Winter Hibernation 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adopted Voices Conference: Outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The outcomes of the day were;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matched

imageBeing part of an online community of people involved in adoption is a great thing. It gives the opportunity to hear lots of different experiences and points of view.
Through Twitter and The Adoption Social I have enjoyed communicating with people who are at the beginning of the process, being assessed, going to panel and being matched.
The moment when you have been matched but have not yet met the person who is going to feature in your life forever is an extraordinary experience. Unless you’ve been there it’s hard to describe very easily.
When attempting to sort through my terrible piles of paperwork this week I found a diary entry from a few months before Jazz’s placement with me.
I’m glad I recorded events by writing, filming and doing photographs. I have also encouraged Jazz to do the same. It reminds both of us of where we were, have been and are now.
Below is a diary entry from the year I met Jazz:

 

Lizard Point, Cornwall 1999

It is a typical English Summer evening, fresh and bright and showery. The bed is down as usual in Lily, my white camper van, and my toes feel great amongst the fluffiness of the fake fur blankets.

I love festivals and this one is extra special. The impending solar eclipse and the near dawning of a new millennium combines to add an air of excitement to what would otherwise be a fairly usual gathering.

Then I think of her…oh my God!….My child.

Five years old and she has never met me. An intake of breath and an adrenalin rush hard to decipher. Was it fear or excitement? I reach into my bag and then into another velvet bag within it that holds my diary and keeps the loose tatty pages from falling into disarray. Tucked inside is a photo of her. She smiles out at me, a lovely smile, cocktail umbrellas in her hair. The photo has all the signs and symbols of happiness but it saddens me.

Im here planning to grab at my last chance of no child freedom fully aware that very soon my life changes forever. I wonder what she is doing, knowing nothing of me even though I will become her mother within the next four months.
Mine will be the tenth strange house in which she has laid down her head. An average of a move every five months of her short five years.
Different smells. Different sounds. Different food. Different rules. Over stimulation and under achievement.

They tell me she is a bit wild. Good, I think, you didn’t manage to de-claw her then. I don’t say that though. During a year of social services interrogation I learnt to keep up an appearance of calm openness. “How terrible” I replied. They say she will not sit still long enough to watch television. Good, I thought, because it’s all lies anyway and I like watching the weather. I responded with “That’s ok I’m quite active.” I’m not really though. I like to find a spot and sit and ponder. If it happens to be next to an open fire then even better.

I lean over and slide open the van door. The fire pit is still glowing with red embers and I can hear the faint rumblings of festival fun in the background. I consider a walk to find my friends but lay back down. The sun is going down and I think of home. I am about five years old and sitting on the edge of the kitchen table. My mum has a lovely smile on her face and is dancing around me singing along to “Downtown” on the radio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loss

imageWhen Jazz first came to live with me her brother was in a children’s home. He was only seven and was housed far away from his family and friends. We would regularly go to see him at the home and take him out for the day. After some negotiating with Social Services he was allowed to come and stay with us for weekends.

The visits were very special and for the time we spent together the children seemed happy and relaxed in each others company. When it came to say goodbye however, emotions would rise and tantrums and tears would begin. It was completely understandable but tricky to manage.  Jazz would beg me to bring her brother home with us and he would storm off refusing to say goodbye.

The long two hour drive home across the Pennines was sad and often spent trying in the best way possible to explain the emotions of the situation to a six year old.

After a few visits her brother gave her his favourite toy to take home with her. It was a soft toy Barney the dinosaur. Between them they set up this system where each one would take it in turns to keep it after the visit. Backwards and forwards it went providing a manifestation of the unwritten connection they held. It seemed to ease the pain, knowing because Barney was involved they would definitely see each other again.

“I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family”

The Barney mantra became stuck in their heads and repeated over and over. At times I have to admit it drove me crazy.

As time went on they even felt brave enough to let each other keep Barney for an extra period of time.

Jazz’s brother was moved to another three homes between the ages of seven and twelve, but the routine continued.

At the last home he was in before coming to live with us permanently, a  young member of the care staff who had known him but weeks decided it was time to “sort out his room”.

Without his permission a bin bag of his things were taken to the charity shop because they were considered “too childish”.

Barney the family heirloom that connected them for years was lost forever.