They had started with such hope. I remember getting their card announcing the adoption of Gemma and Louise. They were siblings placed with them aged 4 and 2 respectively. Their parents were unable to care for them due to their drug habits. The sisters had seen things they shouldn’t and had a very unhappy start to life. The adoption offered them a new beginning.
Keith and Alison were delighted that the girls had come to live with them – and wanted everyone to know and share their joy. My wife and I had known Keith’s parents so it was touching to receive their card.
Fast forward 8 years and by this stage Gemma’s behaviour was increasingly challenging. Support was sought but the deterioration continued. Then one day Keith went as usual to collect the children from school and his new nightmare began. Gemma had made allegations of sexual abuse against Keith. The police and social services became involved. Louise had to move to her grandparent’s.
Keith totally denied the allegations. After a full investigation, social services and the police determined Louise could go home. There were no findings and no charges. But the family was irreparably damaged. Gemma never came back. Within two years the marriage had ended and Louise’s placement had broken down and she was accommodated by the local authority. Relationships were strained apparently beyond repair.
Fast forward another three years. Louise was a challenging teenager. She was in care. At 17 she got pregnant. She had re-established her relationship with Keith and got to know his new partner Anne. It was obvious she wasn’t up to caring for a child on her own. Care proceedings were started when Louise’s child was born. So her plan was to be assessed to care with the support of Keith and Anne. Keith had never given up on her.
But Keith and Louise hadn’t bargained on Gemma’s old unproven allegations resurfacing. Six years on, social services want a finding of fact to see if a court thinks there’s any truth in them before Keith and his partner can be assessed to help to care for the child.
Keith needs legal representation. The allegations are old – but serious. He’s likely to qualify for means tested legal aid. He’ll have to convince the Legal Aid Authority that he should have legal aid. If he’d been working it’s likely that he’d have to find the legal costs himself or try and represent himself in court. Without a lawyer, the chances of him helping to care for his grandson are considerably reduced.
That’s where the case rests at the moment.
Why tell this particular story? Firstly it simply illustrates that the research carried out by Prof Julie Selwyn in her groundbreaking report “Beyond the Adoption Order: Challenges, Interventions and Adoption Disruption” rings true in the experience of some of the adopters I meet. She reported that out of a group of adopters who had found their adoption under pressure a significant number of their children had made an allegation of abuse against an adult. The children claimed this had occurred whilst living in their adoptive home. The allegations were mainly against adoptive parents, but children had also accused wider family members (such as grandparents, uncles, and cousins) of abuse.
“Most accusations resulted in a brief investigation by social workers or police officers who quickly found that the allegations were, in all probability, spurious and had been made by the young people to draw attention to themselves or to punish or control their parents.
“Nevertheless, parents explained how the accusations had fractured relationships and caused great tension within the adoptive family.
“Parents described how they had struggled to convince social workers that their parenting capacity had been compromised by the difficulties they had been experiencing often for many years and not that their child’s difficulties had emerged, as a consequence of their poor parenting.
“Most parents were outraged by the accusations; some were devastated, as their integrity had been brought into question. Perhaps unsurprisingly, adopters described how a child protection investigation or the threat of proceedings against them had soured their relationship with children’s services. Parents explained how they had lost their trust in social workers.” (pp157-158)
Secondly it illustrates the need for adoptive parents and their children to get expert legal advice from solicitors who understand adoption when difficulties arise and social services become involved.
Thirdly as Julie Selwyn also discovered the breakdown figures for adoption are lower than expected because adopters don’t give up easily. Keith is still in there. Slowly his relationship with Gemma has improved. With Louise he’s now fighting for his grandson!
Nigel Priestley heads up our Kinship Department. He is the senior partner at Ridley & Hall Solicitors, is also a member of the Children’s Panel and regularly represents children, parents and grandparents in care proceedings. At the Adoption Legal Centre we have a specialist team who can help with all types of adoption matters including; adoption applications, support and breakdown. Click here to get in touch via our Contact form or call us on 0843 8866386.