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.
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)
Adoption in itself brings together the many stories and experiences of several people. Birth family, adoptee, adopters and adoption workers. All family stories are important and often treasured, hidden, embroidered, repeated, or celebrated, but when a continuity is broken they can also become confused, muddled and mistold.
My adopted daughter came into my life with a scrapbook put together by her brilliant foster family, showing her time with them, happy events and fellow foster children. There was no detailed life story book. It was as if she were born aged four. The social services gave me verbal stories of her inadequate parents, chaotic and abusive home life…her mother had “knocked her front teeth out” and how she may have been born out of prostitution as her skin colour suggested “another ethnic background to that of her siblings”.
I was shocked and quite scared when I was told to avoid certain geographical areas due to the threat of potential attack by her mum.
After a few months of placement I felt I really needed more background to “the story” in order to understand my daughter properly. It took me a long time to piece together the bits of information I could get hold of. It helped enormously when I was able to contact a birth aunty who was a calm and reasonable police officer. I managed to get enough history to feel comfortable enough to meet Dawn and Fred. One of the most important things was hearing that Jazz lost her baby teeth when one of her siblings accidentally let go of her toddler reins and she fell over. I heard Dawn had a learning disability and behavioural problems which made her hard to engage with. I heard Fred was a lot older and his pride got in the way of him accepting support. Another important piece of the jigsaw was hearing she had an African descendant, maybe a great grandfather, and her mums skin colour was beautiful like hers. How this became translated into her mother being a prostitute I still don’t know.
I was still really scared to go into the social services office to meet the parents, especially as the social worker was not altogether impressed with the idea due to the “no birth family contact” order given in court. My heart was racing feeling sure they would hate me for having their child. Instead Dawn hugged me and we cried together.
From that day on we have worked together to give Jazz a fuller picture of her life. It hasn’t been easy and I have had to encourage Dawn not to blame everything on the social services and own up to her failures as well as to own her successes. Jazz has needed support and to be given control over the level of contact.It has resolved things for her and bought about forgiveness, mainly of herself. I have grown to love Dawn and Fred like I do my birth family, sometimes we bicker and annoy each other but the ties are strong.
Jazz’s family history is much like many others. It has sad bits, happy bits, bits that bring shame and bits to be proud of. Now it has melded into my family history and become a part of my story and my history.