Saturday, 14 April 2018

Adoption & Fostering Podcast: Episode 39 - The Adoption Enquiry

In this episode we talk to Dr Anna Gupta in relation to the findings of the BASW Enquiry into the role of the social worker in adoption – ethics and human rights. It has had a range of responses from different quarters and had some misleading headlines in some publications. Anna talks about the purpose of the enqiry, the people that contributed and what some of the recommendations were. Specific issues in relation to contact between adopters and birth family were discussed as well as adoption in the context of SGO's and other permenency options. The report can be down loaded here

Scott and Al mull over the conversation and discuss shared perspectives with other communities that care for children. Scott finally comes to terms with his class status and explaines his recent Twitter poll and we chat through some thoughts on common issues that we share with Special Guardians. 

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Little star.

Peanut is a little star, we regularly fight over who is going go look after her. We all want to.

'Why did you adopt me?' She asked as we sat in our kitchen each eating a packet of crisps*.

Well, now she's got me in a little quandary. I'm inclined to tell her the truth but that's not so straight forward, having six children was not the plan. I pause and wonder if this moment will be played out in therapists rooms for the next sixty years. I draw a deep breath, lean in and offer a one eyed thoughtful squint to stall for a little time while I ponder how to articulate the complexity of circumstances that brought her to our lives.

'Well' I say, and she interrupts 'you're thinking about it aren't you?'. She may be six but adoption is front and centre for every close member of her family and she's pretty clued up. I did note that she didn't ask why was she was adopted, I'll ponder that later.

So, the conversation unravels and I'm honest about her story and my story, her sister's story and all of our story together. She listened and asks and answers questions. She's six but listens well and takes it all in. She's a sponge and a little star.

We then went out on the yellow bike with her sat in the front rack cross legged laughing at me huffing  and puffing as I pedalled us up the big hill to the coffee shop. We went halvesies on a scone, she had a slushy and I had a coffee. Just like we did many times the summer she came.  All was well. I don't want to diminish her early life challenges but she's clearly loves her life, knows she is loved and loves back with vigour. She could be the poster girl for early intervention. She can hold the complexity of her early life, the unrelated relatives and the related unrelatives and intriguing journey to being a daughter of a stranger quite well.

It all seemed like a soothing balm to another frantic week at the end of a frantic winter. I fell well and truly out of love with Twitter this week to add insult to injury.  Human nature and cultural norms mean that we don't get that many good adoption stories, I get all that but there are other narratives, less binary, not all good or all bad,  and more nuanced. This was another day in my non binary narrative.

*Peanut had ready salted and I had salt and vinegar.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Words Matter: Adoption and Special Guardians Leadership Board

This is a brief comment on a meeting of the Adopter Reference Group that I was a part of this week via a conference call. The group does what it says on the tin it's an opportunity for the views and opinions of adopters on specific highlighted to be fed to, what was, the Adoption Leadership Board. The views come from across the adoption community through the adopter voice consultation programme and are sometimes very specific as well as often the aggregation of what adoption groups and communities are thinking on the issues and topics highlighted.

I say 'what was' the Adoption Leadership Board (ALB) as for the agenda papers that we received prior to the meeting it was clear that the ALB has changed it's name to the Adopters and Special Guardian Leadership Board (ASGLB).

Well, that's quite a change and words matter.

No fanfare or big announcement but I checked and it's in the public domain so there's no reason not to consider what that means for adopters and special guardians. Its no real shock as we're aware even though we represent two very distinct communities with often very different experiences, circumstances, demographics, and challenges our common ground is the children that we parent and care for. They cannot live with their biological parents for a myriad of reasons. Many have experienced some of the most challenging experiences imaginable and often need very specific specialist support as do those who look after them.* We do have that in common and consequently the Leadership Board has incorporated then into their scope of interest. I suppose I've questions but I'd say that I feel it's a positive step and the two communities together may hold a bigger collective voice and potentially more influence that can benefit children and families.

So, that's quite a thing and I'm intrigued by what the response will be from the adoption community as well as the special guardian community. We guard our distinctions and difference because they matter but will our focus be on our shared experience and goals. No doubt that will be made clear in the fullness of time.

Anyway, the business of the meeting was focused on the gathering of adopters and special guardians hosted by the ASGLB that I blogged about in March. Specifically, we considered five of the points that were drawn out from that meeting. It feels like an interesting time of transition, not always easy of course, but never the less it feels like the questions that are being asked are the ones that I hear families ask as they look to the future. They are not set in stone and more points for discussion and consideration. I asked if I could share them so here they are:

  • Research strategy (the need for current and relevant research to inform practice for support and interventions)

  • Outcomes data and research 

  • Practice around identity work (contact and life story work)
  • Support in school and development of the Virtual School Head role
  • Work with birth families (a statutory duty but with limited research or knowledge of scope or effectiveness of current practice)

As communities they impact us to varying degrees and each of the points can be fleshed with a range of considerations and thoughts. This open and collaborative direction taken by the ASGLB feels positive, no doubt there will be challenges to gathering views but this is where we're at. I apologise for my brevity but any questions please comment or contact me through the usual or unusual routes.

*23,470 children have been adopted in the last 5 years (2013-2017) and 17,250 SGOs were granted over the same period. (Taken from the CVAA paper presented to the ARG)

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Adoption & Fostering Podcast - Episode 38 an interview with Bridget Betts

This week we talk to adoptee, social worker and After Adoption's National Manager of their Safebase programme Bridget Betts.

Bridget was reflects openly and honestly on her own experience as an adoptee and shares some of her story with us, We discuss the lifelong impacts of adoption on her as well as more widely. Bridget has been a social worker for nearly four decades and worked directly in adoption for the majority of that time and we discuss some of her thoughts in relation to practice and specificially working with young people in relation to thier life stroy work and participation in looking for adoptive parents.

It's slightly longer than usual due to the rich conversation with Bridget so you'll be pleased to hear that it's fairly banter lite, though we do get a little distracted by a fever dream and our 1000th follower on Twitter and the 1001st and 1002nd.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Adoptive Superpower: Pragmatist

If I had a parenting superpower I think it would be pragmatism, the ability to shrug and say say, 'aaaah, I'm sure it will be ok in the end'. Thinking about it, maybe it's just low standards.

Quite clearly I can recall during my adoption assessment being all bright eyed and aspirational, full of    principles and expectations. I've now taken to telling people:

'I was a great parent until I got children' 

I think I'd like it printed on a tee shirt or hat. All my lofty ideals of rigid limits on computer time and consequences all seems to have slipped into this pragmatic soup. To the naked eye or casual observer I may seem like a permissive parent or a push over. I prefer to think of it as a pragmatic focused intervention, after all I'm playing a long game. I've learnt a lot over the last 20 years.

a person who is guided more by practical considerations than by ideals.

It's come into focus over the last few years in relation to diagnosis'. Before we struggled and the challenges and the trips to CAHMS came I felt uncertain in relation to giving children diagnosis'. Labels on children sit uncomfortably with me, actually labels on people generally sit uncomfortably on me. That seems to have changed. Actually, it's really changed. A letter came in the post this week with a diagnosis, my heart skipped a beat when the words matched my hope, I've come long way.

Trusted friends have guided my through this journey of to a destination, I was quite adamant that we'd not be defining our kids in such ways. But the reality of this world is that works on a letter open doors to support and resources that other things can't. Talking to a friend she shrugged she explained, 'we know our daughter doesn't have ADHD it's developmental trauma but nobodies heard of that.'

I know my children, their stories. I know the lens they see the world they inhabit through and I know the challenges that they face. Words do matter and can be like milestones round neck, but with a shrug I also know that in the world we live in they can be keys to doors that nothing else will open. As they say, walk a mile in my families shoes. 

You can call it low standards or compromise, I'll call it pragmatism. 

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Adoption Inertia

Listening to John Simmonds OBE and Prof. Beth Neil the other day the issue that really stuck with me was one of inertia in adoption practice. As far back as 1972 support for families and the need to explore and promote effective contact was identified as key issues for children and families. Legislation has been amended and has the capacity to accommodate those re occurring recommendations but practice change remains stubbornly inert.  There's been some pockets of minor development and bright lights but on the whole we've not moved that far. Actual support, and I don’t mean the Adoption Support Fund, remains patchy and largely unpredictable. I asked John and Beth individually, 'how do we effect change' and they both laughed and said the same thing:

'that is the big question'

The more I pondered this I realised that even during my first adoption application in 1999 knowledge and understanding had already highlighted the need for the very things that we’re all calling for every day in blogs, tweets and conversations now. We’re asking for appropriate support and an individualised and effective approach to contact. I can’t dwell on that thought too much as I genuinely find it upsetting, my children and all their connected people are living with the consequences of this inertia. The challenges my children face today were predictable and, maybe, preventable. In fact I’m quite cross, Beth Neil’s comment that contact is probably happening less today than when she started her research in 1997 reflects a slide backwards. This inertia is strangling adoption. 

So, rather than shake my fist at the sky and fill my secret blog with angry stories and words I’m left wondering where we go from here. I’m fortunate to be close to the ‘action’ and what I’ve seen has given me a little insight to the workings of this adoption system. There’s a lot going on and I’m often left wondering how to affect actual change, change that impacts on the welfare of adopted children and those connected to them. Pondering the developments of the last few years I’ve seen that the good intentions and plans of civil servants and politicians are necessary but in the hearts and minds of adoption services are where those plans thrive or fail. The ASF is a good example, the amount of times families have been given, at best, poor information and sometimes plain wrong information is astounding. Were the ASF to fail it might not be because of intent, form or function, I know it’s not perfect, but it might flounder because of practice on the ground.

However, I’m taking heart because I’m an optimist and believe that we will do better. The Regional Adoption Agency agenda is much debated and to be honest I’ve reservations as well as reasons to be optimistic. Previously we’ve had 152 local authority and 20+ adoption services each with their own Head of Service, the quality and effectiveness has varied and all adopters can testify to the feeling that they’ve either won or lost the postcode lottery. The move to RAAs is going to reduce the number of Heads of Services to 20. So, here’s my thinking, 20 people in a room that have direct responsibility for every adoption preparation course, assessment, panel, match, support plan, contact plan,  financial assessment and adoption social worker. Is this an opportunity to see effective development and accountability? Could it be with 20 inspired, insiring, innovative, research led, practice savvy, bothered Heads of Service we can transform adoption. Previously getting all concerned in a room was not practical and if 25 didn’t turn up because they couldn’t be bothered nobody noticed. If one person is missing from a room of 20 they can be followed up and asked difficult questions of. Could this be the moment where we begin to see services led by research and innovation not dogma and tradition?

Am I being naive? Probably but if history is to believed the dogma of 1950’s adoption has a strangle hold on the practice and risk aversion continues to lurk in the corners of adoptive practice. We don’t want the 20 Heads of these new RAAs to be dusty old professionals, careerists, political appointments or bean counters. Rather we want inspirational, innovators, research led, history informed professionals that are able to break this inertia, take some risks and create a new adoption narrative for our children and the children that wait. We need to overcome this inertia. 

Monday, 19 March 2018

Adoption Leadership Board: The Changing Face of Adoption & Special Guardianship

The Adoption Leadership Board have commissioned a project to:

'understand and predict the future needs of children who are adopted or in special guardianship arrangements and their families, in order to plan a future system that effectively meets their support needs.' 

Today I was invited, along with lots of others, to a workshop to consider and discuss the initial findings of the report. I'm not going to try to give you a blow by blow account of the day but perhaps the key points from my perspective. Of course others in the room may have come away with different points to discuss. In fact my main thoughts are still in formation so I'm not going to bother you with them until I can make my own sense of them.

Those present included Special Guardians and kinship carers as well as a range professionals and adopters from different locations. It was humbling to meet with non adopters that face all of the challenges that we adopters do with less support or status. We came together to consider permanency and the future needs.

John Simmonds OBE gave a fantastic, and sobering, whistle stop tour through the history of adoption from The Adoption of Children Act in 1926 . We need to know where we've come from to inform where we're going and he did this fantastically highlighting lessons learned and not learned from the last 100 years especially.  We then had Prof. Beth Neil give a brief history and overview of contact with birth family. This was sobering as she noted that direct contact is occurring less now than when she first studied it 20 years ago in spite of the acknowledged potential benefits for many children.

That lead us to discuss specific areas of support and future policy. The idea that many families want an open door to support built on trust and relationship rather than having to revive closed cases with no corporate knowledge of families and routes to support that run a gauntlet of call to the front desk that may lead you into an unwanted or unnecessary child protection cul de sac. We debated how this would be described. A 'watchful waiting' or 'keeping in mind' by post adoption teams, language matters and I can see flaws in these two descriptions. The conversations then moved to other key issues that had been highlighted in the consultations.

Contact, what support and preparation will be be needed to facilitate contact between significant and meaningful family members for adopters and SGs? It remains a tricky issue and it was acknowledged that the needs and wishes of children and adults shift through the life course. Without doubt there remains lots of questions in relation to this not least the need to convince front line practitioners.

Lastly, the support networks around adults and children was considered, how to facilitate them and support their growth.

It was a good day and an opportunity to hear some different voices. Of course access to influence the report is limited and though some have had access to the different consultation events run by Hugh Thornbery CBE, who's heading the project,  many didn't so if you've thoughts you can email here

What will the outcome of the report be? It's easy to fall into a well worn cynicism in relation to reports and good ideas. In reality anyone who knows anything of this world knows there's a significant need and limited resources. That's where my mind was left at the end but I'm sure that I'll work that up into something. I'm naturally an optimist so generally I'm encouraged.