Like many of us involved in adoption I watched Channel 4’s programme about the process on Thursday.
Its hard not to comment in some way when the issues highlighted affect your own life and those you love.
What I feel most comfortable doing is telling our own family story, which for most of us is what informs our opinions. There is no one set right opinion just as there is no one set experience.
I feel my own personal experience makes watching adoption programmes very difficult. I have come to see many flaws in the system that I feel can potentially dehumanise those involved.
I trained and qualified as a social worker several years before I adopted and after working in the voluntary sector went on to further my education by doing a cultural studies degree. This was a discipline that analysed the way in which groups and ideas are presented, and at worst demonised, through popular culture and media including newspapers and television.
Having gone through an amicable divorce from my school days sweetheart I felt, in fact I felt I needed, to become a parent. I believed my knowledge of the care system and open mind would stand me in good stead to adopt. My assessment highlighted my strengths in knowing how to ask for support and from whom. In my naivety I believed once my adopted child and I were settled I might meet someone and have the birth children I had always planned as well as maybe adopt again.
One of the first questions I asked when at the point of matching was;
“Are you sure you have done enough to help the mother. I don’t want to be in a situation where a struggling working class family lose their child to a middle class family because we have more resources and they weren’t supported”
This question came directly from my experience of seeing and taking part in social work assessments where, without doubt, some class judgements were made despite “anti oppressive practice” training.
I was reassured that everything possible had been done. The reassurance definitely came with the half smiling ‘oh one of those feminist, loony lefty poor souls with misguided empathy’. (And who would need empathy in the adoption process!).
Once my adopted daughter arrived the enormity of dealing with her needs was overwhelming. Without going into it (again) I struggled for years begging for help which never came. I became the single mother that wasn’t managing. The mother whose child couldn’t behave or manage school, the mother who was unemployed and couldn’t pay her bills, the stressed out angry with the authorities mother.
During that time I worked like a trooper to better our situation. I remortgaged my house, I home educated, I visited the Doctor about stress related illness (for both of us). I did car boots to earn money. I also read lots of Dan Hughes and Caroline Archer and tried to parent therapeutically the best I could in the circumstances.
People tut tutted at us in the street as my little girl picked fag buts off the floor to smoke, banged into people, swore and spat on the floor. I knew what they were thinking of me.
A couple of years into the placement I had an overwhelming feeling that if I were to be a good parent to her the chasm of nothingness and disjointed paperwork that was the history she came with, had to be better informed. I needed the back story. I had the ‘knowledge’ that her parents were horrible, uncaring, violent, dangerous. I couldn’t go to certain towns that were quite near us in case the devil people might bump into us and god knows what might happen.
I searched for her parents without her knowing. I felt that I might be a bridge between her past and future, I felt it might shock me, but I knew I had to see the ‘truth’ with my own eyes. I was pooping myself in case they might want to hurt me for ‘stealing’ their child.
I found them to be warm, friendly, poor, uneducated, unable to admit their faults very easily, proud, stubborn, funny, annoying and bluntly truthful.
Eventually after meeting them on lots of occasions and talking to them often, I took Jazz to meet them when she was eight years old. The omnipresent spectre of her ‘ghost parents’ disappeared that day. It wasn’t all hearts and flowers and it never will be. She didn’t love me less or them more. She did forgive herself.
The rest as they say is history, our history of two families who have worked together for the three children involved. It hasn’t been easy and there is nearly always fall out after contact. It’s the goodbyes that are hard. Of course we argued and had different opinions and sometimes fell out. But what family doesn’t. There have also been moments of intense and overwhelming love between us all.
Finally, this year, aged 54, my daughters mum got her learning disability assessment. It took us years to fight for it together. Despite all the local authority involvement in her life, being in care as a child, going to a ‘special’ school, nobody had bothered to do it even when she fell pregnant with her first child. Now she has benefits and the sympathetic daily support that may crucially have helped her children over twenty years ago.
The mistruths and judgements in her records have also been challenged and sit more honestly for her daughter to read one day.
In the new adoption drive £150 million pounds was taken from the fund that does early intervention work with struggling families. Some of it has shifted to adoption promotion. Adoption of a removed child saves the Government on average £25,000 every year of that child’s life to adulthood. It IS an industry with budgets at its heart in MY opinion. If it were truly all about the children many of the questionable practices we see as adopters would change.
I do not advocate contact in all circumstances and especially if there is no professional therapeutic support for ALL involved…which there isn’t at a time of no budgets to even get basic help through CAMHS and Education for adopted children. But I believe in the right circumstances it can help development, healing, history, identity and can resolve some of the ‘gaps’ in knowledge children can feel. Sometimes it might ultimately provide a more healthy goodbye from a child than was previously possible.
My adopted daughter has certainly gained from contact, warts and all and some of that has simply been transferring her feelings of failure to her mother where they rightly belong.
So my personal questions about Channel 4’s latest adoption documentary are;
1. With one child removed every 20 minutes from its birth family how are we as a rich and ‘civilised’ society going to successfully address the needs of failing families on behalf of all children?
2. Do many of the parents and extended families of the approx 26,208 removed children a year deserve to lose seeing their children for good? It seemed to me that at least three parents shown were compliant enough to have assured and legal rights of therapeutically managed contact even if adoption is considered best.
3. When adoption with little or no birth family contact is considered best, why is there still no legislation to give guaranteed and appropriate support to adopted children and families who struggle?
4. Where were the parents social workers, especially the young mum who seemed to need safeguarding herself?
5. It surely would have been more empathic if the adoption team workers didn’t look quite so happy at receiving a grieving woman’s baby whilst describing it as being an ‘easy adoption’.
In adoption circles, the community and professionals often emphasise the need for parents to be looked after, healthy and mentally well themselves in order to do their best for the children. I wholeheartedly believe this to be true……for all parents.