£150 Million And Counting

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.

16 thoughts on “£150 Million And Counting

  1. Thank you for sharing this. It is so close to our own story. The after adoption support is only there if you ask for it, (and in our case fight for it) but it should have been there automatically for both parties all along.

  2. So true – and you are so enlightened to have understood the emotional needs of all and to have managed to find the way forward that you have. Thank you for sharing your story, one day I may be strong enough to share ours to help others.

  3. Thank you for your kind comments. If ever you want to share a story, anonymously if better for you, we are happy to share this space to guest blogs. There are so many different voices in adoption and I love to hear them all!

  4. I agree, it’s all about the money. The aggressive promotion of adoption is at best naive and at worst morally indefensible, especially as there are no funds to support families post-adoption. And what you say about adoption being a class issue also strikes a chord and has always made me feel uncomfortable. I think you sound like an amazing woman! Meeting and supporting your child’s birth mum as you have is truly commendable and I really appreciate your insight. Thanks.

  5. Thank you for your comments. I sometimes feel as an adopter that its letting the side down to fight for birth family rights but to me it’s part of supporting children who do not come from a gooseberry bush! Unless horrific and provable abuse I think forgiving if not forgetting their parents failures helps some children. I’m not very amazing…more bedraggled and overstretched! Love your blog..this weeks was great. I’ll tweet it this week xx

  6. Agree whole heartedly with your article. I found this programme very difficult to watch, I myself am a transracial adoptee. I now speak, talk, present to all and any who will listen and want to learn about the experience of growing up as a transracial adoptee. There is not enough real support , I think for those thinking about adoption and for support once the adoption has been completed. Engaging with those in the adoption and child care sector I believe can affect change as people begin to understand from the “horses” mouth what it is like to be adopted, both positive and negative examples

    • Thanks Lucy…would love to hear more of your thoughts and experience. There are so many individual experiences, hopes, fears, successes and failures on all sides but as you say the more those affected speak the more informed (hopefully!) the community can be x

      • Thanks Amanda currently seriously thinking about writing a novel early stages but in the UK would be one of the few written from the perspective of a transracial adoptee and a non scholarly/academic or self he
        P work about adoption in general

  7. Wise words from someone whose adoption experiences sound much like ours. We are now caught up in the process highlighted in the programme as we are kinship carers for our adopted son’s baby (R) who was removed from his mother’s care at four months old. We adore our grandson but we also love our son and his girlfriend and so to be told by a social worker that our lives would be easier if the baby’s mother just moved away and forgot about him was hard to hear. We have been asked to adopt our grandson, why would we he has a Mum & Dad who love him in their own way, he just needs us to make sure he is safe.
    R’s mother shared with me an assessment that SS had commissioned re her suitability to be given a chance in a mother & baby unit with her 2nd child, she was turned down on the basis that she had not shown commitment to her contact with R, missing contact on many occasions
    Now I take R to contact every week and yes his Mum is sometimes late but then she has to cross two counties by public transport but she has only cancelled once in 12 months and even when she was a few days away from giving birth to her 2nd child she still turned up to see R. Whilst there are enough other very sound reasons why a mother & baby unit wouldn’t work I will fight to have this account removed from the court papers and an apology issued.
    Every young person leaving the care system should have an independent advocate to help them to challenge the prejudices that they face.

    • Thanks for your comments…so glad you are supporting R’s mum. Sometimes the difference between people engaging or complying with support is the way it is offered. Jazz’s mum had a quite notorious reputation for being impossible to work with but we have had no trouble. Being non judgemental and empathic goes miles and costs nothing. I was thinking as well that we have had so many no shows to important meetings by social workers etc so it is a bit hypocritical to always judge a clent when they find attending, punctuality an issue. Really hope all works out for your family. Keep fighting…gently!

  8. It’s so difficult. When you’re going through the adoption process you rarely have any idea about all this. I asked similar questions about Katie’s birth mother because I specialised in working with young mums and wanted to know everything that had been done to help her. I would be very open about contact these days as Katie gets older but we have tried many time to meet birth mum but, in many ways understandable, doesn’t want to come. We tried again after bringing Pip home but still no luck. In every contact letter I reiterate that we would love to meet up but nothing so far. I question far more these days and certainly with more insight since adopting Pip too. The difficulty is you never know the full truth. I was reassured, if that’s the right word, after meeting with the birth father of Katie and Pip’s middle brother who was able to give a fuller picture and feel more confident about the need for adoption as a result but I’d still hope that there could be something more in years to come if that’s what Katie and Pip want.

    • Thanks very much for your comments. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to offer an outstretched hand to birth family and not get any response to that. I know there are probably reasons, like its to hard to face, maybe shame, guilt or anger, but I would feel very protective to the children. I have heard this quite a bit. It would be interesting to hear from some birth parents on reasons why they have not been reliable with contact. Of course there will be some for whatever reason are beyond putting the child first but I bet there are some deeper issues too. Family Futures do a good training course on birth family contact. Their take on it is it must be managed therapeutically for all involved which is a dream we can but aspire to! x

  9. Your openness to Jazz’s other family is always so inspirational. Your love for Jazz shines out always. I will never forget meeting with my girls birth mum, and seeing her vulnerability first hand. What was truly heartbreaking though was the sw saying, on our way home that BM would never be able to keep a child because the level of support she would need to adequately parent would never be available to her. That is just unbelievably sad and just not right. Her issues relate entirely to her learning disabilities and experiences of being inadequately parented herself. Her children were taken as babies due to a judgement (probably correct) that she would be unable to protect her children from her partner. She is no longer with him and I truly hope that should she have children in the future that she has the stability and support in place to parent those children herself. I doubt it though .. The sw was right .. She won’t get that support. 😦

    • Thank you, really kind thing to say : ) I do really love Jazz and all that entails. Interestingly her mum agrees with the removal of her children based upon the fact that she really couldn’t cope and felt so bad and guilty. She would have preferred support to keep them but would have needed a lot and that of course equals big money. She is also very aware now of the sometimes inadequate support to foster carers and adopters as well as kinship carers. Her sister is a police constable but wasn’t supported adequately when she tried to care for the children. We have a long term dream (fantasy!) at The Open Nest to set up a safe house system for mothers with learning difficulties who are at risk of losing their children. To try and offer that last intensive chance to manage. Jazz’s mum had no parenting or domestic skills having been in care and then on the streets. She is learning cookery now…bit late : (

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