About

Hope After Second Family Severances is a blog for all those who are part of second families that have had to face severances, whether temporary or permanent and for whatever reason. It is also for those that support them and make decisions about their lives. Second families can be adoptive families and also long term foster families. When a child or young person has become part of a second family and put down roots in a community, and these links are severed, there is great loss. There is also great loss for the parents and other family members.

My aim or vision is to expand knowledge and understanding, to offer strength, hope and inspiration and ultimately, I hope better understanding will lead to practical help, models of relationship building and where possible strategies for successful reunification in severances. This blog is one small step on this journey.

I believe positive change is much needed in second family and post adoption support. Shared knowledge and understanding in the wider community, between those that seek help and those that provide it or make decisions, will enable positive change and bring hope to all those involved.

I am not yet sure how this project will evolve but my taking this first step by starting a blog is of personal importance for me. I know there are knowledge gaps, systemic problems and significant unmet need. 

Immense Loss at a Difficult Life Stage

The loss of one family is traumatic enough but to lose a second family can be utterly devastating for all those involved. With severances usually occurring in the teenage years young people face such immense loss at a critical life stage. It can be so hard to get back on track.

We know from research commissioned by the Department of Education (Selwyn et al 2014), to understand more about adoption post the adoption order, that that approximately 30% of adoptive families face really significant problems. Most often the problems start or worsen in adolescence. Children coming into care to be adopted are traumatised by loss, abuse, neglect, changes in care, and even if they were adopted in infancy they may have suffered in the womb. Research shows that those put up for adoption are at the most severe end of the spectrum in terms of abuse and neglect and many will have had multiple placement moves in foster care before coming to their permanent family. We know that only 3% of adoptive families end in ‘disruption’, where a child leaves home before they are 18. This figure is astonishingly low and adoption is the most successful route to giving a child security and stability in a permanent family.

Disruption can be a rather clinical term to describe what is usually a heartbreaking family break up and many adopters do not like this term. I have entitled this blog severance because of this. It is also important to remember that a severance does not need always mean that a child has permanently left home and there has been a disruption, although sadly, too often, this is the case. The system does not seem to support reunification very well.

 The Struggle to Stay Together

Modern neuroscience has led to much greater understanding about the impact of trauma on the body and mind. We know how the fight, flight and freeze or dissociation responses, and a dysregulated nervous system can make it hard to cope with daily life for an adult never mind a terrified child or young person, and we know about the secondary trauma that comes from living with trauma in a family. In addition to trauma our children may have other conditions that makes caring for them challenging. Conditions such as ADHD or fetal alcohol syndrome. They may have chronic sleep problems that stem from trauma and hugely impact on their lives, or suffer with developmental delays because of trauma and neglect. Our children often have significant additional needs although sometimes their difficulties and disabilities can be hidden or masked as they try so hard to fit in and be ‘normal’. Attachment disorder is common and we understand so much nowadays about how attachment difficulties can impact on relationships especially with the primary care giver, who can be the focus of the most testing and difficult behaviours. We know how stress levels can run high for all the family and there can be rages and anger that involve child to parent violence. Our children may have been sexually abused and have confusions around sex. In adolescence all these problems and difficulties can become exacerbated with the incredible changes this life stage brings and when identity issues come to the fore.

Prevention is always better than cure but for various reasons accessing services is not easy sometimes for adoptive families.

Routes to Severance

The pressures on overstretched professionals to meet the demands of struggling families must not be underestimated. There may be little chance to think of the future and simply dealing with the present is hard enough. Sometimes professionals just don’t know how to help and it appears there is nothing more to offer. It can seem better for the child to be cared for by others. Sometimes parents come to this heart wrenching decision themselves, often because the stress in the family home is impacting on their other children. This can mean breaking up adopted siblings.

Both adoption and foster care placements can end as the difficulties become insurmountable. If a foster care placement breaks down the child is already looked after by the local authority.

Sometimes in adoption, the severance begins with what is meant to be a short break under a Section 20 care order. Whilst living together may be too risky and difficult, separation and severance are also hard and they bring their own fresh trauma. Even a short break can be hard for a child with trauma separation anxiety. With severances the sense of security and permanence of living in a second family may be irrevocably undermined and the original separation trauma can so easily be triggered by any separation. For many sadly, the Section 20 is a route to permanent separation. On top of all the challenges involved with the most difficult of parenting roles, care proceedings may be instigated by local authorities where adoptive parents may face persecution in courts, sometimes for months on end, as authorities seek threshold and attempt to justify their concerns and actions. These adversarial court proceedings can be a harrowing experience for families and trust in those with a duty of care, who will inevitably try to depict the parents in the most negative way possible, can be eroded. In worst case scenarios asking for help may mean an adopter being persecuted in court, losing their beloved child back into the care system again, losing their income if their child was disabled and required the parent to give up work to care for them, or losing their job or profession, if this involved working with children.

It is important to remember that when a young person loses a second family, we now know the outcome is rarely positive for them in the critical years of the late teens and early adulthood.

After Severance

One of the key recommendations of Selwyn et al is that reunification should not be discounted and work should be done to continue to improve the child parent relationships after an adoption disruption. There appears to be little evidence of this happening and Selwyn found that the research team were often the first visitors that had ever come to speak to parents and families about the severance after a young person had left home. There may be other children in the family that have lost a sibling and inevitably family members will be suffering with bereavement. The loss of a child is such a huge loss. On top of this parents can be made to feel they have failed as parents by social workers and authorities. An authority may take the view the match was not appropriate and it is difficult to feel like a ‘real’ parent when views such as this are expressed. For the young person themselves there can be much isolation and loneliness.

Disruptions leading back to reunification seem to be rare indeed. Reasons for this are poorly understood, however, when there is no intention to reunify families, these families cannot access the Adoption Support Fund. Local services may not be able to offer the specialist skills needed and it can easily end up that those that need help the most cannot access it. Parenting from a distance under a care order, whether a full care order or a Section 20 can be a disheartening experience. There is much fault seeking once child protection social workers become involved with the family and it is a very different experience to working with specialist adoption social workers.

Families will always revolve around the most needy family member, and whether this is an elderly parent with dementia living in a home or a young person in foster care or residential care, for whatever reason, this separation may be an incredibly difficult time for second families.

Young people traumatised by second family severances need all the support they can get as they transition into adulthood and I believe those involved with such severances should be supported until they are at least 25. 18 is far too young and the brain is still undergoing considerable development and change. The human brain does not stop developing until a person is in their late twenties. It is not uncommon for young adults to return home after leaving university yet we expect our most vulnerable young people to cope alone at one of the most difficult life stages.

Family relationships can sustain and support and I would like this blog to open dialogue and thought about ways to promote attachment in severances; to bring families back into relationship, if this is likely to be beneficial and relationships have suffered, and to offer hope of a better future. Sometimes there is nothing to be done but allowing the distress of severance to be seen and heard. To bear witness to it and through doing so help to ease the suffering a little. I would like this blog/website to be a place where voices feel heard.

About me

I have been directly affected by an adoption severance and I also do therapeutic work with traumatised individuals. I have a background in psychology and worked in mental health research prior to adopting. My child is the main focus of my life since adopting and remains so as I parent from a distance.

I would like to offer all those that engage with this blog/website, or respond to my posts, an open mind and an open heart that is willing to listen.

With love and hope

Clara

I would like to end with this absolutely beautiful poem from Lemn Sissay, who lost his second family when he was 12. His story is an inspiration.

INVISIBLE KISSES
written by Lemn Sissay

If there was ever one
Whom when you were sleeping
Would wipe your tears
When in dreams you were weeping;
Who would offer you time
When others demand;
Whose love lay more infinite
Than grains of sand.

If there was ever one
To whom you could cry;
Who would gather each tear
And blow it dry;
Who would offer help
On the mountains of time;
Who would stop to let each sunset
Soothe the jaded mind.

If there was ever one
To whom when you run
Will push back the clouds
So you are bathed in sun;
Who would open arms
If you would fall;
Who would show you everything
If you lost it all.

If there was ever one
Who when you achieve
Was there before the dream
And even then believed;
Who would clear the air
When it’s full of loss;
Who would count love
Before the cost.

If there was ever one
Who when you are cold
Will summon warm air
For your hands to hold;
Who would make peace
In pouring pain,
Make laughter fall
In falling rain.

If there was ever one
Who can offer you this and more;
Who in keyless rooms
Can open doors;
Who in open doors
Can see open fields
And in open fields
See harvests yield.

Then see only my face
In reflection of these tides
Through the clear water
Beyond the river side.
All I can send is love
In all that this is
A poem and a necklace
Of invisible kisses.

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