|Gay adoptive family|
these extra challenges
Parents who adopt are being failed by a woeful lack of support and understanding of the needs of the country's most vulnerable children.
“While a shortage of adopters means that more than 85,000 children are in care across the UK, many families who do adopt complain of being unprepared for the difficulties and of facing threadbare or non-existent support services” said Jonathan Pearce, chief executive of the charity Adoption UK.
"Once children are adopted from the care system they become forgotten children. There's this 'happily ever after' myth, but the reality is far from that," he said, adding that many parents feel judged when they go back to social services asking for help.
Fiona, 42, from Perthshire
For parents trying to do what's best for their children, not knowing the full extent of their early experiences can be a huge hindrance. For Fiona, 42, from Perthshire, it was not until her daughter reached puberty and started to neglect her personal hygiene that she decided to go back to the adoption agency to check if there was any information that hadn't been shared with them at the time.
"When we had our daughter placed with us aged six, we were told she had been neglected by her birth mother who had learning difficulties and didn't really understand her needs. When at 13 her behavior became quite strange, I went back and demanded to read the files. That's when I found out she had been abused physically and, it was suspected, sexually," she said. "I was still offered absolutely zero help or support afterwards, although I was so disgusted with the social work team concerned that I don't think I'd have accepted any from them anyway. But at least then I finally understood what we were dealing with."
Hannah, 44, from Leicestershire, adopted Tom, now 14, 10 years ago.
"Then far less was understood about brain development and behaviour. But today I still hear adoptive parents asking the same questions I was asking, so I wonder what has changed.
"The thing I was never told is that you cannot parent these children like an ordinary child – you can't have a naughty stair or time out or controlled crying because you reinforce their understanding of abandonment. My son was weeing all over the place and his bedroom stank to high heaven, but only later was it explained that he was recreating the smells of his cot when he was a baby.
"The social workers kept telling me it was fine; he was attached because he was happy to give cuddles, it was normal. But they didn't understand, my son would give any stranger who came to the door cuddles – he just wanted adult attention.
"I was made aware that children like my son would need extra care. I totally believed that, give it three years and he would be as if he was born to me. What actually happened was that he was extremely distressed by his early experiences. With hindsight he was showing classic developmental trauma. He would push me away at the same time as wanting a hug, he would destroy things, threaten me, have tantrums that seemed to come out of nowhere, he would threaten to hurt himself and talked about killing himself – which came as such a shock as I did not realise four-year-olds could think like that.
"He would punch himself in the face, bang his head against the wall, his speech was delayed and he found it very difficult to be away from me at school. He was permanently excluded at the age of nine, unable to read or write.
"I asked for help from day one. I was told in a letter: 'There is nothing wrong with this child and you need to get on with being a family'. I discovered about Family Futures, a therapist unit in London, but was refused funding. When I finally got a charity to pay for an assessment four years later they said it was probably too late.
"As Tom got older he started to run away. I had police helicopters out searching for him when he went missing for 11 hours aged eight. One day on a walk with the dogs he came at me with a huge stick and then started throwing boulders at me. I was scared he was going to kill me. At the end of that tantrum he ran away from me and fell down sobbing that he wanted to die. It got worse and worse.
"I never stopped fighting for him and eventually got him into a residential unit at great cost to the local social services. They all agreed they did not have the right services available locally, but it took years to get to that stage. I had to prove I had tried everything.
"Support until then was non-existent, ineffectual or patronising. I was asked by emergency social services one evening as he was threatening me with a knife: "Have you tried after-school clubs?"
"In between this he was a lovely, kind boy. But being left to struggle was horrendous, its taken on a toll on my health and my income. My son is now 14 and doing well, but with hindsight had I known what I know now, things could have been a lot different for him, a lot earlier."
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