Crises seem to happen when I go to a wedding! One of the solicitors in my team was getting married. Sue and I were on our way to the venue but the call of a coffee at a specialist food shop was too great! When my mobile rang, I recognised the number.
I had been advising Karen and Michael for well over 15 months. They first contacted me after a difficult Christmas in 2015. Their daughter Adele was beyond their control. She repeatedly ran away and she was violent. The violence was aimed at Karen particularly but if this didn’t succeed their daughter Chloe was at risk.
They considered the advice that I gave them about the prospect of Adele being accommodated by their local authority but they determined to press on.
12 months on and little had changed for the better. Their home circumstances were spiralling downhill and out of control. Karen’s older daughter could not help because of the threat posed by Adele to her children. Karen was at risk of a total mental collapse. She was frightened of driving with Adele in the car because on one occasion she had pulled the headrest out of the driver’s seat and had repeatedly hit Karen with it as she drove. She tried to smash the car windows whilst the car was in motion.
Karen loved Adele but she was frightened of her. Adele had previously been privately assessed by specialists in their area. After she had been admitted to hospital for 3 months treatment, then discharged, both Adele and her parents had followed the programmes set for them. School was a disaster – paying for her to go to a residential school had not solved the problem. The school couldn’t cope.
Michael worked away so Karen was the main carer. She couldn’t go on. Both the threats of violence and the actual violence were simply too much for her to cope with.
In 2016, they sought my advice again. We wrote to the local authority and said that Adele would have to be accommodated under S20 Children Act. The local authority would not contemplate it.
Together we discussed whether they had the strength to take Adele to the local Social Services office by arrangement and leave Adele with social services. But then an unexpected situation arose. Adele needed hospital treatment. Karen took her to the hospital.
Following a discussion, we agreed that I would notify social services and the hospital that Karen would not collect Adele from hospital after she was discharged. The local social services were not impressed.
I had warned my clients that hell hath no fury like a local authority spurned. The Social Worker had told Karen that she would be reported to the police for child abandonment. And the Social Worker was true to her word.
I had counselled Michael and Karen that they would need to be emotionally strong. But like many adopters faced with a similar situation they were way beyond their comfort zone. When they had started their adoption journey with Adele, never in a million years would they have envisaged themselves in a situation such as this. Michael has a responsible job – but he has no training for the situation he found himself in.
This is when they phoned me at the coffee shop! Karen’s daughter had phoned them to say that there was a police car parked outside her home. My clients had been staying with her. The police wished to speak to them about why they had abandoned their child at the hospital. After much negotiation with social services and the police, Adele was accommodated by the local authority.
Care Proceedings were started. Three days before the first hearing, Adele was moved to a specialist residential placement – just 2 young people and 2 staff. My clients wept when they learned at court that she was to have a 12 week specialist assessment from therapists who appear to understand damaged and violent children like Adele.
In Prof Julie Selwyn’s research paper, Beyond the Adoption Order, she quotes the following description of child to parent violence:
“Behaviour considered to be violent if others in the family feel threatened, intimidated or controlled by it and if they believe that they must adjust their own behaviour to accommodate threats or anticipation of violence” (Paterson et al., 2002).
This sums up Adele’s behaviour. But Adele is not alone. There are many adopted children who fit Paterson’s description – and there are many Karen and Michael’s struggling and feeling they are failures.
Adopters who continue caring in the face of child to parent violence face suffering both emotional and physical harm. When they reach breaking point, it is critical that they seek specialist legal advice.