Selective Hearing

This is a guest blog from an adopted adult who has contacted The Open Nest following recent government adoption reform announcements. They have requested a safe forum to share their thoughts. Here they are:

 

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Easter conjures up many images for me, small people delightedly hunting for chocolate eggs, spring lambs, daffodils and crocuses and for particular faiths it’s a time of resurrection, the end and a new beginning.
Our government, true to form, did their own bit of resurrecting over the Easter weekend, adoption reform, again.
Nicky Morgan announced sweeping changes to the way that adoption is prioritised, practiced and monitored (again) but immediately prior to this, something shiny caught my eye on Twitter- a cartoon infographic, published by CoramBaaf purporting to be about adopted children’s view of being adopted.

How wonderful, I thought at first glance, the big movers and shakers are finally taking into account the views of those directly and permanently impacted by adoption. And then I looked closer…
‘We talked to nearly 100 adopted children to find out what being adopted means to them’ – did they?

No, they asked 95 adopted children via focus groups (34 participants) and online survey (61 participants) some fairly closed questions about being adopted. As these are children, I think it’s safe to assume that none of this was carried out without the direct consent and participation of the parents too (I have contacted CoramBaaf a couple of times this last week to ask about their ethical procedures for this survey and the remit of the participants, what questions were asked, the age of the children etc- perhaps not surprisingly I have had no response)

So that got me to thinking, what child, adopted or otherwise could really feel 100% comfortable answering such questions as ‘how satisfied are you with your life?’ in front of their parents, truthfully? maybe not many, so I’m very sceptical about the process of the survey and that’s before we get to the actual figures-
75% of adopted children are ‘very satisfied’ with their life (a quarter then, are not?)
63% of adopted children feel ‘very positive’ about the future (37% don’t?)
100% of adopted children agreed that they had an adult they could trust (an adult, not necessarily a parent?)
you see my point? I don’t know what these figures show us, apart from a cynical attempt by the government to ‘butter up’ prospective adopters before the big announcement the following day and I think that’s called propaganda.

We all know that adoption is hard, so hard. For everyone involved- so why are the government pretending otherwise? To paint a picture of hearts and hugs and cartoon faces smiling is to be dishonest about the reality of living with adoption.

Accompanying the infographic was a cartoon (again with the cartoons? why does everything have to be infantilised?) running at just over 4 minutes long co-created by The Adoptables- the CoramBaaf young adoptee representatives detailing what adoption can be like for them- this, at least sounded like the voices of the young people themselves, not shying away from some of the challenges, but providing a snapshot of their experience of being adopted.

To the ‘vision for adoption’ itself- the sixth and final one of these from the government is that the

‘voice of adopters and their children is at the heart of national and local policy decision making and delivery of services. The views of adopters and adopted children are demonstrably used in the shaping and co-production of services and help to inform national policy developments’

how this part of the vision will be delivered is described further on in the document…

the government will ‘enhance the voice of adopters so that services give adopters the power of choice and that the views of adopters shape decisions about the future design of adoption services’

spot the difference? in the space of a couple of paragraphs the voices of the adopted children has been airbrushed out.

I can’t fathom why this is- surely the people with the most insight into adoption are the people who are adopted? When the State of the Nation report into young peoples experiences of care was produced in 2015- 2,936 surveys were collected- admittedly just a fraction of the number of people who have experienced care but significantly more representative than 95. Why can’t we ask adopted people about their experiences? Why can’t they sit on the boards? The ‘expert’ panels? What are we afraid of hearing?

AW

Guest Blog On Adoption Reform From an Adult Adopted From Care

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.