Barnsley dad says that lockdown is just more isolation for adopted teenagers
The current lockdown has ironically been a godsend to one South Yorkshire dad and his adopted teenage son.
Stephen Morgan lives in Barnsley with his son, aged 14, who we are not naming in this article, and is also dad to the youngster’s 17-year-old sister, who is at college.
He adopted them both as a single parent more than 10 years ago, which was highly unusual at that time.
The nursery school teacher said he made a plan when lockdown was announced.
He gave in and finally bought the Playstation 4 that his son wanted for his birthday to make it easier for him to stay indoors and cleared out the garden shed for his own little sanctuary.
“I think it’s strange for everybody to start off with,” said Stephen. “There’s no normal for anyone that’s out there.”
However, Stephen said both his children already have the sense of looking in on a world that doesn’t fully accept them, so social isolation was nothing new.
“For my younger teenager and the isolated world that he was in, it’s an extension almost to it.
“The fact is that, since they’ve been removed from their birth family and been through the care system, they’ve already experienced, and still do experience, a significant amount of isolation.”
He explained: “Almost parental neglect at birth is then continued for them by communities and society in general.
“While a child in care at least has foster carer, social worker, independent review officer and virtual head advocating for them, the adoptive family or the special guardian feels left to get on, resulting in a feeling of loneliness.
“The local authority do their best but they work on fragile resources and ridiculous caseloads.
“Any safeguarding course will tell you that after experiencing the abuse these children have experienced that they are duty bound to receive support to deal with what’s happened but this is where the system falls short on delivery.
“What it means to my family has been the direct or indirect actions from the community they share.
“They often don’t get invited to birthday parties. They struggle with friendships. They are misunderstood in school.
“They experience a high volume of exclusions from school and is a greater chance of permanent exclusion.
“Little time is spent supporting the family and the child is encouraged to not belong within the school community.
“They are told they won’t be at the school for long. They will have staff suggest that they ask their parent to move school.
“They may be sent to schools by taxi way beyond their community. They will be educated one hour a day.
“This may happen outside school time and very often when they arrive the teacher fails to arrive or is too busy.”
In one distressing situation, Stephen got a call from the school, complaining that his son had refused to get into a car with a teacher who wanted to take him to isolation in another school as a punishment.
The teenager refused because, as an abuse survivor, he wasn’t prepared to get into a car with an adult to head for an unknown destination.
He was protecting himself, said his dad, and it was situation he should never have had to face in the first place, especially as his father had no idea what would happen either.
Stephen feels he is fighting constant battles against a system that has no concept of his son’s needs and problems, and not much sympathy for him.
His older daughter, who has special educational needs, went to the same secondary school but Stephen said her experience was completely different.
She was encouraged and nurtured – but after she moved the school became an academy and that was when things changed drastically, said Stephen.
He said his son only made his first friends aged 12, so his dad was worried how he would cope with lockdown but the PS4 means he can stay in touch with his friends by playing games with them.
He also uses the machine to run exercise routines and takes part in online learning via the Seneca app.
The online learning helped him to discover that he is good at maths.
He’s been practising his baking as he is looking at a career in catering or hospitality.
The youngster is above all relieved not to have to go into school and face more difficult situations, he said.
“I would like people to consider that the isolation they’ve come though during these times and hope they might have a bit of appreciation of how looked-after and previously looked-after children feel – our children feel they’ve been in lockdown for most of their lives, not only a couple of weeks.”
Stephen said he is proud of how his children are coping and wishes the wider society would share that.
Adoption UK, who Stephen is a supporter of, are calling on the Government to provide additional funding and resources to help schools support those children who will struggle most when educational settings reopen, post-lockdown.
Half of the parents who completed Adoption UK's Home earning during Covid-19 lockdown report said their child is experiencing emotional distress and anxiety, while around a third (31%) said they are experiencing an increase in violence, or aggression, from their child.
In addition, 85% are not receiving any additional support.
Rebecca Brooks, author of the report, said: “These children have traumatic life experiences that can make learning and mental health a herculean struggle during normal times, let alone during a global pandemic.
“School closures and lockdown are exacerbating learning and emotional problems, including an increase in violent behaviour. Schools are struggling to support their pupils with highest needs.”
She added: “This is why we’re urging the governments across the UK to provide schools with the funding they will desperately need to help these children with their return to school – supporting not only their learning, but also their wellbeing.”
See www.adoptionuk.org for help and advice.