The tragic and challenging story of a couple’s experience of adoption was the subject of a report on Radio 5 Investigates with Adrian Goldberg on19th January.
Nigel Priestley, Senior Partner with Ridley & Hall and the Adoption Legal Centre told the programme that sadly the couple’s experience was not unique. They had been told that the child placed with them had no specific problems and simply needed to be brought up in a loving stable family home.
They quickly found that this was not the case. The programme highlighted the problem that in some cases social workers were minimising the child’s problems in order to make finding a placement easier.
In a recent case, a judge had tried to impose conditions on a local authority after she concluded that the social worker could not be trusted to tell prospective adopters the truth about how the child’s presenting.
Nigel Priestley was joined on the programme by Hugh Thornberry of Adoption UK. Another prospective adopter told her story. She had been assured that a child to be placed with her had been genetically tested and told she had nothing to fear, despite serious genetic problems within the family. She then found that no testing had been done and the child may have a serious life threatening condition. She pulled out of the proposed adoption.
Commenting, Mr Priestley said, “There is enormous pressure on local authorities from this government to get as many children placed with adoptive parents as possible. The new phenomenon of the Adoption Party for hard to place children adds to the risk that social workers may be tempted to minimise the problems that the children present.”
He added “The situation is made worse by the serious lack of skilled post-adoption support. Failure to give all the facts risks an adoption breaking down. This causes enormous damage to the child and the carers and has to be avoided at all costs.
Nigel Priestley is a Senior Partner of Ridley & Hall. He is a member of the Children’s Panel and regularly represents children and parents in care proceedings. For more information on the legal issues surrounding adoption, please contact us on 01484 538421 or visit the Adoption Legal Centre.
5 Live Investigations with Adrian Goldberg can be listened to by logging onto his web page on BBC 5 Live website. It is in the last 20 minutes of the programme.
Part of the prospective adopters story is set out below
How did what you had been told about him in the reports you’d seen compare to the reality of having him live with you?
In the early days of placement our child was very compliant, as many can be, although clearly scared of the world which was definitely not reflected in any reports we had been able to view. He played very repetitively and he had no speech. He was only able to make sounds, not vocalisations or speech. We can only assume that the sound he made in his previous setting, had been interpreted as words. A speech and language therapist would have definitely not said that our child had speech or vocalisation. The mental health of our child had not been mentioned in any reports and this was the area we most noticed as being immediately worrying. Over the first few weeks we also noticed episodes where our child would appear to ‘zone out’ and sleep became very erratic, waking 10-15 times a night. Our health visitor visited during the early weeks of placement. She expressed concerns about our child’s health and wellbeing. We advised her of the areas we were concerned about and she referred us to a community paediatrician, who then referred us on to the consultant paediatrician.
However, our child would not let any medical professional near him. No-one was able to do any sort of examination. He could not even cope with being weighed and measured. He has tried to kick some doctors, and even now attending appointments is a two parent job – one has to support our child while the other talks with the doctor.
During early placement, we were advised by social services to parent our child normally and attend toddler groups. It was reported that he had been attending toddler groups with his previous foster carer. However, doing this, caused him anxiety, stress and tantrums and my wife was unable to sooth him, because of attachment difficulties, as he did not trust her. The situation was spiralling out of control, with social services advising us to ‘push on through’, until 9 months later, our child experienced a break down with a child minder, who we were using, to prepare for my wife returning to her part-time job.
Fortunately the child minder wrote a very in depth report detailing what happened, and that is when social services suddenly began taking notice of our concerns. Whilst social services had thought our child was beginning to attach to us, it was actually a superficial attachment for at least the first 9 months. It is worth mentioning that our child had something like four or five social workers by the time he was placed with us, so it was hardly surprising that no-one really knew him, and we were given the wrong information to follow to parent him. We assumed that social services knew their children. Unfortunately we have found this not to be true in our case. And our children can learn that adults are disposable, replaceable or unreliable.
It was very difficult for people to visit the house as our child would tantrum as soon as anyone came in, and continue tantruming. If we visited anywhere, our child would just run. Now we recognise it as a fear response and we have strategies in place to help us manage situations. People have now stopped visiting us and we only have very close family and friends coming now. We hope that in time, we will be able to participate in a more normal way of life, but for now, we are attending intensive therapy twice weekly with a view to increasing to three times weekly and keeping our world extremely small but manageable.
What sorts of issues did you encounter with him?
We have now had a diagnosis of global developmental delay with speech and language and social and emotional areas being described as complex / severe. Our child is four years of age but his emotional age is closer to two years and his speech is younger than that. We are also dealing with autistic traits, attachment and sensory problems, learning disability, sleep difficulties and mental health issues. With the autistic traits we are unsure at the moment, whether this is caused by his early attachment trauma or whether it will lead to a further diagnosis. Time will tell. Our child only began babbling 15 months into placement. Our life is extremely restricted.
We were told that there was a young healthy child who ate well, slept well, said a couple of words, babbled occasionally, had formed a positive attachment to its carer, with no known medical condition. The child had been removed from his birth family at a very young age. We were told that the child had slight delay which was likely to be caused by being in a placement with demanding siblings. Information regarding the child was ‘drip fed’ to us over a period of months.
Why were genetic tests then needed and what did you make of that?
During discussions regarding the child, we enquired as to the health of the siblings. There was a lot of confusion as to whether one of the siblings had been diagnosed with a condition or not, and trying to get this confirmed during the matching process was difficult. We obviously were concerned whether the condition may affect the child we were considering adopting. We were assured that our child did not have the condition and believed that our child would have been properly assessed prior to being matched and so we proceeded. The day came to attend panel to have the match approved, and for us to finally celebrate becoming a family. As we entered the building the social workers met us. We were taken into a side room where we were told that our child was now undergoing genetic testing. We were asked whether we wished to still go ahead in front of the panel to approve the match with one social worker advising it would be ok to go ahead, and our social worker exercising caution, and advising that we should wait for the results. We were numb, confused and totally bewildered and after about 20 minutes, took the decision that we would wait for the results of the genetic tests, to see whether the match was still appropriate. We were devastated.
It was an extremely confusing time for us. Obviously, we had already emotionally committed ourselves to this child and so the thought that this may not be our child, was very difficult. We were solely reliant on the accuracy of information we were being told and this information was mixed and confusing. We had been to see the local authority’s medical advisor before, and the notes from that meeting were written up inaccurately, specifically missing out all information discussed regarding genetics, developmental delay and the medical condition. We reported this to our social worker. At this point in the process I would say we were feeling very vulnerable. The genetic tests came back negative and so the match was able to proceed.