Opinion: Alice vs the System: Lessons from a lifetime of “help” from public services #2

Bubbles. White rabbit. Photo by jay turnerThis is the second article in the series about Alice and her experience of “the system.” The first can be found here. Alice didn’t legally become my sister until she was 3. Alice’s adoption was the white rabbit, I guess, that we chased for the next three years.

I was too young to fully understand the nature of the legal wrangles over her adoption. From conversations with my mum and dad, the issues were twofold. First, that as foster parents it wasn’t so easy to move straight over to adoption – you’re required to be reassessed and approved as adoptive parents. My mum’s perception is that the local authority didn’t want to lose foster parents, who were more difficult to find, and so resisted slightly. Secondly, Alice’s birth-mother contested the adoption. She had already had one child removed from her care.

To me it just meant regular social worker visits and court hearings that I knew were very important but not quite how or why. To my parents it was worry and stress. Wondering if Alice, this baby we’d had since she was only a few days old would be taken away. One distinct memory is of a wood-panelled room, with a massive mirror (that I suspect now was two-way) where we were interviewed as a family. My task was to draw a picture of the family with some rather oversized crayons. Not necessarily an amazing task for a 10 year old boy . . .

And then as drawn out as it had been, suddenly it was done. The turning point appears to have been Alice’s birth-father, who said he didn’t feel her birth-mother would be a fit parent. The court orders were signed. Alice was able to have a Christening, and there was a big family party afterwards.

And for a few years, that was it. No more social workers, court hearings or home visits. Alice has ‘always’ known she was adopted; my parents’ idea was to make it so that it wasn’t some big shock, just something she’d grown up with, with more information shared as she grew older. Did they get that wrong?

At primary school she wasn’t the most academic pupil, but there wasn’t much that would alert us to the support Alice would need in later life. From my point of view, she was just your everyday annoying younger sibling . . .

It was in the latter years of primary school and the first few years of secondary school that Alice’s behaviour became difficult. She fell behind academically, and also began to ‘play up’ in lessons and react unexpectedly to everyday events – like tests at school, or things her friends had said to her. At first we just assumed this was a phase, or perhaps that Alice was being bullied (indeed, her unexpected behaviour did sometimes lead to that). She was often very extreme in her reactions to events, and would lie at the drop of a hat – her view is, and has always been that the ends justify the means.

Alice’s behaviour got worse at secondary school. Despite my mum’s pleas, the secondary school refused to ask the local authority for a  Statement of Special Educational Needs assessment, but they were happy to suspend her a number of times and threaten exclusion. They felt she was just badly behaved. After a long fight, the assessment did happen, but the involvement of social services was not a happy one, and my mum merely ended up feeling blamed for Alice’s situation, as my parents had divorced 10 years previously and my mum had remarried; this has often been suggested as the root cause of any issues that Alice might have. Alice’s birth brother, also adopted, has faced similar (albeit more extreme) issues.

Puberty was a difficult time for Alice, as it is for many a teenager. Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised us that Alice’s reaction to this would be more extreme than we might have expected. The support put in place for Alice under the Statement didn’t make a huge amount of difference to her academic performance, nor indeed her behaviour. Increasingly home life for my mum and Alice was becoming difficult – arguments about whether she could go out (and who with), the time she had to be in, whether she had to go to school. Alice threatened to report my mum to social services, and did, through a teacher. Alice was temporarily taken into care. A particular low point was a supervised Christmas day visit, with a young woman social worker sitting awkwardly in our lounge.

After several months of investigation (including a complaint about a particular social worker resulting in them being removed from the case), Alice was returned home, with a letter stating that there was, in their opinion, nothing at all to the allegations made.

Alice left school at sixteen, without having taken any GCSEs. The years and her life since then have been challenging, and I will cover that in my next post, before finishing with some of my thoughts, conclusions and challenges for me as a liberal.


Photo by Jay Turner

* The author is known to the Liberal Democrat team and is a party member. They are, however, writing anonymously to protect theirs and Alice's (not her real name) identities.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Jayne Mansfield 23rd Jul '14 - 6:10pm

    I am pleased that you have found time to write the above.

    Were you wrong to be honest with Alice about her adoption? I found my adoption papers aged ten. I was OK with it, I always knew that I was really a princess.

    At the time , ( there was a glut of ‘War babies’ )’ and when I reached my teens there were lots of programmes of children who found out they were adopted who started having behavioral issues as a consequence. They felt they had been lied to , whereas I just understood why I hadn’t been told, my parents didn’t want me to feel different to my older siblings. As a consequence of so many children having difficulties, it became official advice that children should be told from the beginning that they ‘ were specially chosen’

    Were your parents wrong to follow official advice.? In truth there seems to be no right answer, but as a parent I know that whatever choice we make we are invariably wrong, and guilt is the default position of mothers.

    I look forward to reading more.

  • I suspect the divorce probably had more to do with it that being told she was adopted: to have the family which chose you and took you in then be pulled apart must do massive damage to one’s sense of place and trust in the world. I could well imagine the loss of any sense of continuity or that things can be permanent or worth building and holding onto could lead to a short-termist, ‘do whatever gets you what you want now because tomorrow it could all fall apart and everyone could just all walk away again’ attitude.

  • Jayne Mansfield 25th Jul '14 - 11:58am

    @ Dav,
    One can speculate all one likes Dav but it doesn’t mean that it is fact.

    Divorce is a fact of life for many children in our society, it is heartbreaking for the adults and the children involved. Pinning Alice’s behavioral problems on the disruption that took place

  • Jayne Mansfield 25th Jul '14 - 12:00pm

    Doesn’t really help anyone and is really cruel.

  • Anonymous LD 25th Jul '14 - 4:51pm

    Dav is entitled to his opinion; needless to say, I don’t agree.

  • Divorce is a fact of life for many children in our society

    Saying something is a ‘fact of life’ implies that it ‘just happens’, like earthquakes or hurricanes or something, that there’s no way of stopping it, nobody is to blame, and all we can do is pick up the pieces.

    So no. It’s not actually a ‘fact of life’.

  • Jayne Mansfield 25th Jul '14 - 7:47pm

    @ Dav,
    Anonymous LD’ s story whilst unique, is just so familiar to me in many respects. In the support meetings between foster parents and adoptive parents that I have belonged to, I have heard of so many stories that chime with what Anonymous LD says and the outcome so far. It is not just the adopted children of divorced parents who start to demonstrate behavioral problems and steal whilst still at primary school. The parents that I know have all been married and despite the terrible stresses caused, remain so.

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