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.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

ASF: Start your engines.

For the last 13 years adoptive families have been saddled with this cruel legislative joke.* We have the right to have the needs of our children and families assessed in relation to adoption support by our local authorities but they have no duty to meet those needs.

"Yes,  Mr C we think you need Non Violent Resistance training to therapeutically support you with your aggressive child. Oh no, Mr C we're not going to give you it."

That sort of silly conversation.

So, the much lauded Adoption Support Fund (ASF) draws closer to it's national launch on the 1st May with the £19.3 million put aside to support the therapeutic needs of adoptive children. If you're like me my mind implodes with if and buts before I've reached the end of that sentence.  Is this a sticking plaster over the aforementioned legislative gaping wound? Ifs and buts, too many for me to list.

Then with weeks to go to the launch date the announcement of 'training' for Social Workers in regard to the ASF. It all seems a bit last minute. So, it seemed to make sense to see if I could blag my way onto the training and see what was going on. So I did.

Firstly it was a bit odd to sit with managers, Agency Decision Makers, Post Adoption Support Workers (PASW). All my region's movers and shakers some of whom had assessed me at various stages of my adoptions and their careers.

The main gist of the training was in relation to the procedure for applying for the fund. The pot of money is there to be used and in all honesty I couldn't think of a simpler system for applying from a Local Authorities (LA) perspective. Submit the online application, confirmed authorisation by a designated person in the authority and the answer will come within 5 working days and the monies by the end of the month. As bureaucratically streamlined as possible. The training is to be supplemented by phone support, visits from allocated advisors and webinars. You'd have to work hard to not understand or mess it up.
In fairness this is not beginning of the training that the LAs have had and was more a top up prior to launch.

The fund managers and the other trainers were clear that the money is to be used and used as creatively as possible within the remit of therapeutic support for children. What does that mean? Well, that's where the training got interesting, support can be identified, by SWs or Panels, and funds accessed prior to an Adoption Order. It can then be used after the order is in place, potentially supporting the placement of difficult to parent children. Groups of parents can be trained to therapeutically parent their children (filial therapy). Sibling groups can receive therapy even if some of them are over 18, young people with SEN can be funded for therapy up to the age of 25. Transport and accommodation for you to the therapist or for the therapist to you. The list went on and the creativity demonstrated by one of the pilot authorities was genuinely exciting.

So, that was good.

And the not so good?

Adopter engagement only constituted a small portion of the training. If adopters don't ask for it we won't get it. I know adopters that are on the fringe, they don't read blogs, magazines, go to events they are just living. I know adoptive families that are in need but remain off the radar.

Just as significantly adopter collaboration was not mentioned, addressed or highlighted. Like most adoptive parents I'm no expert in the benefits of specific therapies or what therapy would be most appropriate for my child. But I'm pretty sure I want to be in on the conversation.

I have concerns about the process of assessment, prior to application to the fund, maybe not a problem generated by the ASF but it will certainly highlight weakness in local provision. To my eyes this will be the bottleneck. The pilot schemes varied widely in number of applications and this concerns me what if you live in an authority that drag their heals. What if your relationship with your Local Authority is poor or acrimonious, then they are the last people you want back in your home.
Questions about the quality, quantity and location of provision.

There are as many questions as their are adopters.**  Specific questions that need to be asked and answered.
The timing of the General Election has limited getting some answers including long term funding plans. However, the fund is available now and we should access it now. Take what we can while we can.

In short:
  1. Request an assessment of your need from your Local Authority's Post Adoption Service or placing authority if within three years of adoption.
  2. If you are assessed as meeting the requirement for therapeutic support or intervention then work with your SW to identify what you want and need.
  3. They'll access the monies
  4. You'll get the support.
Yes, that's an oversimplification but in essence that's it.

My hope fuels my fear. My hope is that every adoptive family that needs therapeutic support calls their Social Worker as soon as they can and requests their assessment. My fear is that social work teams are not ready or do not have the capacity and structure to manage number of assessments.

So, where are we left? do we step back and wait and see? or do we make the call request an assessment and push?

Even if this lasts for 12 months I say push. At the least the next generation of adopters will have a raised expectation of support for their children and together we may precipitate a permanent change in legislation.


*The Adoption and Children Act 2002
**If you have questions contact your LA's PASW, Hugh Thornbury Adoption Uk's CEO on Twitter @TalkAdoptSupp or  me.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Sarah

Sarah was brought into care aged four and moved into her adoptive home one week off her sixth birthday. Now twenty one she describes some of her thoughts and feelings.





Sarah discusses her experiences of re establishing contact with her birth family in adulthood.





Friday, 10 April 2015

Hurricane - National Sibling Day

I will confess to feeling a warming of my heart as Flossy and Lotty ran together across the large play area. It was so nice to see them enjoying each others company as they united in a common goal. Casting aside usual differences they put their remarkable energy and willpower into a shared task that they both clearly felt passionate about.

Ah, bless.

I was not proud that they intended to rip the arms off a 4 year old boy and beat him to death with them. But it was lovely to see them not fighting each other and moreover sharing something. The little boy hadn’t realised what he was dealing with when he over zealously pushed a then 3 year old Lotty off a play slide, she’d sought out Flossy, 4, and formed an alliance to ‘resolve’ the issue.

Fortunately, I’d witnessed the whole event and having perceived their intended goal I managed to sprint across the room to save to poor unfortunate soul. 
He’d sown the wind and was about to reap the whirlwind.

Though clouded in mystery and intrigue part of our motivation to adopt a sibling group was born from a desire to keep siblings together. We had this, perhaps romantic, view that that must be in the best interest of children.

Sarah, Gracie and Ginger were the embodiment of that. Throughout their child hood they were best mates. We rarely had any of their friends over, they just played nice for the 12 years the three of them lived in the house. The odd squabble and spat of course but no more than that.

Flossy and Lotty are a different matter. Enmity, jealousy and at a pleasure in the others misfortune is in their way. The reasons are multiple and complex. They share common biographies but differ in all the wrong, or right, places.

I’m not naive I know all siblings can fight, bicker, get jealous and fall out. But this is something different. Enmity was sown between them through contact experiences and is perpetuated by anxiety, fear, temperament, hurt, adrenaline and a raft of stuff. Sometimes one is the antagonist sometimes the other and sometimes both.
The rare times that they unite it is against Mrs C, one of the big ones or me.

They love each other I have no doubt but even that is a complex emotion.

Is it in their best interests that they were kept together? I can't and won't answer that but I'd be lying if on the worst days wondering what if.

When the regular headlines come out noting that X number of children in care are separated from siblings my heart cries ‘no’ and my head asks ‘perhaps there’s good reason’. 
Once again dogma, romance and popularism have no place in adoption, rather case by case pragmatic decisions.  

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Rocking the Boat?

A guest post from Eva a prospective adopter............

How dare a SW judge the sincerity and communicational depth of my relatively short marriage when she claims to become an expert in knowing me in and out after meeting me only 6 times before her report (and my future happiness) is set in stone?
To be fair our SW is a well seasoned professional and a lovely person who is very able to assess me / us as a couple and write up a fair and true report, but my question is still valid...
In all honesty we are a V-E-R-Y unusual couple. Unusual is good – the SW said. Panel likes unusual – the SW said. 
But do they, really?
When they have to sit all day in a small room with familiar faces around the table; when they have to comment on each case for the minutes; when they have to read hundreds of pages to come prepared for the panel meeting; when they already know who will have a problem with which couple; when all they want is to approve a couple... do they really want unusual cases? Or do they rather wish for simple, straight forward, clean cut or (heaven forbid) textbook cases?
We could have children. We are 35+ young professionals from safe and stable families who C-H-O-S-E not to become birth parents themselves. We could fill pages (oh, wait, we did! On countless occasions!) with the reasons, but for now let’s just forget the many reasons and focus on the choice we made. If pro-choice is so widely popular; if abortion is so acceptable; if nobody is allowed to tell a young or old / drug addict or alcohol addict / severe mental health / abusive... etc or just simply a very nice ‘perfect’ person the sentence ‘you must not have birth children of your own’ or ‘ok, lady, you had enough, maybe a dozen will do’ and all these people and their choices are and should be respected then why do I feel I am the bad person here?
Why do I have to keep defending my view? Why am I labelled ‘unfit to be a parent’ if I am not desperate to become one (in other words: I need a child, any child would do really, just so that I can be a parent)? We have a happy marriage and life, we feel our family is complete, we do not yearn for a nonexistent hole to be filled by somebody else’s child. We simply put our own needs aside and choose to adopt siblings already in the system who do not have a safe and loving home where they can just be children and then grow up to be happy and supported adults. We could provide all that and much more for these children. Yet, somehow we find ourselves time and time again judged, questioned, condemned even for the choices we made in our lives.



Other that this we tick all the boxes. House, car, income, support network, stay home parent...whatever you need. Why would then our chances of being approved tripled if we said we C-O-U-L-D not have children? I fail to see how any of the above mentioned factors would change and still, somehow we would fit the ‘usual’ box and would be approved in no time...
But I do want to become a parent...
I do want to get approved...
I do want to bless those children...

So I don’t rock the boat. Just keep quiet. And I keep answering the same questions on and on again. With a smile. As usual.  

Friday, 3 April 2015

Triangle

As theoretical model the adoption triangle is fairly clear.


Though it reflects the individuals at the core of the adoption process it doesn't reflect the nature of the relationships or the process of adoption.
I find myself waking in the early hours with my mind ruminating on the the challenges faced by all the players in adoption. Increasingly my mind  sticks on the position and status of the members of the triangle.
In part this is highlighted by my own children moving into adulthood but also informed by my own professional and personal experiences.

The twitter adoption community feeds and threads are full of comments about challenges faced, mainly anonymous, and often aimed at Social Workers, Local Authorities, policy and government.
I'd do the same but they know who I am. It all points to the unseen member of the triangle

I would propose that we re draw the adoption triangle and reflect the status of the parties and players.
We could  argue about the position and size of my infographic bubbles. But for many of the players this is how it feels.

What scares me is if I was to have drawn this 50 years ago I'm not sure it would be any different.



Thursday, 26 March 2015

Loss

I try to make my ramblings upbeat and I can assure many aspects of life in Coates Towers is positive. Of late it seems like there’s been a lot of tricky stuff going on for the kids and us. Re reading my posts I wonder if my blog should be titled ‘How not to adopt’ or ‘101 things about adoption you never cared to ask’.

This is our life at the moment and it reflects my belief that to adopt is to embrace sadness at some level. Even in the most successful, harmonious and straightforward adoption* at its heart lies an unavoidable sadness. We live with this tension and it’s varying manifestations in our lives day by day. It's the cup we drink from.

Added to our measure this week was the death of a close family friend. Over the last 8 years she had been an invaluable and unique source of support, insight, information to Mrs C and I and to Flossy and Lotty. Though her death was anticipated it has come as a shock to the children. Their response is complex it’s their first experience of the death of someone close. Predictably we’ve seen some interesting behaviour and grief manifested in many ways. Complex emotions and challenges to their understanding have left them in a fog of dysregulation.


Our friend, Flossy and Lotty’s birth Aunt, came into our lives in unique and unusual circumstances. We insisted on contact with her against the wishes of our Local Authority, and our Fostering Social Worker pled our case to the judge at the placement order hearing** and it was reluctantly granted. Tentatively we built trust and confidence and slowly, very slowly, she became a friend and then family.

We’d see each other weekly, Mrs C would talk and text daily. The two dimensional pantomime villains of our children’s paperwork became real people, lives hopes, dreams, mistakes, tragedy and wrong decisions. She was a firewall between us and the less safe elements of birth family and an open door to the safe elements.

She broke the news of birth mum’s pregnancy to Mrs C, the imminent birth of Peanut. Mrs C and her agreed that it was best if Peanut came to live with us and 20 months later Peanut did***.

Flossy and Lotty loved their aunty, she was a tangible part of their lives and history that could not be replicated in a life story book or letter. She was an essential part of our lives she was a member of our family. We were blessed to see the pleasure she took in seeing her nieces grow.

All our grief and loss is compounded by our inability to attend the funeral to share our loss with her loved ones. Mrs C covertly was able to attend her bedside in her dying days and thank her for all she had done. This is the end of a special chapter of all our lives.
We feel blessed to have known her, rest in peace J.


*No such thing

**It’s complicated


***It’s very complicated