The adopters I meet are committed people. They wrestle with whether they want to adopt. Having made up their minds that this is the next step forward in their life, they start a journey. It’s often a long journey
They have to be assessed, and then approved. Given the go ahead, they then start the wait to be matched to a child or sibling group. All the time the clock is ticking. Some find that other couples have had children identified for them. The wait can seem to go on forever.
Then when they hear that there may be a match, most feel relieved; Many feel ecstatic.
These were the emotions of Gary and Carol when they were told about Sean. They wanted some questions answering. His sister has global developmental delay. The answer came back that this was due to neglect. She’d been in the birth family too long.
They needed to know about Sean’s family history and genetics. They had been told he had slight developmental delay. When they agreed to proceed and headed to the adoption panel, they learned at the last moment there were going to be more genetic tests. The panel was delayed. Assured that the condition he had been tested for had not been found, they pressed on.
He was signed off by the children’s hospital with the message that he was “a little behind in his speech.” Concerned about his initial response to them, Gary and Carol were told that this was a normal attachment response. So they kept going towards adoption.
Sean was placed with them in 2011. Since then he has been diagnosed as having severe global developmental delay, attachment disorder, learning difficulties, and severe mental health issues.
Three years later, in November 2014, the adoption order was finally made.
Why has it taken so long? Many less committed couples would have thrown in the towel years ago.
Gary and Carol’s is a story that some adopters will sadly recognise and relate to. Like them, despite all the reasons to change their mind they pressed ahead because they loved their child.
Carol was meant to be going back to part time working but in 6 months Sean had 28 separate medical appointments. Caring for him is a full time job.
The months passed. Pressure was applied on Gary and Carol to file the application for adoption. Social workers were changed. There was talk of a support plan but no assessment was carried out that complied with the Adoption and Children Act.
In 2013, they finally gave in and applied for Sean’s adoption. But the pressure was building and Carol became seriously ill. They wisely sought advice from Adoption UK. Then they realised they needed legal representation. An inadequate support plan was prepared. It did not begin to address Sean’s complex needs. The adoption application was adjourned. Another support plan appeared.
Gary and Carol tried to negotiate changes to the plan. Social services and the independent reviewing officer said that this was the final version. There would be no additional support.
The local authority eventually accepted they could not do the assessment. They paid for an independent expert team to do it.
The report came up with proposals. A key message was that if this placement failed, Sean’s prospects were extremely bleak. At last Gary and Carol had a negotiable plan. Eventually an agreed plan was finally put before the court 16 months after the adoption application had been filed and over 3 years after Sean had been placed with his new family.
The local authority’s approach has been that this is a battle they intended to win. Gary and Carol had to seek legal representation because there was no change in the council’s attitude.
There is no legal aid for contests over support plans. The costs in this case are in five figures. These were spent to enable Sean to be cared for in a loving adoptive family. The independent report warned if this placement broke down the local authority would have to find a specialist foster placement or residential home for Sean. Gary and Carol’s costs would be dwarfed by the cost to the local authority in funding a specialist placement.
We have asked the court to order that the council should pick up the tab for Gary and Carol’s costs. The court has to decide that the local authority acted unreasonably and reprehensibly.
We are currently waiting for the judge’s decision.
Gary and Carol hadn’t expected a child like Sean when they decided to adopt. They had never thought that it would take 3 years to get the adoption order. If they had been told that a local authority would act in this way, they wouldn’t have believed it.
But they are committed to Sean. And the adoption order meant that, in 2014, they had a happy Christmas.
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