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We provide advice to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and kinship carers who are involved with children’s services in England or need their help. We can help you understand processes and options when social workers or courts are making decisions about your child’s welfare.

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Kinship families have to be given the importance they deserve

by Sharon McPherson

During Kinship Care Week, I reflected on my kinship journey which has been positive in respect of caring for my grandson but so negative in relation to the treatment he received from my local authority which I believe was unique.

I appreciate that everyone has different experiences, but I would like you to read my story and take a minute to consider what you think.

This is a segment of my family’s story, and whilst I feel it needs to be told, I want to respect their privacy as much as possible.

My eldest grandson is now 18-year-old and lives with me. 19 years ago, I was a hardworking single mother of two sons and a daughter. I was shocked when both my eldest son and daughter, both in their teens said that they were both going to be parents, but I was willing to support them without hesitation.

Whilst pregnant, my daughter experienced perinatal mental health issues and struggled to connect to motherhood. I approached Children’s Services for help with what we now know to have been undiagnosed Bipolar. I obviously had concerns but was so happy when both my grandsons were born two weeks apart.

My son’s partner was care experienced and was placed in a mother and baby’s foster placement for a parenting assessment. Sadly, she struggled and reverted back to going missing, leaving my grandson with either me or her foster carer for days on end. My son recognised he was not ready to be a single father and began to withdraw. I offered to be assessed to care for my grandson when care proceedings were issued.

I believed the assessment would be a formality as there were no safeguarding concerns regarding my children, and I was a hardworking, active member of the community.

I was shocked when the local authority said that they would not support my application as they believed it was in the best interest of both my grandsons for my son’s child to be placed for adoption, as placing him with me would jeopardise my ability to focus on supporting my daughter in caring for her son.

I refused to accept this and approached solicitors who applied for me to represented in court to challenge the adoption. However, I only went to one hearing as my barrister advised me that the local authorities’ proposed care plan would be considered best by the court. She advised me that that they would allow me to meet the adopter before he moved in, let me have twice weekly contact before the final order and then letter box contact twice yearly after that. I thought I didn’t stand a chance and so it was on her advice I agreed not to challenge the adoption.

At 18 months, he was adopted. Gone!

So, how did I get him back?

I did get my letterbox contact after my grandson was adopted and received responses from the local authority stating how he was thriving which gave me some peace. But nearly five years later, I bumped into my grandson’s previous foster carer who said it was such a shame he was back in care.

My world flipped. She said at the age of four his adoptive placement broke down and he had been languishing in foster care for nearly two years despite the local authority’s letters to the contrary.

She was almost as upset as I was because she had also put herself forward to adopt him, but that conversation reignited my hope. I wasn’t going to rest until I found out what had happened and contacted the local authority constantly. I wanted my grandson and would not take no for an answer this time.

I discovered he was in foster care in Luton and through my persistence they agreed to re-assess me. However, they said that I needed to move there to spend time reuniting with him before he could come home with me, due to the complexity of his care journey and the adverse trauma impact.

A year later, when we returned to London, I was devasted to see how much my daughter’s mental health had drastically deteriorated again. I battled on, having to care for all my family. Whilst my grandson was used to me, he was guarded with our family as he didn’t know them, but we persevered.

Despite all our efforts things continued to be difficult for my grandson, he needed therapeutic support. In 2021 I approached my local authority for counselling for him via the Adoption Support Fund. The social worker was extremely helpful and as part of the ASF assessment reviewed his files, expressing disbelief that he’d been adopted as his file clearly stated that I’d received a positive assessment to care for him.

Later I discovered the professional opinion that changed our lives, was that he’d been considered an “easily adoptable child” which incensed me.

I’ve been advised we should issue a Human Rights court application against the local authority for what they did, but my grandson doesn’t have any faith in professionals.

You see, he knows that because of children’s services’ decisions he was placed on a pre-birth plan before he was even born, removed after birth, placed in foster care, adopted, and returned to foster care without his family being told. Then finally given to me under a special guardianship order, to return home to family he didn’t know. That’s a lot for a young man to live through and still believe professionals have his best interests at heart.

This reinforces to me how significant proper assessments of kinship families are to the future of our children. Instead of the local authority acknowledging my family might have needed some initial support to enable me to provide the care that they needed, they assumed adoption was better, first mistake, and then continued to make mistakes regarding his life that he has now been forced to try to get over.

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