#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 ‘care’ system.

When one of our girls’ sisters re-entered the care system in December we had to fight to ensure that all the girls met up before Christmas.

We fought again to get the foster carer’s phone number. It took 3 months to get it.

We’ve asked at least 5 SW bods for the foster carer’s address so that Bubble can see where her sister is living, which we believe will help to reduce her anxieties. The girls also want to send their sister cards and letters. We still haven’t got the address. Nor have we been given a reason for this. The girls wrote to their social worker about this 5 weeks ago. She hasn’t replied. 

It’s been suggested to us that we attend a meeting about the girls’ sister: a meeting to which her parents weren’t invited. We said we would not participate in such a divisive meeting. 

We’ve endured ‘contact’ meetings in which the foster carer has all but ignored us. I’ve asked why the foster carer has to be at these meet ups. The last SW manager I spoke with agreed there didn’t seem to be a reason and she would phone me back. 3 weeks later and there hasn’t been a call.

The foster carer insisted  that there had to be a routine weekly phone call, and she should phone us, rather than us phone her. She wasn’t prepared to be flexible about this. Yet there have been weeks where she hasn’t bothered to call. That happened again this week and when we tried to phone we were cut off.

Now apparently the girls’ sister can’t meet them for 8 weeks. Why? Presumably because nobody in the system is actually bothered. Our Adoption Order stated the sisters must meet up every month. We’ve done this – usually much more frequently – for 4.5 years.

The result of all of this for our girls is that they are far more anxious. Parenting them is made harder, and what little energy we have left is taken up with dealing with this constant nonsense from the local authority.

Meanwhile social work managers continue to ask us to provide (free) respite for the girls’ sister! And we keep saying that we will be very happy to have her for sleepovers – as we always have – when they acknowledge that it’s not ‘respite’ or ‘contact’. It’s just the sisters doing what they have always done since being adopted. 

I’m coming to believe that all the sisters are victims of a callous institutionalised incompetence. The term ‘Best Interests’ is bandied about when it suits, but very little that is happening now appears to be in any of the sisters’ best interests. Quite the contrary in fact: trauma is heaped on trauma. The ‘care’ system simply isn’t working. 

No More Mrs Nice Adopters

Last month, you may recall from my ranty blog & tweets, one of our girls’ sisters returned to foster care. The social work team ignored our offer to support her here until a long term appropriate placement could be found. 

We had to battle so that our daughters could talk to and see their sister.  I’m glad to say we managed a meet up just before Christmas. 

The SW team then decided there would be a weekly phone call between sisters at a particular time on a certain day. They hadn’t bothered to ask us if it was convenient. As Squeak is busy imitating Olga Korbut – or perhaps that’s Ronnie Corbett in a leotard full of hormones – at that point in the week it certainly wasn’t going to be happening then. 

Surely the catalogue of incompetencies was complete at that point? 

Err, nope.

Today we discovered The Most Astounding Social Work Decision Made Without Any Consultation With Us.  Here it is (brace yourself!): at a LAC review last week they decided we will be giving our girls’ sister’s foster carer overnight respite each and every month! 

Yep! You read that right! It was the first we’d heard of it. We were not at the meeting. We had not been asked if we would like an arrangement like this. And, if we hadn’t been the lovely people we are, it could have caused serious fallout with our daughters’ sisters’ mother, who was at the meeting & was astounded to hear the decision. 

So, just to be clear, we’re not playing ball anymore. Our girls will be seeing their sisters regularly – as they have always done.  Their sisters will be coming on sleepovers. We will do everything we can to ensure their relationships are nurtured. But it is not ‘contact’.  And we will not be dictated to.  

No More Mrs Nice Adopters.