Friday, 10 September 2021

Adoptee Representation

In most every way it's obvious, any group that has a significant life altering legislative and policy framework dedicated to them which has lifelong fundamental implications for them and their dependents and forebears should have some influence over it. 

Well, apparently it's not so obvious. 

Adoptee representation within the system has been missing, of course there's individuals that have worked within the system and brought personal experience and perspective to bear but rarely do we see systemic representation of adoptees in policy context. 

We do get 'adoptee of the month' invited into roundtables or events, willing participants at Adoption Prep groups or the like and of course groups for young adoptees frequently given opportunities at events and conferences. All of that is welcome, but it's adoptees by permission, open to the accusation of being curated by adoptive parents or adoption agencies to ensure that they don't stray too far from the adoption orthodoxy. Or at worst young voices welcomed but given no permission or possibility to affect change or influence power.


Of course any 'service user' consultation is challenging, fraught with diverse views and perspectives, disagreements and complications. 

For example, what knowledge to adoptees have of the actual system? often too young or not privy to the forms, processes or paths that their adoptive parents travailed. 

For example, if you were adopted in the 60's or 70's how relevant is your perspective on the Virtual School role for previous looked after children in high school? 

Adopted adults views change and flex but that true of every human that ever lived. 

All the above are reasonable points when considering adoptee input into the current system. 

But it's all nonsense given my first paragraph, even if the role and influence is limited it's time for adoptees to come into the rooms where policy and practice are discussed. 

We owe those that have found themselves cast into this system a voice in its running. Those that have passed through it need to be listened to, it may not be comfortable, it may not be pretty, but it may not be that hard and we may find areas where adult adoptees can improve and direct us to a better way of caring for children who can not and should not live with their biological families. 


I say all this not as an adoptee but a witness to the adoptee experience and I'd argue that is valid enough but again I'm a palatable voice that may be too bland for some and too spiked for others. 

Sunday, 5 September 2021

First day at a new school for a fostered or adopted kid - A guest post by Phil Watson

Kindly re posted from Phil Watson's blog which you can view here- Fostering & Adopting with Phil

“I’m not going”.

My wife and I were not surprised that The Little Man didn’t want to go to a new school.

Anything new, anything different, anything out of the ordinary set his ‘survival brain’ into overdrive.

We’d learnt his preferred response to ‘anything new’ if he was in public was ‘to freeze’ or ‘to flop’.

If a stranger spoke to him, for example in a shop, he’d simply stare until they went away.

It’s quite effective, even if it appears a bit rude.

If the stranger continued to probe, he’d put his hooded anorak over his head.

 

If he was with us, in our home, he’d fight.


‘Fighting’ could involve biting, kicking, swearing and smashing stuff up.


‘Throwing things’ was pretty popular too.


He had never resorted to ‘flight’.


‘Flight’ would mean he’d be on his own and he was too scared for that.


My wife and I began to hatch a little plan about how we’d handle the first day of term at his new school.

We’d worry about the second day later.


There was little point in getting ahead of ourselves!


The fist part of the plan had been to casually introduce familiarity.


We’d taken him to his new school for an open day.


We’d shown him the school website.


We engaged in as much of the school’s transition activities as possible.


His new school was a couple of miles away and we drove that way a few times over the summer.


We didn’t say we were visiting his new school, rather the pub opposite.



If you’ve experienced massive amounts of trauma and fear, particularly at a young age, your amygdala will kick in very quickly, often when it’s not warranted.


We popped in for coke and crisps.


We played on the slide.


We hoped that the area would appear less threatening.


We hoped that we would make his ‘first day journey’ less terrifying.


We hardly mentioned school at all over the summer holiday.


We knew there’d be questions we couldn’t answer, and we knew that would add to the anxiety.


We bought school uniform and equipment via the internet.


We had decided that  his new school bag would in fact be his brother’s old school bag.


We’d negotiated with his school, that contrary to some regulations, he’d be packing a variety of fidget 

toys and favourite phone cases.


The Little Man knew this was happening but we made as little a deal out of it as possible.


We hid our own fears and anxieties.


We only discussed what we’d do in whispered tones when he was busy watching YouTube clips with his headphones on.


He had some trust in us.


He didn’t need to know that we didn’t know everything, although he probably had his suspicions.

On the ‘big day’,  we divided the tasks.


We decided I’d be responsible for getting him ‘there’ on the first morning.


If that went successfully, I’d be responsible for bringing him ‘back’. 


We knew he’d respond best if only one person was in charge.


We knew we’d respond best if only one of us had to make the decisions.


Everyone else’s task was to keep out of the way.


We kept everything as low key and as unemotional as possible.


As our birth kids and my wife left the house on that September morning, we avoided any overt show of emotion or goodbyes.


We did not take a ‘first day photo’ on the ‘first day’.


With just the two of us in the house, we got dressed, we ate breakfast, and we watched Paw Patrol.


“We are going now. You can sit in the front or in the back of the car. It’s your choice”

I knew that giving him some autonomy may help calm him.


“I’m not going”.


His response was the one I’d dreaded but I didn’t let my face show it.


I got the car keys, opened the front door and turned the alarm on.


I left the house and got in the car.


My face was still impassive.


As the 30 second beep countdown urged us to leave the house, he appeared at the front door.


He appeared beside me on the passenger seat.


“Please be in charge of the radio”.


He chose the familiarity of Radio 2.


Astute readers will have noticed that whilst our house alarm was on, our front door was still open.


This was a risk I was willing to take.


The seven minute journey to school passed without incident.


I chose not to speak.


I let Chris Evans and Coldplay fill the silence.


On arrival, there was another minor stand off.


He didn’t want to get out of the car, so I just got out and walked away.


I was pretty sure he’d follow me and I was right.


As we reached the school gate I handed him my phone.


“I will meet you here when school ends.  You can give me my phone back then”.

 

A few hours later I met him at the appointed time and place.


He returned my phone with a nod.


When he wasn’t looking, I took the SIM card out of my ‘back up phone’ and slid it back into the phone that he’d been minding for me all day.


I’m not completely daft!


You can view Phil's blog here Fostering & Adopting with Phil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 6 August 2021

Absolutely

As the parent of six children who have traversed the care system, tracking unique paths to it and through it  I feel like I can speak with a level of confidence in relation to a few things. 

I'm not an expert by experience and don't pretend to be but I can speak as a witness to what I've seen. 

There's few certainties when I consider my children's early lives and them now, the correlation between early adversity and trauma, short, medium and long term effects is frankly really complicated. There are few straight lines between cause and effect but I can talk about risk and the influences on risk.

The interplay of the myriad of factors such as age when an adopted child experiences adversity, length and intensity of exposure, the nature of the adversity, the nature and relationship of the perpetrator or perpetrators, the passage into care, the proceedings and logistics therein, the mitigating factors such as the child's personality and character, the length of time in care vs number of moves in care, biology, genes, pre birth experience.........I could go on but it demonstrates the complexity.  

Adversity may not equal trauma. Or it may. 

Added to that dare I suggest the environment they then find themselves in once adopted, empathic informed parents in supportive education environments will surely skew the risks again. Un empathic parents struggling with behaviour will have another impact on risks.

This was all provoked by a question on social media asking if all adopted children will experience mental ill health. An avalanche of responses ensued with lots of certainties expressed, people with lived experience speaking in certain terms countered by people with lived experience that was the exact opposite. Those who's second cousins best friend knew an adoptee that's fine and never even had a grumpy day, countered by someone else who knew someone else whose life was blighted. All trying to find some sort of certainty.

It's was a madness of anecdote, self taught certainty, wisdom, knowledge, passion, anger and all the usual social media comment frenzy. 

I look at my, remarkable, children who have overcome unfathomable adversity and they cannot be reduced to a simple equation,  A + B does not equal C. Adoption + Child = Mental Ill Health, it's much more complicated than that. 

However, there's enough stigma and mythologies around children who've come through the care system and into adoption that we can scrap the inevitability of doom narrative as a starting point.  

The madness of social media is that it thrives in the frenzy of absolutes and that's the crux of of this post.
After 20 years parenting in this world is my absolute belief that there are no absolutes other than all adopted children have experienced adversity. Beyond that is...............well uncertain. 



Friday, 23 July 2021

A difficult conversation



I recall a friend sharing the difficult experiences they were facing with their child who's behaviour was increasingly difficult. The police and social services were involved and moments of parental self defence and defence of younger children had slid into allegations against a parent. Thats a well worn narrative with issues of perception, language and recall often being at the centre of many allegations within adoptive and SEN families.  

I raise this story because it highlights the impact of adverse parenting and parenting in adversity on adults. My friend shared with an investigating social worker that they had been drinking more than they normally would over the last few months as things were getting really difficult at home. They were never drunk or out of control, just drinking more than was probably healthy all in the light of an increasingly difficult home situation. The tone and direction of the investigation changed, a moment of honesty shifted the conversation to the parents issues, their inability to cope and to 'take to the drink'. Their maladaption to the difficult situation had become the difficult situation. 

How parents and carers respond to adversity in their role and challenging behaviour in children can slide easily into behaviour that is too easily just seen as poor parenting when it's often a maladaption to the environment. It can manifest in a whole range of behaviours or strategies that, at best, don't help or at worst make the situation worst. 

If I can be candid I can recall my own maladaptive behaviour play out, a slow, but determined and purposeful self isolation. Things were bad at home, as bad as they can get. I shut down, turned off feelings and slipped in a self preserving and palatable version of 'blocked care', the nemesis of the 'therapeutic parent'. Not good but it worked, I kept going, one step in front of another. I don't drink but I can find my own version of maladaption. I withdrew at the very moment when everyone needed me to be present I couldn't be present and continue to meet the basic and essential needs. It was bloody awful and two years on we're in a new place.

Now, I can articulate what was going on. I've read the literature and understand my own response. Time and time again a come across parents who are slipping into strategies to cope that aren't great. 

I'm not writing this to shame or blame but point out what I've seen.  

These strategies can be the usual parental dysregulation or often I see parent slip into maladaptive parenting, authoritarian attempts to regain control or permissive parenting a giving up to find a safe way through the challenges.  It can be staying up way too late or disappearing physically or emotionally. It can be a myriad of things. 

These behaviours can compound the complexity of what professionals have to consider when are invited or are have to come into the situation. They immediately see parental behaviour, maladaptive behaviour, and perhaps identify that as the root cause of the challenges in the home. The parents are the problem and the children are responding accordingly. 

It's a well worn path. Listen to adoptive parent Nicola's podcast, after years of immeasurable stress culminating in a high stress incident inappropriate words slipped out of her mouth, a maladaptive but understandable response to stress. She was then assaulted by her child to the point of serious physical injury and hospitalisation but the investigation was focused on her words. Not seeing them as maladaption, an inappropriate but understandable release of tension, but rather a justification for a child's behaviour. 

Go listen here, you decide. That's an extreme example but speaks of the challenge many parents face, official systems meant to support not supporting or remain unavailable, children's challenging and violent behaviour continuing over long periods of time, family and friends withdrawing. Then isolation, adversity, vicarious trauma and trauma consuming all. 

Parents repeatedly ask to not be judged and to be believed, that still holds true. Professionals need empathy and compassion, they need to work with parents to reflect on their parenting amidst supporting them to parent. It's not easy but certainly not impossible, a difficult but necessary conversation. 


Tuesday, 22 June 2021

#YouCanAdopt: a Reflection on Slogans

A guest post by Andrew Taylor-Dawson

You can read more of his writings on his blog here

The realities of adoption can’t be boiled down to a simple marketing slogan

Recruiting adopters is essential, but this must be balanced with more and better support for families and a serious focus on life story. 

At a time when there seems to be more stories in the mainstream press about adoption than ever, it’s worth reflecting on where we are and where we seem to be going. For me, the #YouCanAdopt recruitment drive gives a candy-coated partial view of adoption. As I’ve said before, ‘you can’ adopt, but often the question needs to be ‘should you?’ This might sound negative and grumpy, but giving a one-sided view of adoption without its complexities, nuances and challenges is neither fair to prospective adopter or to children. 

Gavin Williamson’s remarks in a Department for Education (DfE) press release about overhauling the adoption system in National Adoption week last year landed badly with adopters and professionals alike. Williamson asserted that social workers were putting unnecessary barriers in the way for prospective adopters and that the only qualification for adopting was “the ability to love a child”. 

The sentiment Williamson expressed is highly worrying and plays into existing misconceptions that surround adoption in the public mind. We need to get to a place where adoption is more universally viewed as the raising of children with early trauma who can’t live with their birth parents. 

What questions should we be asking? 

As I’ve written before, I’m not an adoption evangelist. It is anything but a panacea, but as an adoptive parent, I of course feel that it has a very important role to play. However, this is as one option alongside special guardianship, long term foster care and yes – doing more to keep families together in the first place. 

Answering questions that cut to the heart of adoption such as ‘could I help a child understand their early trauma?’ are essential to getting adopters to a place where they are at all ready. The current emphasis from central Government flies in the face modern understanding and the good practice of many adoption agencies. 

Like all adopters, the experiences that my wife and I have had so far have challenged us and taken us to places that we could not have predicted. We had the benefit of going through a very forward-thinking agency and experiencing the better end of adoption practice. No matter how prepared you are, it doesn’t take away the challenges when they start to bite. 

To me, other questions like ‘how would you cope with a child that is violent towards you or other children?’ and ‘how would you respond if your child is unable to access education due to their trauma?’ are essential. While preparation does only go so far, thinking about the complexities posed by early trauma, should be something everyone going into adoption should have to do as early as possible. 

Life story

The adoption topics that can never be discussed too much are life story and contact. They can also be really hard to get your head around. I say this as someone who has been navigating getting multiple contact arrangements of different kinds in place for a while. As a new adopter, it cuts to the heart of your identity as that child’s parent, and it can feel threatening and disempowering. However, the evidence couldn’t be clearer, understanding life story and having safe birth family contact where appropriate helps deliver much better outcomes. Understanding this should be central for anyone considering adoption. 

A contemporary view of adoption

I understand the need for recruiting adopters and that they have to brought in with something appealing, however #YouCanAdopt is reductive and builds up the possibility of false expectations. 

To make contemporary adoption work as well as possible for children and adopters, we have to challenge the myths and misconceptions that exist in society and be extremely clear with anyone considering this path. I believe in holding them up to high standards, but also ensuring the best support and opportunities to learn and grow as an adoptive family. 

Unfortunately, despite developments in understanding and practice in recent years, the view from central Government feels out of step with what is needed. Adoption can of course bring joy and offer opportunity, but we must reflect to anyone considering it, the challenges and the issues that you will undoubtedly be grappling with on this path. 




Friday, 21 May 2021

Stock Photos and Hills to Die On.

To start with I'm very happy to see the upward number of professionals, practitioners and organisations that are raising the profile of children's violence to their parents and carers. That's good but I fear my inner pedant is struggling. It's perhaps petty or pick but I just feel really uncomfortable with the use of stock photos of angry children to illustrate or advertise some training or event. 

Yes, that really is the hill I'm prepared to die on. 

It's been winding me up for years! I've privately messaged organisation and laid out my rationale. The pictures of 'angry' teenagers or angry 'cute' kids are just not helpful. They place the issue squarely on children's shoulders and reinforce the lazy notions that many family fight to break through with professionals, family, friends and everyone they go to for help. Everyone I've contacted has got it and amended the publicity to show a broken window or some such neutral image than indicates violence rather than pinning the issue on some lazy image of a child. 

Does it matter? I'd say yes it really does. 

We need to constantly focus the message on the complexity of this issue and I've never spoken to family where the child was 'just' angry. There is always a complex interplay of experience, biology and systems that are unique and specific to that family. Of course there are themes and I'm not going to rehash that here but certainly to pin this on the chest of 'angry' kids is just not good enough. There's plenty of other images that can be used and I'm sure that I'm not the only person that feels this discomfort. 

The 'angry' child picture misses the mark, children are often acting out overwhelming anxiety, distress, frustration, rage, fear and anger. Frankly the kids in these pictures aren't even close. 

I don't want to point fingers or call people out, I just want us to demonstrate that we really get this, especially if you're going got be training people. Anyway, in the grand scheme of things it may be a little hill to die on but I genuinely believe that this stuff matters. 



Friday, 14 May 2021

Adoption, recruitment, media messages and that #

‘Nearly half of the 2030 children currently waiting to find adoptive families are in sibling groups. On average, children who are in a sibling group wait 135 days longer to be placed than individual children.’

I've seen this written all over social media in the last few weeks in sponsored blogs and media clickbait. I get a strange feeling between righteous indignation and world weary resignation and consequently I’ve been keeping my proverbial social media head down. I don't want to have yet another tit for tat exchange where I try to add nuance to a determinedly un nuanced world. Or where we agree to a point of fervent zeal with nowhere to channel that insight or collective wisdom. 

It’s hard to discuss the current recruitment strategies in a way that reflect what I , and many of my peers, feel truly reflects all of the conflicting and overlapping issues. It’s easy to slip into embittered grizzled old adopter, activist or to speak but not speak out in plain language to be labelled a shill (I’ve been called that and to my shame had to google it). 

I am an adopter and it’s defined my adult life and I’m certainly not against adoption pre say. But, I do struggle with parts of it and would love to see effective reform. I'm not naive or stupid and appreciate that advertising can’t deal with nuance or subtleties and the advert headlines are fishing for interest as a start point. My hope in all of this is that it is a start point and that the complex, nuanced and difficult conversations that are needed as people approach applying to adopt are happening. 


Like the issue itself there's no easy resolution to this post, it just sort of hangs. Quite please I didn't use the #YouCanAdopt # once in this post. Or #ShouldYouAdopt.