Most children do not want to enter the care system, though a small number do. Most children are desperate to remain with their families, the familiar people, continuity and routine. Most disputes are resolved by agencies working in partnership with the parent(s), finding ways to offer support and to bring about change without the child(ren) needing to be received into care. Many children can enter care for short periods while the main carer is unable to look after them, such as when there is illness or hospital admission.
But adversarial disputes are damaging to children and create the impression that the system is 'out to remove' children from their homes. The parents generally do not understand why they are seen as inadequate (Cleaver and Freeman 1995). A number have grown up in care themselves and do not want this for their children. Others may have mild to moderate learning difficulties or mental health problems. A small number are self-absorbed and either preoccupied in their own need or see the child as a means for their own gratification. The children, whatever the family difficulties, are usually very frightened, may be psychologically frozen and paralysed or may become depressed or angry and defiant. Once in care, they may blossom physically but many may miss their parents and be distressed and preoccupied, or for a period they may switch off and become detached. Many of these children have diagnosable psychopathology as well as poor physical health (McCann et al., 1996).
Parents need to fight for their children to be able to live with them and professionals need to intervene where there is significant harm. The Court hearing is therefore frequently cruel to parents as they hear how their parenting was perceived. Professionals need to do this to make the best case they can to remove the child if this is felt to be the better option. If parents can be helped to understand, and the children also to understand even if they do not agree, the long-term distress can be ameliorated (Farmer and Owen, 1995).
A single mother had two children, who had probably been sexually abused by her cohabitee. He had disappeared but the children were very troubled and it was the third abusive relationship she had had. The children, with her reluctant agreement, were placed in foster care, offered treatment and attended school regularly. Mother initially was distraught and took to drink but in time sought help and was able to have beneficial contact with her children. These children were on full care orders and were in long-term foster care with regular contact.
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