Call Yourself An Expert?

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.

20 thoughts on “Call Yourself An Expert?

  1. I was fostered as a baby ffrom aged six months. I was adopted at 2years old in 1962, my MuM went on to foster/adopt again my brother in 1967, fostering other children too. The placements were so different then, I had brotheres and sisters of all nations, my Mum had fostered since the 50s. In the 60s the ‘experts’ seem to arrive, i always remember one dreaded stuck up social worker who always ran her finger over the top of the door looking for dust!! She took our foster brother and sister (by blood0,they had lived with us for four yearssuddenly, one cold November day to another home.. My Mum had promiseed him a scooter for christmas and was not allowed to give it him. By christmas, as my Mum predicted , the new ‘adoptee’ had the children returned to a children’s home. My Mum wasn’t allowed to re-foster, even though she would have adopted them, nor,allowed to give them their christmas presents.
    I have a lot of other tales too, and have noticed a lot of experts are neither experienced in adopting or have been an adoptee so have little empathy.

    • Thanks so much for your comments. Your thoughtful descriptions of the experience your mum and you had show how it can be so difficult even to do the right thing…and it makes my blood boil to think that in many areas nothing has changed.
      Would like to hear more of your experience if you are happy to share it. All the best Amanda

  2. I have many books piled on my shelves some I’ve read cover to cover others not. I always used to reach for these books when I felt lonely, my children misunderstood and unheard by anyone. They do offer valuable information on understanding why our children behave the way they do and some insight into dealing with this. But nothing has given me more strength and understanding than the community of other adopters that I have found on twitter and through my blog. I agree that when there seems to be an ever increasing number of experts who understand the needs of our children why isn’t more gravitas given to the need for change. Another great post and thanks for sharing on The Weekly Adoption Shout Out

    • Thank you very much. I too have lots of books…and as you say there can be great advice and understanding in them. I just can’t work out why nothing too much has changed when I hear other families going through the same difficulties as we have for so long. I have seen hundreds of thousands of pounds put into adoption surveys, committees and charities in the last 14 years. But the lack of real and urgent action by the government really does affect our children’s potential at school and socially.
      I have been hugely inspired by the adopters and adoptees out there who share their expertise and give support. We are, in my book, the experts and catalysts for change. Thank you for being so dedicated in letting our voices be heard. Xxx

  3. I also wonder why, after so many surveys, research, committees and steering groups nothing seems to change. I also have the books, and a list as long as my arm of others that I’ll get around to reading one day.
    I must admit, I’ve done a few of the courses run by our adoption agency, but only when I can a) afford it, and b) have hubby at home with the children who cannot cope with anyone else, and I have found them useful. I’ve applied the theories I learnt in them, and they have helped a little. However, of all the courses I’ve done, only one was led by an adopter who truly ‘got’ what I live with daily, and his course was undoubtedly better for it. As much as the professionals are experts in their field, are they really experts in *my* field? The one that I live in with my son…I’m not so sure.
    Thanks for linking up to the Weekly Adoption Shout Out x

  4. No one rushing round to mine either. No one having to work out which of the strategies – which seem so logical straight out of a book or a training session – to use when everything is being thrown up all at once.

    Call to arms indeed. Right beside you Amanda. Its time we pooled our resources, rallied our confidence and taught each other how it really works out here on the ground and in the trenches of trauma.
    Love you lot, we do. Mx

    • I have been blown away by the powerful and skilled adopters sharing their wisdom and advice on twitter and in blogs. As we form our organisation we are truly spurred on by the knowledge that the “real” on the ground experts are out there. We have every intention to learn from them and make sure by hook or by crook that they have a stake in all that we do.

  5. Like everything, it’s just something else we need to fight for.

    I’ve read lots of books, most contain what I already know, others the odd snippet of something new and/or useful.

    So much is known about attachment and trauma these days by so many people. Yet none of these are the people that ‘deal’ with our children, such and gp’s, teachers, educational psychologists etc and even some camhs ‘experts’ lack the real knowledge and ability to help.

    More needs to be done, the world needs to wake up to the needs of our children!

    • Thanks for your comment. This is our experience too. Funding should be put into bringing other services up to speed and a right to the correct support from the NHS, social care and education made law. We will get there….like our children…small steps!

  6. As far as schools are concerned, I fear that no amount of talk, programmes, training or anything will ever seriously improve the situation as long as we insist on mass-educating our kids. In my time at a massive 1800 pupil 11-18 comp, I had gangs of children wheeled in front of me en masse, hourly, day after day. Some classes could have IEPs in double figures. The range of additional needs was staggering – aspergers, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, ADD, ADHD, FAS, visually impaired, hearing impaired, wheelchair bound, medical needs and so on and so on. And this wasn’t a particularly difficult school. In 12 years of teaching I never heard a thing about attachment disorder. I’m sure I taught children affected by this, but so many competing needs must have overtaken it for priority. I wanted to be a ‘person’ for the children, wanted to support them, get to know them, nurture them, listen to them, but I was one of nearly 100 teaching staff, not to mention support staff, ancillary staff etc. etc. For most of the children I taught, I was just another face and voice. Eventually I went to a tiny private school where I got paid half as much but I least I knew who the children were (and their parents, siblings and grandparents in most cases!). Maybe things are better in primary schools where numbers are fewer and at least children get more consistency in the teachers they see day to day, but high school is a disorientating place where it is extraordinarily hard to cater for children as if they are individuals. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but I suspect that in most cases it is futile to expect your child’s teacher to have significant expertise in attachment disorder – she will also have scores of other families expecting her to have significant expertise on all of those other acronyms I mentioned before, virtually no specialist training except what she does herself in her own time from books and the internet, punishing so-called educational targets to meet, etc, etc, etc, Oh, and the actual job of teaching, lesson planning, marking and so on. If the school’s SENCO is informed, effective and actually listens then that sets the tone for a promising beginning, but if not, then the teachers are on their own. I know that there are teachers out there that don’t try and don’t care and won’t listen, but that’s not the majority – it’s just that it’s overwhelming. I think we need a radical re-think about how we, as a society, have decided to educate our children – not just those with additional needs, but all of them.

  7. Thanks for reposting the original blog and reminding us of the start of the amazing Open Nest. I wasn’t around then, and remain delightedly baffled by how it has managed to move as far as we saw this weekend in such a short time. But we live with urgency everyday, don’t we? We can’t afford to drag our heels, because our children are aging faster than any theory might be researched/tested/published or legislation/policy/funding might change to meet our needs. Yes, those changes are also needed, but right here, right, now in all our houses we need support that just isn’t available. The ‘Taking Care’ conference showed a glimpse of what might be possible. Thank you.

  8. I couldn’t possibly write a more elequant response than everyone else has but I think both you and Jazz are amazing and as for this weekends’ conference WOW WOW WOW!!!!! Thank you so much for the incredible job you all did. I have come away with a renewed determination to “encourage” our LA to involve/give a voice to their adopters, adoptees and foster carers more in their conferences/training courses

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