Friday, 12 June 2020

Dog Walk Thoughts

A few thoughts on RAAs and the postcode lottery that still seems to exist.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Northumbria Police's press release for the CCVAB report.

Here's Northumbria Police's press release for the CCVAB report, worth a read even if it is to look at the comments. They reflect a range of views that so many families come up against again and again. It refreshes the vigour in which we need to raise awareness.

Note to self: Never read the comments.

We want this to influence other forces as well as give the Home Office food for thought, please share wide and far.

Friday, 24 April 2020

Policing Childhood Challenging Violent or Aggressive Behaviour: Responding to Vulnerable Families

So, here it is the Policing Childhood Challenging Violent or Aggressive Behaviour: 
Responding to Vulnerable Families report. You can read the Executive Summary here with the full report being available on the 27th April.

It’s taken some time and right from the off I need to thank Dr Wendy Thorley for all the work that she has done, not only in liaising, organising, chivvying along different folks (mainly me) but in also crunching the data and writing the report up. The report draws on Northumbria Police’s 500+ call outs from parents and carers over a 9 month period in crisis due to the violent and aggressive behaviour of the children in their homes. 

The report builds on what is a steadily growing body of research that considers the underlying issues that impact on children who display extreme aggressive and violent behaviour. For us that culminated in the  2018 Child on Parent Violence and Aggression Survey but in this report we worked in partnership with the police to consider the current interventions they undertake and how to improve them.   

During this process  I’ve been given access to records and though I thought I’d become hardened to the challenges that children and families face I confess to being rendered speechless reading some of the incident reports. Stories of incredibly vulnerable children, their mental ill health, SEND, adversity, trauma, substance misuse and more all playing out in homes across the region. 

I'll not pre empt your reading of the findings, however that the report was written offers me hope for the future of this issue. We measure what matters and this is an issue that matters for many families, for every police call out there are multiple incidents that don't reach the extreme of a 999 call hidden in a veil of silence. There are many untold stories of families struggling under fear of social care intervention, fear of violence, isolation, shame and mental ill health. This report is not the end of the issue but it is another light shining into a dark room of many families lives. 

You can read the summary to the report here 

Friday, 28 February 2020

Where to start

Friend: 'Hi, I know we've not spoke in a while but we're thinking of adopting and thought we'd speak to you............what do you think?'

Me: 'Oh, well where to start'

It's a question that I don't get asked every day but it comes around not too infrequently. I try to offer balance, I try to find out why, I try to present the big picture and the small picture, I try to wrap it up in language that makes sense. I try to summarise my last 20 years in an honest and meaningful reply.

I think it sounds like a scattergun gallop through a thousand thoughts tumbling our of my mouth at a hundred miles an hour, I'm not sure I'm the right person to answer this question.

#YouCanAdopt, yes you can but.......... My days of being an apologist for adoption are over.

I think my answer is laced with a huge dollop of pragmatism, adoption has worked for me, adoption has kind of worked for some of my children. I say kind of because it's offered them something that the other forms of permanency could not and can not offer. It's a sliding scale and it also comes with a knowledge that their views may change but they don't get to re write history or have a say.

I've the nonsensical twitter argument over if adoption is trauma fizzing around trauma still rattling around my head and that's not helping at all. I try to reflect that.
The answer to my friend is complicated and ends up with me asking them to visit specific websites, read this book, listen to this story, think differently. More like a stress test on how serious they are and how this is a landscape in transition. You don't want to be on the wrong bus when it leaves town so to say.

When I record the podcast's with adopters I often ask 'would you adopt again' and all bar one said yes. Maybe that's the wrong question to the wrong person.

The question seems more complicated now. As well as 'would' there's a 'should' and the best I seem to have now's complicated.

Again more questions than answers.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Adoption: A Nettle we Should Grasp?

I’ve been seeing the  Adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem’ phrase a lot recently and I.........well I'm not sure it's that simple. I really would love it to be. 

It is succinct and to the point and encapsulates a position fantastically well and I get exactly what is being said but it really doesn’t reflect the complexity of almost all situations. For clarity I'm not talking about historic adoption, or necessarily other models and cultures of adoption, that is a truly complicated picture and way above my pay grade. I'm thinking about contemporary UK adoption. *

Anyway. that phrase reduces a lot of things down to what are murky and complicated issues in a way that does the adoption conversion no favours at all. I see lots of perspectives in the online debate, one position that wants it to be simple and one that wants it to be complicated and never the twain shall meet. Both reluctant to engage in meaningful conversation and I find myself pulled between the two positions and often agreeing and disagreeing with both, again I'm a total cop out. 

Like surgery, adoption is traumatic, painful, messy, dangerous and sometimes planned, sometimes carried out in less than ideal situations, often a judgement call based on best evidence. Never the less, it is a trauma, carries inherent risks and is rarely a guarantee of anything. That all said, we can all agree that sometimes surgery is needed and we weigh the cost, balance the risk and make that decision. Only with hindsight we know if it was the right thing. 

Through my work I read the stories of children in families every day and it is mostly really complex. Act or don't act, intervene or not, remove or support. The answers are judgements made on available information, no crystal balls available, 10 years down the line we may see clearly but right then we can only go with what is shown. Should we support families more, with no caveat yes. However, for some families that isn't good enough for children for a raft of reasons. We can all play a hypothetical game on twitter but that isn't an option for those with the actual decisions. 

A few years ago I attended one of the consultation days of the adoption enquiry and it was a challenging day to say the least. Talking with parents of children removed then adopted as a ‘user’ of the adoption system is to say the least is a complicated conversation. It was tense at times, it was emotive at times and I questioned myself, my children’s story and the system that managed that process. However, we could all agree that some children should not and could not be cared for by their parents and that their families cannot and should not have physical contact with those children. In that case we need to find permanent homes for those children. We know that long term foster care is often an illusive thing with inherent challenges and SGOs not always possible. So why not adoption? Why not? The key arguments against are hydra but identity, contact and access to information are primary issues. If we resolve those issues then does that change the conversation? does that alter how we view adoption? 

I'm not sure. This year I've thought harder than ever about the ethics and values in relation to adoption, questioned my motives and parenting, listened to adopted adults and stretched myself out. 

I don't want to stretch the surgery metaphor too far, though why not? Medicine changes, practice develops, surgery becomes more precise, sometimes redundant but for now it remains a necessary tool in some situations. I think that is where I stand that in balance for a small number of children** adoption remains necessary trauma that may be the best bet. 

In writing all of this I'm conscious that I'm presuming that it's a service solely for children, it's not and may never be. Perhaps that changes everything. 

*You say it's all the same, I say 'nope' it really isn't but I'm more than willing to publish your guest blog. 

** I'm talking UK and we clearly need to talk about the number and we clearly need to make practice better. The conversation around international and pay for babies is clearly a different one. 

Friday, 2 August 2019


Have you ever held your breath?

There's a moment when your mind and body come into conflict. Your body starts to demand action and only your willpower keeps you on your designated course. The tension between the two becomes more acute with every passing second, how long can you go on knowing that you're not yet in danger but every passing second brings you closer and it's will power that keeps you fighting the inevitable.

It's a very odd feeling.  

Perhaps that's all overstatement to then compare it to parenting or caring for children who are at times violent of aggressive. Anyway, I read a twitter thread recently, an adopter spoke in the briefest of terms about an incident that led to a child re entering the care system. The voices that replied ranged from the empathic emoji to the self righteous indignation that they would never do such a thing. I didn't comment as I'm not sure that helps anymore. I wondered what the story was, likely too complex to ever tweet about or condense into a blog.  I wondered about the beginning and middle and end of that journey from hopeful adopter to desperate parent. What happened at that moment when a call is made that starts that process of re entering care.

The heartbreak of all concerned and the complicated murky 'grey' emotions and impacts on the children, families and communities.

It's a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the social care system. Regardless of the quality of the professionals, the smooth running of the bureaucratic machine or the outcome, positive or negative,  it's an awful awful thing. Of this I think everyone can agree, for years we've danced with the system actually at times it's been less of a dance and more of a shin kicking competition. 

Increasingly I meet families that are caught in that place, holding their breath and 'dancing' with the system. They keep going knowing that inevitable harm is coming and occurring but employing steely willpower to keep going regardless. Some go longer than others and endure more harm than they should, other's make pragmatic decisions to keep other children and themselves safe  act earlier and live in the 'what ifs'.

I watch on and think through our story, my story, the bigger story.

This is not an isolated one off or an exception it's becoming increasingly part of the adoption narrative.  Adoption UK's latest survey highlighted 65% of families living with violence and aggression. For some it comes and goes, that's a complicated picture around support and intervention, what helps and what doesn't. For some families it comes and stays until there are no options left, til they can hold their will against the challenges and protect households no more.

Like in the tweet, sometimes children can't live in their homes.

Children returning to care is talked of but the numbers remain unclear, councils are meant to complete returns that would include it but they don't or it's not reported. Is it 1% of adoptions or 5%? we don't know, regardless, bringing it into the light only highlights more challenges that adoption faces as a model of permanence.

If we bring it into the light do we put more people off choosing adoption? If that's the case, so be it.

The Disneyesque adoption narrative needs killing off once and for all.  

Friday, 7 June 2019

20 years on, Questions and Answers

It's 20 years to the week that we started introductions for my big three kids.

What I thought then and what I think now is almost non comparable, adoption was not what it is now and I feel that we've tracked the shifts in our family lives. I don't recall difficult questions or debates in relation to the purpose and ethics of adoption or consideration of human right. Of course, they may have been there but I may not have had ears to hear.

I'm trying to listen now.

Sitting with my eldest we chatted about all of that stuff back then when she was a week off 6 years old. Her story and how it was seen then and how we all saw it now, our anxieties and failings. I concluded that we all dropped the ball for her and it all should have gone down differently. With regret I see that I didn't have the agency or oomf to speak up and on reflection I deferred to professional views, gave into my own preconceptions, was caught up in my own, and all of our, new lives together.

That nuanced stuff was put aside.  Identity, connection, justice, family all seemed too abstract or complicated compared to the daily, minute by minute challenge of shifting the life of a 27 year old me into parenting. It seems like a pathetic excuse now, but then it seemed all consuming and I'd bought into the 'adoption is always a good thing' narrative and had no capacity to question it.

Now, 20 years to the week that we met,  all that seems to matter is that nuanced stuff and that's the stuff that seemed invisible or on the periphery then.

If you ask any parent what they'd do differently there's likely to be a long list. In that regard we're no different as adopters. There's lots we did do differently the second and third time round. But you can't go back and undo what was done, hindsight is a swine.

The future of adoption is uncharted, we've been at low ebbs before, in 2000 we went to court and were one of only 2000 adoption orders made that year. Government ploughed money into adoption and the figures rose steadily to over 5000 in 2015 but now they're stagnating again and without the underpinning of cash and policy I'm not sure what the future holds.

How we care for children remains a key question, how we hold the tensions in families where questionable decisions were made remains a significant question for many families that jumped onto this bus rout only to discover it wasn't perhaps the one we thought it was.

Hindsight really is a swine. It's likely I'd do it all differently but for pure selfish reasons glad I didn't.

If I could have got that younger me in a verbal headlock what advise would I offer?

Relax, buy shares in Apple, but for heaven's sake talk less and listen more.