and this was flexible, fun, and brilliant for all of them. Our two families became good friends. The oldest sister is now back in long term foster care, whilst the other sister remains with her adoptive family. We attempt to ensure that all 4 sisters meet up every month. This has been scuppered more than once by the foster carer.

2 weeks ago the sisters’ meet up was postponed due to snow. Cue much upset. We immediately rearranged it & the other sisters’ mum agreed with the foster carer on the date.

A few days later in their weekly telephone call the oldest sister told the girls she couldn’t meet them after all as she would be in respite care that w/e. (Oh yes! The foster carer gets monthly respite. The adopters had previously begged for it but were refused it on the grounds that it would damage the oldest sister!) As oldest sister has ARND her memory is poor and she gets frequently confused, so we weren’t sure if the message was correct.

Neither the foster carer nor the social worker had bothered to tell any of the adults that the meet up was cancelled, so once again we were left to work out the facts, soothe our girls’ upset and pick up the pieces after the telephone call.

The other sisters’ mum established that what the oldest sister had told us was correct, and tried to rearrange the meet up but was given such a run around that she submitted a complaint. We are all meeting in a couple of weeks to once again discuss ‘communication’. Deep sigh.

Probably realising how pissed off we all were, the social worker then eventually agreed to keep the rearranged date, and said that the oldest sister could come from respite to meet up with her sisters. She would arrange a taxi for her.

All sorted.

Or maybe not.

On Friday I saw the weather forecast and sent a quick e mail to the social worker asking for the respite carer’s phone number. I explained that I wanted to limit the girls’ upset if the weather prevented the meet up going ahead. The social worker replied a few hours later that she had just arranged a taxi for the meet up. I e mailed back, asking her to respond to my initial query. An hour later another e mail: could I ring her? I couldn’t at that point. I was on my way to help my mother with something, and then to pick up the girls from school. I sent a quick e mail apologising that I couldn’t phone her, but needed a reply. An hour later another e mail came: could the social worker give our number to the respite carer? This time my partner answered it: yes! If we could have the respite carer’s number too. We received no answer.

Late last night the other sisters’ mum told us the meeting was cancelled due to snow. She hadn’t got the respite carer’s number either. So this morning we had to tell the girls once again they couldn’t see their sister. We couldn’t even say they could phone her. Because – try as we had done – we weren’t given the respite carer’s phone number.

This is the Lack Of Care System to which my family are now subject. The bumbling workers who seem to believe adopters have all the time in the world to engage in dialogue which gets us no further forward, and leaves us to once again to soothe the upset and pick up the pieces. As one social worker manager told us 18 months ago when we were trying to get a phone number so the girls could ring their sister who had just returned to foster care: ‘that’s your problem’.

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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!

A bit of culture.

Well now. Much has been written about Mazars report into Southern Health’s failings.   The anguish and eloquent anger of LB’s family has touched me greatly.  Their poise and determination in the face of brutal onslaughts is amazing.

In the last 20 years as a social worker I have seen brilliant practice.  I have seen appalling practice. I have seen lives transformed.  I have seen lives destroyed.  Over the last few months I have had particular cause to reflect on what it is that determines how people are treated by organisations.

Culture.

That’s it.  Pure and simple.  Culture dictates attitude. Attitude dictates quality of service.  Culture is determined by leadership.  Large health organisations and social services departments are top-down organisations.  Hierarchical wilderbeasts, stampeding in discombobulating circles at the whim of their political drivers.

Such frenzied behaviour is destroying services.  It is ruining lives. Its prime focus is on the survival of the organisation. Accountability and responsibility appear to have been crushed in the crass new world of managerialism.  Populate the spreadsheets, present the data, please the politicians. Whether the figures are accurate is not the point.  The figures must be pleasing.  Departments must be under-budget. The workers must be toiling harder, faster.

Quality?  Who cares?

There cannot be a single social worker in the country who has not pointed out to their managers that if their authority had adequate administrative staff and effective IT systems they would be freed up to engage in community based preventative practice, instead of sitting in front of a screen most of the day. We even give them a financial reason to agree with us: prevention is cheaper than cure.  Yet when social workers present managers with this truth, they are dismissed as ‘old-school’ or ‘resistant’.  Why aren’t managers succeeding in persuading politicians to let social workers do what they are trained to do?  Are their arguments ignored? Or are they so far removed from understanding the needs of people using the services that the very values that brought them into social care are forgotten?

Service users and carers who complain are branded ‘challenging’. Workers who raise concerns about safety and inadequate practice are victimized, isolated, forced out.  The survival  of the organisational hierarchy is paramount. Southern Health are not alone in their dangerous adherence to the totally flawed belief that managerialism must be right.

Enough now. Organisations must stop blithely spouting the jargon of vision and values, and start believing that the people who use their services actually do matter. Frontline workers already know and believe this, and all they want is to be able to do their best to support them.

Enough.