The Challenge of Violent Adopted Children and Adoption Breakdown and Care Courts
Nigel Priestley writes about the challenges faced by adoptive parents, especially concerning violent adopted children.
The Today programme recently reported on a Leeds case of mine where the adopters who had previously been experienced foster carers found themselves so overwhelmed by the challenging behaviour of their adopted first child that they had to ask for the child to be taken back into care by the local authority.
Describing some of the behaviour by their daughter, the adoptive mother gave these examples:
In November her behaviour was getting really bad and the only sanctions we could use to some effect was not letting her go to air cadets unless certain conditions were met. On one particular occasion when she had been stopped from going as I was e-mailing air cadets to let them know C would not be there, she came at me from behind pushing me on my left shoulder so hard that the swivel chair I was sat on, on the laminate floor careered into the desk and gave me a whiplash. C thought this was amusing and laughed saying I deserved it.
She showed no remorse to them, and when asked why she had done it replied, “Cos I wouldn’t let her go to air cadets and cos she hates it here and wants to be dead.”
She would shout, swear punch and kick me in front of my other adopted daughter, T, and would swear at T telling her it was all her fault and when T would naturally cry she would then call her a cry-baby.
For four days in March I had three care case hearings involving adoption breakdown in Leeds, Brighton and Northampton. In each case a significant feature was violence inflicted on an adoptive parent by a child.
All the cases highlighted failings by local authorities. They didn’t tell the adopters enough about the child before placement, failed to adequately support the parents and the child or they tried to blame them for the adoption breakdown.
In 2014, Professor Julie Selwyn from University of Bristol published a landmark Report – Beyond the Adoption Order: Adoption Disruption and Families in Crisis.
In the executive summary it states “we had not expected child aggression and violence to feature so strongly in parental accounts of challenging behaviour.” It went on, “Child aggression and violence in the adoptive home raises important issues for post adoption services and for children’s services generally.”
“There is no single definition of child to parent violence, as it describes a wide variety of physical and psychological behaviours designed to control, coerce and dominate the parent and family members”. It goes on “while children were young, the violence and aggression could be contained but once young children became bigger and stronger, the behaviour became much more challenging.”
In the Brighton case an adoptive father found himself facing police charges. In addition his children were removed in part following an inappropriate restraint to stop his son’s assault on him.
The judge gave a short judgement at the end of the care proceedings. She described it as “one of the saddest cases I’ve read” and referred to “the sacrifices people make to take on such difficult children. It was a case of “very genuine complexity’.” She went on “I can’t commend the father highly enough for his extraordinarily brave decision.”
His barrister described the father as “one of the most extraordinary care clients I had ever had – top 0.2% IQ; the only parent I’ve ever heard of who says he just wants the best for his children – even if that means no contact to him and no return to him.”
The local authority had no insight into the emotional realities of the case. There was no understanding of the damage the children had suffered before placement, the depression that the father had suffered, and the very challenging behaviour of the children.
In the third case in Northampton, the local authority wanted a 3 day ‘Finding of Fact’ hearing to lay the blame for the breakdown of an adoptive placement on the parents. This was another care case where violence was a key feature of the children’s behaviour. Thankfully, under pressure from the judge, the county council backed off. But their intentions were clear.
Is this a big issue? The British Association for Adoption and Fostering clearly think so. In March 2015, BAAF planned a conference “Disruption in Family Placement, Children as Victims and Children as Perpetrators of Violence. What explains and what helps.” Unfortunately the conference was cancelled.
Some adoptive parents are facing significant behavioural challenges. Prof. Selwyn’s report states “The mechanisms by which these factors “cause aggression” remain unclear.” Local authorities too often want to play the blame game – when most adoptive parents are simply crying out for skilled help. And if the local authority starts care proceedings they need specialist legal advice.