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.

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…………..

£150 Million And Counting

Like many of us involved in adoption I watched Channel 4’s programme about the process on Thursday.

Its hard not to comment in some way when the issues highlighted affect your own life and those you love.

What I feel most comfortable doing is telling our own family story, which for most of us is what informs our opinions. There is no one set right opinion just as there is no one set experience.

I feel my own personal experience makes watching adoption programmes very difficult. I have come to see many flaws in the system that I feel can potentially dehumanise those involved.

I trained and qualified as a social worker several years before I adopted and after working in the voluntary sector went on to further my education by doing a cultural studies degree. This was a discipline that analysed the way in which groups and ideas are presented, and at worst demonised, through popular culture and media including newspapers and television.

Having gone through an amicable divorce from my school days sweetheart I felt, in fact I felt I needed, to become a parent. I believed my knowledge of the care system and open mind would stand me in good stead to adopt. My assessment highlighted my strengths in knowing how to ask for support and from whom. In my naivety I believed once my adopted child and I were settled I might meet someone and have the birth children I had always planned as well as maybe adopt again.

One of the first questions I asked when at the point of matching was;

“Are you sure you have done enough to help the mother. I don’t want to be in a situation where a struggling working class family lose their child to a middle class family because we have more resources and they weren’t supported”

This question came directly from my experience of seeing and taking part in social work assessments where, without doubt, some class judgements were made despite “anti oppressive practice” training.

I was reassured that everything possible had been done. The reassurance definitely came with the half smiling ‘oh one of those feminist, loony lefty poor souls with misguided empathy’. (And who would need empathy in the adoption process!).

Once my adopted daughter arrived the enormity of dealing with her needs was overwhelming. Without going into it (again) I struggled for years begging for help which never came. I became the single mother that wasn’t managing. The mother whose child couldn’t behave or manage school, the mother who was unemployed and couldn’t pay her bills, the stressed out angry with the authorities mother.

During that time I worked like a trooper to better our situation. I remortgaged my house, I home educated, I visited the Doctor about stress related illness (for both of us). I did car boots to earn money. I also read lots of Dan Hughes and Caroline Archer and tried to parent therapeutically the best I could in the circumstances.

People tut tutted at us in the street as my little girl picked fag buts off the floor to smoke, banged into people, swore and spat on the floor. I knew what they were thinking of me.

A couple of years into the placement I had an overwhelming feeling that if I were to be a good parent to her the chasm of nothingness and disjointed paperwork that was the history she came with, had to be better informed. I needed the back story. I had the ‘knowledge’ that her parents were horrible, uncaring, violent, dangerous. I couldn’t go to certain towns that were quite near us in case the devil people might bump into us and god knows what might happen.

I searched for her parents without her knowing. I felt that I might be a bridge between her past and future, I felt it might shock me, but I knew I had to see the ‘truth’ with my own eyes. I was pooping myself in case they might want to hurt me for ‘stealing’ their child.

I found them to be warm, friendly, poor, uneducated, unable to admit their faults very easily, proud, stubborn, funny, annoying and bluntly truthful.

Eventually after meeting them on lots of occasions and talking to them often, I took Jazz to meet them when she was eight years old. The omnipresent spectre of her ‘ghost parents’ disappeared that day. It wasn’t all hearts and flowers and it never will be. She didn’t love me less or them more. She did forgive herself.

The rest as they say is history, our history of two families who have worked together for the three children involved. It hasn’t been easy and there is nearly always fall out after contact. It’s the goodbyes that are hard. Of course we argued and had different opinions and sometimes fell out. But what family doesn’t. There have also been moments of intense and overwhelming love between us all.

Finally, this year, aged 54, my daughters mum got her learning disability assessment. It took us years to fight for it together. Despite all the local authority involvement in her life, being in care as a child, going to a ‘special’ school, nobody had bothered to do it even when she fell pregnant with her first child. Now she has benefits and the sympathetic daily support that may crucially have helped her children over twenty years ago.

The mistruths and judgements in her records have also been challenged and sit more honestly for her daughter to read one day.

In the new adoption drive £150 million pounds was taken from the fund that does early intervention work with struggling families. Some of it has shifted to adoption promotion. Adoption of a removed child saves the Government on average £25,000 every year of that child’s life to adulthood. It IS an industry with budgets at its heart in MY opinion. If it were truly all about the children many of the questionable practices we see as adopters would change.

I do not advocate contact in all circumstances and especially if there is no professional therapeutic support for ALL involved…which there isn’t at a time of no budgets to even get basic help through CAMHS and Education for adopted children. But I believe in the right circumstances it can help development, healing, history, identity and can resolve some of the ‘gaps’ in knowledge children can feel. Sometimes it might ultimately provide a more healthy goodbye from a child than was previously possible.

My adopted daughter has certainly gained from contact, warts and all and some of that has simply been transferring her feelings of failure to her mother where they rightly belong.

So my personal questions about Channel 4’s latest adoption documentary are;

1. With one child removed every 20 minutes from its birth family how are we as a rich and ‘civilised’ society going to successfully address the needs of failing families on behalf of all children?

2. Do many of the parents and extended families of the approx 26,208 removed children a year deserve to lose seeing their children for good? It seemed to me that at least three parents shown were compliant enough to have assured and legal rights of therapeutically managed contact even if adoption is considered best.

3. When adoption with little or no birth family contact is considered best, why is there still no legislation to give guaranteed and appropriate support to adopted children and families who struggle?

4. Where were the parents social workers, especially the young mum who seemed to need safeguarding herself?

5. It surely would have been more empathic if the adoption team workers didn’t look quite so happy at receiving a grieving woman’s baby whilst describing it as being an ‘easy adoption’.

In adoption circles, the community and professionals often emphasise the need for parents to be looked after, healthy and mentally well themselves in order to do their best for the children. I wholeheartedly believe this to be true……for all parents.

We Are Not Having A Breakdown….But

It’s been a week of talking to adoptive parents who have called The Open Nest in very very difficult circumstances. People who really don’t know what to do about keeping themselves and their children safe or how to successfully access the support they desperately need. Not one of these parents blamed their children but some of them felt they were living half lives.

That’s the thing about research that shows that approx 5% of adoptions break down, it doesn’t account for the half lives.

Then a fellow Tweeter asked the question “what constitutes good post adoption support?”. The responses in general showed that no matter what the intended changes to adoption being discussed by focus groups (and mainly men in suits), the help is needed now. Many people can’t wait for pilots and politics. Children who have had no choice in their destiny need good, empathic and meaningful support as and when it is needed. These children can be seriously damaged by the fumbling about in the dark policy and practice that many local authorities seem to try and pass off as post adoption support.

I spoke to a lovely social worker recently who made what I think is a really valid point. She said that it seems that there is loads of professional expertise out there and many very knowledgeable adoptive parents but somehow nobody seemed to be able to bring the two parties together. As if parents and professionals were on opposite sides of a big divide.

We hope to work together on trying to at least cross this divide in our area. Fingers crossed.

In the meantime I keep asking myself, why is it so difficult?

Dan Hughes (poor Dan, I always use his name in vain…I do believe in Dan Hughes, I do I do…) seems to be the main attachment and trauma guru that we parents and professional in the field of adoption pay to read from and listen to. There can be nobody, not even Mr Gove, who doesn’t believe and understand that many adopted children need attachment and trauma based therapeutic interventions at home and in school and yet it becomes like the holy grail when many of us try to access it. It has to be about the money. There is no other logical reason I can think of. If we had the money we could buy support.

We will have to see if we get the money through the planned adoption personal budgets scheme sometime in the undetermined future.

In the meantime we can’t pay the ferryman to cross the divide towards expert support and some of us, most importantly our children, are left wandering the shores of trauma waiting….and it can sometimes feel like a hundred years.

In the meantime we are going to keep our resilient chins up and fight the good fight. There is an amazing adoption community on social media, all sharing our individual experiences. We can effect change if we shout loud enough and our voices are valid.
To help us develop a user led support service which we can hopefully then use to become part of the National debate on post adoption support we have started an independent survey. surveymonkey.com/s/9LCMCQ3 Please take part if you can and/or register with us via email info@theopennest.co.uk if you wish to become part of a parents campaigning group.

Apologies for lack of live links in this post. Still learning on that one! Any advice gratefully received.

Parents Not Spoken To Enough

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Having just watched BBC Oxford News to see the report on Connor Sparrowhawk’s death (manslaughter) I am overwhelmed at the thought of what it must be like to watch that as his Mum and Dad. No matter how seriously and gravely reported, it is still a news item for the day. Done and gone and finished for many viewers and so too it seems for Southern Health.

The headline that resonated particularly with me was ‘Parents not spoken to enough”.

This will not be an unfamiliar concept to many parents, whatever their story, who are united in trying to access health and social care for their children. Unfortunately it seems even more likely if your child has a learning disability and is going through the difficult transition into adulthood.

Through personal experience I know that to be treated like you are some incompetent fool is bad enough but for that attitude to lead to your family member becoming harmed is torturous.

I sat in many many meetings with gritted teeth and red hot cheeks as I was referred to as “mum” and my daughter discussed as if she were more known to the complete stranger considering her needs. The stranger who had not even seen a photograph of her let alone the many albums and films and artefacts that made up a full and rounded and joyful picture of what was her life and the family who loved her.

My daughter came to serious harm because I wasn’t listened to. In fact it was worse than that. I was observed, judged, assessed and written about in negative terms. After all what could be more difficult and outrageous for a professional manager than some pesky parent fighting for the safety of their child…..

The other blood boiling and potentially dangerous thing that happens is that your child is wrongly edited in assessments and reports. Only a parent knows the subtle nuances and messages in some children’s words and actions. It is the living with them year after year, loving them, caring for them, listening to them, knowing the non verbal cues that makes parents the experts. God only knows why we are not treated as such by professionals.

Connor would not have been put in grave danger and as a consequence die if his parents had been treated as the experts. They should have been talked to, listened to, respected, given the management responsibility over their sons care. And now that he has died Southern Health want Sara and her family to “move forward” and “move on”.

Of course now they will have to listen to the dreaded ” lessons have been learnt” get out clause statements which makes even the most unaffected member of the publics heart sink.

If they had learnt anything they wouldn’t use that phrase because they would know how jaded, hollow, crass and insulting it sounds.

They can’t learn because they can’t listen.

It’s Mothers Work

For many months now I have been following a blog by Sara Siobhan called “mydaftlife”. It is a blog that painfully unfolds to tell the harrowing and outrageous facts about how Sara’s amazing and healthy son LB was allowed to die in an assessment unit for adults with learning disabilities.

As a mother to a young adult diagnosed as learning disabled I have had to fight the system all the way. Even about whether she had any disability. Some thought her just plain “naughty” or me a ridiculous and incompetent mother. Her eventual diagnosis came so late in her childhood that her SEN educational support was practically nil and support to me in parenting her mainly punitive.

To many of us our children are not disabled, they are just who they are. Often amazing, intelligent, challenging and independent characters that others find difficult to pigeon hole. My daughter does not consider herself disabled or a slow learner, she is mortified and confused by the label. She believes its mainly the rest of us that are peculiar.

During her transition into adulthood, she like many teenagers, found life very challenging and as a result her behaviour expressed this. Suddenly my worth as a parent and her worth as a family member diminished. She was suddenly treated as an adult now responsible for her actions and I was no longer validated despite my extensive knowledge of her needs, individual likes and dislikes.

We are a large, close and happy family and are generally very creative in our problem solving on each others behalf. Because my daughters behaviour was becoming more aggressive and risky in public it was twice suggested to me, and to her in my absence, that she should go into an institutional setting.

The last suggestion discussed with her was an assessment centre for learning disabled adults. I voiced my horror and concern at the thought as television programmes, such as the one about Winterbourne View and all it portrayed, were quite fresh in my mind. I was reassured that things were different now. High standards of care etc etc. As it happens at the very last minute a family member stepped in financially to help me get some respite and a meaningful needs assessment from Family Futures. This private support bought me fighting time and my daughter is now living independently with the help of Direct Payments.

LB and his family represent the ones who have not been afforded this basic and very reasonable outcome. It is an outrage beyond measure that this tragedy happened to Sara and her family but as if this weren’t enough she has been subjected to torturous, disrespectful and cruel treatment by the health authority as a consequence.

We just wanted support to keep safe at home. We didn’t get it and we all paid the price in one way or another. My daughter came to serious harm but she didn’t die.

Many of us adopters will find we have children with at least “additional needs” even if we didn’t know at the beginning these needs will become apparent as time passes and our children don’t fit into the rigid systems provided to them.

Learning disabled children and adults deserve better support. Please share Sara’s story linked below with anyone you feel may be able to highlight the campaign for a cultural change.

http://mydaftlife.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/the-sound-of-candour/

Adoption Stories: Fact & Fiction

Adoption in itself brings together the many stories and experiences of several people. Birth family, adoptee, adopters and adoption workers. All family stories are important and often treasured, hidden, embroidered, repeated, or celebrated, but when a continuity is broken they can also become confused, muddled and mistold.

My adopted daughter came into my life with a scrapbook put together by her brilliant foster family, showing her time with them, happy events and fellow foster children. There was no detailed life story book. It was as if she were born aged four. The social services gave me verbal stories of her inadequate parents, chaotic and abusive home life…her mother had “knocked her front teeth out” and how she may have been born out of prostitution as her skin colour suggested “another ethnic background to that of her siblings”.

I was shocked and quite scared when I was told to avoid certain geographical areas due to the threat of potential attack by her mum.

After a few months of placement I felt I really needed more background to “the story” in order to understand my daughter properly. It took me a long time to piece together the bits of information I could get hold of. It helped enormously when I was able to contact a birth aunty who was a calm and reasonable police officer. I managed to get enough history to feel comfortable enough to meet Dawn and Fred. One of the most important things was hearing that Jazz lost her baby teeth when one of her siblings accidentally let go of her toddler reins and she fell over. I heard Dawn had a learning disability and behavioural problems which made her hard to engage with. I heard Fred was a lot older and his pride got in the way of him accepting support.  Another important piece of the jigsaw was hearing she had an African descendant, maybe a great grandfather, and her mums skin colour was beautiful like hers. How this became translated into her mother being a prostitute I still don’t know.

I was still really scared to go into the social services office to meet the parents, especially as the social worker was not altogether impressed with the idea due to the “no birth family contact” order given in court. My heart was racing feeling sure they would hate me for having their child. Instead Dawn hugged me and we cried together.

From that day on we have worked together to give Jazz a fuller picture of her life. It hasn’t been easy and I have had to encourage Dawn not to blame everything on the social services and own up to her failures as well as to own her successes. Jazz has needed support and to be given control over the level of contact.It has resolved things for her and bought about forgiveness, mainly of herself. I have grown to love Dawn and Fred like I do my birth family, sometimes we bicker and annoy each other but the ties are strong.

Jazz’s family history is much like many others. It has sad bits, happy bits, bits that bring shame and bits to be proud of. Now it has melded into my family history and become a part of my story and my history.

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