#TheReport 

Lemn Sissay is a famous person. He is also an amazing person. I suspect he is an amazing person irrespective of fame. To see an amazing famous person have a deeply personal psychological report read to them live on a London stage would always be a draw for many people, especially if it is the first time that person and the audience will hear what is contained within it.It sold out rapidly in 24 hours and I’m guessing it could have been sold out many times over.

What led me to travel far across country to see #The Report read to Lemn Sissay by Julie Hesmondhalgh, other than my interest politically and the wish to bear supportive witness to somebody I respect, was love for my foster son. The beautiful, intelligent and funny boy who was severely damaged by the systems he found himself in as a young child and the lack of care he has received and continues to receive within those systems. Now a young man he continues to struggle with fear, anxiety, anger, trusting people, managing close relationships and substance abuse. As I sat listening to ‘The Report’ he was always in my mind.

Lemn has had to spend over four hours speaking to a psychologist as part of his ongoing efforts to sue the social services for having stolen his childhood. The report told of cruelty, lies, misinformation, constant racist abuse, systemic failure to care and the most harrowing stealing of his history and identity. The stealing of him from his mother. Stealing his mother from him.

I found it personally excruciating to hear the details and found myself both angry and very sad. I wanted to shout out. I think I wanted Lemn to shout out. The fact that Lemn was at times described as ‘aggressive’ within his files made me feel aggressive. When will assessments of children take into account that anger is actually a valid and healthy response to being traumatised and abused?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt they wanted to reach out to Lemn and attempt to reassure and offer love as he bravely sat there on an uncomfortable chair hearing shit truths he already knew. What the report conclusion described is the resultant damage done to Lemn. Leaving him with a deep mistrust of people. It also described the abuse against Lemn as having left him with high levels of trauma. No surprise there then.

Trauma cannot miraculously be healed, but with the right support the strategies can be found to cope with triggers and reverberations as they come. Lemn has had the personal strength to fight back and to channel his thoughts, feelings and his truth into creativity and to find safe ways of connection. A true survivor. A hero and connector to thousands.

Two things shone out of ‘The Report’ like diamonds in the dirt. One was hearing only positive descriptions of Lemn from a professional who recognised his strength, intelligence and honesty. A massive lesson right there for professional carers and social workers. The other was hearing from Lemn himself about Ethiopia’s pride for him.

As with all psychological reports Lemn was subjected to examination and interview within set criteria and scales. Scales of damage done that most certainly, as if there should ever have been any question, show he must surely receive healthy compensation and a real apology.

I can’t go into my sons life story here but there are similarities and threads that run through. There will be thousands of adults who have experienced local authority care and children now in care who also have those same threads running through their history. Untruths, misinformation, cruelty and neglect. Injustices of such magnitude a million sorries will not suffice.

Other things struck me about the report. One was the idea that the systemic abuse of Lemn began in long term foster care. It was presumed that removal from his mother as a baby at a few months old was not psychologically damaging to him. I’m not sure I agree with that. I feel that the severance may have been the first wound and as a consequence it then left him vulnerable to the cruelty of others over many years. The trauma of it and it’s consequences must surely reverberate throughout his family?

Another thing described throughout the report was the extent of racist abuse toward Lemn during his childhood. It was highly disturbing and included abuse from his foster family, other children and care home staff. I wondered how racist the care responses to his pregnant mother in a UK mother and baby home may have been.

There was talk of how this type of abuse was acceptable within British culture when Lemn was young. It was inexcusable then and it’s inexcusable now. Sadly from my own cultural and personal experience it remains. It’s just covered up more effectively. Like Lemn’s childhood identity and redacted files it’s been whitewashed. To hear how that abuse impacted on Lemn, shamed and traumatised him is horrific.

In a time of recent adoption reform and the current government investigation into improving foster care, the issue of cultural and institutional racism within adoption and fostering should remain at the forefront. I can’t see it there at the moment. My companion for the night has direct experience of trying to gain support for his transracial adoptive family and that experience has not shown that the support systems view inherent cultural racism as a current or important issue for children in transracial family placements. Permanence, safety and long term security is very important for children. Being well meaning but not critically questioning around methods to achieving permanence is not good enough. I’m sure lots of people felt Lemn’s white foster family were doing a wonderful Christian thing ‘saving’ a black child in the 1960’s. How they went about that intention at saving and subsequent failure was seemingly not questioned and criticised enough on behalf of Lemn by the professionals paid to keep him safe.

 

We must truly thank Lemn Sissay for having the strength and determination to pursue and expose the truth of his life story. Having the drive as a public figure to share the truth through his creative work and through his court case hopefully gives unknown others the strength to speak out and seek justice and apology for abuses against them in the name of care. Those supporting children and young people must take full responsibility for speaking out and tackle with full force the issues of institutional racism and other oppressive and abusive social care practices.

So that’s what I took from this extraordinary event. Energy and fresh motivation to keep fighting for children’s rights.

 

Not In Our Name

The Daily Mail article (link below) on adoption support, or lack of it, really woke us from the Christmas bubble with a start. A very rude awakening and a stark reminder of the differing cultures adoption sits within.
As we have responded as a charity and as individuals and having read many other responses, it strikes us as particularly sad that families are so desperate for their reality to be recognised that even a right wing style attack on adopted children’s birth families, and on children themselves has to be brushed aside as “at least it’s getting the topic into the tabloid press”
The article highlighted the desperation some of us feel with its truthful descriptions from parents about what it is like for them to live with a traumatised or displaced child and have no support. We have written and spoken about this constantly from both a personal and professional perspective and strongly believe that the reality of some families domestic lives should be recognised fully with understanding, acceptance and empathy, both for their sake and for the important purpose of gaining appropriate support.

We cannot however, accept that this truth and the reality for some should be used to smash other people over the head with nasty words. It reminds us of the same kind of language that allows the truth of some people’s lack of resources in this country being used to blame refugees.
Although it’s unpleasant and it happens all the time in the media, we are hoping that the people involved found their words taken out of context and edited to suit an agenda. That their intention was to highlight an important issue and its wider connotations in order to help support all those involved in adoption. We know the parts of it highlighting support needs bought comfort to many who are sick of being disenfranchised within debates about what they need or can have as certain types of families.
We don’t know of any adopters we speak to or read about who feel so negatively as this article did towards children’s birth families. Some have positive relationships with birth family members or want to make contact but have no support and are therefore anxious about doing the wrong thing. When adopting, wether you intended to or not, you take a child’s family and family history with you for life. Sometimes adopters feel sadness, anxiety, fear, anger or resentment when they see the effects a failed family and the social care system has had upon their adopted child. Adopters and carers we know of don’t want to be seen as saviours nor treated like martyrs. Many adopters feel very strongly that they want better support with life story work that is empathic towards birth families struggles and also interventions that recognise the political and cultural context within which people fail to thrive. In the cases where birth parents did completely unforgivable things to children, parents want this to be presented in a truthful, non sensationalist and therapeutic way to the children involved. They certainly don’t want children to be given the impression that their birth family are the dregs of society and because of that they will become so too if they don’t behave according to the happy ending script. The most cruel statements for us were the ones which said adoptees, still young children, were wrecking and blighting families.
Adoptees we have communicated with and our colleagues who were adopted as children are insulted by the tone of the article. We have consistently worked together with adopted people to try and address the media use of stereotypical language and the two dimensional representation of people who have been adopted….extremely lucky or very angry. This sadly but unsurprisingly hasn’t been easy and the people most affected by adoption, who may have many of the answers and solutions, remain the last heard in all areas of adoption talking, writing and policy making. Articles like this from tabloids don’t often help with issues of equality. Nobody asked the children involved for a quote in this article. Even if they had it probably wouldn’t have been the adopted ones.
We speak to many desperate adoptive parents and kinship carers who are struggling to see a way forward towards a healthy family life. They love their children even though they may not love having a family life half lived. A failure to thrive. We do believe the knowledge in the public domain about what’s really going on with adopted children’s mental health and problems with access to education is just the tip of the knowledge iceberg no matter how many positive adoption statistics and representations you might pay for and throw at it.
Despite being truthful about the difficulties they face on a daily basis adopters and birth family carers we speak to don’t talk about children in horrible and negative ways. The most negativity we come across is aimed at the systems they find themselves in. The article missed out one of the biggest cruelties about getting no support as parents and carers. That it is hurting and damaging the children we love. The more we see them struggling at school, in social situations and at home the more desperate for change we become. When the anger and frustration children feel is shown to us in the form of hatred and aggression it weakens our ability to successfully engage in, or even worse, fight a support system which is not yet fully fit for purpose despite the millions of pounds thrown at it.
The charities involved by quotation in The Daily Mail also work in areas of adoption support that include supporting adoptees and birth families. We feel offended that very negative ideas about these groups sat beside the quotes from agencies many adoptees, adopters and birth families have to seek support from. We feel it is important that all charities and charity workers stand up publicly for all of those they exist for. But these are tricky times financially and politically and that can be difficult. Finding a non political mass media forum to highlight sensitive issues is probably impossible
The Adoption Support Fund has been gratefully received by many. We hear of brilliant work and good progress being made in families because of excellent professionals and the use of the fund. There is greater understanding and more open talk of support difficulties that have been bought about by the formation of the fund. We all now know that it is not enough to provide the levels of support being asked for. The recent capping of it after its first year means agencies might find themselves in the same situation as local authorities, doing or having done professional assessments but not being able to provide the services the assessments call for.
This causes even more desperation in parents. No help is devastating. Being told help is now coming, that things have been reformed in terms of support on offer, being assessed and having the opportunity of telling your truth gives hope and encouragement. Having that then disbelieved, misunderstood or snatched away is almost worse than not having it at all. It’s not surprising that the word Kafkaesque comes up regularly in service users descriptions of adoption support systems.
Another thing the article missed out is the desperation that some adoptive families also have to face from professionals who have been forced to become defensive about the lack of resources and specialist training that would allow them to be more effective in their interventions. Many of the wise ones speak honestly, if off record to service users, about the lack of resources in the system and of their powerlessness within it. Many are uncertain about the future. Because social workers choose to work in adoption doesn’t mean they haven’t seen or don’t see the bigger picture in relation to the rights of all children whatever their legal status. There is frustration at the inability to take part in tackling the inequality and negative cycles that often result in adoption needing to happen in the first place. Frustration at the waste of money that can sometimes occur when systemically forced to buy in expensive private services that may have an uncertain long term future. Worry that the ultimate answer from the government will be for LA’s to find funding in house for adoption support services and we are back where we began before the reforms. These issues in themselves are complex and difficult to deal with whilst working in a broader political system that is seemingly starving state funded mental health and social care services across the board.

Adopters often report having powerful new insights into what it must have been like for children’s birth families when trying to navigate underfunded social care systems. What it really feels like to be blamed and uncared for when you are at your most vulnerable, angry, frightened or desperate.
The dynamics can end up with a group of angry and frustrated people. A group that makes up many more than an adoption triad, all needing resources, empathy, understanding and support. Equally the shared frustrations could bring about meaningful dialogue and solutions. Those who have the power and the energy have to continue to believe in and work towards that on behalf of those struggling and exhausted.
The Daily Mail article encouraged division. It gave permission to comments about forced sterilisation and killing children. It showed little empathy for those it quoted or represented. It perpetuated the unpleasant myth of deserving and undeserving children that enables inequality and sometimes cruelty in children’s services. It seems unlikely that it’s going to result in families, and individuals, birth or adoptive, getting more resources.

The people involved in adoption and the politics of adoption, both personally and professionally should not allow, without stiff challenge, the complexities and multiple truths in adoption to be spun into nasty pantomime versions of good and bad, rich and poor, us and them.


OPEN NEST CHARITY FUNDED THERAPEUTIC PROJECT WITH 10 WOMEN WHO HAVE HAD CHILDREN REMOVED. MAKING SELF CARE BOXES AND SHARING LIFE STORIES.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-4069254/They-open-homes-adopt-ve-taken-youngsters-wreck-family-continue-BETRAY-loving-parents-asks-CAROL-SARLER.html

Winter Hibernation 

Christmas is the trickiest of times in our house. It is full of memories both good and bad. Love and loss in equal measures. J’s permanent placement with me happened a month before Christmas and although that will always evoke powerful memories we have reached a place where we are more comfortable with celebrating that anniversary. For all J’s family though this time of year will always have a sense of lack of safety and everyone needs a higher level of support to stay on track.

We love the sense of celebration and light within the darkness of winter. Living rurally makes us feel close to both the elements and nature.Nothing is quite as magical as watching mist settle in the frosty valley or a herd of deer in the nearby woods in December.

The excitement and pleasure of sharing quiet and quality time with family and friends is however tainted by those we miss. Christmas Eve was cruelly the day of J’s fathers funeral and in that moment two years ago the childlike wonder of ‘the night before Christmas’ was lost forever.

In order to cope with the dual (triple, quadruple) emotions that abound at this time of year we tend to baton down the hatches at the end of November. The weeks leading to Christmas are now a time we spend together enjoying peace and solitude and more than anything trying to count our blessings and remember that despite our difficulties we are lucky in both love and life.

We actively hibernate and become comfortably lazy. Our business is closed and aside from well planned shopping trips and visits with very familiar friends we spend much time lighting fires, playing with our many family pets and watching sentimental films that encourage acceptable and controlled weeping.

I’m sure there are many other families who feel the same as us and within our hibernation and headspace we send heartfelt winter wishes to you all.

Adopted Voices Conference: Outcomes

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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.

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.

A Service User ‘Rant’ About Adoption Reform

I am compelled as someone who loves an adoptee and is also a firm believer in children’s rights, to write about adoption reform today.

I’m mighty pissed off. Another great big law changing DfE adoption reform announcement (even the Queens involved) this time on the Saturday of a bank holiday weekend. What’s that about?

The usual, age old professional adoption commentators, Adoption UK and BAAF, were ‘interviewed’ via press releases fed to the media.

Sky TV contacted us last minute as a charity to see if we knew any adopters who wanted to chat about what a difficult time they had had going through a recent adoption process. This would be for the evening news alongside the DfE announcement. The theme of any potential interview was clearly pre planned. It was to add proof from a service user that the system needed to change and ‘speed up’. That forcing change by law was justified. When I mentioned that as an adoptee/adopter support charity we had grave concerns about certain aspects of speeding up the process, as well as having confusion over the financial focus on adoption as only one form of permanence for children, that we had adopters/adoptees who felt that way, the reporter seemed surprised…and uninterested. Debate from service users was not on the agenda.

When I agreed to talk about the adoption support fund on BBC Breakfast a few weeks ago, all the political bits were edited out. The bits where I talked about millions being spent on marketing not support and the plight of kinship carers. Adopters are allowed to speak alongside adoption professionals but really only when positioned as charitable saviours, adoption champions or stoic martyrs, politely and patiently hoping for desperately needed support.

Most terrible is that adult adoptees don’t seem to get a look in. It really is most peculiar that a major and very expensive reform of a care system that affects adoptees more than anyone else, essentially omits their voice. There is no independent adult adoptees on reform boards despite the boards being run since 2011. Throughout the reform, money has been given to some organisations that sit on the boards that they have used to represent the voices of adoptees. These tend to involve non politicised younger children and sadly, although well intended, can have an air of tokenism about them in the bigger scheme of service user involvement.

Where are the loud voices of adult adoptees and experienced adopters to be found and heard? After years of the current adoption reform agenda being prescribed to this country it seems it is ‘not allowed’ by service users to oppose it in public media, certainly not in any strident way. Charities and professionals working with children and families who are not on the adoption reform boards make polite public statements and calls for caution over and over again but the airtime and column inches afforded to the truly affected doubters is scant compared to the quite frankly astonishing government led PR machine for adoption. Funded and advised by the DfE, adoption agencies and local authorities are wheeling out adoption marketing all over the place. Previously ‘quiet’ old school agencies are employing marketing and communications bods to engage on social media with potential customers. Lots of shiny promotional material, pop up stands, podcasts and even mobile ‘adoption promotion’ units appear at all kinds of events to maximise sales. (Some of the marketing has made me giggle a little bit as a watcher of BBC’s W1!)

Most public call to caution over all this is met by Sir Martin Narey’s child protection mantra about our countries terrible tolerance of child neglect that makes any critic of ‘his’ reform feel like they are at risk of being an apologist for child abusers.

(Before I really get much further into the rant or get ranted at, here’s the disclaimer; I don’t condone leaving children in abusive homes. I don’t hate adoption. Done properly It’s best for a minority of children)

I genuinely cannot understand why the current DfE financial focus on adoption is not questioned by more taxpayers. In the bigger scheme of children’s rights to quality care when unable to live with their parents, adoption serves a small percentage. Rough figures are 65,000 children in care, 5000 adoptions per year. What percentage is hoped for as a result of reform?

Whilst the government place adoption as a premium permanence solution for some neglected children, they also allow thousands of vulnerable children to be forced out of local authority care before they are ready, rendering them at risk of exploitation, abuse and homelessness. They ignore the great resource of family members willing and able to look after their own child relatives if given the right support. Whilst the government are happy to tell the public about the need for much quicker removal of children from abusive situations and into adoption they haven’t yet tackled, in any quick or meaningful way, the shameful culture of the institutional sexual abuse of children that seems to be rife in the UK.

It seems to me that perhaps it’s not questioned because outside of those working on the front line of it, to members of the public, adoption still has the ‘ahhhhhhh’ factor (as an adoptee described it to me today). The cultural rescue mentality around adoption is alive and well. The simplistic notion of a happy ending is believed by the majority. To publicly criticise the almost religious mission feel of some of the rhetoric means you’re perhaps just like a big old Scrooge not allowing poor children the opportunity to experience the magic of Christmas.

It’s actually a very sad thing, adoption. Things have to have been really bad to be removed permanently from all of your family, your culture and your history. If you’ve been wrongfully or unjustly removed (yes it does happen!) it’s even more tragic. As well as the many good and happy bits of adoption it is also serious, scary and sad for many children. Many lose so very much as their identity is legally changed forever.
When adoptive parents truly understand this loss, have no notions of ownership of a child’s identity and get the right free support to manage loss, anger and identity properly for a child, and themselves, adoption can be a real chance of a healthy safe haven throughout childhood.

Many adopters and adoptees know though, that support to adoptees has not been the main focus of this current reform agenda. If it was, the budget set aside (out of the over two hundred million pound reform) would be a lot more guaranteed than one years worth of support at 19.5 million.
Social workers would have been trained in how to implement the adoption support budget at least a year before it’s launch, not two weeks.

A quote from yesterday’s press release;

” I have long held the view that 180 agencies in England does not make sense when only 5000 children are being placed” Hugh Thornbery: Adoption UK, member of Adoption Leadership Board.

Hugh has a point. I’m certainly surprised more people are not curious as to why the DfE funded three brand new regional adoption agencies to the tune of £1.5 million last year as part of its reform. Including, most surprisingly, a ‘substantial’ grant to massive multi million pound profit making, private care company, Core Assets to open an agency ‘Adopters For Adoption’.

Core Assets were the same company employed by the government to do a diagnostic assessment of local authority adoption services leading up to adoption reform. Their assessments found LA adoption services severely lacking and as a result controversial performance scorecards were bought in as an attempt to boost adoption numbers by LA’s or risk having their adoption services taken over.

Did we need £1.5 million worth of new voluntary/private adoption agencies? If we did why? How were the agencies chosen for funding? Are these agencies to lead LA’s on the regional reform of adoption services?

The DfE “called plans for regional adoption agencies a “triple win” that would also widen the availability of support services and improve recruitment of adopters. It expects councils to see the writing on the wall…” The Guardian

As a lay person it seems to me that the road to privatisation of adoption and adoption support has perhaps been paved for some time. Great some might say. About time those pesky underfunded and overworked LA adoption social workers get booted out. Many social care experts, practitioners and researchers feel the privatisation of adoption is one arm of an aim to privatise all child protection services, much like the slow but steady privatisation of prisons and the NHS.

As a business woman I’m not so naive that I don’t know that great and ethical work can be done by private companies. Where vulnerable children are concerned though, profit making will always leave a bitter taste in my mouth. I would prefer that LA children and families services were fully funded, that social workers and teachers were allowed more time and funding to engage in good training opportunities. That service users and front line LA social workers were given real power to influence service provision.

As an adopter it has annoyed me to see this current reform result in many more events and profit making products being produced by participating agencies to ‘talk’ and ‘learn’ about adoption issues. Most with a hefty price tag. Courses that parents, social workers and teachers can buy in order to help traumatised children, courses to buy that teach professionals about how to use the adoption support fund. Shouldn’t these things all be free in relation to children’s needs being met? No more decent and swift access to CAMHS for us but we can buy a parenting course for £700 (each). As an adopter of some time, it seems many of these type of products have been around for a long time, certainly the agencies and the issues they aim to address have been. I couldn’t afford them fifteen years ago and I can’t now. There’s something in all the hype of current reform that over complicates things and certainly doesn’t seem, so far, to lead to easy access of free information and support to urgently meet adopted children’s health and educational needs, despite the apparent wealth of expertise behind it.

Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe every penny spent on the current adoption reform and its byproducts will prove to be justified. I guess only time will tell. In the meantime we continue as a user led peer support charity to gather the information and views handed to us by social workers, adoptees and adopters on a weekly basis. We feel some of it needs open public debate that includes service users truly at the forefront. Some of it is listed below:

1. Many adoptees want to search for their birth family and/or cultural roots as soon as they can. Adopters are living in fear as articles about the dangers of adoptees searching out potentially dangerous family on Facebook without any support are churned out. Many worried adopters spy on their children’s birth family on Facebook. Sometimes Facebook is where adopters find information about the child’s life story that is sadly missing in the files.

2. It pains but suits some adopters to attempt ‘ a fresh start’ for a child. This is not because they are bad people it is because they find the ‘other’ family, sometimes including siblings, too far away, too frightening or too emotionally triggering and messy. Sometimes social workers disagree with this practice but don’t want to ruin the chances of the adoption going smoothly. They sometimes allow adopters to renege on contact arrangements made during matching as there is no budget available to therapeutically support all parties around contact or safe open adoption where possible.

3. Lack of support, from legal aid through to financial support, means some children’s birth relatives can’t look after them even when they are very desperate to do so. Some of those heartbroken relatives lose contact over years with that loved member of their family. Adult adoptees can feel very sad and angry, even if they love their adoptive parents, when they learn it was lack of support to their family that led to their life and identity being changed forever.

4. Parents lose their children to care having been victims of domestic violence. This happens to both birth parents and adoptive parents. Many adopters learn what it might have been like for birth parents to be involved with child protection services when they become parents involved with child protection services themselves.

5. As service users, prospective adopters, adopters and adoptees wish to understand better the current adoption reforms and how they will be affected by them in the long term. They would benefit from seeing detailed documents that show the work of the DFE and it’s adoption reform boards. How were decisions made and by whom. How and why were commissions, contracts and budgets sought, managed and implemented. Who was consulted and by whom. What was the independent research used to inform changes. What are the long term aims of adoption reform. What are the adoption numbers being aimed at and why.

6. Adopters and adoptees feel they can offer a wealth of expertise. Professional non adopters and adoptees get paid well to inform, implement and deliver reform, information and support. Adopters and adoptees often feel they are reduced to ‘least expert’ when expected to be volunteers or low waged when at the invitation of agencies they take part in research, sit on panels, be adoption ‘buddies’ or provide training and support.

7. Some social workers feel out of their depth around providing adoption support. They don’t know where agencies/individuals exist to commission quality services and feel confusion about what status those agencies or individuals need to have to be commissioned. They don’t fully understand the adoption support fund budget and are worried they will commission important long term therapeutic work that may have to end when/if the budget runs out.
They are worried they are being set up to fail and will get the blame when adopters can’t access what their children urgently need.

For free peer support, advice and information contact theopennest@yahoo.co.uk

Jazz Blog: Unconditional Love

The mother how had unconditional love for her girl but could not cope.

When I was first born I had some problems but we are not saw what. my mum
love me so much but could not cope because her mum had bereavement when my grandad died when he was 28. he was a fishmon ad he got kill by a bom at sea ad thats wear my famley trubble started.

then my mum got older ad get put in a children home ad she got sexley abrust. then she was home less ad she met dad ad it’s a bit of a weird one because he was a older man ad he had 4 kids.
he was in the army but then his wife died and then got with my mum. then they had my big Bro Michael and he died at berth. then Justin then one more miss caridge then me then my little brother Freddie. she found it hard because she had three kids 1 3 yearold 1 2 year old 1 year old ad she us to hit me ad I seam to rember her shouting at me then she was all over me ad it was a bit of a head fuck er.

Then I got put in to fosta home seprut to my brothers ad then mummy bear came ad then when I was 8 I got rey a nightid with my mum ad dad. then when I was 19 dad died ad I blame my mum because she was not very nice to my dad. well that how I fell ad now I have day dreams of killing her ad how nice that would fell like but then I fell so much love for her.

I some times fell that I wish it was my mum dead not dad I very very angry with her but I I’m a mums boy ad I fell so angry ad hate her so much because I us to get the shit end of the stick ad then she would be all sorry then angry again ad it’s left me not trust in her. ad skerd of her ad some time shit my self it might all kick off again.

this I think is what she thinks hey jazz i so sorry I love you I just had a shit time in my live I would not hert u u are my number one. ad this me think well its to late u stupid cow u should fort about that in the first place it’s to late I’m not for giving I wish you wear dead. mummy bear is my mum now u had your chance fuck of ad out of my live then I think no give her a chance I love her to much.
But mummy bear is my mum no one els.

This song is like how I feel

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Ra-Om7UMSJc

My Name Is Jazz: Name Changing

When I was born I was jasmin rea powdrell and when I got adoptid my mum change it and it rally pissis me of because it’s not up to them it not thear child.
I fell it is rely rong because it’s hard i nuff that been taken a way and a lot of the time thay don’t have a chose and thay don’t no why ad I fell it should be agest the law because it not ther child and it’s not up to them at all.
when I got adoptid I got name jasmin rea b*****n ad I fell it’s up to the person when they older to see.
if I had a chose it would be jazz rea powdrell because I would of like to keep that jean because my mum ad mums side was called that ad it rally mack me angry not because off my mummy bear because I love our family but the powdrell r my rail family and I do love mummy bear ad the b*****n’s. I just won’t to be with my mum and dad and brothers and when I see family all to get her it macks me fell very jealous and angry that I couldn’t have that and i no famley don’t alk ways get on but I crave the fact they live in the same house eat the same food shop together go to school together.
Argue together cry togetther, shere feelings watch telly together go to bed in the same house aloud to go out on thear on with the brothers. tell your mum that u love her and u going to be thear no matter what have a job have the famley.
kids do need thear rile perrents ad when my cousin jhonny comes I allwas think your so lucky you live with brothers and sister and u got a popper mum and u live with you rale mum and when all of my sport worker’s come I think that.

 

 

But then I look and think I’m lucky the fact I got adoptid and not in a children’s home and my mum had the guts to go and find my famley and stuck by my site every time.

First 100 (To challenge the paperwork gets a free lolly).

Contact, a simple little word that has so much complexity, confusion, love and fear behind it. I have had that little but big word in my head constantly for the last fifteen years.Thoughts of it are never far away. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it damaging? Is it therapeutic? Is it a moral issue? Everyone should do it, Should I ever have done it? Is it a great big pain in the backside? Will resolution and harmony be the end result?

As my daughter to be arrived to live with me there were no real arrangements at all for birth family contact. The paperwork supported the “they are dangerous abusive people not worthy of consideration” view. I was, through a process of government regulation and assessment, to become the cultural rescuer, the life saver, the fairy good mother balancing out life’s ‘dysfunctional’ with life’s ‘normal’

Alongside that was a gaping void of meaningful information about why and how the decision to permanently severe her from her roots, siblings and all, had been bought about. There were reports of many attempts to support that had failed. Irresponsible behaviour, aggression and non compliance from the parents. But no real family history as such. What had happened to them, what were their life stories, how did they end up not being able to parent appropriately? Who were their extended families and especially where were they? When I thought of the parents in my minds eye they existed as two isolated shadowy people in a dark cloudy bubble of danger and uncertainty.

I was advised to keep my daughters identity and whereabouts secret and not to go with her to her nearby home town. The psychological effects of this on us were much bigger than I was able to vocalise at the time. What other families, and particularly children, have to hold elements of themselves secret, risk assessed, pixilated in fear of discovery? It’s got elements of witness protection and identity reconstruction.

Of course at the time I was compliant and wholeheartedly accepted the authorities view that the security was for a good reason and that my child needed such protection. I had shameful feelings of hatred towards her parents. In the few photos I managed to eventually get by persistence with the LA, they looked in my minds eye like something akin to photos you see on the news of child abusers. Faces with nothing but negative associated with them. You could see the hard life etched on them. Signs and symbols of poverty and lack of opportunities.

Initially my daughter and I were thrown into life with each other. There was no time to consider anything or anyone else. As things ‘settled’ the murky cloud of her parents and her history was behind us most of the time. Like something that could potentially jump out of the shadows. The elephant in the room. An elephant that neither of us could discuss properly because we didn’t have the right information. Of course I fielded young questions with the reassurance that her mum and dad couldn’t look after her, they had hurt her, it wasn’t her fault, she was safe now. As time went by it wasn’t enough.

Two things mainly triggered my urge to meet them for her sake. First was the the best bits of her. The really great sense of humour. The massive grin. The loving and generous nature. The most beautiful eyes I have ever seen. The uniqueness. The courage. Then the difficult bits. Fear, anger, anxiety.

My thought process went something like; There must have been good bits about her family life for her to have gained certain inherent qualities. Foster carers surely couldn’t have changed her personality in the year they had her?
The difficult bits seemed to exist for obvious reasons to me. They had frightened her and neglected her, life was chaotic and uncertain. It was loud, harsh, smokey and it smelt a bit of wee. Her belly was often empty and her hair was often pulled.
As I began to learn to understand her difficult bits, to forgive violence against me, to live with abuse in my home, to keep therapeutically calm and failing badly at times, they came to my mind more and more. Why did they do this to her?

Her behaviour didn’t make me judge her negatively. In fact I loved her more. I was mainly forgiving and empathic and spent a large proportion of my life attempting to get all those around her, family, schools, friends, doctors, police to view her in the same way as I did. To understand that her anger was justified if mismanaged. I hated it when others viewed her as dangerous or delinquent and many did. Other children were gently steered away from her and invitations to social gatherings were rarely forthcoming.
As she grew older and bigger, sympathy and forgiveness for her visibly drained away. She transformed from child victim to teenage perpetrator in the eyes of others and in the eyes of the law. I had to do intense work to avoid her being criminalised. Trying to explain that although her behaviour was at times violent and anti social she was a good person in her heart and intentions, that we loved each other deeply despite it all. That they didn’t ever see the ‘real’ her that she kept buried as protection from possible grief and pain.

She was by birth an extension of her parents. By my logic that meant they could also be somebody’s damaged child. Somebody’s damaged child that perhaps didn’t get taken in by loving kin, quality care or attend therapy with a psychologist or sessions with a social worker who championed them in meetings as inherently good.
I personally don’t believe in born evil. I think we all have a bit of bad in us. Stress, violence against us, hunger and fear is likely to make most of us have mental health issues and behave in anti social ways. Education and life opportunities often help the lucky ones to stay away from the darker sides of human survival. Having said that of course there are many educated well off people abusing their and other peoples children whilst hiding behind a moat of respectability.
I think mental health is a cruel condition to manage in the culture we currently live within. Addiction even harder. Homelessness impossible.

So I thought, if I can have compassion and forgiveness for her behaviour could I have it for them? She knew they had been taken out of her life because they hurt her. She lived in fear that I would be taken from her because she hurt me. If I couldn’t promote forgiveness or at least understanding of emotional and social circumstances for her parents why would she ultimately believe I would do it for her?

Based upon on the above I searched them out. My initial intention was information gathering not reunion. After sometime and much preparation I took her with me. We eventually met Mum and Dad, Granny, Aunty, nephews, nieces, half sisters and brothers over many visits. I took her to the hospital ward she was born in and she collected a wrist band with the exact time and date (it was as the drums of Eastender’s played out at 8pm). We learnt of Grandad whose tragic death on the roll of a fate dice sadly changed her life chances forever. We saw the places that held her family history both bad and good. The memorial to her Grandad, the place her Mum hit the social worker.
We learnt it was her Mum that struggled, she was learning disabled and a child victim of abuse, the manifestation of which was very challenging behaviour. We learnt she had a good heart, an infectious laugh, no justice, no education and no money. We learnt she responded very positively to empathic therapeutic responses and clear boundaries. Her sister, a police officer, told us of systemic failures to help them as a family to keep her safe and understood. We learnt of how different things could have been with quality early intervention and support. Tons of paperwork existed but there was no investment made for the future. An expensive false economy.

With this information my daughter could make better sense of it all and with security, understanding and therapeutic support be enabled to make informed choices to forgive or not, to forget or not. As an adult she’s glad we did it although it was challenging and at times extremely sad. That’s our individual and personal experience.

In a wider context I feel that the chances are that if you have an adopted child, behind that may be a history of at least one of the following; poverty, mental health, addiction, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, poor housing, lack of opportunity, lack of attachment opportunities and love. The chances are high that your child was born into a family dealing with poverty. I have doubts that behind it lies people beyond support or ‘redemption’. Where there exists those who have committed such heinous crimes that they are beyond forgiveness, surely we have to question what society did to firstly see it coming and secondly prevent it. The children of ‘the unforgiven’ also deserve the very best support possible to come to terms with their experiences.

Losing connection to your family or having a child removed from your family are unimaginable to most of us in terms of trauma and loss. It’s the most severe punishment. Do thousands of families and extended families a year in this country really deserve such a punishment? If yes….what the hell is going on? What are we spending our riches on? If no…what the hell is going on? What are we spending our riches on?

Based upon our personal experience and wider knowledge it concerns me that adoption systems, promotion and regulation exist against an entrenched cultural back drop of mass consumerism, corrupt corporations, social exclusion, discrimination, elitism, sexism and racism all topped off with social care, health services and legal aid cuts.
I’m sure in some and probably many cases this leads to injustice and unnecessary harm to children and vulnerable adults.

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