This weekend I saw the fruition of weeks of intensive work to put on the first Open Nest charity conference ‘Taking Care’. I can’t deny it wasn’t stressful. Organising something fairly single handedly, as a volunteer, whilst juggling a small business and family life can be mind boggling. But I’m a believer of putting your ‘money’ where your mouth is. I wrote the post below eighteen months ago (yes I am trawling it out again…forgive me) It was one of my first blogs as a new charity founder. I was a bit scared of being called ‘too political’ or ‘maverick’ because I believed in community and community activism. I felt adoptees and adopters were sometimes treated as a by product of adoption and was willing to say it in public.
I was right to feel that as some people in the adoption arena have eluded to it at times over the last year or so. Written off as a bunch of Twitter parents who were anti adoption. It seemed to shock some people that we wanted to create a charity that actively facilitated the voices of those who knew first hand that adoption was not perfect. That we wanted to say the charity was owned by us all not guarded and financially exclusive. Anyway, I ignored them and carried on regardless. I set up the charity determined to create as many free tools and initiatives to support adoptees as I possibly could. Where they couldn’t be free they would be affordable. I wanted to be an antidote to corporate business dressed up as concern. I swore I would not be salaried by the charity. This I guess could be seen as devaluing ‘the product’, but only by the wrong eyes.
For the conference, the people who work for our family business held a film night and we used the donations to make the conference bags contain more than some crap leaflets and a plastic pen. It meant we could add touches to the day that expressed how we feel about adoptees, adopters and those who strive to make a difference in a harsh world.
Yesterday the incredible energy in the room quite blew me away. I was already a hot sweaty mess as I stood up, having stressed out all the previous night about having to speak. It’s one of my phobias and I very nearly ran away at 4am. I felt embarrassed and vulnerable. I need not have worried as the people who came to listen had big hearts, big dreams, big plans and open minds.
Feedback was that the day was inspiring, refreshing and caring. I am truly thankful to the generous speakers, trustees and guests who shared thoughts and worries and laughs and ideas. I felt inspired and confident to not only speak out in future but to go on with the charity that Jazz and I dreamed of in another space and time at our kitchen table.
The thing that made me personally feel taken care of was the fellow adopter who made me laugh a lot, the lovely lady who made sure I drank something, the adoptee friend who helped me carry heavy boxes until late the night before, the social worker who acted like my mum and kept me calm. The man who wrote me a poem and the mum I only met that day who helped me pack the car with a trolley load of “stuff”.
Most of all it was the amazing audience who said yes to ‘taking up arms’ and ‘owning it’ without a second thought. I can’t wait to work together again.
Since I began on the adoption journey fourteen years ago I have met with, read from the pages of, been trained by and admired several experts. They write about, give advice about and train around adoption issues. But how did they get there and more importantly what have they taught us.
The answer is….. not really as much as my children,
my mum, my children’s birth family or my friends who are parents have taught me.
There is a place for theory in learning and if I have rare spare time I do love a good academic read that backs up my experience, but nothing beats practice based learning.
It has increasingly peeved me as the years have rolled by, how much talk there is in theory, in parliament and in the media about changing the adoption experience for adoptees, but very little action in real terms. It’s all mouth and no trousers as far as I can see.
All the big adoption organisations, agencies and children’s ministers have been around with funds to do surveys, studies, evaluations, papers etc for years. Why has nothing much changed for adopted children in terms of good education, relevant specialist therapy and family support for all adoptees?
When I could a) afford b) afford travel c) get child care, to attend attachment training or some such thing, I found the majority of the audience professionals. For some a welcome day out of the office.
One social worker even told me without shame that she attended a course on attachment issues as they have to reach a quota of attending training… It didn’t mean she took the theory on or changed her practice accordingly.
An average training day can cost up to £150 per person if it’s close to home and more if it involves travel. Even if an adopter can save up that amount of money their child may not be in an emotional position where they can be left without specialist childcare.
The nature of training courses often deny the very existence of the issues they purport to be expert around. Sometimes we can’t get out much, sometimes we struggle financially. Sometimes our families cant cope with our children when they are anxious, sometimes our children are most anxious when we are away from their precious daily routine.
I admire and respect Dan Hughes, Caroline Archer, Louise Bomber et al. But they are not round my house during a bad spell where the theories seem too dry and homogenised to fit my daughters individual rage and unstoppable pain, or to soothe my burnt out helplessness. The academic theories and suggestions towards perfect responses have at many times left me feeling both empty and failing.
I now believe I’ve served my time to qualify as expert, and so have my children. We can take our knowledge to skilled therapists who can help us use this knowledge to the best, but theories on paper, or expensive training has no value to us in our every day lives.
We have never yet experienced experts rushing to make us heard out in the political world nor to give us their time for free to ease our intense journey. Every bit of expert advice has had a price attached or a road before it that is inaccessible to those not paid to attend.
What helps hugely is a shared experience. Advice or support from others who understand your language and emotions without question, because they have actually been there not just spoken to someone who has.
The irony of all this is that the real experts on the emotional results of adoption are usually just rolled out to make up user number contributions to surveys or to support adoption campaigns. Not wishing to be negative it can be easier for adopters to sugar coat or miss out the dark side of adoption. Nobody wants to tell strangers their deep personal struggles via a snapshot nor give the impression they regret their family when they don’t.
My daughter wrote for BAAF “My Adopted Life”. She was quite young and flattered. But she couldn’t write the real teenage story of her loneliness and anger and mixed feelings towards both her mums…. but best smiling foot forward didn’t get her the support she desperately needed at that time to make sense of it all. I believe adopters and adoptees are experts on the issues we face day to day. I think our voices are missing in the political arena, especially around the difficult bits. I believe that this is because difficult bits equate to potentially expensive bits.
With current government proposals, I can sense the scrabbling around to capture the decreasing money pots…and I can see the forthcoming opportunities for care industry profit making through fast track adoption and its resultant problems.
The question is… If adopters and adoptees were enabled to take part in expertly solving some of the issues we faced for ourselves, who would be out of a job?
This is a call to arms.