The lack of involvement of adoptees in adoption reform is astounding, and I am glad people are speaking about this. Most people would take a dim view if a government organisation intended to help LGBT teenagers did not contain any LGBT people on its board. It’s true that there aren’t really any organisations which solely represent people adopted from care. However, there are adoptee organisations which contain an increasing proportion of care-adoptees, and I don’t think there’s been any real attempt to engage with them. The only adoptees who are ever engaged with are under 25 (I have theories about this).
I would argue that it is the responsibility of those in positions of power to seek out those who are disenfranchised, rather than take the easiest route of listening to those who are already shouting loudly (and often in chorus). Certainly, it takes more effort to locate minority individuals when they have not yet established a group consciousness with like-experienced others. However, I do wonder how far people actually want adult adoptees to develop such a consciousness – let alone organise themselves into a lobbying power! The adopted adult is, one presumes, the intended product of all adoption reform. (Although I do sometimes doubt this). Why not check up on them? And if the government will persist in focussing on adoption, which lasts the whole life course, they ought to be seeing how adoption works out, across the whole life course.
Engagement with adoptees can start simply. I have on occasion found myself having to tick the box that says ‘Other’ when responding to questionnaires about fostering and adoption. This is bizarre when more or less everyone, including adopters, charities, and social workers, has a box to tick. Clearly adoptees are not stakeholders in adoption, and neither do they have any knowledge that can be shared. Creating a situation where an adoptee is forced to ‘Other’ themselves in a conversation about adoption is really quite an achievement. It is also – may I say – a psychologically weird thing to have done to you. I could write a book on being forced to author my own othering with a pen. But I digress. A very simple thing that ALL organisations can do: unless it is a very specific study, have a box for adult adoptees. Not just ‘young people’: there is a danger that these opinions are immediately disregarded as ‘aaw, that’s so sad, but…’, and you also disenfranchise an awful lot of people. Something like ‘Adult adoptee’ or ‘Adult adopted from care’ or ‘formerly-fostered adult’ will do. A survey just for adopters? Fine. But for the love of everything that is sane: do not have a box for everyone BUT adoptees. Simple, but effective.
Furthermore, as an adoptee, I find the focus on timescales extremely odd. Time is not even on the list of things I would discuss. Certainly, how long it takes to place children with adopters can be a useful proxy for measuring success, but it is not without its problems, and it is only one of many measurements.
The truth of it? How successful different LAs are in their current adoption practices will not be known until 20-30 years from now.
I’m glad it’s been mentioned how relationships and grief are glossed over. I do not see how inhumane practises can ever be seen as successful. Focussing on timescales and not on relationships reeks of being a little too efficient with people’s lives. Why is the government not doing anything about the findings of The Care Inquiry, which identified relationships – and broken relationships – as the dominant (and self-identified) narrative and thread in children’s lives? Why is the government focussing instead on timescales and lopping off a month here and there?
I was “waiting” for so long that the length of time I was “waiting” isn’t even found on the current adoption timetable spreadsheets (I kid you not). Yet after a frankly horrific year of the worst the care system can perpetrate upon a child (far worse than anything I was supposedly ‘rescued’ from), I finally made my way to a loving, secure, foster home where I thrived. I was there perhaps too long, but when Mr Timpson says “Every single day a child spends waiting in care for their new family is a further delay to a life full of love and stability. This just isn’t good enough”, I am mightily worried by the short-sightedness, and the lack of realisation that even in care children should be living a life of love and stability. Does he really mean to suggest that his foster carer parents did not give their foster children a life full of love? Children should be allowed to live fulfilling lives at EVERY stage. Never once did I feel I was “waiting”: I was busy in the present, going to school, doing my homework, etc. One worries that sometimes the rhetoric about waiting, being chosen, and adoption being superior may be absorbed unknowingly by some children and damage the self-esteem of those not ‘chosen’ quickly. Instead, ensure that these children – including pre-adoptees – are secure (not moving), and that they feel valued.
If there was investment in the foster care system, there would be much less need to speed things up on account of supposed ‘languishing’ or poor outcomes. No one (and certainly not me) is saying that children should sit around for years on end with no decision. But why are the poor experiences of children in local authority care seen as a reason to speed up adoption, and not seen a reason to invest in the care system? Does the government maybe think that improvement there is impossible, and has simply abdicated its responsibility to provide for all children in care?
Will there be similar attempts to improve foster care matching, and central government involvement in this too? Will the central government have a drive for foster parents, as with adoptive parents? Will questions be asked of the foster care landscape, with its mix of LA and independent providers, competitive bidding, and different ways of commissioning placements? And will proper attention be given to how far these processes and this hodgepodge of for-profit, not-for-profit and LA providers truly help or hinder the welfare of foster children (or bring down costs to the state)?
Why not look at the reasons for moves? Some of my moves were ‘structural’, such as my (heavily traumatic) move from my foster parents to adoptive parents. Others were due to the unavailability of suitable foster placements and therefore having to move between emergency carers because of a ‘shortage of beds’. If care is so poor, why not have a central government recruitment drive for foster parents, and government investment in foster care matching and support?
If you invest in the care system, adopters may find that their children are that little less damaged, as, where this is an issue, any pre-natal and birth family damage has not been compounded by the care system. And if you invest in the care system, a little extra time can be bought for proper decision-making to occur – because, whilst all avenues of support and care are properly explored, the children thrive. Adopters can therefore also rest safe in the knowledge that everything possible was done. (This is, of course, assuming that adopters are happy for their children to have thrived with previous foster parents….). And, taking a long-term view – longer than a 5-year Parliament term – investing in the care system can do a lot for your adult homeless, prisoner, and unemployed populations. But maybe the government just sees all this as too intractable – or perhaps the most vulnerable in society are not worth public investment in our apparently cash-strapped times.
In the UK only around 9-16% of children are adopted by their foster carers (it varies year to year – when people bother measuring it). In the US (speaking of foster care adoption, which they do have a lot of), the situation is reversed: it is rare to adopt from foster care as a ‘straight adoption’ adopter, and in some states it is simply impossible to adopt from foster care without being registered as a foster parent first. Whether or not this is the right approach (to cut structural moves and to prevent broken relationships), this does show how wedded the UK is to certain models. Even recent forays into foster-adoption still emphasise that they are adopters first and foremost – they just have to do this pesky thing first. And then of course there are emergency foster placements, short-term, long-term, etc. The system is built around the convenience of the adults involved. And this does not even bring into the discussion foster placements that break down due to a lack of support, training, or proper matching.
I could go on and on. I could talk about place, and ask how far the need of some adoptees to be near certain places will be properly considered in this Brave New World, or how far the need for slow introductions is accounted for by league tables. One day I may write about being sped through the introductions process (six weeks), or the effect of my parents’ re-approval for an older age range (due to a lack of younger children). Speeding up the adopter approval process, and perhaps overlooking the want for a particular kind of child, or altering a child’s contact arrangements to make them more attractive – these have long-term effects that really need to be looked at in more depth.
Adoption needs to be done properly, not just quickly. When asked in The Care Inquiry, children in care, adoptees, and care leavers did not speak of efficiency, they spoke of relationships. Let’s not let companies become too efficient with people’s lives.
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.
Blog number 12
when I was littel I was taken away my mum and dad and my 2 brothers. And then we all had a good by contact in a whizzy wakey werhouse tap off place.
when I was taken from mum and dad the Ss band my head on the side of the door and I was sceeming begging my dad to let me stay and I proble cry and cry.
i don’t remember and went in lots of diffent Forster homes and now I rally angry to words my mum for been such a shite mum but I love her but hate her at the same time and when I see happy family’s it rally herts.
i blame mum and the ss but at the end of the day mummy bear is my mum and no one els is and Claudia is like a mum and my mums friend Dave is like a dad. And my mums very good friend Andi is been like a dad to me and my brother.
my littel bro I’ve haven’t seen for a long time and big bro is living in Whitby and it bricks my Heart not been with them.
i fell rally giltey because I some time think it my folt they haven’t got ther littel and big sister because I was the girl and proble hardiest to look after but I love them both so much.
When 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.
I first met Justin, Jazz’s brother, when I took her to say a “goodbye forever” contact with him and her other brother Freddie.
Afterwards it felt all wrong. Freddie was going to be adopted by a lovely couple but Justin was in a children’s home aged seven. Considered “not suitable for adoption”.
I can’t tell the whole story here for fear of going on a bit, but after fighting for over six years including a court case, Justin came to live in a house next door to Jazz and on a long term therapeutic foster placement. The years of safe family life lost in that process and the lack of quality care in the time he waited was unforgivable.
Its been a hard struggle to take part in the parenting of two traumatised children as many adopters will know all too well, but I don’t regret it at all. Myself, my friends and family have provided security, continuity and love to him, particularly Claudia who bravely committed to being his main mum at a very young age herself.
Although living next door to each other the children were a part of each others lives every day, especially as neither of them attended school. The support they needed as individuals caused a lot of stressful and attention seeking behaviour from them both and I could see why the court made the decision they needed a mum each, as I was a single carer.
Many years have gone by and as things stand the pair of them are not particularly close due to Justin’s behaviour which caused Jazz a lot of upset when they were in their teens. I think she loves him despite this and they had many fun times together as children.
Justin is a lovely man and it’s his 21st birthday tomorrow. I wish I could have got him out of the children’s home sooner and I wish he hadn’t experienced the things he did whilst in there. I feel honoured that he considers us as home. I will always admire his gentleness despite the horrors he has experienced, as well as his amazing woodsman skills, trying his hardest to be the man of the house.
I feel a lot of respect to those adopters who parent siblings who are traumatised. I feel siblings should be together if at all possible and where there is no risk of further trauma by being together.
As in many areas of adoption so much more is possible with the right support in place.