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?

 

National Adoption Week: It’s My Party And I’ll Cry If I Want To.

There’s been talk this weekend of the online community taking over NAW. Its something we have been hoping for since last years NAW ‘thank you’ letter from MP Edward Timpson. A petition we ran in response to the letter gained over 1000 signatures from people who felt recruitment focused reforms were not enough towards understanding and supporting adopted people. The Adoption Social also ran a feature on the week and gathered the views of adopters in more detail. During the previous NAW in 2013 we launched a controversial exhibition called Severance which showed us that in adoption rhetoric, adopted people are mainly excluded.

With feedback from these previous years we decided at our annual trustees meeting to fund a conference this year on the first day of NAW 2015. The only speakers will be adult adopted people who will give their versions of adoption and the systems they have experienced. The conference will also launch some important research which will hear the voices of many more adult adopted people. We will be announcing further details on The Adoption Social soon. The conference is being held at The Foundling Museum in London on October 19th.

I hope the community will work together to be heard but at the forefront of this we hope will be adopted peoples views. Without these, any dialogue will be less rich and risk replicating the mistakes of previous years. We feel strongly as a charity that until the voices of those that adoption is ‘done’ to are properly heard in mainstream media, the good practice needed will not follow and will not be fully informed.

Hoping this year many people will work together to instigate change and challenge the status quo. It’s going to be exciting!

Blog from NAW 2014:

Well it’s been a National Adoption Week of madness, not too dissimilar to most weeks here but with a backdrop of intensely mixed emotions. Jazz started the week by blogging about her very mixed and raw feelings towards her birth mum and to being adopted. A letter from Edward Timpson MP then appeared on my Twitter timeline thanking ‘me’ for the great job I do. Then a massive thunder storm brewed that eventually made all the power go off in our house. The week has made me reflect on complexities, not just within my own life but within adoption. Jazz’s blog made me feel extremely sad for her. A child with no choice in her circumstances growing into an adult still dealing with the consequences of failure, not only by her birth mother and me but also by the systemic failures in adoption support. We have had numerous chats, tearful moments and hugs as well as quite hairy moments of anger and anxiety this week. Mr Timpsons letter just made my blood boil. I’ve heard he is a really nice man who has good intentions but I felt it was sadly recruitment focused and a bit of a wind up for many of us in the community. It thanked adopters but entirely forgot to meaningfully mention adoptees and by its nature ignored the impact of the current system upon many of them. He followed this bit of PR with a picture of himself at an awards ceremony with his head through a strange fairground style recruitment advert from the Government funded agency First4Adoption. The picture was of an ‘adoptive dad’ and an ‘adoptee’ (he was the Daddy) with the words ‘Happy Birthday’ slung in a banner over the top of them. Maybe I’m too sensitive? To me, based upon my experience, birthdays can be very loaded for children who cannot remain in their birth families. Adoption is not a ‘rebirth’ event it is the beginning of a complex life journey that starts with a loss that reverberates, often during days of National celebration for others. Maybe they were fuelled up on adoption positivity and cheap champagne but it didn’t seem very thoughtful to me. The storm and loss of power caused an enforced moment of calmer reflection and clarity. With no distractions by television or housework or cooking, no light to read or write by, I just sat and thought by candlelight. I thought that it was a shame that what should be a celebration of our families caused division and confusion in many of our minds. To speak of difficulties or to challenge the merits of the adoption system could suggest to others, in particular adoptees, that we are unhappy or have regrets as adopters. The last thing I would want my daughter to ever feel is that I regret her. I don’t and I make a point of not only discussing this openly with her but also sharing our loving relationship with anyone who will listen. I also support her in being heard, even if that means reading and publishing her individual views that being adopted is completely shit at times. To criticise those with true passion and integrity who are pushing for meaningful reforms to adoption support can seem very ungrateful or cynical. Right now, we will of course take everything we can get. If the 19 million in pilot support projects just stops some families falling apart it is gratefully received. But it is crucial as ‘receivers’ of policy to also highlight that the current adoption system and reform policy is flawed. Research tells us that at least one third of existing adoptive families struggle to a high degree. This is life changing, messy and harrowing. Ultimately it puts children at risk. There are children and families at risk now, today, this National Adoption Week. If you see adoption as a potentially great thing for children it follows that you allocate significant funding to get adoption support systems right before bringing more children and families into them. A bit like some of the National Adoption Week PR it all seems like it hasn’t been entirely thought through. I’ve tried to imagine why. I’ve spoken to social workers, practitioners, researchers and academics. Many of them report feeling it is a short sighted party political budget driven initiative. That it cannot be denied that adoption can provide much needed security and continuity to neglected and abused children but that it also saves money. Adoption transfers the legal duty of care for vulnerable children to private families and away from the the State. Adoption support is not a legal duty by statute within this system. It is not at all easy for any of us to talk or write honestly about the difficult issues we deal with. You can be made to feel you are letting the side down, being negative or moaning purely for the sake of it. I have wondered what on earth those who haven’t struggled make of what some of us share during this week of relentless celebration. Mad and marginalised people who don’t know how to enjoy a great party when they see one? The sad and unlucky few? I also worry as founder of a user led charity that being ‘political’ or negative about adoption policy will alienate us all from those holding the support purse strings. Then I think about Jazz and I and how we had to learn together to her detriment and how we were blamed and isolated. How we daren’t be angry in case the few crumbs of support available might disappear as punishment for our dissent. How we internalised that anger turning it to shame. How we so nearly lost each other. Then I feel quite angry and unaffected by any judgements that might diminish our experience or that of others. As an agency we have hope and faith that by working hard at fundraising we can support families by being independent and unmuzzled. The personal is political in a way that if it is organised creatively has a transformative power beyond rhetoric. American adoptees have had a parallel event to our NAW this week. A great campaign with the hashtag #flipthescript has shared amazing thoughts, feelings and politics all week. It’s a different system but I’m guessing by what I’ve read that they feel as marginalised and unheard as some of us do here. The power in their campaign is the unashamed determination in their right to be heard. I’m wondering if we can organise something like this ourselves as a community for next NAW? A campaign that is honest but clearly states it is the very personal love for our own children as well as a more universal respect for the experience of all adoptees that drives us to be truthful. That this truth should therefore allow us a valid invitation to the party rather than being the embarrassing unwanted guest. Hashtag suggestions welcomed to info@theopennest.co.uk

Downtime?

In the Summer downtime seems to go out the window. With our campsite in full swing and everyone on their annual leave, every day is like a whirlwind. Trying to juggle work, our charity and parenting stretches me to the limit. It’s never been said of me however that I don’t like a challenge! So although downtime is a foreign concept to me right now I just pack my days full of work and fun with Jazz and dream of the Autumn and future times of stillness and snuggling.

 

 

 

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My Name Is Jazz: The Future

Whell I have moved in to my on house as u all no but I all ways won’t a house by the see side  because  I love walking on the beach and having fires and felling the lovely soft sand and the smell of the see and swimming and tacking the most wonderful stafferbull tears out.

And my ideal car is a soberro but well have to bee realistic so voxyl cosa red and black Matted and big lound spieler and orange wells and black out windows  And a massive speaker in the boot.

And Ideil job is army or police but yet ageing we have to bee realistic so a macanick with my new friends and me to bee ther boss for ones not mother hen!!!!!!

And my ideal stile is rally skinny jeans and long hire and one side saved but I cart grow my hire past a grade 4 because its rally annoye me.

my i deil body is big rip mussels and my idel tatto is marvel comics sleeve and my ideal  Holiday is New York withe the most wounde full fiend and mum ever

And my ideal laptop is a Appel Mac.

me and one of my best fiends we are starting a caffe at the hotel and I’m go to do a club with no acihol.

i work at a resqiew center for dogs and birds and a blind gote and stuff and we got a Gary hound in on whensday and he is in a rate stat so I rally won’t to help him get better.

My  one dreem that I’ve all ways won’t I’d is a baby girl calls Tilly Kat Boorman or a son call Jason David Boorman the end.

Post Adoption Support….I May Eat My Hat!

It’s fourteen years next month since we adopted each other. It’s been an epic journey and it certainly continues to be so. During this time I have been an avid follower of all things political, media related and policy making around adoption. I’ve watched and listened, contributed and written to MP’s. All this alongside just trying my best to have some semblance of a healthy and secure existence for my daughter.

I have never felt she was ‘owned’ by me just because she was in my longterm care, and yet when she needed support post adoption, the general response to our desperate need for help was that she was very much ‘mine’. This constant misunderstanding of her needs by our local authority, as well as her placing authority, struck me as horribly ironic. The state intervened in her birth family as her learning disabled mother sadly could not care for her and without having any support was severely and cruelly neglecting her needs. I can’t believe that nobody professional we met understood the ‘double whammy’ nature of this, and how a person full of rage due to displacement followed by further neglect of their needs was ever going to heal and thrive without great support, let alone the neglect being by those who purport to, and are paid to care.

Of course I did what most adopters do and tooled myself up, trained by Dan Hughes, read Caroline Archer and the like, applied to get help from charities such as Family Futures and Adoption UK. We even latterly attended a pitiful and run down CAMHS. We got nothing really solid, regular enough or meaningful enough and I essentially became an amateur psychologist as well as a teacher and a mum. All very well, but at what cost to my daughter? I can honestly say that the most stress caused to us was by the constant ignoring or misinterpretation of my begging for help. It felt like cruelty to us both. I’m sure we may have been the ‘complex’ case we were described as, but I knew what we needed and I know it wasn’t too much to ask. The rubbish assessment processes, mismanaged meetings, unaware social workers and budget conscious managers took up all the funding we might have had.

My original assessment as a suitable adopter was clear in its positive reporting that as a previously qualified social worker, I would be able to successfully identify a child’s needs and ask for appropriate support. That would seem laughable now if it wasn’t so sad.

So back to today. I feel as an adoptive parent I should be celebrating the Governments announcement for funding to support adoptive families. After all I am so galvanised by our experiences that I have formed a charity to try and help others with free post adoption support. (There is no catch, we will listen and we will believe and we will understand) The funding will come from myself and other volunteers fund raising, no big charity boss salaries.

My daughter is now an adult and living with support in her own home. I could go back to work to pay off the huge debts I incurred as a single parent unable to work, I could finally do my MA that I was due to start fourteen years ago, I could quite frankly laze about for at least a year to recharge my very worn out batteries, but I can’t because I feel so passionate. I feel very strongly that maybe our small contribution might mean a small amount of traumatised children might not be ignored and unsupported to the point that they are unable to remain safely in their second family. Maybe some adoptive parents might feel they got a meaningful and empathic support response that didn’t have a price tag. Maybe our creative, user led, non profit approach might be considered good practice by those who hold the power and we won’t be seen as “just mothers” playing at the big boys game. We can but try.

Sadly my experience tells me that the Governments recent announcement is not very ‘charitable’ and may amount to a political sticking plaster on a gaping wound. There are hundreds of children and parents out there now who need urgent support. They can’t wait for years to see if pilot schemes work for the lucky ones. £20 million may seem a lot, but its nothing when specialist therapeutic professionals can charge up to £1000 for a days staff training, £3000 for a detailed assessment, £100-£300 per hour for therapy, and a specialist therapeutic programme costs approx £30,000 per family per year if your child is developmentally traumatised. Some of our children have sadly become big money clients in all this.

(As an aside, a news item I saw this week whilst thinking of creative solutions to care was applauding the creative skills of the British and how we export our creativity successfully. This was in the context that the development of the new Grand Theft Auto game was done in Scotland. The cost of that creative development for a game which encourages crime and violence was £175 million).

If we like it or not, fostering and adoption make money, wether its saving money in the case of adoption over fostering, or simply in private agencies gaining fees to fund their jobs in the care ‘industry’. The National Fostering Agency was sold last year for approx £130 million. Private adoption agencies make money and the average fee gained for placing a child with an adoptive family is £27,000. Support agencies make profit.  It’s reportedly been tough for the smaller agencies to survive with prospective adopters low in numbers, hence the Governments recent financial assistance to help them make more “sales”. I know being professional and skilled deserves and needs payment, but not the expense of those one is in the business of supposedly helping.

At the moment I can see some current and existing services developing to gain potential post adoption support fund budgets. Of these, many will of course be well intended, creative, value for money, accessible to all and excellent, but some people can see money making opportunities. It makes me worried that once again, the people at the low end of the adoption food chain might be children

Apologies for my cynicism and if I am proved wrong by amazing, enshrined in law, support to all adoptees and their families (including kin) in the near future……meaningful and quick assessments of need, free therapy, quality identity and life story work, empathic fair access to education, specialist training and respite for parents and support to adoptees post eighteen……..I’ll eat my (very fashionable) hat.

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Safe Spaces Open Minds

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As a parent to someone who feels anxious and can be easily triggered to anxiety, safe spaces become really important. In our world these include my Mums kitchen, my Dads car, our living room, particularly the sofa, the woods, in a caravan, on the beach and most of all in each others arms.

Non safe spaces include, ironically, hospitals, police stations and social services offices. Pubs and anywhere involving alcohol are tricky as are family or friends gatherings which include small babies.

What can change an unknown space into a safe one for us is often the spaces in people’s minds. If they have open minds and can understand and empathise without much trouble then a scary space can quickly transform into something much less threatening .

It is often the inability of others to have space within a way of thinking that causes our young ones stress, whether adopted or not. Schools in particular can really help if they provide a calm “safe space” to be used when children are anxious, angry or upset, which most children are at some time.

When dealing specifically with trauma and extreme anxiety, a safe space is a place where not only do people believe the anxious person, but also allow for many different expressions of that anxiety without punitive judgement or fear.

Sadly in our care institutions, including many schools, this level of open mindedness is for some reason far too rare.

It was the discovering of this sad fact and through the personal experience of “dangerous” spaces that led to us start a support charity based upon the provision of safe spaces for traumatised children. We can provide a safe environmental space but most importantly we hope to provide openness in our minds, ears and responses for individuals to fit safely within.