Kafkaesque Doesn’t Come Close

My heads been spinning of late. Trying to make sense of the relentless assault on the psyche of hearing of the abuse of children on a mass scale. Abuse going unchallenged at best and colluded with at worst. Some of this perpetrated by people in public positions of power and professional authority. Lots of it against children in the care of local authorities.

At the same time I am unpicking the family history of my adopted daughter.
At the point of being matched with her fifteen years ago I was given scant information about her family (This only featured her mum and dad as if any extended family was irrelevant). The picture delivered was not pretty. Negligence, domestic violence, dirt and chaos. I was advised to steer clear of their home town and be vigilant in avoiding other places they may be.

Despite this I chose to find her family three years into our adoption. I needed to know the backstory myself. Hear it with my own ears. I wanted to know more of her culture and heritage and of her wider family. My intention was to build a bridge between her past and present that she could cross at some future time should she ever wish to. Also to gain any information that would help me understand and parent her better.

I found her mum. A woman who had been abused as a child by an extended family member following the loss of her father in a tragic accident. Groomed and trained to comply. Further abused by predatory men until, on showing signs of ‘challenging’ behaviour, being put into local authority care as a young ‘aggressive’ teenager. Once in a place of supposed safety she was systematically abused by a care home staff member. When she reported it no action was taken. It happened to her friends as well. She bears a scar on her hand. It came from running away from ‘the man’ after a swimming session. Trying to find safety behind a locked changing room door. She slipped and cut her hand deeply on a glazed tile.
Her learning difficulty remained undiagnosed by her corporate parents.

On leaving care, now estranged from her birth family, she lived in the dark world of street life, alcohol abuse and violence. Usually against her. Eventually in her thirties she met the children’s father. A gentle but stubborn older man. A father figure who in her words ‘never once retaliated no matter what mean things I did to him’.

Of course she knew nothing of safe care, of domestic skills, of attachment, nurturing and trust. It was almost inevitable that she would fail as a ‘good’ mother. Three children permanently removed aged 7, 5 and 4. No contact granted. Taken by the same authority that had been her failing corporate parent.

Two adopted. One in local authority care miles away from home. The one in care first experienced sexual abuse at around 10 years old. The two adopted ones struggled with anxiety and attachment within systems that failed to understand and support them properly despite their adoptive parents greatest efforts. Both at some time coming into the child protection, mental health or criminal justice system.

I personally have had my parenting techniques criticised, had untruths about me and my daughter put in social services files, have seen lies being told in multi agency meetings and attempts at cover ups around bad practice. This against the back drop of adopting a child whose parents couldn’t cope and a system that judged them incapable of change. Many foster carers and adopters will recognise this horrible transformation from the being ‘the solution’ for a child to being held up as ‘the problem’. It really is quite kafkaesque. You wouldn’t believe it if you hadn’t been there. I know many adopters and foster carers who are seriously unimpressed with the systems of family support for children in need. I know others whose family lives have been devastated. This helps us see more easily the situation birth parents may have been in. The irony of this brings me back round to the bigger picture of child protection and where we are now in the UK.

Legislation has recently been passed, right under our noses, to make the corporate parent more powerful and the rights of families and kinship relationships further diminished. To put it crudely and in laymen’s terms, it’s a ‘whip them out quick before the damage is done’ approach. There are brain scans to provide the science bit. This simplistic picture is easy to sell to the general public via a muzzled press. To argue that leaving children in potentially abusive family situations is in any way ok, leaves one open to severe criticism. Social workers are easy scapegoats when a tragedy happens, making their job almost impossible. Either dangerous ‘lefty’ incompetents or over zealous despot child snatchers. These directly opposing stereotypes feed well into the rhetoric of child protection and privatisation. G4S a massive profit driven and seemingly unwieldy corporation now have children’s homes. An adopted young person I know of currently has a G4S tag on for displaying anxiety driven risky behaviour. This is linked to his past experiences of neglect. During his time as an adopted child he has not received therapeutic support.
The tagging box within the family home is faulty and wrongly shows him breaking his conditions. He will attend court for this ‘breach’. His adoptive parents are now fraught with anxiety themselves, fearful he may end up in a young offenders unit (no doubt run by a private security company).

What’s missing for me in this hot bed of double standards is any powerful public action, outrage, or meaningful legislation on what should happen to children in this country following removal from struggling, negligent or abusive parents. I’ve seen more general public outcry about the death of dogs in Manchester this week than I have about the rights of children in care.

One child taken into care every twenty minutes in the UK. Nearly 70,000 children in the care of local authorities at any one time. Multiple foster placements, children’s homes and in a small number of cases adoption. In many removals is the severance from roots, culture and history on a grand scale. At the point of removal the voice of the child’s family is muted. The child is most often rendered voiceless. How many parents of the abused girls in Rotherham tried to highlight and report what was happening? Somehow nobody in power or authority knew?

When things do go horribly wrong there’s no great child protection rush to prosecute and remove corporate perpetrators of neglect from powerful positions. Instead we have to watch long, expensive and protracted enquiries often led and managed by establishment figures from the very systems at fault. Many big charities gain funding and wages from attending special boards and think tank exercises. Paid to talk about ‘it’.

I know good quality care where it exists can save and transform lives and that many children in care go on to succeed and thrive having been removed from their parents. But the point is very many don’t. The scale and acceptance of child neglect and inequality of service to those in care by corporate parents is almost beyond belief. I find it full of hypocrisy and injustice. It also does absolutely nothing to stop cycles of failure. Many mothers who lose their children were once removed children themselves. One has to question what went on in between.

To me it’s a worse crime that a corporate parent neglects a child than its own family. Corporate parents have resources, power and influence, unlike many families. If you remove a child from its family surely everything should be done to manage that loss. Public money should be thrown at it without question. Excellent standards of care across the board, in health, education and social care should ensure a real second chance at a safe and happy childhood. To do otherwise, to make profit out of that loss, to underfund and undermine frontline carers in social work, fostering and adoption, to see child victims of neglect and abuse as in anyway deviant or unworthy of equality is inexcusable, especially in a country that politically views thousands and thousands of families as incapable of receiving interventions to keep them together.

(Permission is given and actively encouraged by my family including wider adoptive family to tell the truth of our shared history)

10 thoughts on “Kafkaesque Doesn’t Come Close

  1. Pingback: Kafkaesque Doesn’t Come Close | Travels with my son

    • Couldn’t have put it better ourselves. We are the adoptive parents of one of the three children mentioned. Frustrated at the failures of the system to adequately support our son and us as a family. Like Amanda, we too have been misrepresented, lied about and criticized in social services reports and meetings. Even factual events have been changed and not for the better, in S S reports.

      For 14 years the system has “ticked boxes” and added scores to pigeon hole and label our son. Which has never been accurate and miserably failed to help. Finally after getting help from forensic psychiatry, is our son is being properly diagnosed using good old fashioned psychiatry. Not that we are not open to new ways, but the adding up scores system clearly has not worked in his case.

      We have hit brick walls within the care system time and time again. Hearing excuses such as “he doesn’t meet the criteria for this help” Based of course on the existing wrong diagnosis and the way he presents himself. Even though he clearly, to us as parents at least, needed such help. Over and over again we have voiced concerns that our son didn’t fully understand what was going on, but we were met with the professionals view that he does and that we are only parents. We have even had it said to us that “we are the professionals and know what we are talking about”.
      Finally we have the view of a forensic psychiatrist that, in her words, “scratch the surface and he does not fully understand much of what is said to him”. He presents as being a bright intelligent young man and can give plausible conversation, but go deeper, as the system should have done years ago, he will reveal his true lack of understanding. This is clearly, to us as amateur parents, is self preservation. A result of neglect and a need to survive. But what do we know?

      • Thanks so much Steve for commenting. The more we can speak out hopefully the more we can support others and make a change. The system is already tough for adopted children if they need support, I can’t imagine what it must be like for a child in a children’s home if they are not understood.
        You have, and continue to be such brilliant parents against the odds. Hope to see you soon xx

  2. I have no personal or ideological axe to grind when it comes to privatisation, although I have little hope that it would change anything for the better without a wholesale overhaul of attitudes behind social care policy. But I do know from personal experience, and wider knowledge, that what we have now is absolutely not fit for purpose. I’m not talking about individual practitioners now, many (but not all!) of whom are extremely dedicated and professional, but of institutional failure and mismanagement on a massive scale. My own LA has been barely ‘satisfactory’ for years and is now in special measures. Children and families are being failed and hurt heaped upon hurt. I honestly believe that we could throw money at this system until the country is bankrupt and it wouldn’t improve anything. Incompetence is bad. Incompetence with an unlimited budget is just a more expensive kind of incompetence. I would like to see a more open debate about what changes need to be made without resort to knee-jerk ideology-driven reactions – I would like to see more of what you are saying here being said by those who have power to make decisions and changes. I am just now setting up a support group for local adopters/foster carers/kinship carers. Five of us will meet shortly and I know that every single one of them has been let down by our LA recently, from the would-be foster carers of special needs / medical needs children who have been waiting since January since initial enquiry and are yet to begin home study or attend training despite the clamour for foster carers like them, to the couple who have taken in 3 horribly neglected relatives on a residency order and been refused financial support both by placing authority and now our local authority despite one of them giving up work, inadequate housing, and three children with very severe emotional and behavioural needs – no support has been offered, no responsibility taken, just dump the kids and wave bye bye with relief at how much cash this family is saving them. I could go on, and I already have, but thank you for writing this – write more like this, keep saying it and shouting it until somebody hears and listens. We will be right next to you with placards!

    • Thank you as ever for your encouragement. The support group sounds like a great and empowering resource. I wish more people could have mentors like you. I think change can come from the bottom upwards if we have faith and don’t give up. We definitely need to start making the placards! x

  3. Hi. I fostered a child for six and a half years. A very long story, but he had to leave (our decision) and the LA broke their promises and stopped contact. He was treated awfully by the LA and we ended up taking them to court. We won. When I read your post, it really sounded as though you had been through similar things.
    I am part of a group fighting to change things. It will be difficult, but we can make a difference. If you can, please contact us through the web site http://www.fosteringcontact.org.uk
    Don’t let the system defeat you – you are important to your former foster children and they need to know that.

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