An adoptive parent has taken the brave decision to talk about the recent disruption of her son’s adoption.

Cathie* believes other adoptive families are going through similar experiences to hers - but are reluctant to speak out because of a perceived stigma attached to adoption disruption. 

A disruption is the premature ending of a placement of a child/ren that has been placed for adoption. A placement can disrupt by being requested by the adoptive parents, by the placing authority or the child/ren.

Cathie told Adoption UK that the disruption of her 15 year-old son Edward* was completely avoidable but came about as a result of a “catalogue of failures” from her local authority, NHS mental health and inconsistent post adoption support.

'Stuck in a cell'

Cathie and her husband adopted three brothers, who were all aged under-five when they joined their family 12 years ago.

Their eldest son, Edward, struggled with relationships, was highly anxious, hyperactive and was diagnosed with ADHD. He struggled at both nursery and primary school, where he failed to fit into any friendship groups and was also bullied for years, unbeknown to his parents.

After he refused to attend his secondary school for two weeks Edward’s special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) recommended he attend a support unit.

Cathie said: “Unfortunately Edward met all the wrong people there. He wanted to be like them. He became verbally unpleasant, started talking differently and was absconding from the unit.”

Having been turned down for an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) on three previous occasions, Edward was eventually granted a plan, which entitled him to therapeutic residential schooling. But Cathie believes this came too late as Edward’s behaviour had already deteriorated significantly. Police had been called to the family home on a number of occasions because of Edward’s violent outbursts, culminating in his arrest.

Cathie recalled: “My husband was at work when Edward began smashing up the house, then he tipped up a table. I was frightened for my other two sons so I told Edward I was going to call the police. This was a trigger for Edward, as the police had warned us that next time they were called out Edward would be arrested. Edward, who knew this, jumped on me, put his hands around my neck, then bit me and got the phone out of my hand. My youngest son came to my aid but was punched and kicked by Edward before he managed to escape and made an emergency call from another room.

please Mummy you can’t let him come back!

“It was horrendous as Edward was led away by the officers. I’m sure he was petrified and my other two sons were very shaken up. He was then stuck in a cell and I wasn’t allowed to visit him as I was the victim. He was there all day.

“I was constantly calling the police station, trying to get news and I couldn’t get hold of anyone at social services. He was interviewed with a ‘responsible adult’ who he’d never seen before – and to this day I still don’t know who this was. He then saw a GP, with no experience of trauma or attachment, who said he was fine and that he should come home.”

Cathie had to take the heartbreaking decision to inform the police and social services that Edward would not be able to return to their family home as she was unable to guarantee the safety of his younger brothers.

“His brothers were crying and pleading, saying ‘please Mummy you can’t let him come back!’ They were very frightened.

“Edward was arrested at 11am and at 9pm the duty social worker said he was ready to come home. He warned my husband and me 'if you don’t come, the police will drop him on your doorstep’ and he accused us of traumatising him all over again.”

It was agreed that Edward would be placed in a children’s home, under a Section 20 order.

Cathie said: “It was never our wish that he’d go into care and not come back. Our expectation was that the local authority would work with us to bring him home as soon as possible.”

What’s so sad is he could have been coming home if we’d had the right support from the start

But the local authority was of the opinion that Edward should be in full-time care - a view disputed by Cathie and her husband, resulting in a contested care order.

“The local authority ignored all of the evidence that we provided which disputed their view of the situation. There was no evidence that we had mistreated our son, or caused his difficulties and we were open and honest with them about our son and his needs. We disagreed with almost everything said about us as parents and felt we were treated very unfairly. Regardless of this, a full care order was made in July 2016. To have our parenting called into question, despite us being approved to adopt, after going through such a rigorous process, is so upsetting,” Cathie said.

Edward is now at a therapeutic children’s home in Sussex and has had virtually no contact with his parents since.

“I’d not seen Edward for a year, up until recently, as he had always refused to see us when we visit,” Cathie said.

“This means there’s a lot of reconciliation work to do before we can get into a regular routine of whole-family contact. The impact this has had on us has been profound. What’s so sad is he could have been coming home if we’d had the right support from the start.

'Miss him terribly'

“I miss him terribly as do his dad and his brothers. I don’t know what the future holds for him. He’s nearly 16 but he’s such a little boy inside. He should be preparing for his GCSEs but he’s not been to school for a year.”

Beyond the Adoption Order: challenges, interventions and adoption disruption, was the first national study of adoption breakdowns. It found that over a 12-year period the national disruption rate was 3.2 per cent, indicating that 3 in 100 adoptions would disrupt over a 12-year period. But a shorter survey, also carried out by the team, put the figure at around nine per cent. The study also found that a quarter of adoptive families are in a state of near crisis when their children are in their teens. You can download the full report by clicking here.

 Adoption UK’s purpose is to give voice to adoptive families and to ensure that the right support is there for them. Anyone experiencing difficulties is urged to become a member of Adoption UK and contact our helpline on 0844 848 7900 or by emailing [email protected]

* Names have been changed

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