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

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

The F***** Up Kid

When I was 4 I was all ready damage but I got put in a foster home and then when I was five I got adopted by mummy bear and I felt like I could not trust Ey one. I still dont and what has been left in this damage person is nothing but Under denial anger and I fell so angry with how I was left buy mum fuck up mum and I just hate her so much but love her to. I have rally dark thoughts like chainsaws blood clown and and fell like a big massive ball off anger and Anxiety and I’m left with felling scared. I so fucking angry the fact I was born in to a crap mum and born with the hobble feelings ad left with fear off every one leaving me and not been there.

And I lash out a lot atm because I keep on having these felling shite and I hate been like this to all off my FRIENDS and I crave not felling like this ad I fell I just won’t to bee normal and not to have Under denial felling and I keep on try my best and be brave ad carm and strong then it hits my rally hard it like a masive cut all over my chest and it herts like spiderman has and fell like it’s not going to go a way.

And a plaster not going to help or Stitches or ey thing I fell like an x army person and I fell so much in pine and I’m hurting and I blame my berth mum because if she tried hard in nuff I would not have this masive cut on my chest and it’s not small it right a cross my chest and I fell like runny a way from it and go and try and heal it some how and I cart sleep when mum is not hear or next to me and this is so pine full ad I cart deal with it ey longer and its my mummy bear get the shite end off the stick from stupid mother fucker or sould I say the head fucker.

And it’s not fear on mummy bear but she is the one how I can show it to and Kat gets the shite end off the stick to and I sick off felling like it. I just going to say I do not deserve my mummy bear how is so good to me and my berth mum will never hear that from me or the words hey look Iv for given u or the truth is I love u ad need u. what she will hear is I hate u I will not bee your kid u will never be as good as mummy bear and it’s all your folt ad I still fell like this after 15 years so get out off my life. I still burning ad hurting after 15 years and my anger has not been solved.

hang on I think I need to cam down but I’m just f**** off

I need to pull up my socks ad get some help. that girl needs therapy lol

But I fell if I don’t have berth mum I would not be a live but I won’t to cum out off mummy bears tummy I also need to get some help ad ad to be brave ad srong and put the past in the past and tack risks and be a better person and count my blessings and be thank full I’m loved and got rabbits ginny pigs dogs cats the not like some people high rise with nothing ad I’ve got support workers and a good strong stable Friends and family how love me and would do ey thing for me

The end

Kafkaesque Doesn’t Come Close

My heads been spinning of late. Trying to make sense of the relentless assault on the psyche of hearing of the abuse of children on a mass scale. Abuse going unchallenged at best and colluded with at worst. Some of this perpetrated by people in public positions of power and professional authority. Lots of it against children in the care of local authorities.

At the same time I am unpicking the family history of my adopted daughter.
At the point of being matched with her fifteen years ago I was given scant information about her family (This only featured her mum and dad as if any extended family was irrelevant). The picture delivered was not pretty. Negligence, domestic violence, dirt and chaos. I was advised to steer clear of their home town and be vigilant in avoiding other places they may be.

Despite this I chose to find her family three years into our adoption. I needed to know the backstory myself. Hear it with my own ears. I wanted to know more of her culture and heritage and of her wider family. My intention was to build a bridge between her past and present that she could cross at some future time should she ever wish to. Also to gain any information that would help me understand and parent her better.

I found her mum. A woman who had been abused as a child by an extended family member following the loss of her father in a tragic accident. Groomed and trained to comply. Further abused by predatory men until, on showing signs of ‘challenging’ behaviour, being put into local authority care as a young ‘aggressive’ teenager. Once in a place of supposed safety she was systematically abused by a care home staff member. When she reported it no action was taken. It happened to her friends as well. She bears a scar on her hand. It came from running away from ‘the man’ after a swimming session. Trying to find safety behind a locked changing room door. She slipped and cut her hand deeply on a glazed tile.
Her learning difficulty remained undiagnosed by her corporate parents.

On leaving care, now estranged from her birth family, she lived in the dark world of street life, alcohol abuse and violence. Usually against her. Eventually in her thirties she met the children’s father. A gentle but stubborn older man. A father figure who in her words ‘never once retaliated no matter what mean things I did to him’.

Of course she knew nothing of safe care, of domestic skills, of attachment, nurturing and trust. It was almost inevitable that she would fail as a ‘good’ mother. Three children permanently removed aged 7, 5 and 4. No contact granted. Taken by the same authority that had been her failing corporate parent.

Two adopted. One in local authority care miles away from home. The one in care first experienced sexual abuse at around 10 years old. The two adopted ones struggled with anxiety and attachment within systems that failed to understand and support them properly despite their adoptive parents greatest efforts. Both at some time coming into the child protection, mental health or criminal justice system.

I personally have had my parenting techniques criticised, had untruths about me and my daughter put in social services files, have seen lies being told in multi agency meetings and attempts at cover ups around bad practice. This against the back drop of adopting a child whose parents couldn’t cope and a system that judged them incapable of change. Many foster carers and adopters will recognise this horrible transformation from the being ‘the solution’ for a child to being held up as ‘the problem’. It really is quite kafkaesque. You wouldn’t believe it if you hadn’t been there. I know many adopters and foster carers who are seriously unimpressed with the systems of family support for children in need. I know others whose family lives have been devastated. This helps us see more easily the situation birth parents may have been in. The irony of this brings me back round to the bigger picture of child protection and where we are now in the UK.

Legislation has recently been passed, right under our noses, to make the corporate parent more powerful and the rights of families and kinship relationships further diminished. To put it crudely and in laymen’s terms, it’s a ‘whip them out quick before the damage is done’ approach. There are brain scans to provide the science bit. This simplistic picture is easy to sell to the general public via a muzzled press. To argue that leaving children in potentially abusive family situations is in any way ok, leaves one open to severe criticism. Social workers are easy scapegoats when a tragedy happens, making their job almost impossible. Either dangerous ‘lefty’ incompetents or over zealous despot child snatchers. These directly opposing stereotypes feed well into the rhetoric of child protection and privatisation. G4S a massive profit driven and seemingly unwieldy corporation now have children’s homes. An adopted young person I know of currently has a G4S tag on for displaying anxiety driven risky behaviour. This is linked to his past experiences of neglect. During his time as an adopted child he has not received therapeutic support.
The tagging box within the family home is faulty and wrongly shows him breaking his conditions. He will attend court for this ‘breach’. His adoptive parents are now fraught with anxiety themselves, fearful he may end up in a young offenders unit (no doubt run by a private security company).

What’s missing for me in this hot bed of double standards is any powerful public action, outrage, or meaningful legislation on what should happen to children in this country following removal from struggling, negligent or abusive parents. I’ve seen more general public outcry about the death of dogs in Manchester this week than I have about the rights of children in care.

One child taken into care every twenty minutes in the UK. Nearly 70,000 children in the care of local authorities at any one time. Multiple foster placements, children’s homes and in a small number of cases adoption. In many removals is the severance from roots, culture and history on a grand scale. At the point of removal the voice of the child’s family is muted. The child is most often rendered voiceless. How many parents of the abused girls in Rotherham tried to highlight and report what was happening? Somehow nobody in power or authority knew?

When things do go horribly wrong there’s no great child protection rush to prosecute and remove corporate perpetrators of neglect from powerful positions. Instead we have to watch long, expensive and protracted enquiries often led and managed by establishment figures from the very systems at fault. Many big charities gain funding and wages from attending special boards and think tank exercises. Paid to talk about ‘it’.

I know good quality care where it exists can save and transform lives and that many children in care go on to succeed and thrive having been removed from their parents. But the point is very many don’t. The scale and acceptance of child neglect and inequality of service to those in care by corporate parents is almost beyond belief. I find it full of hypocrisy and injustice. It also does absolutely nothing to stop cycles of failure. Many mothers who lose their children were once removed children themselves. One has to question what went on in between.

To me it’s a worse crime that a corporate parent neglects a child than its own family. Corporate parents have resources, power and influence, unlike many families. If you remove a child from its family surely everything should be done to manage that loss. Public money should be thrown at it without question. Excellent standards of care across the board, in health, education and social care should ensure a real second chance at a safe and happy childhood. To do otherwise, to make profit out of that loss, to underfund and undermine frontline carers in social work, fostering and adoption, to see child victims of neglect and abuse as in anyway deviant or unworthy of equality is inexcusable, especially in a country that politically views thousands and thousands of families as incapable of receiving interventions to keep them together.

(Permission is given and actively encouraged by my family including wider adoptive family to tell the truth of our shared history)

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

 

 

Shining Stars In The Dark

imageOur attempts to get professional support after adoption have been at times soul destroying. The wrong help has made things worse and the intimated blaming of our care skills regular. At times the ‘support’ has been extremely ignorant and damaging. Over fifteen years however there have been some guiding lights who helped us to hang on against the odds and soothed the difficulties, sometimes by simply offering kind words and empathy.

In order of appearance here are the professionals who made a difference and whom we will never forget;

Lindsey The Adoption Social Worker

Lindsey tried her very hardest to put support in from the beginning of the difficulties in the placement. She wrote letters to managers, sent me information on courses, highlighted the false economy of leaving us to struggle. At one point she put us on the waiting list for intensive attachment therapy. Lindsey was aware (even though at this stage I wasn’t ) that the court papers freeing Jazz for adoption stated that we would need “expert psychological support around attachment issues”. The help was never given the green light from managers and two counties argued over who was financially responsible. For us it was like someone was saying this is what you need to survive but you can’t have it. Lindsey was suddenly moved on from our case without us being informed. The fact she believed me at the start of our journey meant everything and helped me to stand steadfast in our quest for the right support.

Patricia The Psychologist

Patricia was bought in to speak to us as Jazz was failing to remain in school number two. It was a one off consultation in the very early years and didn’t lead to support as lots of beffudling arguing was taking place about Jazz’s SEN status. Patricia reassured me and said “if Jazz never goes to school it won’t be the end of the world. The most important issue is her attachment to you so don’t panic about education, that can come later” Of course it wasn’t ideal that Jazz was being excluded rather than included at school but Patricia gave me the confidence to follow my gut feelings and eventually home educate.

Bill The Head Teacher

Bill was a radical thinker at Jazz’s third school. He allowed her to be freestyle and as an unconditional treat at the end of the day he would roller blade around the corridors with her. Even though his school was a ‘special’ school they couldn’t hold onto her for long. The vulnerability of some of the other pupils who were severely physically disabled made Jazz’s exuberant behaviour dangerous at times. Bill made sure another exclusion didn’t go on the record. He gently and kindly arranged the leaving and took her, her first boyfriend and her TA for a forest walk and pub lunch with his wife. Jazz has never forgotten his kindness.

Sharon The Teaching Assistant

Under the leadership of Bill, Sharon managed to keep Jazz safe and happy in a very difficult environment. Professional capability was mixed with genuine care and although it may be frowned upon in some circles, actual love. Sharon was tested to the limit most days. A Jazz favourite at this school would be to escape the classroom, run down the corridor and jump fully clothed into the therapeutic swimming pool. Despite only working with her for what amounted to a few months Sharon remains in touch with Jazz to this day.

Tracey The Teacher

Tracey was class teacher in school number four. Despite being managed by what I can only describe as ‘The Miss Trunchbull’ style of headship, she saw only good in Jazz. She couldn’t stop the inevitable exclusions and eventual permanent leaving but in the short time she taught Jazz she showed nothing but warmth towards her. Tracey was a Christian woman in the true sense of the word. We have several photos she took of Jazz in school and these stand as a rare pictorial history of inclusion for Jazz. Pictures of her actually in a classroom with other children and not a side room where in reality she spent most of her time.

Geraldine The DDP Therapist

When the school possibilities completely ran out Geraldine became our anchor for eight years. Between the ages of ten and eighteen she saw Jazz and I for an hour a month. It was nowhere near enough only amounting to approx ten hours a year, but her hands were tied by the usual frustrating and shortsighted funding issues. This hour was spent doing dyadic developmental psychology techniques with us. In lay mans terms this meant doing attachment therapy with us. Geraldine never doubted me or Jazz and as the years passed we became a team, the three of us working towards the best we could. On numerous occasions, during countless crisis moments, she would write letters to other professionals stating our urgent need for support. Shockingly despite her wealth of experience and professional status in the NHS she was not listened to. She had to witness some terrible car crash moments in our lives and this cannot have been easy for her at all. I am absolutely convinced that were we given funding for weekly sessions from the start some of the terrible things we experienced would have been avoided. What we did have however was a trusted friend who nurtured our self esteem and gave us hope to carry on. Geraldine has now left the NHS and is a trainer alongside Dan Hughes to other practitioners of DDP. She uses film of our sessions to teach others which makes us feel proud of what we have achieved together against the odds. Since we have set up our charity she has given us nothing but support, encouragement and help.

 

So there they are, six people out of what must be over a hundred professionals we have seen in the last fifteen years. I guess what counts most is the quality rather than the quantity. It also highlights to me that in giving post adoption support it is not always about fixing a problem. It is about being empathic and kind and listening and trusting families to know themselves. As those things don’t cost anything and yet help people to have hope and carry on, perhaps there is something to be said for the true values of caring and even love in what has become the confusing, grinding, impersonal and budget driven caring industry.

Beyond The Order (And Blah Blah Blah)

So this week the long awaited research “Beyond The Order” came out. A thorough and excellent piece of work from Julie Selwyn and her colleagues at Bristol University. Funded by the Government it describes in upsetting detail the problems some adoptive families face, including the reasons for adoption disruption.

Twelve years ago when I was one of those families in crisis I was commissioned by The Sunday Times to write about the situation. At the time Tony Blairs cabinet were talking about reforming adoption including suggesting that adoptions should go through quicker and also more easily to ‘save’ children in need.

I wrote about the fact that it took me to research, on my own, my daughters condition to find she probably had serious attachment issues. I described violence in the home and warned of fast tracking adoptions without expert training to social workers and therapeutic support to parents in dealing with the issues. Remember at this time big adoption charities offered training in attachment and much literature existed in the profession.

I described the ineffective treatment of my daughter by Social Services as something like treating a broken leg as if it were a sore throat. I ended the piece by saying “no wonder she is screaming”.

The new report is not shocking news to most of us in the adoption world. It isn’t even news. I’m sure however that many will feel its a great attempt by the Government to recognise and address the issues. I really hope nobody is holding their breath.

If it were good news it would be all over the papers and television with accompanying plans for imminent change. Every prospective and current adopter would have secure, written in legislation rights to post adoption support based upon the findings. Adoption would be promoted as a caring commitment and not as ownership. As of now.

Last year ‘The House of Lords Committee on Adoption Legislation’ results were published. All the adoption industry big guns featured as witness to the lengthy process, very few adoptees or adopters of course. Even without the horses mouth all the evidence of struggles was there. Recommendations from Baroness Butler Sloss were made that post adoption support should be written into legislation. It wasn’t. It isn’t.

Today Edward Timpson, Minister for Children and Families ran the London Marathon to support First 4 Adoption (can’t help thinking Phones 4 U) This is a Government funded adoption promotion organisation. ‘Only positive adoption stories here please’  is the unwritten rule. This chosen organisation by Mr Timpson perhaps shows us firmly where he feels his children and family’s policy sits. Or am I being uncharitable?

The facts are wether we like it, or agree with it or not, the current Government have little visible sympathy for mothers who are dealing with issues of poverty, domestic violence, homelessness, substance abuse or mental health issues. The main reasons children are damaged in family homes. They cannot afford to. The priority is not in fixing social welfare, housing and health issues but in saving money and privatising undermined services. Privatising means ‘somebody making money out of it’.

The demonising of those on benefits is part of the process as is pitting ‘bad’ mothers against ‘good’. Little room for ‘there but for the grace of God’.

With one child every twenty minutes being removed from its birth family the country has a social welfare crisis on its hands. Looked after children cost lots and lots and lots of money. Something has to be done. So it makes sense to cut through the sympathetic attempts of agencies, charities and social workers to support families. Remove children quickly with no recourse to a fair hearing in court, no legal aid, no birth family contact commitment, no support to next of kin. Give social workers targets to turn around removal and adoption in six months. Penalise and disempower if they fail to meet the required numbers. Once the adoption order is through its over to you nice families. Not our (financial) problem anymore.

As this sounds a bit unfair and cold it also makes sense to find research that backs that decision. The earlier the babies are removed from the evil family the less problems nice families might have dealing with the ‘blank slate’ baby. Do a massive all smiling hearts and flowers, dress up party marketing drive for adoption at the same time. At the head of it all put people who believe wholeheartedly in privatisation and the free market. Make sure adoption charities life blood comes from the Government to edit any non believers.

As an adopter, a children’s rights believer, a social activist and a feminist I feel we are being played.

Back in our house we still struggle with the results of my daughters mother going through the care system with a learning disability. It was a system that was cruel to her when she was a child and that cruelty was passed on through ignorance and inability.

We now have the resources through hard work and sheer determination, to offer free post adoption support services to families who are in crisis and need safe respite. This includes twenty acres of beautiful land we lease, a camping barn and an apartment. It also includes informed expert carers with years of experience in attachment and trauma. We are expert by professional and direct personal experience. We fight for every penny as a charity. This often involves us working for nothing, cleaning and managing the accommodation we raise funds on. Like other adopters we take no wages for the awareness raising work and informal support we give. We have no big charity boss salary or salaried fundraisers. Many in the industry are aware of us and we have blinding, experienced and vocal trustees. Funny that not one person ‘in the money’ has yet approached us effectively to support us in giving our free, expert services. We must jump through the nightmare hoops of Ofsted, regulation, insurance, safeguarding, data protection, health and safety etc etc poor and alone.

Meanwhile the Government fund protracted think tank shennanagins that discuss and dissect and regurgitate information about adoption support, employing the professional party believers and buddy’s along the way. And the children wait. And wait. And wait.

Funnily enough I got an email recently from a regional boss type person (probably not an adopter/adoptee) of one of the massive adoption and fostering charities. They introduced themselves, said they were aware of our work…..I got excited thinking we were going to get some support, advice, encouragement, credit or some other such positive response. Turns out they were just coldly telling us in a polite officious way that they had clocked us and we better be registered as an Adoption Support Agency if we were offering support. And this is, I feel, a general problem in a ‘jobs for the boys’ culture. Nobody truly concerned with supporting adoptive families would not encourage and support, even financially, an innovative and cost effective resource such as ours. And whilst I’m on it resources such as The Adoption Social  ( theadoptionsocial.com) and their user led community initiatives which probably effectively support adopters and adoptees more than anything else I’ve seen. Instead we are turning desperate people in crisis away. All they want is a few days break to enable them to carry on. An empathic support worker, some knowledgable advice.

Don’t get me wrong, I know we can’t have unregulated, untrained, overstretched workers dealing with the serious issues in adoption. They could get it wrong and offer ineffective support. They could make things worse. They could blame parents and cause them isolation and depression. Physical and mental harm could take place. That would be absolutely irresponsible and potentially damaging for children. It mustn’t happen, not for a minute.

Who on earth involved in the politics and the business of adoption would ever allow such a thing to happen…………..