Thursday, 21 May 2015

It's not personal.

  1. Behavior or treatment in which physical force is exerted for the purpose of causing damage or injury.
  2. Intense force or great power, as in natural phenomena.
  3. Extreme or powerful emotion or expression
  4. Distortion of meaning or intent.
With the Adoption Social's week of focus on Child to Parent Violence #CPV I've been mulling over my own thoughts and experiences. I often unpick events in minute detail trying to fathom what's happened, what was said, what set us on a path to an incidence of violence. Sometimes I can see plainly and sometimes it's veiled by my lack of insight or understanding.

But really what I'd like to say is how it feels for me. All the books I read and the professionals I speak to. All the still voices of reason and voices of friends and family tell me the same thing. 

It’s not personal.

After we've had a 'incident', when the dust has settled, reconciliation is made and the delicate peace that we live in is restored. 

Then, I know it’s not personal.

I know the violence is born of inexpressible fear and anxiety at the loss of control. 
I know it's the overflow of emotion that cannot be stemmed.
I know it's and the inability to moderate and reason alI routed in a distant experience but bearing fruit in my today. 
I know it's not personal.

When spiders of disassociated fear, anxiety and pain creep closer to my child she lashes out to keep them at bay.

So, it's not personal.
But in truth it often feels it.
It's my body that gets hurt and it's me that is insulted. 
I sometimes wonder if  I'm slowly being eroded by the force of this violent wind. 

This is the paragraph at the end where I tie it up nicely, with a warm sentiment and tell of how love overcomes and parents do what they have to do cos that what we do. But I'm not going to patronise you today.
Fear not, I will keep on and I will refuse to take it personally. 

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Truth, Lies and Social Workers

A twitter conversation drew me into thinking about the murky world of the information that we are given as adopters. It reminded me of a lesson we had at the beginning of out journey.

Mrs C and I were allocated our very own Independent Social Worker. The BBC* had commissioned her to just look after us and make sure that we negotiated the adoption process without mishap. It was a rather interesting experience; she had no managers breathing down her neck; no hoops to jump through; no gates to keep or agenda other than supporting us through the process. We would ask questions and she’d give us answers, no ducking, diving, flannel or patter.

It became a little more interesting when we then asked our assessing Social Workers (yes, we had two at the same time) the same questions. What we discovered was that there was an interesting difference between the actual Regulations and Guidance and the policies and practices of our assessing authority. They weren’t massive differences but enough highlight the influences that Social Workers are subject to. What was more interesting was that practice and policy wasn't described as such more that it was the 'law'.
The Law that unquestionable entity that just 'is'.

The question I asked on Twitter this week was quite simple.

"Has anyone requested an Assessment of Need prior to the introduction of the Adoption Support Fund?"

I was surprised by the range of responses that I got when I asked the question:

Some told of Social Workers having never heard of it or having the assessment but never receiving the paperwork for a year after it or waiting up to 18 months for the assessment to start. Adopters being sent on courses as a substitute for the assessment and then being told they were anxious parents. Others of having the assessment but to no effect or others describing having to strong arm the LA into carrying it out. The conversations spiralled and danced around the topic touching on adopter's parenting capacity being questioned and  having asked for an assessment resulting in delayed Adoption Orders.

Though assessments of support needs have been a duty of local authorities since 2005** knowledge of them has not been passed wide and far. I ask you how many adopters sit of an evening and think "I know I'll brush up on some legislative frameworks". It seems that only now, due to the introduction of the ASF, is its existence being widely publicised and is entering into the general knowledge of the adoption community.

Culture, practice, policy, pressure from managers, budgets and the foibles and quirks of their employers have huge implications for the quality of the service that Social Workers can and do give. But also the information that they are given and then pass on to service users. Often they are the bearers of bad news, unhelpful policies or decisions born out of budget restraints rather than good practice. It's crap to be given bad news by a Social Worker I assure you it's crap giving bad news too.

Until now how much have we asked of Adoption Support Services? Many have just given up asking. But now at the very least the ASF has made us aware of their duty* to assess our needs and at this point we are seeing services that may be struggling or may be adapting to this requirement. Infuriating and heartbreaking for parents, equally so for the Social Worker that has to manage our requests and expectations against the directions and decisions of their managers and employers.

Reflecting on the implications of all of this my suspicion is that any weaknesses, mishaps and bureaucratic failings of the Adoption Support Fund are going to wash up at the door of Social Workers. Maybe some of that is deserved, maybe not. Perhaps our anger and difficult questions should be directed at those higher up the ladder, maybe right to the top.

One of Noam Chomsky's theories of manipulation, the problem-reaction-solution model, describes the idea of creating problems through neglect then offering solutions in the guise of privatisation of public services. Perhaps this will be the future of adoption support.
Perhaps not, it's just a thought.

The lesson I learnt from my BBC Social Worker was that we should not accept all that is told to us, to look closer and get good and impartial advice.

The lesson I learnt from questioning/interrogating my children is only ask them questions I know the answer to.

*The BBC followed us through the adoption process from 1998 to 2002 for a 6 part documentary on adopters and adoption.

**The Adoption Support Service Regulations 2005 -  Section 13 & 14 (click link)

Monday, 11 May 2015

Pam: Birth Mother, Social Worker & Adopter

Pam tells her story of having her son taken away from her when she was 14 years old.

Later in life Pam becomes a Social Worker and makes the decision to adopt. Eventually adopting six children.

Pam's story of reunification with her birth son.

Thursday, 7 May 2015


I'm often looking for a transcendent state of parenting, where I reach a moment of zen and I am at one with the child, their anxiety and motivation.  Where  I become the embodiment of empathy and calm and I rise above the behaviour before me and see all, the past, present and future.
The Matrix's Neo meets Dan Hughes.

I respond and don't react.

I absorb and don't reflect.

I stand back and don't get drawn in.

I dodge the insults fired at me.

I quell the fiery words spat in anger with gentle words of love.

Not likely.

I grind my teeth, I pretend not to be hurt, I imagine what I'd like to say and how I'd like to say it. I react and reflect emotions. I mutter under my breath and I get drawn in. I imagine my fate if I'd said that to my dad.

Mostly I do my best.

I'm a great believer in the concept of 'Good enough parenting'.

Monday, 4 May 2015


I took a little time and space.

I've been laying in my floatation chamber listening to my well worn 'Now that's what I call Whale Song 23' CD and pondering my inside world. As a young man I could navel gaze with olympic levels of self pity and on several occasions cave rescue teams were sent in after me. But this was not that.

My inside world is my primary safe place.
So when it starts to feel a little cluttered, messy and fizzy it's time to pause.
When self doubt, uncertainty and anxiety press in it's time to draw back.
So, I do the stuff that has to be done; work, home, normal, routines and leave the other for later.

A planned respite of the mind and heart.

'Hurt children hurt' is true.
'Parents who care for hurt children get hurt' is our truth.

Home is not a safe place for my children, it is the landscape and context for some of the worst moments of their lives. For us it is not a safe haven, at least when the children are awake.
So my inside world is where I keep safe, I reflect and consider. At the end of a hard winter with much going on I can feel myself fraying.

I took a few days to think and consider, to read a book, meet some friends and to de clutter my inside world. Re frame issues, shuffle priorities and throw some junk into skips marked 'misguided sense of duty'. Allowing a clarity, simplicity and peace creep back.

A planned return to the fray has been somewhat hijacked by 48 hours of well aimed and relentless person specific insults. Venom being spat hour after hour.
My timing was good.

It's only when my inside world is steady can I appropriately manage the tribulations of the outside world.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Graham: an adoptee

Adult adoptee Graham talks about discovering he was adopted.

Graham discusses the impact of discovering this and the impact on his adult identity.

After the death of his birth parents the Graham talks about the challenges of reunification with birth parents and siblings.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Transracial Adopter

I often feel that I’m teetering on my toes, straining to reach a fully developed understanding of the issues of race and racism. Facts, knowledge and empathy are within my grasp but lived experience will always be beyond my fingertips. Knowing my limitations brings me up short as again this weekend the issue of skin colour came into our foreground.
With the onset of better weather my little girl starts to wear summer dressed but is increasingly reluctant to show her arms or legs for fear of being different and what other children may say. Socks are pulled high and cardigans remain resolutely on, as she explains, ‘no matter how hot I get’. Whether the fear is real, imaginary or both the fear of other's eyes looking at her is her reality.

Like all parents I feel my children’s pain acutely, but in this instance that pain in my chest is exacerbated by my shortcomings. What can I say? The usual platitudes seem almost insulting?

‘But you’re beautiful’

‘You shouldn’t worry about what people think’ 

'I’m sure that your friends don’t think anything like that’.

All true but feel like they sidestep the issue. 
In another life and with a different colour skin I could tell her how I felt and what I did. But it's not that life and my skin is the colour of majority. I have limited lived experience to draw on and my empathy can take me so far. Intellectual understanding is good but not that helpful to a 9 year old. Difference can be an acute issue for many children and especially adopted children but for my little girl she is different to all but four other non white children in her primary school. When she looks in the mirror she is different to mam, dad, brother and sisters.

It brought to mind a tweet looking for potential adopters I read, it was a picture of a non white child with the words ‘Are you colourblind, could you parent this girl?’ I totally got the sentiment but was left curious by the naivety. I gently tweeted as much and the poster graciously acknowledged my point. Later someone jumped in on the back of the first tweet ‘we’d take them in, we don’t care what colour they are’. I felt less generous this time so said nothing.

Race is clearly an issue that is not exclusive to adoption but it is a thorny issue that many would like to downplay. As I've said before with non white children over represented in the care system and non white adopters under represented it is an issue we cannot avoid. 

White people will inevitability adopt non white children.

Someone a little further down the road on a similar journey to me said to me in no uncertain terms colour does matter, love is not enough and we have to see our children’s colour because we live in a society that does. They gave me a reading list and encouraged me to try harder. Of course I have no lived experience but I have no excuse for not reading, listening and asking.

I am not colourblind and I do care what colour my daughter is but I can never share her experience of being black.