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?

 

Kafkaesque Doesn’t Come Close

My heads been spinning of late. Trying to make sense of the relentless assault on the psyche of hearing of the abuse of children on a mass scale. Abuse going unchallenged at best and colluded with at worst. Some of this perpetrated by people in public positions of power and professional authority. Lots of it against children in the care of local authorities.

At the same time I am unpicking the family history of my adopted daughter.
At the point of being matched with her fifteen years ago I was given scant information about her family (This only featured her mum and dad as if any extended family was irrelevant). The picture delivered was not pretty. Negligence, domestic violence, dirt and chaos. I was advised to steer clear of their home town and be vigilant in avoiding other places they may be.

Despite this I chose to find her family three years into our adoption. I needed to know the backstory myself. Hear it with my own ears. I wanted to know more of her culture and heritage and of her wider family. My intention was to build a bridge between her past and present that she could cross at some future time should she ever wish to. Also to gain any information that would help me understand and parent her better.

I found her mum. A woman who had been abused as a child by an extended family member following the loss of her father in a tragic accident. Groomed and trained to comply. Further abused by predatory men until, on showing signs of ‘challenging’ behaviour, being put into local authority care as a young ‘aggressive’ teenager. Once in a place of supposed safety she was systematically abused by a care home staff member. When she reported it no action was taken. It happened to her friends as well. She bears a scar on her hand. It came from running away from ‘the man’ after a swimming session. Trying to find safety behind a locked changing room door. She slipped and cut her hand deeply on a glazed tile.
Her learning difficulty remained undiagnosed by her corporate parents.

On leaving care, now estranged from her birth family, she lived in the dark world of street life, alcohol abuse and violence. Usually against her. Eventually in her thirties she met the children’s father. A gentle but stubborn older man. A father figure who in her words ‘never once retaliated no matter what mean things I did to him’.

Of course she knew nothing of safe care, of domestic skills, of attachment, nurturing and trust. It was almost inevitable that she would fail as a ‘good’ mother. Three children permanently removed aged 7, 5 and 4. No contact granted. Taken by the same authority that had been her failing corporate parent.

Two adopted. One in local authority care miles away from home. The one in care first experienced sexual abuse at around 10 years old. The two adopted ones struggled with anxiety and attachment within systems that failed to understand and support them properly despite their adoptive parents greatest efforts. Both at some time coming into the child protection, mental health or criminal justice system.

I personally have had my parenting techniques criticised, had untruths about me and my daughter put in social services files, have seen lies being told in multi agency meetings and attempts at cover ups around bad practice. This against the back drop of adopting a child whose parents couldn’t cope and a system that judged them incapable of change. Many foster carers and adopters will recognise this horrible transformation from the being ‘the solution’ for a child to being held up as ‘the problem’. It really is quite kafkaesque. You wouldn’t believe it if you hadn’t been there. I know many adopters and foster carers who are seriously unimpressed with the systems of family support for children in need. I know others whose family lives have been devastated. This helps us see more easily the situation birth parents may have been in. The irony of this brings me back round to the bigger picture of child protection and where we are now in the UK.

Legislation has recently been passed, right under our noses, to make the corporate parent more powerful and the rights of families and kinship relationships further diminished. To put it crudely and in laymen’s terms, it’s a ‘whip them out quick before the damage is done’ approach. There are brain scans to provide the science bit. This simplistic picture is easy to sell to the general public via a muzzled press. To argue that leaving children in potentially abusive family situations is in any way ok, leaves one open to severe criticism. Social workers are easy scapegoats when a tragedy happens, making their job almost impossible. Either dangerous ‘lefty’ incompetents or over zealous despot child snatchers. These directly opposing stereotypes feed well into the rhetoric of child protection and privatisation. G4S a massive profit driven and seemingly unwieldy corporation now have children’s homes. An adopted young person I know of currently has a G4S tag on for displaying anxiety driven risky behaviour. This is linked to his past experiences of neglect. During his time as an adopted child he has not received therapeutic support.
The tagging box within the family home is faulty and wrongly shows him breaking his conditions. He will attend court for this ‘breach’. His adoptive parents are now fraught with anxiety themselves, fearful he may end up in a young offenders unit (no doubt run by a private security company).

What’s missing for me in this hot bed of double standards is any powerful public action, outrage, or meaningful legislation on what should happen to children in this country following removal from struggling, negligent or abusive parents. I’ve seen more general public outcry about the death of dogs in Manchester this week than I have about the rights of children in care.

One child taken into care every twenty minutes in the UK. Nearly 70,000 children in the care of local authorities at any one time. Multiple foster placements, children’s homes and in a small number of cases adoption. In many removals is the severance from roots, culture and history on a grand scale. At the point of removal the voice of the child’s family is muted. The child is most often rendered voiceless. How many parents of the abused girls in Rotherham tried to highlight and report what was happening? Somehow nobody in power or authority knew?

When things do go horribly wrong there’s no great child protection rush to prosecute and remove corporate perpetrators of neglect from powerful positions. Instead we have to watch long, expensive and protracted enquiries often led and managed by establishment figures from the very systems at fault. Many big charities gain funding and wages from attending special boards and think tank exercises. Paid to talk about ‘it’.

I know good quality care where it exists can save and transform lives and that many children in care go on to succeed and thrive having been removed from their parents. But the point is very many don’t. The scale and acceptance of child neglect and inequality of service to those in care by corporate parents is almost beyond belief. I find it full of hypocrisy and injustice. It also does absolutely nothing to stop cycles of failure. Many mothers who lose their children were once removed children themselves. One has to question what went on in between.

To me it’s a worse crime that a corporate parent neglects a child than its own family. Corporate parents have resources, power and influence, unlike many families. If you remove a child from its family surely everything should be done to manage that loss. Public money should be thrown at it without question. Excellent standards of care across the board, in health, education and social care should ensure a real second chance at a safe and happy childhood. To do otherwise, to make profit out of that loss, to underfund and undermine frontline carers in social work, fostering and adoption, to see child victims of neglect and abuse as in anyway deviant or unworthy of equality is inexcusable, especially in a country that politically views thousands and thousands of families as incapable of receiving interventions to keep them together.

(Permission is given and actively encouraged by my family including wider adoptive family to tell the truth of our shared history)