In Plain Sight

Not sure if it’s just us…. but we continue to be befuddled by adoption support progress and its reporting not only as adopters and adopted people but also as charity workers. When we launched our peer support charity four years ago it was certainly considered ‘letting the side down’ to talk about adoption difficulties without a happy ending. Adopted people or adopters who did not reflect the agenda of adoption as only being a ‘good thing’ were certainly marginalised and not really given any powerful public or professional platforms.

Today things are different and suddenly the media are covering adoption difficulties and breakdown more regularly.
Going back 20 years Tony Blair was attempting to improve the adoption experience as it was generally agreed adoption was a good thing to do. This included highlighting the need for more support to support the good thing and also address the bad things that had happened in order for adoptive parents to be doing the good thing successfully in the first place.
The trauma and damage done to children that causes the need for adoption is constantly present in the dialogue over 20 years. Organisations at the top of adoption support services have consistently sold training, conferences and support based upon the bad things that happen to children to cause the good thing that is adoption. Often this is marketed directly as support to adoptive parents in order that they may succeed in carrying out the good thing that the social workers and courts who are led by the state have decided must happen for the child.
We have a large collection of adoption related publications, books, training materials, blogs, research etc from organisations, individuals and the government in our charity library. It’s interesting to track the modern history, culture, thinking and policy around adoption. What seems to be working well for the majority, what’s consistent and what changes occur based upon differing research, funding or changes in cultural, political and power structures.
Although there are some backwards and forwards ‘trends’ around issues for example, of contact, life story, timings of preparation and placement, transracial adoption, the consistencies are there in the history. One consistency is recorded knowledge around the need for good, and very importantly, individual psychological support to adopted children and adults whenever needed and for whatever reason is now considered a given. Dan Hughes and other ‘guru’ psychologists, speakers and academics in adoption have been an integral part of the conversations around adoption support for years. There is much unanimous agreement in the organisations forming the policy alongside the DfE around the need for professional understanding of the issues adoptive families face. This is based upon research and professional opinion and an agreement that the understanding must be converted into appropriate support.

Winding forward to more recent years and recent reforms, in 2012 there was the House Of Lords Select Committee enquiry into adoption legislation which reiterated and gathered new evidence from the professional organisations that offered adoption support as well as social workers and parents. (Our written statement to this enquiry is on page 186)

http://www.parliament.uk/documents/lords-committees/adoption-legislation/ALWrittenEvWeb.pdf

It was highlighted yet again in the findings that although LAs had a duty to assess for support they didn’t have a statutory duty to provide the support assessed as being needed. Chair of the committee, Baroness Butler-Sloss stated that she felt adoption support should be a statutory right. Families as a result of having no legal right to post adoption support would be thrown into a system where health and social care shunted the responsibility for funding back and forwards in the face of budget limitations on them from above. This was a big problem for adoptive families just as it is for ANY families seeking social care and mental health support. It was the luck of the draw. Families in more well off areas (often London based) had amazing and very expensive packages from expert support organisations. The type of therapeutic packages the DfE are now planning to restrict due to the overwhelming demand on the budget.
The very recent reforms which have bought about the Adoption Support fund continue to show the consistency in opinions around the need for more support. Some of the discussions appear to be presented as new understandings or based upon new knowledge, research or a latest conference speaker that reflects adoptive families lives. As if the new penny has just dropped.

Never before have we seen such open and active invitation to adoptive parent service users to take part in both informing and supporting reforms. Invitations to be heard, to speak in conference, to write, to train, to inform, to share and even to be employed within adoption support initiatives.

Many seasoned and new adopters have become involved in the new initiatives encouraged and heartened by the promise of better support and understanding not just for themselves but for the ‘community’ which has been bought together to have their voices heard via many different mediums.
As individuals and as a charity we were concerned and highlighted our concern from the beginning of the reforms that the ASF was not sustainable as it had no secure long term funding despite being launched alongside proactive state funded adopter recruitment drives. We were aware the amounts being talked about didn’t add up based upon our experience of support costs and numbers contacting us to report severe difficulties. We were concerned new adopters would feel more ready to take on the role even though information about severe difficulties was being highlighted, often by vocal adopters. The positive highlighting of the ASF could give the impression that understanding and support would be a done deal. Things were going to be different. Those questioning this were a minority of unfortunate bemoaners.

We were concerned the training and resources needed for teachers and social workers to become adoption experts was never going to be able to match the expectation and impression of the ‘new’ understandings.

In reality austerity and budget slashing has seen new adopters arrive in a landscape of education, health and social care professionals being under pressure, less individual approaches, hugely inconsistent understanding of trauma based behaviours and in some areas lengthy waiting lists for CAMHS. The economics didn’t seem to stack up to us but despite attempts to engage in a debate it was hard to get concrete answers amongst the celebration of the ASF.
The current situation sees that adoptive families often have had enough funded support through the ASF to gain a comprehensive expert assessment of their adopted child’s needs.

Adoptive families want good quality assessments of their child’s needs and support that reflects the speakers they hear, the books they read and the training they go on encouraged by adoption expert organisations, charities and social workers.

A comprehensive and expert assessment done as a package for an adopted child or children doesn’t come easy or cheaply and requires any or all of the following:
Life history work as an ongoing and continuous process.
Assessment which helps the child’s voice be heard by an independent and expert advocate
Assessment for contact arrangements and maintaining important connections to non related people.
Assessment for education support
Assessment of siblings
Assessment for health support
Assessment for mental health support
Assessment for parents support needs
Assessment for any family or professional training needs
Assessment for short breaks
Assessment for siblings needs

Our experience is that independent organisations involved in adoption support have been able to assess more families since using the ASF and are able to give expert views that are more likely to match families experiences and knowledge and the consistent support knowledge in the field.

They have been able to share with many more parents the products they have for sale and these products informs parents even further on the adoption specific needs of their adopted children.

The difficulty is then that parents can’t access these experts any further as there remains no right to the services a private organisation, charity or individual has to offer or has assessed as them needing.
As a charity it has been painfully slow for us to play a part in giving the very cost effective support we offer. Part of this has been the landscape and confusion around what constitutes relevant support, what support should be funded and most of all who should be allowed to provide it and at what cost. An example of this is that a very qualified therapist we funded to do DDP training with Dan Hughes was informed by an adoption support organisation she could not work with a family who contacted us in crisis because she was not Ofsted registered. The words ‘illegal practice’ were used. She was at the time under the supervision of a leading DDP psychologist and well known national trainer. It seemed like madness, especially as we were offering the therapy to the family for free.
It seems we are all now very much more aware of what support works and what doesn’t. The general public is also more aware of adoption as the press have played a large part in championing the latest adoption reforms.

We have all heard uncomfortable truths from all sides in the adoption process and we have gained insight from individuals, professionals and families in their very honest attempts to take part in invitations to share personal experiences, speak in conference, write blogs, sit on groups, become trustees, form peer support initiatives, attend meetings, do surveys etc etc
But adoptive families still have no more right to support services from LAs based on expert assessment than they did before.
Sometimes it’s worse to know exactly what you need, to be told continuously by adoption support professionals that you are now clued up via their training literature and conference products but still can’t access the right support.

It really is akin to being told by a well respected medical professional funded by the government that your child needs a certain medical treatment to become well but nobody you meet in the local surgery or hospital has heard of it and if they have there is no money available for them to supply it.
The very latest announcement from the DfE suggests that a budget of £2500 for an expert assessment of needs will be given to those families in the most difficulty. We are not sure how that difficulty will be graded for access. This will be an extra budget on top of the ASF £5000 limit per child. It is hoped LAs will match any further funding needed to therapeutically support children with the most severe difficulties. They have no duty to provide and more importantly are very unlikely to have the budget to do so. Therapeutic packages can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds if over a few years.
And so we come back around full circle. Adoptive families remain in a system which has been consistently aware over 20 years that adopted children need specialist therapeutic support to thrive within the ‘good thing’ that has been done to them. Adoptive parents have been encouraged to voice and share their experiences which also remain consistent about the need for specialist therapeutic support. Some of them have gained professional status within the general and increased opportunities reforms have bought about to profit from producing adoption support products.

Organisations have received funding to the tune of millions to be prepared to meet the needs of new adopter recruits and their adopted children. Organisations have grown in size and profile. Professionals within the field have been championed and received state honours for their part in reforms.
Although there is clear resistance within both social work and other professionals about the validity of holding adopted children’s needs as higher in status than other children’s, the general consensus backed up by the press and government is that adoption remains a good thing that must be supported and those that support it, wether professionals or parents will be rewarded and understood.

As a peer led charity we have felt that the millions spent on recruitment and reforms might have been better spent on supporting and training teachers, social workers and health professionals and their organisations to understand the needs of children with conditions caused by neglect and trauma whatever their legal status.
We understand that further changes are afoot under the regionalisation of adoption support. It’s been on the cards and part of the plan for years.

During these ongoing reforms we hope that the ‘in plain sight’ yet missing piece of the jigsaw will be the focus of activism and campaigns by organisations and individuals that both support and professionally benefit from the discourse that adoption is a good thing. The fact that LAs still have NO STATUTORY DUTY to provide extra or specialist support to adoptive families should be addressed nationally and successfully by those with powerful positions otherwise we are all shouting into the wind and despite the hype those on the ground seeking urgent support are not much further forward than we were 20 years ago.

For peer support:

thepotatogroup.org.uk @ThePOTATOgroup

theopennest.co.uk  @TheOpenNest

My New Blog: Sensitive Hedgehog 

 I’m a very sensitive sole I don’t like to be out in Lound nosey places ad people think I’m very comfdont I just come a cross that way. I talk a lot when I’m anxious I like been near home lissing to music. when I see nice girls I talk a lot go all coxey but deep down I don’t no what to say I’m shy red ad embarrassed or if I have to talk to people I don’t no I come cross very confident ad lovely but deep down I’m dieing off embarrassment ad to go into a big group makes me fell anxious ad nervous. I like me ad one person 2 at top I love been in my sensory room with my Technology books and lights. I love shear with eny one I like to hear them and talk to them and be close. I love been close as I can if it was not inappropriate I wud shear with my sport workers. I hate sleeping on my on. i love jumping ad swimming ad walking it helps me a lot. my favourite thing to do is eat mums lasagna ad fall a sleep on sofa with nice full tummy. I think I got more sensitive as I get older ad I love been calm with mum bear and have hugs. I hate hugs with people I don’t no. I love been with my Ginny pigs. I love been told every thing ok don’t worry it makes me fell safe ad every going to be ok. I love sensory things and been hold. I love weighted blankets and stuff and been lied on so basically been waited down. 

Not In Our Name

The Daily Mail article (link below) on adoption support, or lack of it, really woke us from the Christmas bubble with a start. A very rude awakening and a stark reminder of the differing cultures adoption sits within.
As we have responded as a charity and as individuals and having read many other responses, it strikes us as particularly sad that families are so desperate for their reality to be recognised that even a right wing style attack on adopted children’s birth families, and on children themselves has to be brushed aside as “at least it’s getting the topic into the tabloid press”
The article highlighted the desperation some of us feel with its truthful descriptions from parents about what it is like for them to live with a traumatised or displaced child and have no support. We have written and spoken about this constantly from both a personal and professional perspective and strongly believe that the reality of some families domestic lives should be recognised fully with understanding, acceptance and empathy, both for their sake and for the important purpose of gaining appropriate support.

We cannot however, accept that this truth and the reality for some should be used to smash other people over the head with nasty words. It reminds us of the same kind of language that allows the truth of some people’s lack of resources in this country being used to blame refugees.
Although it’s unpleasant and it happens all the time in the media, we are hoping that the people involved found their words taken out of context and edited to suit an agenda. That their intention was to highlight an important issue and its wider connotations in order to help support all those involved in adoption. We know the parts of it highlighting support needs bought comfort to many who are sick of being disenfranchised within debates about what they need or can have as certain types of families.
We don’t know of any adopters we speak to or read about who feel so negatively as this article did towards children’s birth families. Some have positive relationships with birth family members or want to make contact but have no support and are therefore anxious about doing the wrong thing. When adopting, wether you intended to or not, you take a child’s family and family history with you for life. Sometimes adopters feel sadness, anxiety, fear, anger or resentment when they see the effects a failed family and the social care system has had upon their adopted child. Adopters and carers we know of don’t want to be seen as saviours nor treated like martyrs. Many adopters feel very strongly that they want better support with life story work that is empathic towards birth families struggles and also interventions that recognise the political and cultural context within which people fail to thrive. In the cases where birth parents did completely unforgivable things to children, parents want this to be presented in a truthful, non sensationalist and therapeutic way to the children involved. They certainly don’t want children to be given the impression that their birth family are the dregs of society and because of that they will become so too if they don’t behave according to the happy ending script. The most cruel statements for us were the ones which said adoptees, still young children, were wrecking and blighting families.
Adoptees we have communicated with and our colleagues who were adopted as children are insulted by the tone of the article. We have consistently worked together with adopted people to try and address the media use of stereotypical language and the two dimensional representation of people who have been adopted….extremely lucky or very angry. This sadly but unsurprisingly hasn’t been easy and the people most affected by adoption, who may have many of the answers and solutions, remain the last heard in all areas of adoption talking, writing and policy making. Articles like this from tabloids don’t often help with issues of equality. Nobody asked the children involved for a quote in this article. Even if they had it probably wouldn’t have been the adopted ones.
We speak to many desperate adoptive parents and kinship carers who are struggling to see a way forward towards a healthy family life. They love their children even though they may not love having a family life half lived. A failure to thrive. We do believe the knowledge in the public domain about what’s really going on with adopted children’s mental health and problems with access to education is just the tip of the knowledge iceberg no matter how many positive adoption statistics and representations you might pay for and throw at it.
Despite being truthful about the difficulties they face on a daily basis adopters and birth family carers we speak to don’t talk about children in horrible and negative ways. The most negativity we come across is aimed at the systems they find themselves in. The article missed out one of the biggest cruelties about getting no support as parents and carers. That it is hurting and damaging the children we love. The more we see them struggling at school, in social situations and at home the more desperate for change we become. When the anger and frustration children feel is shown to us in the form of hatred and aggression it weakens our ability to successfully engage in, or even worse, fight a support system which is not yet fully fit for purpose despite the millions of pounds thrown at it.
The charities involved by quotation in The Daily Mail also work in areas of adoption support that include supporting adoptees and birth families. We feel offended that very negative ideas about these groups sat beside the quotes from agencies many adoptees, adopters and birth families have to seek support from. We feel it is important that all charities and charity workers stand up publicly for all of those they exist for. But these are tricky times financially and politically and that can be difficult. Finding a non political mass media forum to highlight sensitive issues is probably impossible
The Adoption Support Fund has been gratefully received by many. We hear of brilliant work and good progress being made in families because of excellent professionals and the use of the fund. There is greater understanding and more open talk of support difficulties that have been bought about by the formation of the fund. We all now know that it is not enough to provide the levels of support being asked for. The recent capping of it after its first year means agencies might find themselves in the same situation as local authorities, doing or having done professional assessments but not being able to provide the services the assessments call for.
This causes even more desperation in parents. No help is devastating. Being told help is now coming, that things have been reformed in terms of support on offer, being assessed and having the opportunity of telling your truth gives hope and encouragement. Having that then disbelieved, misunderstood or snatched away is almost worse than not having it at all. It’s not surprising that the word Kafkaesque comes up regularly in service users descriptions of adoption support systems.
Another thing the article missed out is the desperation that some adoptive families also have to face from professionals who have been forced to become defensive about the lack of resources and specialist training that would allow them to be more effective in their interventions. Many of the wise ones speak honestly, if off record to service users, about the lack of resources in the system and of their powerlessness within it. Many are uncertain about the future. Because social workers choose to work in adoption doesn’t mean they haven’t seen or don’t see the bigger picture in relation to the rights of all children whatever their legal status. There is frustration at the inability to take part in tackling the inequality and negative cycles that often result in adoption needing to happen in the first place. Frustration at the waste of money that can sometimes occur when systemically forced to buy in expensive private services that may have an uncertain long term future. Worry that the ultimate answer from the government will be for LA’s to find funding in house for adoption support services and we are back where we began before the reforms. These issues in themselves are complex and difficult to deal with whilst working in a broader political system that is seemingly starving state funded mental health and social care services across the board.

Adopters often report having powerful new insights into what it must have been like for children’s birth families when trying to navigate underfunded social care systems. What it really feels like to be blamed and uncared for when you are at your most vulnerable, angry, frightened or desperate.
The dynamics can end up with a group of angry and frustrated people. A group that makes up many more than an adoption triad, all needing resources, empathy, understanding and support. Equally the shared frustrations could bring about meaningful dialogue and solutions. Those who have the power and the energy have to continue to believe in and work towards that on behalf of those struggling and exhausted.
The Daily Mail article encouraged division. It gave permission to comments about forced sterilisation and killing children. It showed little empathy for those it quoted or represented. It perpetuated the unpleasant myth of deserving and undeserving children that enables inequality and sometimes cruelty in children’s services. It seems unlikely that it’s going to result in families, and individuals, birth or adoptive, getting more resources.

The people involved in adoption and the politics of adoption, both personally and professionally should not allow, without stiff challenge, the complexities and multiple truths in adoption to be spun into nasty pantomime versions of good and bad, rich and poor, us and them.


OPEN NEST CHARITY FUNDED THERAPEUTIC PROJECT WITH 10 WOMEN WHO HAVE HAD CHILDREN REMOVED. MAKING SELF CARE BOXES AND SHARING LIFE STORIES.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-4069254/They-open-homes-adopt-ve-taken-youngsters-wreck-family-continue-BETRAY-loving-parents-asks-CAROL-SARLER.html

Support For Violent Children: What Next? (Part Two)

We have seen our previous blogs about violent children and how to support them reach thousands of people. Of all the blogs we share on adoption related topics, the ones that talk about violence in adoptive homes are always shared by our readers the most. We are aware that the situations we describe are only happening in a minority of homes but also that this minority feel helpless, scared and unsupported. There is much confusion in the professional field, even around the language that is or should be used to describe supporting violent adopted children. Parents describe being given ‘blank looks’ when urgently asking for help with this issue. There is no agreed strategy other than to call the police. The police are often helpful in their attending but state themselves that the issue is one for social care and mental health. Parents feel calling the police helps temporarily but escalates fear in their children, and if they have older children it risks traumatised teenagers becoming criminalised. 
As a charity founded in 2013, primarily to support this minority, we have highlighted the issues from the start. We have regularly been contacted by families distraught by their domestic situations and very fearful for the future of their adopted children.

Our aim is first and foremost to protect violent adopted children from misunderstandings around the root causes of their anxiety and anger and secondly to make sure they are not punished for it by the systems they are expected to engage in.
As a charity we have added to many debates about the need for support in this area. We have spoken at conferences and given training to professionals. Many parents have also shared their experiences and in part due to brave conversations within the community, adoption support agencies are now providing training to parents such as the Non Violent Resistance approach. This is funded by the Adoption Support Fund.

NVR doesn’t involve a safe physical intervention in crisis, nor does it recommend it, but it works really well for many families and we advocate its approach. We funded a social worker from a progressive adoption team we had trained to attend an NVR course two years ago so that she could advocate the approach in her practice.

 

Our previous blog bought about yet more conversations with many people both parents and professionals about how to keep extremely violent children safe. We continually advocate for the teaching of safe non violent physical restraint to use when under attack, to avoid injury to children and to avoid adoption breakdown.

During this debate it was very helpfully pointed out to us by a therapist that the term ‘safe holding’ has very negative connotations in the adoption field as it can be associated with a certain type of holding done as an attachment therapy. There was sadly a therapy based on trauma and attachment in the USA that resulted in a child suffocating while being held by professionals in front of her adoptive mother.  
We need to be really clear on this. We are not advocating therapeutic holding but safe physical intervention in a safeguarding crisis. We are talking about training to react calmly, sensitively and confidently in the presence of extreme violence so that parents can effectively manage safeguarding within their homes to avoid the risk of the following:

Anyone being stabbed by scissors or a knife
Anyone receiving a head injury through heavy items being thrown towards them
A child safe harming
A child risking serious injury or death to itself or another
Anyone crashing a car
A pet being badly injured or killed
Serious bite injuries
Another child being seriously injured or traumatised
Property being damaged and costs incurred
Adoption breakdown 
A child being placed in secure care having then lost two families

We have done extensive research on this subject and we find that children can lawfully be subject to physical intervention at school, in foster care and in children’s homes. Local authorities have policies on the use of physical intervention as a form of safeguarding in many care settings including children’s domestic situations. These policies require the use of risk assessments, recording of incidents and training within a safeguarding framework.

Akin to all professionals we do not advocate the use of physical intervention unless as a last resort. We do not believe such training is needed for adoptive parents who are dealing with lower level aggression such as swearing, spitting, shouting, throwing stuff at walls etc. Any debate we have on violence is certainly not meant to be a needs competition or aimed to bring people’s spirits down. It seems to be an issue for the minority of adoptive parents when speaking about violence in public conversations and via adoption forums they are in some way playing ‘trauma bingo’ over who has it worst, or that it is negative or unhelpful to the overall adoption debate.
We all agree that it is crucial to see the positives, the love and the humour in all our families but this is genuinely hard to do if you are living in real fear for your family on a daily basis, dealing with injury and upset alongside serious concern for the future. This is completely the other end of the spectrum to the happy clappy adoption experience that for obvious reasons most people prefer to engage with. 
We are aware that the numbers of adoptive parents facing serious risks daily are in a small minority compared to the numbers who need support for less extreme behaviour. However we feel it is urgent that the Adoption Support Fund can firstly listen and not exclude or silence those who are in danger and secondly engage with real and effective solutions for this minority. Adoption is lauded and promoted extensively by our government as it is viewed to be the best chance at permanency for some of the most vulnerable children. The real risk of not supporting frightened, angry and violent children to remain safe is the complete opposite of security and permanency. If children are removed from adoptive homes due to their extreme violence the future for them can look extremely bleak.

Imagine #NAW2016

Guest blog from an adult who was adopted:

 
Imagine having a parent that doesn’t love you.Or maybe two.

Or maybe one that doesn’t know or care that you exist.

Imagine having parents that actively put you in harms way.

Can you do that?

Perhaps you can, perhaps that is your experience too- and I’m sorry if it is, because I know that it really hurts.

Now imagine that you have been removed from that parent (or parents) and put in a different home, you might be a baby and pre- verbal or you might be 10 with a pretty well formed life around you.

How are you doing now? Are you feeling alright with this or maybe a bit shaken or confused. If this isn’t your reality, its a pretty big leap to make. I’m not trying to be contentious or upsetting, I am inviting you into my world- I am adopted. My story is not unique. My story is pretty ‘tame’, but I would like you to step away from your assumptions and see things from over here. Just for a few minutes.

Not all biological families are happy.

Not all adoptive/ non bio/ foster/ families struggle.

I can’t imagine what it feels like to be loved by a parent- there, thats pretty huge.

What most people take for granted- the unconditional love of a parent, or parent figure- is totally alien to me. I cannot imagine a world where me and mum enjoy a chat and a coffee. I can’t fathom what it would be like to be emotionally ‘held’ and supported by a parent. It has never happened so I just don’t know.

The only thing I can compare it to is the idea of privilege- you know the thing that people have that they don’t know they have because its so taken for granted that their experience and world view is a more dominant one? It is generally taken for granted that children are loved by their parents (otherwise why would they have them right….) its generally taken for granted that those children love those parents right back in a satisfying loop of secure attachment and mutual dependence.

I have, literally NOT A CLUE what that is like. I envy it, I long for it, sometimes I get all self pitying and wallow for a while about it, but mostly I analyse it, because thats how I understand things, by picking them apart and putting them back together again- trying to understand from someone else’s point of view, and then my own (always in that order, by the way) and I think I get it- when someone says to me that they are going wedding outfit shopping with their mum, because she is their best friend and they trust her opinion completely- because mum has child’s best interests at heart- I think thats lovely, it makes me feel fuzzy and warm inside, and I don’t have to have felt it for myself to know that it sounds pretty great.

I don’t experience that happening the other way though- my formative years weren’t characterised by anyone empathising or trying to understand what it’s like to feel worthless, or unloveable or somehow defective. Maybe its a big ask? To try and empathise with the uncomfortable, the painful, the silenced.

People saw the symptoms of the above- the coping (or not) strategies, the walls I built, the behaviours that gave a voice to the feelings, but they didn’t want to get down beside me and know what it was like- they did want to do something, they wanted to fix me- to tell me that I was worth something, that I was chosen, not rejected, that I should be grateful for the life I was offered, that I should believe in myself.

To my mind, these are all pretty big asks- of anyone, let alone a child. Imagine being told that the grass is purple- but you know its green, its definitely green because you know what green is, you can describe at least 10 different shades of green and its real, you have felt green, worn green and smelt the green of the aforementioned grass when freshly cut. But no, the adult world tells you its purple- and it always has been, its impossible to believe and there is zero evidence for it, but you have to believe it because you are told its true. Its a ridiculous example, but thats how it feels, to me. If a child has a core belief about something- and we think its wrong- does that make us as adults right? or might it be more helpful to try and understand where they are coming from- to try and empathise with them?

I wish I had the words to explain how it really feels, the absence of something that has such a presence in our society- the assumption that everyone has had some love in their lives. Sometimes I feel only half human, like I’ve been put together with some really important but strangely intangible bits missing. It doesn’t mean that I am broken or damaged, it just means that I don’t necessarily feel what you do and I wouldn’t assume that you’re not different too…

I think the first step to building esteem is to try and understand the world from a child’s perspective, if they feel worthy enough that someone would take the time to try and ‘get’ them, its a strong message that they are deserving of being known, being heard and being accepted. As soon as we start to impose our reality and expectations onto them we are potentially losing something so valuable- them.

I’m hopeful that long term love and support can be somewhat restorative for a child’s sense of self worth, I’m hopeful that there are loads of parents out there (however they have come to their children) who do empathise with their children, living child centred lives and bringing up great little people. I know that there is lots of good work happening in regards to the recognition of the impact of trauma in attachment and that this is becoming much more widespread as a way of understanding some aspects of the lived reality of adoption.

This years National Adoption Week has the hashtag (hashtags!) #SupportAdoption. I think I do support adoption, if its in the best interests of the child. If the parents adopting are willing to understand the world from the point of view of their child. If adoption is not about ‘fixing’ ‘damaged’ children. If adoption is the best permanence solution for a child. If adoption can be understood as a lifelong commitment to putting someone else first.

The week long campaign is aiming to highlight the realities of the adoption process, the need for older children to be placed and some of the struggles faced by adoptive parents- this is my small contribution- a snapshot of my reality of being adopted.

Marketing Adoption

image

Marketing is a familiar concept to me. My Dad, once a teacher, has been self employed most of my life and remains so into his eighties. I have been self employed for the past 16 years. I have to market a small business in order to make sales to pay the wages, the HMRC and our families rent and bills in that order. I couldn’t work for anyone else because as an adopter I suddenly had to be at home for my children who couldn’t cope at school. I’ve had to be creative and watch every penny as a business person who believes in fair trade and sustainability. We avoid spending money on marketing. We communicate openly and honestly on social media and provide good customer service. We rely extensively on feedback, direct customer involvement and word of mouth.

I am also extremely interested, in a broader sense, in the representation of consumer groups via advertising and marketing. Many of us are familiar with that sinking feeling when marketing tries to address us as a particular generic group based on age or gender or feel depressed seeing marketing based upon our supposed aspirations as human beings. Often we can’t relate to a marketing companies view of us as a generic consumer group and it can seem comical or at worst offensive.

At certain times of the year, as a multi faith country, we see the resurrection of Jesus as an opportunity for profit in the marketing of chocolate eggs and fluffy bunnies, and then his birth is marketed via the consumption of food, drink and luxury goods. We see the irony in adverts for slimming, fitness, ‘bikini bodies’ and beach holidays after the mass consumerism of Christmas. But it works. Adverts are designed to sell products or ideas. There is a psychological science to it all. Marketing is a very lucrative business.

Citizens are increasingly valued by their ability to consume. Spend without getting into debt and eat as much as you can but don’t show the curves and you will be a perfect consumer.

Marketing to and around children is a tricky and uncomfortable part of being a consumer society. It gives rise to branded snacks and drinks being placed in educational settings where the playing fields have been sold off for profit and children feeling they are lacking as human beings if they don’t have the right junk food, technology or trainers.

I became an adopter over 16 years ago after answering a small advert in our local paper. Seeing the advert was not the first time I had considered adoption. It had been in my mind for years. The advert nudged me at the right time. The result of answering the advert was that I met my daughter. I’m guessing I’m a statistic for that particular adoption agency that says marketing works to attract adopters. It also worked financially for the agency as they received a substantial fee as the private adoption agent and therefore salaries were paid. Of course there was no meaningful after care service and my daughter and I just muddled on into the future together as best we could. We certainly didn’t see the agency for dust when the going got tough.

When we sought urgent support with education and supporting contact those on the end of numerous agency telephones acted much like crap call centres for some major consumer products do. Stock answers, defensive responses, lack of actual care. Passed around from one department to another. It’s bad enough when it’s about your broadband but when it’s about a child’s life and security it’s torturous and scary. People get hurt. We got hurt.

When the current government decided to reform adoption the central focus of reform was the recruitment of adopters. In line with this approach, the initial budgets were firmly rooted in attracting more people to give a secure home to children unable to stay with their birth family and apparently waiting to be loved and made happy. Phrases like ‘languishing in care’ were (and remain) key campaign strap lines.

The ‘unable to stay with their birth family’ bit of the campaign does not question any inequality in support to children dependent on class, race or legal status. Diminishing funds for early intervention programmes, children’s social, housing, financial, educational and health issues, alongside government commitment to austerity policies are whitewashed out in most adoption recruitment campaigns.

The first round of money for adoption recruitment came from The Early Intervention Fund. One hundred and fifty million pounds was shifted from the early intervention budgets to adoption recruitment. This was overseen by Michael Gove and attracted criticism from some children’s services professionals. To put it in a very simplistic nutshell, if you remove early intervention at the same time as removing funding from all support services to families you are likely to have more children needing state care and support . Add into that a speeding up of the adoption process, adoption target cultures and cuts in legal aid and you’re on a clear mission.

Next rounds of funding included the providing of adoption recruitment budgets to local authorities, a £2 million pound contract was tendered to become the ‘adoption gateway’ a one stop advice and information service for prospective adopters, specific funding for marketing adoption (including roadshows, light projections, leaflets, balloons, cake and children’s profiles on Twitter) funding to specific government approved support agencies and £1.5 million pounds worth of government funded new adoption agencies, each with specific number targets to reach.

Watching it all unfold as an experienced adopter and long term foster carer made me feel like I do when I watch candidates ignore the market research or make cheesy sales adverts on The Apprentice. But much worse.

If you’re going to market children at all, then ethics has to be at the top of the agenda. Personally I wouldn’t go with marketing adoption to people heading into Tescos for some washing powder or cat food. I wouldn’t put pictures of children in care on social media. I wouldn’t hold adoption parties or make National Adoption Week all about recruitment. But that’s just me. I especially can’t help but imagine I was the child on Facebook or Twitter and how I might feel seeing the previous marketing of myself as an adopted (or not) adult. Imagining being the relative of the child makes me shudder.

I’m absolutely sure my daughter was a child who couldn’t stay with her birth parents without her mum being given empathic support long term support. That sadly was not going to happen. Nobody cared for her after she left care. I also think without the public resources to provide long term skilled therapeutic foster care, adoption was right for her. I think the adoption system was wrong for us all. I could have done with some much bigger truths in the transaction. I could certainly have done without learning on the job at my daughters expense.

If I was given the job of finding families for children and not children for families I would market permanence, safety and security differently. The millions of pounds spent on marketing adoption would have been spent on education around children’s mental health, the effects of poverty and inequality on families and the marketing of permanence in all its forms. The largest proportion of the budget would have been spent on improving children’s mental health assessments and improving the provision and delivery of children’s mental health services, including within schools. Adoption would of course be included but as a very specialist intervention suitable not only for few children but also for few families. An intervention with complex needs.

Each child placed for adoption would have a skilled needs assessment and a support budget designed to meet their ongoing and individual needs and this budget would be attached to the child prior to the adoption order.

Prospective Adopter Application

Are you a family who would be able to voluntarily care for and love somebody else’s child or children up until the age of 18 and beyond. Can you commit to caring for one or more of the very few children in the UK for whom being legally severed from their historical and geographical roots is without any doubt necessary for safety reasons.

Are you willing and able to maintain all meaningful and safe connections for that child throughout its childhood. This may be with birth family members, siblings and previous carers who are not a danger to the child.

You will need to demonstrate that you have the knowledge to access the support services that your individual child has been assessed as needing in advance of placement. These may focus on loss, grief, dual identity, displacement and in most cases the life changing effects of neglectful or abusive relationships. You will be required to demonstrate empathy towards and full understanding of the social and political circumstances and inequalities faced by most families who lose their children.

You will need to manage a support budget which will be paid directly to your family. You must show evidence of being able to account for money spent through the support budget and present accounts annually.

You will be expected to manage anger and potentially aggressive responses from your child if they are anxious and angry following being removed from their family and adopted. You must be able to demonstrate understanding of valid anger, power relations, triggers to trauma and trauma related responses. You must be able to remain calm and focused under extreme pressure and in all confrontations. You must provide evidence of at least two other people who can voluntarily provide specialist care to your child when you take the breaks required to provide empathic parenting.

You will need to demonstrate the ability to deal with the unexpected in terms of your child’s development and be prepared for sudden changes in plans due to the needs of your child. You may need to consider a change in career or your working hours if your child cannot manage at school.

You must be able to professionally advocate for your child and be able to show evidence and understanding around mental health issues, developmental uncertainties, benefits entitlement, special educational needs, attachment difficulties and be able to manage skilled family history work,life story work and complex family relationships.

You will be required to pass on your specialist knowledge to all those supporting your child professionally. A knowledge of the social care system and the differing approaches and language used in health, education and social care is essential.

In today’s consumer society there exists thousands of mailing lists based upon professions, spending and lifestyle habits. Distasteful as these are, it would be possible to directly target specific groups with truthful and realistic marketing.

I don’t think I would be put off by truth but would feel security in the fact that the ‘advertiser’ was taking the requirements of ‘the job’ of child protection seriously.
I would feel confident that with the right assessment and support in place from the beginning, I would be more likely to be able to provide the right care to a child or children displaced from their family. I would believe the system would support the child, its birth family and my family in dealing with the complexity and sadness of modern adoption and I would hopefully understand that good adoption practice and parenting was not necessarily about transferring ownership from one family to another.

Sadly, but still relevantly, western cultures have a long history of ‘consuming’, assimilating or destroying cultures perceived as being other to the patriarchal and white based model of what is considered to be desirable, successful or good.

Current reform marketing often presents, probably in good faith, a concept of adoption that is culturally close to adoptions western cultural roots. It is presented to the general public as a charitable intervention that without question, saves and subsequently heals children. Appealing only to the charitable, saviour or ‘consumer’ side of those that adoption adverts are aimed at whitewashes the adoptee experience from the outset.

As many people are now marketing and media savvy consumers, I feel a more honest approach to the reality of broken families and the resilience, empathy and awareness needed to succeed in supporting them would be more likely to ensure the right parents are found for children experiencing trauma, grief and loss.

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.

Don’t Feed The Hand That Bites?

The closure of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering  is confusing. One minute they seemed to be one of the governments top ‘go to’ charities for all things adoption related. Playing a key part in recent adoption reforms they received healthy funding from many sources and were commissioned by the DfE in several areas. Yet they closed overnight, dumping hundreds of staff, and we must presume families, in the crap. Right at a time that their expertise was being used extensively to train adoption professionals and promote the current adoption agenda of higher numbers, they crumbled.

The last accounts seemed healthy but there was clearly no reserve as the financial climate has been the explanation given. The no reseve issue has also come up with Kids Company this week. A second massive government funded charity gone overnight. Both overwhelmed by demand or simply mismanaged?

The plan for some of BAAFs services was clearly thought through and they were handed to Coram before the closure was announced. I haven’t heard of any pre planning on the closure of Kids Company but have read some government statements;

“The welfare of these young people continues to be our primary concern and we are now working closely with local authorities to make sure they have access to the services they require”

That’s the irony of politics for you.

The Open Nest is a tiny charity. A grain on the sand of other charities beaches. No matter how small a charity you are though, the politics of a government still affect you and those you support.

“The important thing charities should be doing is sticking to their knitting” Brooks Newmark: Charities Minister 2014

We choose not to chase or take funding with any whiff of ‘gagging’ conditions. This is partly because we feel we should stand up for the people we represent as a charity without compromise or editing. Sometimes this means actively criticising or questioning policy and as a result we accept this means not getting certain funding or endorsements.  We also feel we might start important work that we know needs doing, but at the same time have no long term security for that work. The potential for letting people down can be very real when none of us have a magic wand and some people need continuity and support for life. This is one of our charities key concerns with The Adoption Support Fund. We would prefer  that all support services were a statutory right for all children and not dependent on charity or commerce.

For The Open Nest the aim as a small charity is to try and provide quality rather than quantity, this alongside creative independence. No cut throat competitions for endorsement or comissions, an active voice and an easily accessible service. We can’t change the world but feel we can change our corner of it. We have nothing to sell. We can’t even imagine being a big charity. We would however hope to influence big charities. We formed precisely because we had no faith in the government to not leave adult adopted people and birth families out of the adoption reforms, to focus on adoptees rights to their own history and information, to improve routes and assessments to support, or to not leave any adopted children (or any children for that matter) in the lurch support wise.

Despite being small, a charity or support organisation can have real impact on both awareness raising and support to the community it represents. This can reach nationally and cost effectively with the creative use of social media and creative fundraising strategies.

Sometimes where charites are concerned big is not always beautiful when it comes to enabling rather than disabling or infantilising people who seek empathic support.

Our experience of BAAF as a group of trustees made up of adopted adults and adoptive parents is that we had no real connection with it. Individuals amongst us who had experienced its culture did not feel hugely positive about it. We felt it appeared to represent professionals rather than those directly affected by adoption. We have not received any public attention from it as a vocal, albeit small and independent user led charity. It did however use our (free of charge) community made animation in its national training of adoption support professionals. We always liked the individual BAAF staff we met. It strangely didn’t seem to express much sorrow via its trustees at the closing down of it’s services (We would be interested to hear more adoption community experiences of it to challenge our experience or suggest reasons for why it was no longer viable)

My experience of Camila Batmangelidgh is only personal. My daughter and I met her at an event. My daughter was struggling massively with triggers and anxiety and discussed this openly. Camila gave us both authentic responses and was a major influence on my daughters road to recovery after that meeting. She gave us her personal contact details and told my daughter she could call her anytime. After this meeting we had further communication about a few things including lack of support to traumatised people. Another time in 2013 she described having to work 24/7 for funding to keep services going. When we founded The Open Nest she sent us a meaningful letter of support and  encouragement. Communicating with us had no perks in it for her.

You can’t bottle that. If you could charities probably wouldn’t need to exist at all.

Whatever the outcome of these two big charities closing, it has been interesting to see the huge press interest in one and distinct lack of it with the other. I have found it disturbing to see the negative speculation about Kids Company and in particular personal attacks on Camila Batmanghelidgh including her looks and personality.

The key debates should be whether big charities are ever in a safe position to provide expensive services to children which should rightly be provided by the government anyway. Whether the commissioning of charities by the government to provide children’s services takes place in a fair market or goes to the quiet compliants, or most forceful founders. How dangerous is it to become the governments darling as a charity, and who picks up the pieces on behalf of children and families when the love affair ends?