A Service User ‘Rant’ About Adoption Reform

I am compelled as someone who loves an adoptee and is also a firm believer in children’s rights, to write about adoption reform today.

I’m mighty pissed off. Another great big law changing DfE adoption reform announcement (even the Queens involved) this time on the Saturday of a bank holiday weekend. What’s that about?

The usual, age old professional adoption commentators, Adoption UK and BAAF, were ‘interviewed’ via press releases fed to the media.

Sky TV contacted us last minute as a charity to see if we knew any adopters who wanted to chat about what a difficult time they had had going through a recent adoption process. This would be for the evening news alongside the DfE announcement. The theme of any potential interview was clearly pre planned. It was to add proof from a service user that the system needed to change and ‘speed up’. That forcing change by law was justified. When I mentioned that as an adoptee/adopter support charity we had grave concerns about certain aspects of speeding up the process, as well as having confusion over the financial focus on adoption as only one form of permanence for children, that we had adopters/adoptees who felt that way, the reporter seemed surprised…and uninterested. Debate from service users was not on the agenda.

When I agreed to talk about the adoption support fund on BBC Breakfast a few weeks ago, all the political bits were edited out. The bits where I talked about millions being spent on marketing not support and the plight of kinship carers. Adopters are allowed to speak alongside adoption professionals but really only when positioned as charitable saviours, adoption champions or stoic martyrs, politely and patiently hoping for desperately needed support.

Most terrible is that adult adoptees don’t seem to get a look in. It really is most peculiar that a major and very expensive reform of a care system that affects adoptees more than anyone else, essentially omits their voice. There is no independent adult adoptees on reform boards despite the boards being run since 2011. Throughout the reform, money has been given to some organisations that sit on the boards that they have used to represent the voices of adoptees. These tend to involve non politicised younger children and sadly, although well intended, can have an air of tokenism about them in the bigger scheme of service user involvement.

Where are the loud voices of adult adoptees and experienced adopters to be found and heard? After years of the current adoption reform agenda being prescribed to this country it seems it is ‘not allowed’ by service users to oppose it in public media, certainly not in any strident way. Charities and professionals working with children and families who are not on the adoption reform boards make polite public statements and calls for caution over and over again but the airtime and column inches afforded to the truly affected doubters is scant compared to the quite frankly astonishing government led PR machine for adoption. Funded and advised by the DfE, adoption agencies and local authorities are wheeling out adoption marketing all over the place. Previously ‘quiet’ old school agencies are employing marketing and communications bods to engage on social media with potential customers. Lots of shiny promotional material, pop up stands, podcasts and even mobile ‘adoption promotion’ units appear at all kinds of events to maximise sales. (Some of the marketing has made me giggle a little bit as a watcher of BBC’s W1!)

Most public call to caution over all this is met by Sir Martin Narey’s child protection mantra about our countries terrible tolerance of child neglect that makes any critic of ‘his’ reform feel like they are at risk of being an apologist for child abusers.

(Before I really get much further into the rant or get ranted at, here’s the disclaimer; I don’t condone leaving children in abusive homes. I don’t hate adoption. Done properly It’s best for a minority of children)

I genuinely cannot understand why the current DfE financial focus on adoption is not questioned by more taxpayers. In the bigger scheme of children’s rights to quality care when unable to live with their parents, adoption serves a small percentage. Rough figures are 65,000 children in care, 5000 adoptions per year. What percentage is hoped for as a result of reform?

Whilst the government place adoption as a premium permanence solution for some neglected children, they also allow thousands of vulnerable children to be forced out of local authority care before they are ready, rendering them at risk of exploitation, abuse and homelessness. They ignore the great resource of family members willing and able to look after their own child relatives if given the right support. Whilst the government are happy to tell the public about the need for much quicker removal of children from abusive situations and into adoption they haven’t yet tackled, in any quick or meaningful way, the shameful culture of the institutional sexual abuse of children that seems to be rife in the UK.

It seems to me that perhaps it’s not questioned because outside of those working on the front line of it, to members of the public, adoption still has the ‘ahhhhhhh’ factor (as an adoptee described it to me today). The cultural rescue mentality around adoption is alive and well. The simplistic notion of a happy ending is believed by the majority. To publicly criticise the almost religious mission feel of some of the rhetoric means you’re perhaps just like a big old Scrooge not allowing poor children the opportunity to experience the magic of Christmas.

It’s actually a very sad thing, adoption. Things have to have been really bad to be removed permanently from all of your family, your culture and your history. If you’ve been wrongfully or unjustly removed (yes it does happen!) it’s even more tragic. As well as the many good and happy bits of adoption it is also serious, scary and sad for many children. Many lose so very much as their identity is legally changed forever.
When adoptive parents truly understand this loss, have no notions of ownership of a child’s identity and get the right free support to manage loss, anger and identity properly for a child, and themselves, adoption can be a real chance of a healthy safe haven throughout childhood.

Many adopters and adoptees know though, that support to adoptees has not been the main focus of this current reform agenda. If it was, the budget set aside (out of the over two hundred million pound reform) would be a lot more guaranteed than one years worth of support at 19.5 million.
Social workers would have been trained in how to implement the adoption support budget at least a year before it’s launch, not two weeks.

A quote from yesterday’s press release;

” I have long held the view that 180 agencies in England does not make sense when only 5000 children are being placed” Hugh Thornbery: Adoption UK, member of Adoption Leadership Board.

Hugh has a point. I’m certainly surprised more people are not curious as to why the DfE funded three brand new regional adoption agencies to the tune of £1.5 million last year as part of its reform. Including, most surprisingly, a ‘substantial’ grant to massive multi million pound profit making, private care company, Core Assets to open an agency ‘Adopters For Adoption’.

Core Assets were the same company employed by the government to do a diagnostic assessment of local authority adoption services leading up to adoption reform. Their assessments found LA adoption services severely lacking and as a result controversial performance scorecards were bought in as an attempt to boost adoption numbers by LA’s or risk having their adoption services taken over.

Did we need £1.5 million worth of new voluntary/private adoption agencies? If we did why? How were the agencies chosen for funding? Are these agencies to lead LA’s on the regional reform of adoption services?

The DfE “called plans for regional adoption agencies a “triple win” that would also widen the availability of support services and improve recruitment of adopters. It expects councils to see the writing on the wall…” The Guardian

As a lay person it seems to me that the road to privatisation of adoption and adoption support has perhaps been paved for some time. Great some might say. About time those pesky underfunded and overworked LA adoption social workers get booted out. Many social care experts, practitioners and researchers feel the privatisation of adoption is one arm of an aim to privatise all child protection services, much like the slow but steady privatisation of prisons and the NHS.

As a business woman I’m not so naive that I don’t know that great and ethical work can be done by private companies. Where vulnerable children are concerned though, profit making will always leave a bitter taste in my mouth. I would prefer that LA children and families services were fully funded, that social workers and teachers were allowed more time and funding to engage in good training opportunities. That service users and front line LA social workers were given real power to influence service provision.

As an adopter it has annoyed me to see this current reform result in many more events and profit making products being produced by participating agencies to ‘talk’ and ‘learn’ about adoption issues. Most with a hefty price tag. Courses that parents, social workers and teachers can buy in order to help traumatised children, courses to buy that teach professionals about how to use the adoption support fund. Shouldn’t these things all be free in relation to children’s needs being met? No more decent and swift access to CAMHS for us but we can buy a parenting course for £700 (each). As an adopter of some time, it seems many of these type of products have been around for a long time, certainly the agencies and the issues they aim to address have been. I couldn’t afford them fifteen years ago and I can’t now. There’s something in all the hype of current reform that over complicates things and certainly doesn’t seem, so far, to lead to easy access of free information and support to urgently meet adopted children’s health and educational needs, despite the apparent wealth of expertise behind it.

Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe every penny spent on the current adoption reform and its byproducts will prove to be justified. I guess only time will tell. In the meantime we continue as a user led peer support charity to gather the information and views handed to us by social workers, adoptees and adopters on a weekly basis. We feel some of it needs open public debate that includes service users truly at the forefront. Some of it is listed below:

1. Many adoptees want to search for their birth family and/or cultural roots as soon as they can. Adopters are living in fear as articles about the dangers of adoptees searching out potentially dangerous family on Facebook without any support are churned out. Many worried adopters spy on their children’s birth family on Facebook. Sometimes Facebook is where adopters find information about the child’s life story that is sadly missing in the files.

2. It pains but suits some adopters to attempt ‘ a fresh start’ for a child. This is not because they are bad people it is because they find the ‘other’ family, sometimes including siblings, too far away, too frightening or too emotionally triggering and messy. Sometimes social workers disagree with this practice but don’t want to ruin the chances of the adoption going smoothly. They sometimes allow adopters to renege on contact arrangements made during matching as there is no budget available to therapeutically support all parties around contact or safe open adoption where possible.

3. Lack of support, from legal aid through to financial support, means some children’s birth relatives can’t look after them even when they are very desperate to do so. Some of those heartbroken relatives lose contact over years with that loved member of their family. Adult adoptees can feel very sad and angry, even if they love their adoptive parents, when they learn it was lack of support to their family that led to their life and identity being changed forever.

4. Parents lose their children to care having been victims of domestic violence. This happens to both birth parents and adoptive parents. Many adopters learn what it might have been like for birth parents to be involved with child protection services when they become parents involved with child protection services themselves.

5. As service users, prospective adopters, adopters and adoptees wish to understand better the current adoption reforms and how they will be affected by them in the long term. They would benefit from seeing detailed documents that show the work of the DFE and it’s adoption reform boards. How were decisions made and by whom. How and why were commissions, contracts and budgets sought, managed and implemented. Who was consulted and by whom. What was the independent research used to inform changes. What are the long term aims of adoption reform. What are the adoption numbers being aimed at and why.

6. Adopters and adoptees feel they can offer a wealth of expertise. Professional non adopters and adoptees get paid well to inform, implement and deliver reform, information and support. Adopters and adoptees often feel they are reduced to ‘least expert’ when expected to be volunteers or low waged when at the invitation of agencies they take part in research, sit on panels, be adoption ‘buddies’ or provide training and support.

7. Some social workers feel out of their depth around providing adoption support. They don’t know where agencies/individuals exist to commission quality services and feel confusion about what status those agencies or individuals need to have to be commissioned. They don’t fully understand the adoption support fund budget and are worried they will commission important long term therapeutic work that may have to end when/if the budget runs out.
They are worried they are being set up to fail and will get the blame when adopters can’t access what their children urgently need.

For free peer support, advice and information contact theopennest@yahoo.co.uk

Matched

imageBeing part of an online community of people involved in adoption is a great thing. It gives the opportunity to hear lots of different experiences and points of view.
Through Twitter and The Adoption Social I have enjoyed communicating with people who are at the beginning of the process, being assessed, going to panel and being matched.
The moment when you have been matched but have not yet met the person who is going to feature in your life forever is an extraordinary experience. Unless you’ve been there it’s hard to describe very easily.
When attempting to sort through my terrible piles of paperwork this week I found a diary entry from a few months before Jazz’s placement with me.
I’m glad I recorded events by writing, filming and doing photographs. I have also encouraged Jazz to do the same. It reminds both of us of where we were, have been and are now.
Below is a diary entry from the year I met Jazz:

 

Lizard Point, Cornwall 1999

It is a typical English Summer evening, fresh and bright and showery. The bed is down as usual in Lily, my white camper van, and my toes feel great amongst the fluffiness of the fake fur blankets.

I love festivals and this one is extra special. The impending solar eclipse and the near dawning of a new millennium combines to add an air of excitement to what would otherwise be a fairly usual gathering.

Then I think of her…oh my God!….My child.

Five years old and she has never met me. An intake of breath and an adrenalin rush hard to decipher. Was it fear or excitement? I reach into my bag and then into another velvet bag within it that holds my diary and keeps the loose tatty pages from falling into disarray. Tucked inside is a photo of her. She smiles out at me, a lovely smile, cocktail umbrellas in her hair. The photo has all the signs and symbols of happiness but it saddens me.

Im here planning to grab at my last chance of no child freedom fully aware that very soon my life changes forever. I wonder what she is doing, knowing nothing of me even though I will become her mother within the next four months.
Mine will be the tenth strange house in which she has laid down her head. An average of a move every five months of her short five years.
Different smells. Different sounds. Different food. Different rules. Over stimulation and under achievement.

They tell me she is a bit wild. Good, I think, you didn’t manage to de-claw her then. I don’t say that though. During a year of social services interrogation I learnt to keep up an appearance of calm openness. “How terrible” I replied. They say she will not sit still long enough to watch television. Good, I thought, because it’s all lies anyway and I like watching the weather. I responded with “That’s ok I’m quite active.” I’m not really though. I like to find a spot and sit and ponder. If it happens to be next to an open fire then even better.

I lean over and slide open the van door. The fire pit is still glowing with red embers and I can hear the faint rumblings of festival fun in the background. I consider a walk to find my friends but lay back down. The sun is going down and I think of home. I am about five years old and sitting on the edge of the kitchen table. My mum has a lovely smile on her face and is dancing around me singing along to “Downtown” on the radio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shining Stars In The Dark

imageOur attempts to get professional support after adoption have been at times soul destroying. The wrong help has made things worse and the intimated blaming of our care skills regular. At times the ‘support’ has been extremely ignorant and damaging. Over fifteen years however there have been some guiding lights who helped us to hang on against the odds and soothed the difficulties, sometimes by simply offering kind words and empathy.

In order of appearance here are the professionals who made a difference and whom we will never forget;

Lindsey The Adoption Social Worker

Lindsey tried her very hardest to put support in from the beginning of the difficulties in the placement. She wrote letters to managers, sent me information on courses, highlighted the false economy of leaving us to struggle. At one point she put us on the waiting list for intensive attachment therapy. Lindsey was aware (even though at this stage I wasn’t ) that the court papers freeing Jazz for adoption stated that we would need “expert psychological support around attachment issues”. The help was never given the green light from managers and two counties argued over who was financially responsible. For us it was like someone was saying this is what you need to survive but you can’t have it. Lindsey was suddenly moved on from our case without us being informed. The fact she believed me at the start of our journey meant everything and helped me to stand steadfast in our quest for the right support.

Patricia The Psychologist

Patricia was bought in to speak to us as Jazz was failing to remain in school number two. It was a one off consultation in the very early years and didn’t lead to support as lots of beffudling arguing was taking place about Jazz’s SEN status. Patricia reassured me and said “if Jazz never goes to school it won’t be the end of the world. The most important issue is her attachment to you so don’t panic about education, that can come later” Of course it wasn’t ideal that Jazz was being excluded rather than included at school but Patricia gave me the confidence to follow my gut feelings and eventually home educate.

Bill The Head Teacher

Bill was a radical thinker at Jazz’s third school. He allowed her to be freestyle and as an unconditional treat at the end of the day he would roller blade around the corridors with her. Even though his school was a ‘special’ school they couldn’t hold onto her for long. The vulnerability of some of the other pupils who were severely physically disabled made Jazz’s exuberant behaviour dangerous at times. Bill made sure another exclusion didn’t go on the record. He gently and kindly arranged the leaving and took her, her first boyfriend and her TA for a forest walk and pub lunch with his wife. Jazz has never forgotten his kindness.

Sharon The Teaching Assistant

Under the leadership of Bill, Sharon managed to keep Jazz safe and happy in a very difficult environment. Professional capability was mixed with genuine care and although it may be frowned upon in some circles, actual love. Sharon was tested to the limit most days. A Jazz favourite at this school would be to escape the classroom, run down the corridor and jump fully clothed into the therapeutic swimming pool. Despite only working with her for what amounted to a few months Sharon remains in touch with Jazz to this day.

Tracey The Teacher

Tracey was class teacher in school number four. Despite being managed by what I can only describe as ‘The Miss Trunchbull’ style of headship, she saw only good in Jazz. She couldn’t stop the inevitable exclusions and eventual permanent leaving but in the short time she taught Jazz she showed nothing but warmth towards her. Tracey was a Christian woman in the true sense of the word. We have several photos she took of Jazz in school and these stand as a rare pictorial history of inclusion for Jazz. Pictures of her actually in a classroom with other children and not a side room where in reality she spent most of her time.

Geraldine The DDP Therapist

When the school possibilities completely ran out Geraldine became our anchor for eight years. Between the ages of ten and eighteen she saw Jazz and I for an hour a month. It was nowhere near enough only amounting to approx ten hours a year, but her hands were tied by the usual frustrating and shortsighted funding issues. This hour was spent doing dyadic developmental psychology techniques with us. In lay mans terms this meant doing attachment therapy with us. Geraldine never doubted me or Jazz and as the years passed we became a team, the three of us working towards the best we could. On numerous occasions, during countless crisis moments, she would write letters to other professionals stating our urgent need for support. Shockingly despite her wealth of experience and professional status in the NHS she was not listened to. She had to witness some terrible car crash moments in our lives and this cannot have been easy for her at all. I am absolutely convinced that were we given funding for weekly sessions from the start some of the terrible things we experienced would have been avoided. What we did have however was a trusted friend who nurtured our self esteem and gave us hope to carry on. Geraldine has now left the NHS and is a trainer alongside Dan Hughes to other practitioners of DDP. She uses film of our sessions to teach others which makes us feel proud of what we have achieved together against the odds. Since we have set up our charity she has given us nothing but support, encouragement and help.

 

So there they are, six people out of what must be over a hundred professionals we have seen in the last fifteen years. I guess what counts most is the quality rather than the quantity. It also highlights to me that in giving post adoption support it is not always about fixing a problem. It is about being empathic and kind and listening and trusting families to know themselves. As those things don’t cost anything and yet help people to have hope and carry on, perhaps there is something to be said for the true values of caring and even love in what has become the confusing, grinding, impersonal and budget driven caring industry.

Beyond The Order (And Blah Blah Blah)

So this week the long awaited research “Beyond The Order” came out. A thorough and excellent piece of work from Julie Selwyn and her colleagues at Bristol University. Funded by the Government it describes in upsetting detail the problems some adoptive families face, including the reasons for adoption disruption.

Twelve years ago when I was one of those families in crisis I was commissioned by The Sunday Times to write about the situation. At the time Tony Blairs cabinet were talking about reforming adoption including suggesting that adoptions should go through quicker and also more easily to ‘save’ children in need.

I wrote about the fact that it took me to research, on my own, my daughters condition to find she probably had serious attachment issues. I described violence in the home and warned of fast tracking adoptions without expert training to social workers and therapeutic support to parents in dealing with the issues. Remember at this time big adoption charities offered training in attachment and much literature existed in the profession.

I described the ineffective treatment of my daughter by Social Services as something like treating a broken leg as if it were a sore throat. I ended the piece by saying “no wonder she is screaming”.

The new report is not shocking news to most of us in the adoption world. It isn’t even news. I’m sure however that many will feel its a great attempt by the Government to recognise and address the issues. I really hope nobody is holding their breath.

If it were good news it would be all over the papers and television with accompanying plans for imminent change. Every prospective and current adopter would have secure, written in legislation rights to post adoption support based upon the findings. Adoption would be promoted as a caring commitment and not as ownership. As of now.

Last year ‘The House of Lords Committee on Adoption Legislation’ results were published. All the adoption industry big guns featured as witness to the lengthy process, very few adoptees or adopters of course. Even without the horses mouth all the evidence of struggles was there. Recommendations from Baroness Butler Sloss were made that post adoption support should be written into legislation. It wasn’t. It isn’t.

Today Edward Timpson, Minister for Children and Families ran the London Marathon to support First 4 Adoption (can’t help thinking Phones 4 U) This is a Government funded adoption promotion organisation. ‘Only positive adoption stories here please’  is the unwritten rule. This chosen organisation by Mr Timpson perhaps shows us firmly where he feels his children and family’s policy sits. Or am I being uncharitable?

The facts are wether we like it, or agree with it or not, the current Government have little visible sympathy for mothers who are dealing with issues of poverty, domestic violence, homelessness, substance abuse or mental health issues. The main reasons children are damaged in family homes. They cannot afford to. The priority is not in fixing social welfare, housing and health issues but in saving money and privatising undermined services. Privatising means ‘somebody making money out of it’.

The demonising of those on benefits is part of the process as is pitting ‘bad’ mothers against ‘good’. Little room for ‘there but for the grace of God’.

With one child every twenty minutes being removed from its birth family the country has a social welfare crisis on its hands. Looked after children cost lots and lots and lots of money. Something has to be done. So it makes sense to cut through the sympathetic attempts of agencies, charities and social workers to support families. Remove children quickly with no recourse to a fair hearing in court, no legal aid, no birth family contact commitment, no support to next of kin. Give social workers targets to turn around removal and adoption in six months. Penalise and disempower if they fail to meet the required numbers. Once the adoption order is through its over to you nice families. Not our (financial) problem anymore.

As this sounds a bit unfair and cold it also makes sense to find research that backs that decision. The earlier the babies are removed from the evil family the less problems nice families might have dealing with the ‘blank slate’ baby. Do a massive all smiling hearts and flowers, dress up party marketing drive for adoption at the same time. At the head of it all put people who believe wholeheartedly in privatisation and the free market. Make sure adoption charities life blood comes from the Government to edit any non believers.

As an adopter, a children’s rights believer, a social activist and a feminist I feel we are being played.

Back in our house we still struggle with the results of my daughters mother going through the care system with a learning disability. It was a system that was cruel to her when she was a child and that cruelty was passed on through ignorance and inability.

We now have the resources through hard work and sheer determination, to offer free post adoption support services to families who are in crisis and need safe respite. This includes twenty acres of beautiful land we lease, a camping barn and an apartment. It also includes informed expert carers with years of experience in attachment and trauma. We are expert by professional and direct personal experience. We fight for every penny as a charity. This often involves us working for nothing, cleaning and managing the accommodation we raise funds on. Like other adopters we take no wages for the awareness raising work and informal support we give. We have no big charity boss salary or salaried fundraisers. Many in the industry are aware of us and we have blinding, experienced and vocal trustees. Funny that not one person ‘in the money’ has yet approached us effectively to support us in giving our free, expert services. We must jump through the nightmare hoops of Ofsted, regulation, insurance, safeguarding, data protection, health and safety etc etc poor and alone.

Meanwhile the Government fund protracted think tank shennanagins that discuss and dissect and regurgitate information about adoption support, employing the professional party believers and buddy’s along the way. And the children wait. And wait. And wait.

Funnily enough I got an email recently from a regional boss type person (probably not an adopter/adoptee) of one of the massive adoption and fostering charities. They introduced themselves, said they were aware of our work…..I got excited thinking we were going to get some support, advice, encouragement, credit or some other such positive response. Turns out they were just coldly telling us in a polite officious way that they had clocked us and we better be registered as an Adoption Support Agency if we were offering support. And this is, I feel, a general problem in a ‘jobs for the boys’ culture. Nobody truly concerned with supporting adoptive families would not encourage and support, even financially, an innovative and cost effective resource such as ours. And whilst I’m on it resources such as The Adoption Social  ( theadoptionsocial.com) and their user led community initiatives which probably effectively support adopters and adoptees more than anything else I’ve seen. Instead we are turning desperate people in crisis away. All they want is a few days break to enable them to carry on. An empathic support worker, some knowledgable advice.

Don’t get me wrong, I know we can’t have unregulated, untrained, overstretched workers dealing with the serious issues in adoption. They could get it wrong and offer ineffective support. They could make things worse. They could blame parents and cause them isolation and depression. Physical and mental harm could take place. That would be absolutely irresponsible and potentially damaging for children. It mustn’t happen, not for a minute.

Who on earth involved in the politics and the business of adoption would ever allow such a thing to happen…………..

WARNING (not an easy adoption topic)

imageA lot of important and good work is taking place in social care agencies and by campaigners to address issues of domestic violence and abuse. This Christmas the ad campaigns encouraging us to happily consume were broken at times by a sobering public information film for the season when domestic violence escalates, showing that abuse can be psychological as well physical. There are understandings that men as well as women can be victims and that for children living in a household where domestic violence is happening, even if not directly against them, can be hugely traumatising and cause lasting psychological damage.

Domestic violence is very often a reason children are taken into care. Sometimes parents who have been victims of their partners violence lose their children as it is safer to let them be cared for elsewhere as the support systems fail to support them to leave the situation without remaining in danger or becoming homeless.

The added issues of secrecy, shame, guilt, fear and sometimes love for the perpetrator makes victims extremely vulnerable.

Whatever the cause and effect of domestic violence and abuse, nobody would argue it is not a horrible, frightening and painful experience for the victims. It would be considered dangerous for professionals to knowingly leave a victim in an abusive situation and expect them to carry on without support intervention.

One of the main arguments put forward for certain areas of adoption reform is that children are being left in abusive situations for far too long and a zero tolerance attitude to domestic abuse must be taken by social care agencies.

I can’t and wouldn’t argue against that. I believe that all victims of violence or abuse in the home should be fully supported. I also believe it is wise to examine and address the causes that create perpetrators of abuse.

So what can and should be done to support adopters who find themselves victims of domestic abuse from their adopted children? It is often a hidden and under reported problem. This may be because when reported the professional response often seems to blame the parenting skills of the victim, or unfortunately the lack of support or understanding can lead to placement breakdown.

I have spoken to many adopters who, on a regular basis, deal with verbal and physical abuse and violence. It is surprising to some I’m sure, but it is true and the effects of constant put downs, controlling behaviour and aggression, even if it is from a young person, can be absolutely soul destroying and lead to stress and depression. More disturbingly it can lead to defensive and angry responses from worn out parents in efforts at self protection. The most difficult thing is knowing there is no way out, that the perpetrator is a frightened and traumatised child who has no effective self regulation and needs you more than anything to survive. It’s not appropriate to call the police and frighten or criminalise a young person who actually needs intensive therapeutic support. The last thing most adopters would ever want is for the child to be removed. Many adopters report living restricted half lives for the love and protection of their children. These are serious issues which are not accounted for in disruption or breakdown figures.

Imagine however, if the professional advice to any other victim of domestic abuse was to encourage a therapeutic approach to the violent perpetrator, advice that you should be selflessly putting their needs and safety before your own. A keep calm and carry on regardless piece of martyrdom advice. It would cause public outrage.

As someone who has experienced extreme and regular aggression, verbal and physical assault, as well as property damage over many years through adopting a traumatised child, it always amazed me how often the social workers would simply act as if it were an expected part of “the adopters job”. Its not a job as there are no statutory holidays, end of working days, supervision or training that other people who work in high intensity situations are guaranteed to enable them to function properly and do their job well.

This is not a poor me cry. I have no regrets. I love the very bones of my girl and as it turns out I am a very resilient person. I would do it all again now I’m all tooled up.  It’s seems hypocritical, unjust and damaging however, to expect adopters to live with abuse without specialist support and training.  More importantly not fully informing, believing and supporting adopters around issues of violence in the home is ultimately not in the best interests of traumatised children. Aggression often comes from fear and frightened children need measured and calm responses from parents who are skilled in conflict resolution and management not worn out angry or sad parents who live in fear of failing.

(Any adoptive or foster parents who are experiencing regular aggression or violence in the home please contact http://www.theopennest.co.uk for information on strategies or therapeutic respite breaks which will be available in May 2014).

Adoption Stories: Fact & Fiction

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.

image

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.

20130922-004807.jpg

Who Mothers The Mothers?

 

 

When I told my Mum I was thinking of adopting I’m sure she was worried but graciously hid her concerns. I’m sure she was aware of the naivety with which I set foot but encouraged me every step of the way.

It began and has continued with adoption and childcare related articles arriving in the post. She was like a one women research unit sending facts, figures and examples, both good and bad. Like a strange sooth sayer, articles from her would arrive on subjects I was just about to consider, or inspiring stories precisely when I needed cheer-leading.

Other times parcels would be sent or given. I had become unemployed very quickly as my daughter could not manage school and money was tight. Cat food, homemade jam, socks, wellies, cake, vegetables, children’s books, vitamins, seeds. Quirky but perfect if you know us.

She didn’t get cross or even mildly irritated when my six year old put weed killer all over her store of home baking in the freezer. Nor did she bat an eyelid when the window got put through on the day we dog sat.

Very quickly my Mum became a key figure in my daughters life. Like a Zen Granny, patient, curious and non reactive. Where others more expert and professional would flounder in the face of extreme behaviour she just was. Gentle and unflustered. It was as if she had graduated with a PHD from the university of Dan Hughes  in between the supermarket and cooking everyone’s tea.

At the times when I was so pushed to my limit that I wanted to explode, I would bring her to mind. I would also say her name to my daughter when she felt the same. At the moments we wanted to kill each other I would say, “Imagine Granny was here”.  It was as if in our atheist household she was the head of The Karma Fairies, an omnipresent but forgiving goddess.

I hid lots of things from my Mum. The extent of our struggles and the intensity of the drama that played out over the years. It felt like one of those necessary  lies. The type that kindly prevents the worrying and sleepless nights that particularly Mothers are prone to. But the truth was revealed quite suddenly and without edit when we hit a crisis so major it was undeniable.

As ever she took it on the chin and loved my daughter more at a time when others struggled with feelings of protecting me above all else. The non judgement was precisely what was needed. The articles that arrived became more political and in them an unsaid encouragement to me to fight back, to not give up, to know we were right.

As my daughter is transitioning into adulthood I am reflecting on what we have learnt and using that to inform us on how we may best be able to support others.

Part of that reflection is the realisation that I couldn’t have survived without the support of my Mum. It makes me wonder about the mothers who do not have the support from their Mums (or mum figures) either in the present or through the maternal lines of their history.

My Mum could teach me because her mum taught her and with this I can be a good enough mum myself.

It makes me worried that some mums, birth, adoptive, and foster may have to rely on the state for support in the absence of an available/financially solvent parent. The state as the surrogate mum that is at times more a cruel and stingy nanny. A morally bereft mum that judges and ignores and doesn’t listen properly.

Us mothers are often pitted against each other in the complicated dialogue of neglect and care. But the more we fight together for early intervention to mother the mothers, the more the wheels of karma may be oiled and the safer our children and our children’s children will be.