Adopted Voices Conference: Outcomes

image

Whenever we decide to use our charity funds to put on an event or to create an awareness raising tool we have to consider the outcomes. Those who donate to us want to see changes and improvements in support to all those involved in adoption as do we. It’s important the things we do have a decent impact and that scarce resources are used creatively to good effect.

This year we gave lots of free short breaks to adoptive families and ran a Summer camp which are both easy to manage as cost effective interventions with maximum impact. Putting on an event needs more consideration and planning.

We were asked by a fellow adoption support professional this National Adoption Week how we can afford, as a small charity, to put on a conference like the one we presented this week called ‘Adopted Voices’. The economics are fairly simple. Room hire, refreshments and speakers fees equates to around £3,500. Volunteers and the very supportive online adoption community help the charity to keep the costs down.

On top of the much appreciated public donations we receive, we also raise funds in house by selling space in some vintage caravans and a camping barn that we run more generally as a small family business. All the money (not just the profits) from these sales goes into the charity.
The ‘Adopted Voices’ conference represents a couple of the six key Summer months where all of us at The Open Nest headquarters volunteer to clean the caravans and barn, collect and chop the wood and see guests in and out. Hard physical graft. Simple but effective.

In a week where we saw lots of government funded marketing, including many projections featuring the ‘Too old at four?’ campaign beamed onto iconic UK buildings, we wonder how those outcomes are measured. We did enquire ourselves a couple of years ago about a projection onto the Houses of Parliament to launch our charity. One projection alone was very expensive. We guess National Adoption Week marketing is measured in the number of new recruits enquiring or taken on for assessment?

We decided as trustees that this year our charity conference should not be about recruitment, but be dedicated to giving a platform to adopted adults who had reported to us that they felt they were largely excluded from public and political debate around adoption reform and policy.

It wasn’t an easy conference to sell, which raises questions in itself, but as a small charity we always expect and hope for quality not necessarily quantity in an audience.
Those who came to listen were rich in experience and included adopted adults, adopters and adoption professionals. One forward thinking local authority sent five members of their adoption team. We had hoped for more policy movers and shakers to attend but Peter Sandiford who sits on The Adoption Leadership Board was a speaker and is determined to take the messages of the conference to the top.

The outcomes of the day were;

1. Speakers were given a platform to share diverse experiences of being adopted and what those experiences have meant to them personally and in relation to current adoption policy.

2. The themes of the conference travelled far and wide through the hashtags #AdoptedVoices and #AdoptedVoices2015 #NationalAdoptionWeek and through the charities supporters on Twitter and Facebook.

3. Audience members reported gaining knowledge that would change their opinions and practice both as professionals and parents.

4. Adopted adults reported feeling empowered by the day. One commented that never before had they been in the company of so many other adopted people, another that they had been inspired to begin looking further into their life story.

5. Collaborative working was planned between The Open Nest and another professional agency, especially to highlight the need for improved training opportunities around keeping connections for adopted children.

6. A future event was planned for Spring 2016 as well as a suggestion for an adopted adults camp at The Open Nest. We will be working towards these during the winter months.

7. Several blogs were written to share information about the themes of the conference and to highlight the need to include adopted people in reforms. One from the brilliant Transparency Project and another from the brilliant Jack Ash
Community Care published an article about the conference Community Care

8. An important research project supported by The Open Nest was launched. The project intends to gather the many and varied experiences of adopted people. Audience members with the right connections have offered to support the research, ensuring it gains the ethical approval required and to share the research address which is growingupadopted@gmail.com
See more here The Adoption Social

We would like to thank all those who supported the event in person and from afar. We will be expanding on the outcomes in the months to come.

Inside Out (Trauma Stylee)

Inside Out image

Anxiety is some think in body that sets your heart rate up. what happens to me when I’m anxious is I talk to much I smoke to much and I get hevery breathing nd I start shaking nd I wet my self a lot nd I get less hungry nd I go rally clingy to mummy bear nd anxiety can lead to panic attacks wich r hobble.

Anger is hobble felling it eats u up. what I get when I’m angry I get rally coxey nd pushey nd I do Lounds of wate liffding nd I play rally angry music nd I put on a voise so no one comes near me nd I have day dreams about slashing my arms up nd shaving all my hire off nd I get rally rude nd I over play music.

Sadness is all so hobble. I get like rally sad nd I cart deal with to much talk nd I rally don’t like been over told off nd I hate eye contact then I don’t like to much body contact nd I just won’t to bee on my own nd put my head phoes on beause I fell like I’m pee of shit nd I get rally bad nd hobble thorts like blood nd clowns nd killing people nd all so cuting my self so I get a buzz nd kick out of it

Joy is happy what I’m like I’m quite funny loving nd huggy nd help full

Love well thay Lound s of different love but in love it’s hobble beause u cart think of ey thing els no one els separate the person how u in love with. when I fell that I get inprot with my sport works nd I get sexist nd I get moody nd I get all sex up nd try waching porn nd play love songs nd I day dream a lot.

Fear is wear u r skerd. what I’m like I get rally skerd about going out in the car nd doing stuff nd I’m all ways skerd mummy bear going to fall down the seras nd hert her self or die nd when I’m skerd I poo or wet my self nd I get rally clingy with mummy bear

Embarrassment Is wear u get embarrassed about some thing so like u see some one how u fancy nd thay give u complmnt about how u look or your mum said some think in basing or dad. I get like I get argent nd put on tuff man voise nd I walk the chimp nd I go red or I just don’t say ey thing

Don’t Feed The Hand That Bites?

The closure of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering  is confusing. One minute they seemed to be one of the governments top ‘go to’ charities for all things adoption related. Playing a key part in recent adoption reforms they received healthy funding from many sources and were commissioned by the DfE in several areas. Yet they closed overnight, dumping hundreds of staff, and we must presume families, in the crap. Right at a time that their expertise was being used extensively to train adoption professionals and promote the current adoption agenda of higher numbers, they crumbled.

The last accounts seemed healthy but there was clearly no reserve as the financial climate has been the explanation given. The no reseve issue has also come up with Kids Company this week. A second massive government funded charity gone overnight. Both overwhelmed by demand or simply mismanaged?

The plan for some of BAAFs services was clearly thought through and they were handed to Coram before the closure was announced. I haven’t heard of any pre planning on the closure of Kids Company but have read some government statements;

“The welfare of these young people continues to be our primary concern and we are now working closely with local authorities to make sure they have access to the services they require”

That’s the irony of politics for you.

The Open Nest is a tiny charity. A grain on the sand of other charities beaches. No matter how small a charity you are though, the politics of a government still affect you and those you support.

“The important thing charities should be doing is sticking to their knitting” Brooks Newmark: Charities Minister 2014

We choose not to chase or take funding with any whiff of ‘gagging’ conditions. This is partly because we feel we should stand up for the people we represent as a charity without compromise or editing. Sometimes this means actively criticising or questioning policy and as a result we accept this means not getting certain funding or endorsements.  We also feel we might start important work that we know needs doing, but at the same time have no long term security for that work. The potential for letting people down can be very real when none of us have a magic wand and some people need continuity and support for life. This is one of our charities key concerns with The Adoption Support Fund. We would prefer  that all support services were a statutory right for all children and not dependent on charity or commerce.

For The Open Nest the aim as a small charity is to try and provide quality rather than quantity, this alongside creative independence. No cut throat competitions for endorsement or comissions, an active voice and an easily accessible service. We can’t change the world but feel we can change our corner of it. We have nothing to sell. We can’t even imagine being a big charity. We would however hope to influence big charities. We formed precisely because we had no faith in the government to not leave adult adopted people and birth families out of the adoption reforms, to focus on adoptees rights to their own history and information, to improve routes and assessments to support, or to not leave any adopted children (or any children for that matter) in the lurch support wise.

Despite being small, a charity or support organisation can have real impact on both awareness raising and support to the community it represents. This can reach nationally and cost effectively with the creative use of social media and creative fundraising strategies.

Sometimes where charites are concerned big is not always beautiful when it comes to enabling rather than disabling or infantilising people who seek empathic support.

Our experience of BAAF as a group of trustees made up of adopted adults and adoptive parents is that we had no real connection with it. Individuals amongst us who had experienced its culture did not feel hugely positive about it. We felt it appeared to represent professionals rather than those directly affected by adoption. We have not received any public attention from it as a vocal, albeit small and independent user led charity. It did however use our (free of charge) community made animation in its national training of adoption support professionals. We always liked the individual BAAF staff we met. It strangely didn’t seem to express much sorrow via its trustees at the closing down of it’s services (We would be interested to hear more adoption community experiences of it to challenge our experience or suggest reasons for why it was no longer viable)

My experience of Camila Batmangelidgh is only personal. My daughter and I met her at an event. My daughter was struggling massively with triggers and anxiety and discussed this openly. Camila gave us both authentic responses and was a major influence on my daughters road to recovery after that meeting. She gave us her personal contact details and told my daughter she could call her anytime. After this meeting we had further communication about a few things including lack of support to traumatised people. Another time in 2013 she described having to work 24/7 for funding to keep services going. When we founded The Open Nest she sent us a meaningful letter of support and  encouragement. Communicating with us had no perks in it for her.

You can’t bottle that. If you could charities probably wouldn’t need to exist at all.

Whatever the outcome of these two big charities closing, it has been interesting to see the huge press interest in one and distinct lack of it with the other. I have found it disturbing to see the negative speculation about Kids Company and in particular personal attacks on Camila Batmanghelidgh including her looks and personality.

The key debates should be whether big charities are ever in a safe position to provide expensive services to children which should rightly be provided by the government anyway. Whether the commissioning of charities by the government to provide children’s services takes place in a fair market or goes to the quiet compliants, or most forceful founders. How dangerous is it to become the governments darling as a charity, and who picks up the pieces on behalf of children and families when the love affair ends?

 

Guest Blog On Adoption Reform From an Adult Adopted From Care

The lack of involvement of adoptees in adoption reform is astounding, and I am glad people are speaking about this. Most people would take a dim view if a government organisation intended to help LGBT teenagers did not contain any LGBT people on its board. It’s true that there aren’t really any organisations which solely represent people adopted from care. However, there are adoptee organisations which contain an increasing proportion of care-adoptees, and I don’t think there’s been any real attempt to engage with them. The only adoptees who are ever engaged with are under 25 (I have theories about this).

I would argue that it is the responsibility of those in positions of power to seek out those who are disenfranchised, rather than take the easiest route of listening to those who are already shouting loudly (and often in chorus). Certainly, it takes more effort to locate minority individuals when they have not yet established a group consciousness with like-experienced others. However, I do wonder how far people actually want adult adoptees to develop such a consciousness – let alone organise themselves into a lobbying power! The adopted adult is, one presumes, the intended product of all adoption reform. (Although I do sometimes doubt this). Why not check up on them? And if the government will persist in focussing on adoption, which lasts the whole life course, they ought to be seeing how adoption works out, across the whole life course.

Engagement with adoptees can start simply. I have on occasion found myself having to tick the box that says ‘Other’ when responding to questionnaires about fostering and adoption. This is bizarre when more or less everyone, including adopters, charities, and social workers, has a box to tick. Clearly adoptees are not stakeholders in adoption, and neither do they have any knowledge that can be shared. Creating a situation where an adoptee is forced to ‘Other’ themselves in a conversation about adoption is really quite an achievement. It is also – may I say – a psychologically weird thing to have done to you. I could write a book on being forced to author my own othering with a pen. But I digress. A very simple thing that ALL organisations can do: unless it is a very specific study, have a box for adult adoptees. Not just ‘young people’: there is a danger that these opinions are immediately disregarded as ‘aaw, that’s so sad, but…’, and you also disenfranchise an awful lot of people. Something like ‘Adult adoptee’ or ‘Adult adopted from care’ or ‘formerly-fostered adult’ will do. A survey just for adopters? Fine. But for the love of everything that is sane: do not have a box for everyone BUT adoptees. Simple, but effective.

Furthermore, as an adoptee, I find the focus on timescales extremely odd. Time is not even on the list of things I would discuss. Certainly, how long it takes to place children with adopters can be a useful proxy for measuring success, but it is not without its problems, and it is only one of many measurements.

The truth of it? How successful different LAs are in their current adoption practices will not be known until 20-30 years from now.

I’m glad it’s been mentioned how relationships and grief are glossed over. I do not see how inhumane practises can ever be seen as successful. Focussing on timescales and not on relationships reeks of being a little too efficient with people’s lives. Why is the government not doing anything about the findings of The Care Inquiry, which identified relationships – and broken relationships – as the dominant (and self-identified) narrative and thread in children’s lives? Why is the government focussing instead on timescales and lopping off a month here and there?

I was “waiting” for so long that the length of time I was “waiting” isn’t even found on the current adoption timetable spreadsheets (I kid you not). Yet after a frankly horrific year of the worst the care system can perpetrate upon a child (far worse than anything I was supposedly ‘rescued’ from), I finally made my way to a loving, secure, foster home where I thrived. I was there perhaps too long, but when Mr Timpson says “Every single day a child spends waiting in care for their new family is a further delay to a life full of love and stability. This just isn’t good enough”, I am mightily worried by the short-sightedness, and the lack of realisation that even in care children should be living a life of love and stability. Does he really mean to suggest that his foster carer parents did not give their foster children a life full of love? Children should be allowed to live fulfilling lives at EVERY stage. Never once did I feel I was “waiting”: I was busy in the present, going to school, doing my homework, etc. One worries that sometimes the rhetoric about waiting, being chosen, and adoption being superior may be absorbed unknowingly by some children and damage the self-esteem of those not ‘chosen’ quickly. Instead, ensure that these children – including pre-adoptees – are secure (not moving), and that they feel valued.

If there was investment in the foster care system, there would be much less need to speed things up on account of supposed ‘languishing’ or poor outcomes. No one (and certainly not me) is saying that children should sit around for years on end with no decision. But why are the poor experiences of children in local authority care seen as a reason to speed up adoption, and not seen a reason to invest in the care system? Does the government maybe think that improvement there is impossible, and has simply abdicated its responsibility to provide for all children in care?

Will there be similar attempts to improve foster care matching, and central government involvement in this too? Will the central government have a drive for foster parents, as with adoptive parents? Will questions be asked of the foster care landscape, with its mix of LA and independent providers, competitive bidding, and different ways of commissioning placements? And will proper attention be given to how far these processes and this hodgepodge of for-profit, not-for-profit and LA providers truly help or hinder the welfare of foster children (or bring down costs to the state)?

Why not look at the reasons for moves? Some of my moves were ‘structural’, such as my (heavily traumatic) move from my foster parents to adoptive parents. Others were due to the unavailability of suitable foster placements and therefore having to move between emergency carers because of a ‘shortage of beds’. If care is so poor, why not have a central government recruitment drive for foster parents, and government investment in foster care matching and support?

If you invest in the care system, adopters may find that their children are that little less damaged, as, where this is an issue, any pre-natal and birth family damage has not been compounded by the care system. And if you invest in the care system, a little extra time can be bought for proper decision-making to occur – because, whilst all avenues of support and care are properly explored, the children thrive. Adopters can therefore also rest safe in the knowledge that everything possible was done. (This is, of course, assuming that adopters are happy for their children to have thrived with previous foster parents….). And, taking a long-term view – longer than a 5-year Parliament term – investing in the care system can do a lot for your adult homeless, prisoner, and unemployed populations. But maybe the government just sees all this as too intractable – or perhaps the most vulnerable in society are not worth public investment in our apparently cash-strapped times.

In the UK only around 9-16% of children are adopted by their foster carers (it varies year to year – when people bother measuring it). In the US (speaking of foster care adoption, which they do have a lot of), the situation is reversed: it is rare to adopt from foster care as a ‘straight adoption’ adopter, and in some states it is simply impossible to adopt from foster care without being registered as a foster parent first. Whether or not this is the right approach (to cut structural moves and to prevent broken relationships), this does show how wedded the UK is to certain models. Even recent forays into foster-adoption still emphasise that they are adopters first and foremost – they just have to do this pesky thing first. And then of course there are emergency foster placements, short-term, long-term, etc. The system is built around the convenience of the adults involved. And this does not even bring into the discussion foster placements that break down due to a lack of support, training, or proper matching.

I could go on and on. I could talk about place, and ask how far the need of some adoptees to be near certain places will be properly considered in this Brave New World, or how far the need for slow introductions is accounted for by league tables. One day I may write about being sped through the introductions process (six weeks), or the effect of my parents’ re-approval for an older age range (due to a lack of younger children). Speeding up the adopter approval process, and perhaps overlooking the want for a particular kind of child, or altering a child’s contact arrangements to make them more attractive – these have long-term effects that really need to be looked at in more depth.

Adoption needs to be done properly, not just quickly. When asked in The Care Inquiry, children in care, adoptees, and care leavers did not speak of efficiency, they spoke of relationships. Let’s not let companies become too efficient with people’s lives.