The Elephant in the Room: Adoption Disruption

Very many thanks to today’s anonymous guest poster who is writing about one of those adoption sore points – disruption.

This time last year my DH and I were overjoyed and so excited. We had been linked with 2 full sibling boys, then aged nearly 6 years and 2½ years old. Our boys were in separate foster care placements, they always had been, In fact, they had only ever lived together for the short time of just over one week when the youngest was born. The eldest boy had been with his birth family for over 3 years until he was removed to kinship care with a paternal aunt. The youngest had been removed at 10 days old and ended up in kinship care with a maternal aunt.

Eventually both boys ended up in foster care and during the 2 plus years that both boys were in foster care they did have contact, all be it for just a few hours a week.

From reading their CRPs we were led to believe that the boys although separated in care, had a very good bond and attachment as brothers.

Indeed, when we met with both boys foster carers prior to matching panel it appeared that the oldest boy in particular wanted to be in a family with his younger brother. When we asked the boys social worker why there was no up to date sibling assessment for the boys we were told there was no need for one as they shared no trauma bonds. Although I would always like to think that we were very ‘savvy’ adopters we actually didn’t know enough at the time about what a sibling assessment actually was, and were guided by the social workers involved, both the boys and ours, I guess you could say we trusted them.

disruptionIn October last year after nearly 3 weeks of logistically difficult and exhausting introductions the boys moved into our home, and our life as the family we had always hoped for began. The first few weeks weren’t too bad, it was shortly after my DH returned to work that real issues started. Education had failed our eldest boy spectacularly and no full time schooling could be established for him where we stayed due to a lack of support staff at the school. This resulted in him attending school for just 2 hours every day. The boys social worker left prior to introductions, and as we were to later discover she barely knew either boy at all and so had never been in a position to inform us about how the boys functioned as siblings. Our social worker went off sick just prior to placement, as did the boys new social worker, who really didn’t know the boys from Adam!

Both our boys had been assessed as having developmental delay, the oldest with a query learning difficulties also. The eldest boy had been day time wetting in foster care on and off prior to placement and post placement this became pretty extreme, with him wetting up to 12 times in any one day. He also started regularly soiling himself and it wasn’t long before he progressed to urinating and soiling around the home. We actually found ways to cope with these issues, it just became everyday life and we adjusted as best we could. The real issue that had a seriously devastating effect on the boy’s placement was that of sibling abuse.

Daily our youngest son found himself the victim of emotional and physical abuse. It became very apparent early into placement that our youngest son represented a ‘trauma trigger’ to our eldest. Our eldest boy who had come from a very lavish foster home where he was placed with an infant, and for a long time was the only child placed, simply couldn’t cope with having to share Mum and Dad with his sibling. Over a period of 4 months we were witness to, and documented over 35 serious incidents involving sibling abuse. These included trying to drown his brother, strangulation, kicking and punching his brother until he vomited, and forcing soil into his brother eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Daily the younger boy was subjected to verbal abuse and very intense mental abuse, to the point that at just 3 years old he started pulling at his own hair and head banging.

I was in constant contact with social services be it by email, or telephone. We pleaded for a CAMHS referral, play therapy, or just some help. Our friends and family felt helpless, unable to do much to help our ever desperate situation but baby sit and try to give me as the primary care giver some much needed time away. For months our cries for help to social services fell on deaf ears. We were criticised for not being therapeutic enough, or giving enough 1:1 time with our eldest. We were called impatient and told things take time to settle, especially when older children are involved. All the while we struggled daily to keep our youngest son safe, and more importantly to meet the needs of both the boys.

Eventually after one horrific day when our youngest was besieged and badly injured by his brother, my DH and I decided we simply couldn’t go on any longer with our older boy in placement. He had sustained far more damage from his time with his birth family than anyone could ever have imagined. His needs were too great to be met in a placement shared by another child, and more importantly he really didn’t want to live with us and expressed a clear desire to return to his foster carers. There was simply far too much that happened from the day we told social services that he needed to be removed, to the day that he finally left to discuss. Much of what occurred with social services my DH and I could never forgive nor forget.

In February this year the eldest boy left our care to return to his previous foster home where he is now to be permanently fostered. Shortly after the boys placement with us we became aware of many things that if we had known pre-placement, we never would have proceeded with the match. The boys original social worker lied, reports by the youngest boys foster carers and health visitor with regard to not placing him with his older brother were ignored, and we discovered that on two occasions when social services could have placed the boys together in care they chose not to do so, the reasons why remain unclear.

So now some 3 months on we still have the youngest boy with us and we’re not permitted to apply to adopt him for some months yet. The good to come out of this horrendous experience for all is that our son is absolutely thriving, having overcome almost 14 months of developmental delay. Thankfully, the oldest boy is also now also doing much better. Far happier and better settled with his previous foster carers, whom he always regarded as his parents, he too in his own ways is thriving.

The boys still have regular contact and although this is proving difficult since my DH and I have to facilitate it, both are managing it for just now.

We still to this day have never once had a social worker apologise or even admit failing in all that occurred. We were made to feel like terrible parents and failures because we didn’t just ‘persevere’. We have been actively discouraged from ever discussing the disruption, and for just now we are beholding to social services until we can officially adopt our son, without their support no application would be successful.

Adoption disruption, the elephant in the room that few ever want to discuss be it adopter or professional. We can attest that it is by far the most heart retching and traumatic experience of both mine and DHs lives. Yet, how must it feel for our son’s older sibling? A cacophony of errors led to him being failed by social services before we ever knew him. What he has endured should never have happened. We write to share our disruption experience not to invoke sympathy for ourselves, not to scathingly attack a very underfunded and under resourced social work department, but to highlight the plight of the children who have to live through the additional trauma of a disrupted adoptive placement. It is truly heartbreaking for all concerned, but for this boy it simply didn’t have to happen.

14 thoughts on “The Elephant in the Room: Adoption Disruption

  1. Louise

    Thank you for sharing such a difficult story, I can not begin to imagine the pain you must have felt and wish the very best for the future with your son.

  2. dara

    I felt the need to reply not out of sympathy but in empathy. You’re experience was truly heartbreaking. Holding together siblings with competing, but equally important, needs can be impossible. Especially when the expertise and support to do this is so limited. We know this only to well. Whilst our son remains with us it has been at a huge cost to his sister, us and the family. Only time will tell whether the choices we made were wise. Unfortunately there is no clear answers…..

  3. michelle swann

    Thanks for writing this. Social Services in parts of the country are not fit for purpose and failing vulnerable kids whose needs go way beyond the care that many ordinary albeit resilient adopters could possibly provide. We start disruption tomorrow. I hope your family’s future is brighter and that you can all heal x

  4. SafeMum

    This is heartbreaking to read and one can only imagine what it must have been like to live through and with this. Sadly you are not on your own. I hope that your courage and honesty in sharing this can provide learning for many and strength to those who have something similar.

    Thank you and very best wishes x

  5. Karen

    My heart goes out to you, your story resonates so closely, lies from social services and siblings who should never have been placed together. After many years of struggle and of blaming, shaming and threats from social services and schools we have started the disruption process for our eldest. I wish I had been brave enough to follow through with disruption when within the first year we realised the enormity of our eldests issues and the significant detrimental impact on all of us. My hat is off to you for having so much courage. Xx

  6. Suddenly Mummy

    This is heartbreaking to read, the more so as the situation could have been prevented from ever arising in the first place. The comment about the boys’ social worker barely knowing them at all particularly resonated with me. Adopters spend a lot of time with their social workers in the preparation for approval and during matching – social workers get to know their adopters very well and sometimes a lovely relationship is formed. I wonder whether adopters assume (or are led to believe?) that children’s social workers have similar relationships with the children? I know that TV programmes on the subject sometimes give that impression.

    My own experience is very different and I believe it can vary from LA to LA depending on the operating systems in use. Here, in my LA, once a child comes into foster care and gets a court order, they also get a new social worker. This means that they no longer have any contact with the social worker who may have been supporting the family for months and years before. So immediately a wealth of personal knowledge is reduced just to words on paper. While in foster care, a child is visited by their social worker approximately every six weeks, maybe for 30-60 minutes. It’s simply not enough to build up a meaningful relationship. If a social worker leaves, then obviously it gets even worse. The last child I moved on to adoption had been visited by her social worker 7 times, and by the family finder twice prior to introductions. The current child I am caring for is on her third social worker in 6 months and hasn’t met the new one yet. We have had 3 home visits during that time.

    I’m not saying this to criticise social workers in my LA who are, after all, working within the limitations of their case loads and their protocols. I’m saying it because I genuinely believe that social workers alone are not in the best place to give a full assessment of a child – a multi-coloured, 3D assessment – to the prospective adopters. I am deeply saddened to read here of reports by the foster carer being ignored. We often know the children very well and build up a very complete picture of them during months in placement. A foster carer’s view shouldn’t override that of a social worker but it certainly should not be ignored in the interests of expediency.

  7. Adoptive mum

    Thank you so much for sharing. I read your post with enormous interest and anxiety and I hope things continue to go well for you and your son. No one prepared us to the kinds of behaviours and aggression our child went on to display as they grew up, and this is an ongoing daily struggle for us.

    I deeply hope that you can now experience some calmness and joy about being an adoptive parent and I echo the previous comments, saying how brave you are to endure all this and also to write about it, as it’s so painful and important. All the best of luck and thank you for writing.

  8. hopingtobeamommysoon

    Hi, I just want to thank you and everyone else for their comments, bravery and honesty.

    We have recently been approved for one or two children. My dh in particular is leaning towards two, years of fertility battles have led us to this point and frankly I dont want to go through assessment again!! We’ve waited long enough

    What advice would you give someone looking at a sibling group. So far my main stipulation is that they have been together in foster care – what else should I be asking?


  9. sarah roulson

    My heart bleeds for you. Thank you for being brave enough to write this. I can’t start to imagine what you’ve both been through, but I sympathise, from our own difficult situation, enormously. Our two daughters, now 4 and 9, only lived together for 4 months, from the youngest one being born to the day of removal. So, although they were mainly in care together for the next 2 years, there was no ‘normal’ previous sibling life together. Two years after placement, with every day being a huge battle, our oldest daughter is frequently verbally abusive to her younger sister (and myself), going into huge rages and screaming fits, which the younger one witnesses frequently, and trying to say to her younger sister that we are bad parents. The scratching and spitting and hitting and, now finally, wetting by the younger one, are increasing daily. Our situation is nothing compared to yours, but your post has underlined how fragile sibling bonds are in many adopted sibling groups and how social services mislead potential adopters , who, two years later, just have to manage the best they can, while constantly blaming themselves for ‘not being patient enough’ or for ‘over-reacting’ or for not having been ‘better prepared’. To wonder if your children would have been better placed apart is a terrible thing, but I have done it many times. I am sure you ‘made’ the right decision (which, of course, you did not freely make) and am glad that your boys are both doing better alone. Be proud of what you have done for both boys.

  10. Greta

    Many thanks to everyone who has posted comments following on from my post. The decision to ask for our oldest boy to be removed was by far the hardest thing we have ever faced in our lives.

    Every day I think of him in some way, frequently I worry about how his younger brother will come to see our decision and process it all, and often I get angry and frustrated by the cuts to social care budgets which often lead to pressures on local authorities to place children in order to meet targets, and as a cost saving measure.

    By far the most upsetting aspect of all that happened to our eldest boy, and to us as a family is the fact that it could have been avoided entirely. Better decision making, effective assessments and listening to experienced foster carers should all have happened.

    How will the eldest boy process all his losses and trauma? What will his future be and to what extent will all that happened to him whilst in care affect his ability to live a happy and fulfilled life? I suspect that like many children from the care system he will struggle considerably as an adult to make sense of all that happened to him as a child. Particularly since the local authority are still not providing him access to CAMHS, play therapy or counseling. Instead, his foster carers are expected to just pick up the pieces and move him forward as best they can.

    There was a whole cacophony of errors that led to the eventual situation we all found ourselves in. The largest proportion of the blame and errors does lie with SS, that said however, the foster carers, education and us as adopters also have to accept some responsibility for all that happened. We were not perfect ‘therapeutic’ parents, we tried our best, but at times accept we fell short on a few things. At least we can take responsibility and admit to this. The fact that SS seem to be oblivious to their role in all that happened is for us the most sickening aspect of all. Our individual SW did eventually get round to apologising for some failings on their part throughout the whole affair, however SS as an organisation refuse to accept any such responsibility. We had no ‘official’ disruption meeting as we expected to have, and the entire situation was dealt with and facilitated by just our SW and the boys SW. We never once saw the whites of a SW managers eyes, although they did a lot of talking through the 2 SWs!

    We can only hope that as an organisation SS would never allow this to happen again to any other adopters or more importantly any other children for whom they are supposed to have the best interests of at heart!

  11. Dave

    Purely and simply, the LA that I am in would not have placed the siblings without doing a thorough assessment, even engaging a child psychologist if deemed necessary. Siblings are also placed together prior to adoption and the opinion of the foster carers is both sought and considered. Shame on whoever managed this adoption.

  12. Louise

    Thank you for sharing. We do not have our children yet but two years into the adoption process we have had such a catalogue of issues with our LA concerning similar issues on lack of thought, lack of resource, lack of focus on the children in need of adoption, out of date profile reports, and a lack of sibling assessments. We are approved for a sibling group and this has been very insightful.

  13. Gem

    I’m horrified and saddened to read what you’ve all been through although somehow not surprised that something like this could happen. The damage this must have done to you all must be huge. You must feel so powerless especially now regarding the adoption of your youngest son. I’m left feeling that I want to complain and sue in your begs of because, underfunded or not, you have all been lied to by your adoption agency with devastating effects. I’m wondering if you have sought legal advice from a lawyer who is versed in adoption law? It might be wotpryh looking in to. I wish you all healing, although I’m sure that’s slow and hard.


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