Adopter stories: Adoption disruption

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Satellite image of a storm
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I started this magazine to share experiences of adoption and raise awareness of the realities of the process, and parenting children who have experienced early life trauma.

The vast majority of readers find the magazine as a result of a Google search when they’re looking for articles about a particular topic. Over 50% of searches in the last six months have been about adoption disruption.

It’s a topic that doesn’t often feature in adoption training but is one that happens more often than we think. Disruption can happen for a range of reasons, but usually because of inaccurate or incomplete information in reports, lack of support, and assessments that don’t identify all of the issues.

This interview is with an adopter who shares their experience of disruption and the lack of support in the early stages of matching and throughout transitions and beyond. It breaks my heart to read about the lack of support they received and how different things could have been for them all if they had received it.

Adoption disruption. Storm clouds over a country lane
Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

How many children were you matched with and what were their ages when they came home?

We were matched with a little boy, and he was two-and-a-half years old when he moved in.

Did you feel you had full disclosure about the issues faced by your children before you went to matching Panel?

Before I answer this question, it is important for me to say that the social worker who had been with us since stage 1 left when we were shown the child’s profile. We entered a very important fact-finding portion of the process with a new social worker who didn’t know us at all.

We were left to fill in the matching grid with no support.

Out of six potential families, we were selected to be in the final two at which stage a meeting at home would take place. Six weeks later after many attempts to reach out for any news, our new social worker said she had forgotten to tell us that the child’s social worker, the Family finding social worker, and herself intended to visit us at home in two days!

That was very nerve-wracking for us as we hadn’t even met our new social worker by then and to have three of them at home with very little notice left us feeling very unprepared.

We made last-minute arrangements and took time off work to make the meeting happen. Somehow, after a long two-hour meeting and a few days of waiting, we were told we had been selected as the family who would be considered.

The fact-finding process then began. We felt alone and unsupported during that time as the new social worker was hardly around and didn’t know us. It was hard to discuss anything with her.

The first CPR we were given was very out of date and it took a while for us to receive an updated version, which in itself didn’t give much more information. The birth mother had not had any contact with social services for almost a year so getting any information from her was impossible. The paternity was undetermined, but there were things we knew may always remain unknown.

The medical report was also very out of date and the child’s social worker had not booked his six-monthly medical assessment thinking it was only due once a year. There was a huge delay in getting an up-to-date medical report and an even greater one for us to meet with the medical assessor.

We received other reports from the solicitors, advocates, and foster carer. These did shed some light on what his time with his birth mum may have been like (he was there from birth until eight months old).

Despite all this, and with hindsight perhaps wrongly, we went ahead and a matching panel date was booked. Our new social worker then went off on long-term sick leave. We remained on our own until our original social worker kindly agreed to help us through matching panel and subsequently through introductions and transition. This was a great relief.

Then quite unfortunately, just as we were about to begin the gruelling transitions, our social worker left again so we went through the entire transition process with no social worker.

Was there a lot of information in the reports you read, or did you have to ask a lot of additional questions once you read them?

We weren’t able to discuss a lot with our social worker due to the above.

Adoption disruption. Candles lighting up a dark space
Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash

At what stage did you start to have concerns?

For some background, the little boy had been with his foster carer for 20 months by the time we began the transitions.

Concerns here already, why had he been in foster care this long? He had missed the deadline for the length of time he should have been in foster care by that point.

We started to have some concerns primarily around his extremely close relationship with his foster carer. She and her husband would kiss him on the lips a lot. He was very needy of her.

We were told by his social worker to not worry about this attachment and that it actually put him in good stead to attach with us.

The permission-giving/handing over of the baton from his foster carer to us never really took place. She would often have a go at us for silly things like letting him play with a bubble machine or picking him up during transitions.

On the day of final moving in, she and her husband stayed on their drive, in full view of this little boy, and were absolutely beside themselves, crying and being comforted by us!

None of this sends the right message to this little boy.

These were big concerns but as we had no one to speak to, we soldiered on. Partly out of excitement, we were finally becoming a family.

The first two weeks at home went well. But when the penny dropped for this little boy that he wasn’t going back, things went downhill very quickly.

He would cry and scream a lot, refused any kind of physical comfort, didn’t want to play, and at times didn’t want us to even be in the same room as him. By that point, we were allocated a social worker who would catch up with us by phone until another one would be allocated.

He was finding attaching to us extremely difficult.

We continued to have regular contact with the foster carer and this just made things worse. She would just slip right back into being the primary carer. She even asked us if she could take him for a walk on her own and would follow us to our car and try to put him in our car herself. These contact visits just made it worse and meant we were not able to connect as a family.

We raised this with his social worker and our locum one but were told again and again that this was for the best and communicated to the child that these people were still here and that he hadn’t been abandoned. This little boy would continue to cry, he began to stammer, becoming more withdrawn and would call out for the foster carer. He would ask to go to her house all the time.

We trusted they knew best and trusted the process, thinking it would get better with time.

Were the concerns consistent with the information you had about your children?

No, everything pointed to him being in a good place and therefore in good stead for making a connection with another family.

Did you act on the concerns straight away? If not, when did you seek professional help? 

We did, although with no allocated social worker this was very difficult and often my calls or emails to managers and duty social workers would go unanswered.

What happened once you asked for help? 

We were told to keep going and to give it time. Eventually, we were allocated a psychotherapist/theraplay therapist who would support us.

We had Zoom calls with this person once a week for three months, the plan being that she would help to stabilise things at home before we began theraplay session.

We also started to have more regular social worker visits at home. This didn’t help as it’s really hard to just get on with life when you have social workers there all the time.

Adoption disruption. Heart shape made from paving bricks
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Did the help you received improve things?

Over time, we felt the therapy sessions were helping. They gave us a boost of confidence. We were told all the time: it’s not your fault, you are doing great, keep going.

Did you realise the placement wasn’t right or was it something that the professionals raised once they were involved?

6 weeks before the disruption, things took a turn for the worse. The little boy would cry and scream continuously. Bathing, changing nappy, potty, mealtimes, just the basic care tasks became impossible he would scream and scream. Utterly distressed!

We tried everything to keep things calm at home, we used all the tools we were given by the therapist, tried to distract him, change of scenery, etc… everything.

Social services were hoping he would snap out of it at some point. But he didn’t, and every day it just got a little bit worse.

What kinds of things happened to decide the best way forward for everyone?

It was very obvious to us that this little boy was very unhappy. His behaviour communicated this to us loud and clear.

As a last resort, for the last two weeks before the disruption social workers were in our home for half the day every day, hoping to support us but also to observe and hope that this cycle would somehow break.

Did you get any legal advice? If you did, who funded it?

No

Who made the decision that disruption was the only way forward?

A planning meeting was held with both social work teams (ours and his). We all decided that it was not in his best interest to stay with us.

What help and support did you all get after that decision was made?

We received a couple of emails and a phone call from our social worker. I already have therapy sessions in place from when things were hard, but sessions have not been approved for my husband.

Did you have any input in how your child was told they were going to move or did the professionals decide that? How were you told? 

No, he wasn’t really told. We told him that he was going to go visit his foster carer. He went back to where he was before, so he was very happy about this.

How did the move happen? 

I packed all his things whilst my husband took him out for a couple of hours. The husband of his foster carer came to pick him up and we requested that he at least stay in a little lay-by just outside our home as this would be very painful for us. He didn’t and came up to the house.

The little boy was overjoyed and ran into the arms of the foster carer’s husband.

What help and support have you all had since the move?  Was it easy to access?

Very little. We have been sent a form to fill in which we are to return before a meeting they intend to have in January at some point.

What advice would you give to adopters who are facing disruption or who are having concerns about the placement?

Listen to your gut, if you have even the smallest of niggles raise this (if you can). No questions are stupid. Don’t just soldier on and ask for help.

Adoption disruption
Photo by Nikolas Noonan on Unsplash

If you’d like to find out more about this subject, head over to the adoption disruption section.

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