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

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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Training And Trains Of Thought

I booked myself onto an intensive training course with attachment guru Dan Hughes earlier this year. It was not cheap and I needed most of the year to save up for it despite the deposit being given as a birthday present from my parents. The course was level 1 in Dyadic Developmental Psychology, DDP for short. The therapeutic model was created by Dan to work with children and young people who have attachment issues and trauma related symptoms. The therapy is particularly used with fostered and adopted children who have experienced traumatic loss and/or neglect and abuse. The therapy, unlike others believes in forming an authentic relationship with clients and their families or main carers. At its core is PACE: playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, empathy. I think it’s a great parenting model for all children.

Jazz and I were involved in this therapy for many years and I whole heartedly believe in it. It was the only intervention that felt humane, positive and meaningful. We just didn’t get enough of it due to lack of LA/Health financial commitment.
My motivation for going on the course was not to become a therapist in DDP but to focus my experience and gain further expertise as a charity worker. I also want to continue to support my daughter who did not suddenly become ‘cured’ of trauma issues aged 18 when funding for the therapy ended at the stroke of midnight on her birthday.

The course has been taking place this week and I finished it on Thursday. Clutching my certificate and with a head full of learning I wended my way back home to reflect on what I had taken from it.

I have always had a heathy cynicism about the ability of therapy to cure trauma symptoms and of course my opinions of this didn’t change over the week. I still believe trauma has to be lived with and strategies for families to cope independently are what can be encouraged and developed within this style of attachment therapy.

There were 31 people on the course and I was the only person present who was a parent to a traumatised child rather than a therapist or practitioner in children’s services. This gave me quite a different perspective than the other trainees. It made me acutely aware of the use of language during discussions as well as the positions workers are in when supporting families. A great group of open minded and willing people didn’t mean that the overall care culture of the parent being less expert did not creep in and show itself. Quite a bit of innocent but disempowering suggestion during exercises and dialogue that parents might not quite understand the reasons behind behaviour in the way a therapist or ‘professional’ automatically would.

I found the many clips of therapy sessions bought tears to my eyes in ways they couldn’t to other people. That in the role plays (I still hate role play!) it meant I could easily slip into parent and child role but found myself disassociated when I was the therapist. I also learnt I was better at being an active problem solver than a more passive listener. Which is not always a good thing. I found Dan to be a true therapeutic master when watching him work with families

Many of the trainees found practising the therapy methods all day exhausting even with coffee and lunch breaks. It was nothing compared to practising it for real every day, day in, day out for years.

Having been fighting for years as a parent and more recently as a charity worker to have the voices of children and parents heard in equal status to professionals and politicians it gave me great hope to hear that Dan Hughes was potentially ‘on our side’. He proved this to me in part by using The Open Nest ‘Severance’ film as part of the training. He says he plans to use it again as he felt it showed services the direct results of not supporting families, both birth and adoptive from the start. We hope he does.

My overall conclusions were these:

1. Many therapists in the UK and within CAMHS work with models that are in potential opposition with the principles of DDP. This in turn means they work in ways that do not help adoptive families and can even damage them.

2. Social workers wanting to support families post adoption and in ways which take on principles of DDP and PACE will not necessarily get backing from LA management or the DfE, nor the budget and supervision needed to be supported in ways a therapist would.

3. There are still worrying gaps in professional knowledge around what life is really like at times for adopted children and their families. This extends to a more dangerous blaming of parents if children express trauma through behavioural problems. The Government funded research by Julie Selwyn that highlighted issues in adoption is not commonly heard of, even by adoption social workers! I think the Government are hugely selective in which adoption stats they focus on.

4. DDP therapy can potentially turn lives around but the access to both practicing it and receiving it is restricted and exclusive due to the costs involved.

5. To teach a parent and child to communicate well in the presence of trauma and to encourage healthy attachment styles in therapy sessions is a wonderful goal. It can be transformative. For a parent and child to sign up for this and commit to it is empowering and supportive for all. When that parent and child then receive opposing thinking and practice outside the therapy, in schools, health services etc, it is devastating and completely undermines the work done by the therapy. It is confusing and anger provoking for children who do not understand budgets, systems and agendas.

6. I am more convinced than ever that the current Government needed and still needs to prioritise funding to change the culture and practice around adoption and the language and rhetoric it takes place within, before it spends money on recruitment and the marketing of a system not yet fully fit for purpose.

7. If supporting traumatised children truly is your passion as a trainer, therapist, social worker, charity boss, MP or parent you should give your time and expertise as generously as you possibly can. Give free and subsidised places on your courses, give your knowledge and information to as many people as possible for free, fight your managers to gain meaningful support for families and yourself even if it makes you unpopular, write to your MP, lobby parliament, form support groups, take part in activism, hang on in there for your children against the odds.

8. If money has to be involved in your passion to support children it is always possible to make it truly fair trade.

National Adoption Week: It’s My Party And I’ll Cry If I Want To.

There’s been talk this weekend of the online community taking over NAW. Its something we have been hoping for since last years NAW ‘thank you’ letter from MP Edward Timpson. A petition we ran in response to the letter gained over 1000 signatures from people who felt recruitment focused reforms were not enough towards understanding and supporting adopted people. The Adoption Social also ran a feature on the week and gathered the views of adopters in more detail. During the previous NAW in 2013 we launched a controversial exhibition called Severance which showed us that in adoption rhetoric, adopted people are mainly excluded.

With feedback from these previous years we decided at our annual trustees meeting to fund a conference this year on the first day of NAW 2015. The only speakers will be adult adopted people who will give their versions of adoption and the systems they have experienced. The conference will also launch some important research which will hear the voices of many more adult adopted people. We will be announcing further details on The Adoption Social soon. The conference is being held at The Foundling Museum in London on October 19th.

I hope the community will work together to be heard but at the forefront of this we hope will be adopted peoples views. Without these, any dialogue will be less rich and risk replicating the mistakes of previous years. We feel strongly as a charity that until the voices of those that adoption is ‘done’ to are properly heard in mainstream media, the good practice needed will not follow and will not be fully informed.

Hoping this year many people will work together to instigate change and challenge the status quo. It’s going to be exciting!

Blog from NAW 2014:

Well it’s been a National Adoption Week of madness, not too dissimilar to most weeks here but with a backdrop of intensely mixed emotions. Jazz started the week by blogging about her very mixed and raw feelings towards her birth mum and to being adopted. A letter from Edward Timpson MP then appeared on my Twitter timeline thanking ‘me’ for the great job I do. Then a massive thunder storm brewed that eventually made all the power go off in our house. The week has made me reflect on complexities, not just within my own life but within adoption. Jazz’s blog made me feel extremely sad for her. A child with no choice in her circumstances growing into an adult still dealing with the consequences of failure, not only by her birth mother and me but also by the systemic failures in adoption support. We have had numerous chats, tearful moments and hugs as well as quite hairy moments of anger and anxiety this week. Mr Timpsons letter just made my blood boil. I’ve heard he is a really nice man who has good intentions but I felt it was sadly recruitment focused and a bit of a wind up for many of us in the community. It thanked adopters but entirely forgot to meaningfully mention adoptees and by its nature ignored the impact of the current system upon many of them. He followed this bit of PR with a picture of himself at an awards ceremony with his head through a strange fairground style recruitment advert from the Government funded agency First4Adoption. The picture was of an ‘adoptive dad’ and an ‘adoptee’ (he was the Daddy) with the words ‘Happy Birthday’ slung in a banner over the top of them. Maybe I’m too sensitive? To me, based upon my experience, birthdays can be very loaded for children who cannot remain in their birth families. Adoption is not a ‘rebirth’ event it is the beginning of a complex life journey that starts with a loss that reverberates, often during days of National celebration for others. Maybe they were fuelled up on adoption positivity and cheap champagne but it didn’t seem very thoughtful to me. The storm and loss of power caused an enforced moment of calmer reflection and clarity. With no distractions by television or housework or cooking, no light to read or write by, I just sat and thought by candlelight. I thought that it was a shame that what should be a celebration of our families caused division and confusion in many of our minds. To speak of difficulties or to challenge the merits of the adoption system could suggest to others, in particular adoptees, that we are unhappy or have regrets as adopters. The last thing I would want my daughter to ever feel is that I regret her. I don’t and I make a point of not only discussing this openly with her but also sharing our loving relationship with anyone who will listen. I also support her in being heard, even if that means reading and publishing her individual views that being adopted is completely shit at times. To criticise those with true passion and integrity who are pushing for meaningful reforms to adoption support can seem very ungrateful or cynical. Right now, we will of course take everything we can get. If the 19 million in pilot support projects just stops some families falling apart it is gratefully received. But it is crucial as ‘receivers’ of policy to also highlight that the current adoption system and reform policy is flawed. Research tells us that at least one third of existing adoptive families struggle to a high degree. This is life changing, messy and harrowing. Ultimately it puts children at risk. There are children and families at risk now, today, this National Adoption Week. If you see adoption as a potentially great thing for children it follows that you allocate significant funding to get adoption support systems right before bringing more children and families into them. A bit like some of the National Adoption Week PR it all seems like it hasn’t been entirely thought through. I’ve tried to imagine why. I’ve spoken to social workers, practitioners, researchers and academics. Many of them report feeling it is a short sighted party political budget driven initiative. That it cannot be denied that adoption can provide much needed security and continuity to neglected and abused children but that it also saves money. Adoption transfers the legal duty of care for vulnerable children to private families and away from the the State. Adoption support is not a legal duty by statute within this system. It is not at all easy for any of us to talk or write honestly about the difficult issues we deal with. You can be made to feel you are letting the side down, being negative or moaning purely for the sake of it. I have wondered what on earth those who haven’t struggled make of what some of us share during this week of relentless celebration. Mad and marginalised people who don’t know how to enjoy a great party when they see one? The sad and unlucky few? I also worry as founder of a user led charity that being ‘political’ or negative about adoption policy will alienate us all from those holding the support purse strings. Then I think about Jazz and I and how we had to learn together to her detriment and how we were blamed and isolated. How we daren’t be angry in case the few crumbs of support available might disappear as punishment for our dissent. How we internalised that anger turning it to shame. How we so nearly lost each other. Then I feel quite angry and unaffected by any judgements that might diminish our experience or that of others. As an agency we have hope and faith that by working hard at fundraising we can support families by being independent and unmuzzled. The personal is political in a way that if it is organised creatively has a transformative power beyond rhetoric. American adoptees have had a parallel event to our NAW this week. A great campaign with the hashtag #flipthescript has shared amazing thoughts, feelings and politics all week. It’s a different system but I’m guessing by what I’ve read that they feel as marginalised and unheard as some of us do here. The power in their campaign is the unashamed determination in their right to be heard. I’m wondering if we can organise something like this ourselves as a community for next NAW? A campaign that is honest but clearly states it is the very personal love for our own children as well as a more universal respect for the experience of all adoptees that drives us to be truthful. That this truth should therefore allow us a valid invitation to the party rather than being the embarrassing unwanted guest. Hashtag suggestions welcomed to info@theopennest.co.uk

My Name Is Jazz: I Love Beards!

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It’s gone from the f***** up kid to the boy/ tranny. I just won’t to be a boy because I like fit girls and the fit girls I like like fit boys like me. I just feel more at home as my self and and my dream is to be a boy because I just won’t to be more my self. when I’m a boy I just feel like I sould be a boy calld Dexter and thats my dream lol I think I would be better looking and I feel more my self. when I’m a boy I feel I can show my self more and my dream is to be a lads lad I just feel more sexy as a boy ad my cheeky ness comes out more my anger gets less my anxiety get less I feel more lovable and I feel more at home and feel happier and I all ways dream I’m a boy ad I think like a lad duse at 20😳😳😳😳😳😳 ad I like Beards. I fell I can show the real me more and feel more love towords my FIRENDS ad famley and less hate and less anger. guys some times feel when the dress up as girls they feel thay can cry or show the real feelings. I feeI would be more of a gent and treat peele beter.

My Name Is Jazz: Adopted and With Support Workers

When I was little I didn’t fell as angry about it as I do now. why do I fell angry about been adopted and having sport workers now? because I sometimes rally angry with my berth mum because I felt she could of done a lot more than she did and try’s hard than she did and I went 2 lots of foster home and then mummy bear came.

And I love her a lot but I rally do crave my berth family because I sometimes fell like I got rejected and my mum Dislike me and I was the worst kid in the would and I sum times think would the boys my bros would had a mum and dad if i wasn’t born but then mummy bear would ent off had me and all my sport workers and my 5 best mates Emma Erin Johnny Andi kris Kat but I fell when I go out with my sport workers its obvious because of the why I look and act and I rally dislike that and what macks it more obvious is when mummy bear and berth mum and me are out its obvious because is Bracingly obvious that I’m not mummy bears because I look like my berth mum and when I with my berth mum in town Its rally embarrasses me because it’s herts because I rally won’t 2 be down with the kids and just herts because I’m not and its her she is a FUCKING failure and if she tried harder I wouldnt be in the torn felling.

I love mummy bear so much but I just won’t 2 walk down the street with out felling its obvious that I’m adopted or I’ve got a disorder. I love my bros so much and I’m a bit sick off not seeing them every day. I want to fell like we a Normal family. with my sport workers I like the young ones so it look like we r a big gang off dudes and I rally won’t a boyfriend how loves me and will Treat me right or a girl and I will do that back four them. But then I look on the bright side off live and think I’m rally lucky That I’m not in children’s home with no one or in prison or a drug addict or a Nasty person

The end

Jazz Blog: New Friends

When I was a teenager I found it rally tuff because I was ent like utter people wear I could cum back from school and just say to mum right I’m going to stay at so and so or I’m go to ride to see this person and that was rally upsetting and frustrating and it mad me fell angy and I usto to think why I’m diffent I’m nutter or not a good person.

when I see teenagers on there own that was upsetting but then I thort actully I’m getting quality time with mum and I’m like a bit younger and I was ent ready.

now I go lapping in the car and ervey one look at me and looks and says whow look at that fit chick who got every thing they wont and got evry thing and they get rally upset if sum one else beets them to my car. I’m like the diffent cool kid who evry wont’s to bee with me because I got a rally cool car with  green wheels and subs and cool music and it mackers me fell alive not dead and I love to fell alive and happy and I love I’m so popler.

im macking new fiends who cum and go and getting ust to that and not get Harte boke and not leeting the pins stab my heart. I just get back up and go and find new peepul and not let live get me down and my sport workers all ways say it beeter to loved and never off loved.

I just think I’m bloody or sum lol😈😈😈😈😈

 

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Developing Community Awareness As A Charity

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In the process of developing our charity The Open Nest over the past eighteen months we have had to consider what our longterm aims and intentions are to be. What did good adoption support to families in crisis mean to us as a group of trustees?
We knew it meant many obvious things like therapeutic input, expert school support and regular short breaks, but we also knew that adoptees and adopters first needed true acknowledgement of their stories in order to be offered the correct support.

My immediate research focus a year ago, having survived a near adoption breakdown and the intense parenting of a child with severe attachment disorder and developmental delay, was to raise awareness. I had felt so isolated and stuck in a cycle of seeking non existent help. I wanted to speak out and find a way as a charity to tell ours and others stories.

I had watched and got frustrated over fifteen years at how little some of the big players in adoption policy forming and support had achieved in giving families such as ours a valid voice. A voice that wasn’t hidden in consultation rooms, select committees, university research papers or the odd shock horror ‘violent adopted child injures poor parent’ feature.

As a minority group being acknowledged at all, even if a bit behind the scenes, is better than nothing. But then sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the denial of the whole truth of your existence makes things a lot worse. It means our stories are stifled and unable to become normalised enough to be accepted in the mainstream community. The effects of this is that well meaning folk who are teaching, practicing medicine, doing social work and doing our assessments, can’t recognise what attachment and trauma stuff, looks, feels and sounds like. Well meaning ignorance can be dangerous. It leads to adopters being perceived as failing or to blame for their child’s struggles. This in turn makes seeking help from professionals fraught and very unhelpful for either side. The adoptees basic human rights to support are often completely lost in this structural failure.

It’s not easy to describe supporting a child with serious anxiety and mental health issues around loss and fear. Some of it is ugly and scary and profoundly sad. As parents we can sometimes present as negative and irritable. This is because we are doing an intensive care job without a managed structure of support or supervision and mostly without a break. We are often scared. If you listen carefully and for long enough to hear us properly through the strains of pent up desperation, you will hear something important to modern adoption in the UK.
Many of us are filled with love, commitment and fierce protection of our children. Despite the difficulties we are inspired and improved by our children and their will to want to succeed. We are the ones most aware of the potential within our children (and sometimes their birth families) if given the right support. As such, it is heartbreaking not seeing your child thrive and your plans for nurturing them turn into basic survival and damage limitation.

I have spoken to lots of struggling adoptive parents over this last year and there is a theme that runs through the very individual and different stories. The parents want the best for their children whom they love but are seriously frightened that without the correct help they may lose them. The irony of their children facing the potential loss of two families in their childhoods is not lost on them. These particular thoughts used to keep me awake at night paralysed with fear. During those times I often thought of my daughters mother and realised something we may have in common. Struggling within our family to the extent we think social services might come and take our child away from our home and family rather than fully and meaningfully support us. I often wondered how that would be explained to my child when she was grown up:

“Your first family were not able to keep you safe. Your emotional and developmental needs were not being met. We tried everything to help them but they could not accept or work with our interventions and were not cooperative. We removed you for your own safety under child protection guidelines.
Then your second family were not able to keep you safe. Your emotional and developmental needs were not being met. We tried everything to help them but they could not accept or work with our interventions and were not cooperative. We removed you for your own safety under child protection guidelines.”

Knowing her as I do, she would definitely blame herself. She’s super bright despite the labels attached to get her through the system. She understands systems and complexity. But as default she ultimately blames herself when she can’t see the honest responsible adult.

I would of course have explained to her in detail that it was certainly not her fault. I would answer the many “why”? questions and find myself blaming the social services or the government or her mother or culture or society, or our family, or a mixture of them all which I guess is about near the truth.

So with all that in mind our first works as a charity have been aimed at awareness raising. For adoption support to be relevant, effective and empathic it takes adoptive families who struggle to share information with both policy makers but also importantly to support charities and a wider society.

We plan to use the mediums of film, written word, spoken word, photography, animation and artwork to tell our stories in a way that is fresh, new and accessible to all. Some of our productions are hard hitting in the sense that they address difficult truths but they are also dignified, positive, without blame and delivered with great hope for change. Slowly but surely.

We welcome all families and individuals touched by adoption to contact us if they wish to work with us on any of our future projects. We are currently accepting ideas, photographs, films and artworks on themes of loss/trauma for our travelling exhibition ‘Severance’ which is booked to be shown in The University of Sunderland Art Gallery in September 2014 and then at Family Futures in London in November 2014. We are also negotiating future bookings in Leeds and Newcastle.

For further information please email us at info@theopennest.co.uk