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)
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.
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