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The Challenges of Adoption When Love Alone Isn’t Enough

by Adoption Legal Centre in Nigel Priestley posted July 17, 2023.

Adopters make all sorts of sacrifices to give the best lives to their children even when the costs are great.

Ellie Simmonds has been in the news recently – but not for her success in the swimming pool. She was the subject of a moving ITV documentary about being adopted and what it has meant for her.

In an article in The Guardian she told her story. She was just 13 when she competed in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. She won 2 gold medals. Where did it all begin?

She was adopted by a family with a swimming pool at the bottom of their garden. She was soon swimming at her local club.

She then needed to step up and her mother was so committed that that she moved with Ellie to Swansea when she was 11 so that she could train with Team GB. The cost of such a move for them both was worth it. “I wouldn’t be the swimmer or the person I am today”

Commenting on her parents she described them as “filling her with love and family support. My parents brought us up in a positive manner, very accepting of who we are and the positives of it”

I thought of these comments when I read the Final Analysis in a case in which we have been representing a single adopter, Jen.

Once Jen had decided to adopt she was always going to be a fierce advocate for the child who was placed with her.

Her son Charlie had been removed from his birth mother at 3 months old and placed with Jen when he was 13.

Charlie has Down’s Syndrome and ADHD with significant language difficulties. He has lots of immensely challenging issues which really came to a head in 2022. He had a detailed support plan which Jen had negotiated. This included his love of swimming. Jen made sure she had the support of a carer to ensure that he could go.

Sometimes, as many adopters discover, love is not enough. Practical support is needed and consistent understanding of the pressures that Jen was under. Instead concerns were expressed about Jen failing to work with the local authority.

Jen was faced with multiple social workers, changes in Charlie’s care plans, limited support and a split within the network of professionals she was dealing with as to the best way forward for Charlie.

The limited support drew the anger of a legal support charity working with Jen. Jen lives in an area where the ability to recruit carers with the skill to support Charlie was immensely difficult. They took up the cudgels for Jen, pressing the local authority to recognise that “an hourly rate close to the minimum wage is not sufficient to attract and retain carers with the skills and aptitude to work with a child with such complex needs.”

But the local authority wouldn’t increase the hours of support or the hourly rate. The costs to them would soar if the placement broke down but the requests fell on deaf ears.

Despite the demands placed on her by Charlie’s complex needs Jen remained a keen advocate for her son. She wanted her voice to be heard in the plans made for Charlie.

Even when his behaviour at home became increasingly more extreme, she still wanted to retain Charlie in her care with support, despite everything that happened.  Predictably life at home began to unravel at a rate that was not safe for either Jen or Charlie.

Care proceedings began. Jen knew that Charlie was beyond her control but she expressed her worries and anxiety around the local authority sharing parental responsibility with her.  Her experiences with their approach gave Jen little confidence in the local authority’s ability to make decisions in Charlie’s best interests.

Almost until the end of the case Jen fought the need for a Care Order. Her desire for Charlie to remain under section 20 was unsurprising given that she wanted to be actively involved in the decision making about her son.

The Children’s Guardian was very clear – “Charlie is a lovely boy.” How has this been achieved? Through Jen’s commitment. She is “a devoted and loving parent to Charlie. She should be commended in her commitment to parenting a child with complex needs, the challenges that she has faced over the years and also navigating her relationships with professionals which have not always been positive. Her love and devotion to Charlie continues despite the changes in circumstances.”

Charlie was never going to be a champion swimmer. But for 13 years he had the opportunity in the home of a mother who gave her all to bring him a quality of life he would never otherwise have had.



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