The Proceedings are over. Like me, you’ve survived. Either the Local Authority have agreed to rehabilitation home, or you endured a Final Hearing, fought your guts out and won your case. Either way, the child you’ve been fighting for comes home.
Unfortunately, this is the part that no one tells you about.
Around 2012/13 – when Baby B was taken – the chances of having a young child (or a newborn baby) that had been removed from a parent’s care, placed for non-consensual adoption seemed to be getting higher and higher. Newspapers were full of statistics that showed more children were being adopted, rather than left to “languish” in the system. Most people agreed; no one wants to see children left in foster care and so this was a good thing. Except, of course, if you were a birth parent. From a birth parent’s point of view, if you were in public law proceedings, it didn’t bode well.
However, in June 2013 an appeal case came before the Supreme Court regarding a child who had been removed on a “future risk of emotional harm”. This case, commonly known as re B raised questions about what is meant by future emotional harm, and whether a future risk provides a justification for non-consensual adoption. Unfortunately, the case itself was lost by the parents, but what came out of the case was this:
“Orders contemplating non-consensual adoption are a ‘very extreme thing, a last resort, only to be made where nothing else will do, where no other course is possible in the child’s interests, they are the most extreme option, a last resort – when all else fails, to be made only in exceptional circumstances and motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare, in short where nothing else will do”
[re B (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Threshold Criteria) [2013 UKSC 33] Paragraphs 74,76,77,82,104,130,135,145,198,215]
(Source: Child Protection Resource)
In July 2013, there came another case on appeal, commonly known as re B-S. This case gave a very clear message to Local Authorities and Guardians that there must be evidence of clear and reasoned analysis of all of the realistic placement options:
“Adoption is the ‘last resort’. The starting point must be consideration of the law around Article 8 of the European Convention and the fact that this imposes a positive obligation upon States to try to keep families together. The least interventionist approach is to be preferred. The child’s interests are paramount, but the court must never lost sight of the fact that these interests include being brought up by his/her natural family. There must be proper evidence from the LA and the Guardian that addresses all options which are realistically possible and must contain an analysis of the arguments for and against each option. The court then ‘must’ consider all available realistic options when coming to a decision. The court’s assessment of the parents’ capacity to care for the child should include consideration of what support was available to help them do so. The LA cannot press for a more drastic form of order because it is unable or unwilling to support a less interventionist form of order; it is their obligation to make the court order work.
[re B-S (Children)  EWCA Civ 1146 Paragraphs 22, 18, 23, 26, 34, 27, 44, 28, 29]
(Source: Child Protection Resource)
During my case, even as a lay-person, reading about Re BS on a family law blog I had discovered aptly named “suesspiciousminds”, I understood the significance of it. In fact, after submitting their Final Evidence, the Judge in our case told the LA to “go away and do it again”, as they had failed to explore all of the realistic placement options, nor had they performed a balancing exercise on the pros and cons of each. I remember sitting in that Hearing thinking that I was literally watching the law in action. Were the stakes not quite so high, I would have been fascinated! I can tell you for certain that Re BS was key in my mind when I wrote my final Statement to Court, and I’m sure that it had an impact on Baby B’s return home.
These two cases (and a few before and after!), have certainly changed the state of play somewhat. As a result, more parents are beginning to see their children returned home. More families are reunited, more families given the support they both need and deserve for their children to be raised safely. I think most people would agree; this is a good thing. No one wants to see children forcibly adopted if it can be safe for them to remain within their birth families.
But what happens when your child comes home? The child you fought for…the “subject” of six months of Court hearings, meetings, reviews…a case number…the child you have seen only in a Contact Centre, watched over by a Local Authority Contact Supervisor, for maybe 2 hours three times a week…your child is now asleep upstairs in the bed that remained empty whilst you fought, in the bedroom you couldn’t bear to go into. It’s over. How do you even begin to process that?
I can only tell you from my point of view, and the simplest answer is…you don’t. You just don’t, in the first instance.
Ordinarily, a child will come home either under a Supervision Order (see my Glossary), or at the very least with some sort of Social Work involvement. I don’t think I know of anyone who has “escaped” at least a period of monitoring – which I suppose is both fair enough and to be expected. So, you will most likely spend a good 3-6 months in a permanent state of utter terror that “they” will come and take your child again.
You become Mary Poppins – everything in your day and your life becomes about your child and you do it all with a big jazz-handed-Julie-Andrews-smile on your chops. You know what you’ve been through, and you then assume that your child has seen and felt that same trauma and horror, and so leaving them – even to go to the toilet – becomes an exercise in guilt in case they feel abandoned again. You babywear, you co-sleep, you never get a second to yourself. You become hyper-vigilant and panic over every bruise, scratch or fall your child has in case you have to go to the GP, or the hospital.. 18 months on for us and still every time Baby falls over (which, as a toddler, is a lot), I have a second of utter terror. When you go to baby clinic, or toddler groups, or the school yard you feel every eye on you and you think everyone knows. You panic when strangers admire your child in case they ask you a question about your child you don’t know the answer to. You second-guess yourself; your confidence as a parent is likely to be in the toilet after you’ve had a whole authority tell you you’re not good enough. You don’t feel able to make a decision about your child. The baby that they take is never the toddler that returns.
This is trauma. This is what no one talks about.
Because it should be rainbows and glitter and those jazz hands again shouldn’t it? Come on now – this is what you wanted, what you fought for! He/she’s home now…it’s over.
Except it isn’t. And it won’t be for quite some time.
- The biggest and best advice I can give you? Don’t ever work towards “getting over it”, and don’t listen to anyone who tells you either to, or that “one day” you will. You will never “get over” this. Instead, work through your feelings towards acceptance. That’s all. Accept that this happened to you, your child, your family. Don’t fight it, you can’t change what’s passed.
- The best way to work through anything is to talk. I would strongly advise counselling to anyone having gone through this. Go and talk to your GP and ask for a referral to your practice counsellor – it’s free (although there is often a waiting list). If you have the financial means, look up local counsellors. A great resource for this is the BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy). They have this page in which you can find a local, accredited counsellor. They’re there to help you and it is entirely understandable you will need support.
- On that note – support – although at first you may be scared, and it might take you a little while to feel confident enough, I would advise seeking as much support as you can around parenting. The remaining SureStart centres can be found here, many of them offer “stay and play” sessions (which will benefit both of you, enormously), and lots of activities for families to do together. They also have training courses, and many offer the free nursery places for 2 and 3 year olds (for more information on free nursery places, click here). Whether this is your first, or fourteenth child – we’re all learning all of the time.
- If your child is of school age when they come home to you, I would strongly advise fostering a good relationship with their school. Often, schools are a wonderful source of support for both parent and child – our schools have bent over backwards to help us over the years. It is likely the school will identify a “learning mentor” for your child – someone your child will get a bit of extra support from. This person will understand that you have been through trauma as a family and the more that you keep an open dialogue going with them, the better placed they are to be able to help you and your child. If your school doesn’t offer anything like that, I would advise you to be proactive and meet with the Head to ask for this provision. Shy bairns get nowt, as they say up North.
- Don’t push people away. Keep your family and your friends close to you. You might be sick of the sight of each other as they have no doubt supported you wholeheartedly through your proceedings – but keep the communication going. One of the only useful things my birth mother taught me was “no man is an island”, and this is true here. Don’t isolate yourself. No, the majority of people won’t understand (and to be honest unless you’ve been through this first hand you cannot hope to), but that doesn’t negate their advice, support, kindness and care. Some of my friends absolutely held me together in those early days of baby B’s return, often just with kindness, normally in the form of tea.
- Finally, give yourselves time. Time to adjust as a family, time to reconnect, time to bond again. There will be tears, there will be anger, there will be frustration…it isn’t all rainbows. But, just now and then, you will find one peeking out from behind a cloud. And on those days, hang on to it and know that, in time, everything will be ok.