Friday 30 May 2014

An Opinion

I watched a video clip today that argued, amongst other things, that adoption is about “finding families for children rather than children for families”. 

However, I consider it mistake to view contemporary adoption in these terms.

The primacy of children's wellbeing  runs through all adoption legislation and guidance. It is critical that the needs and desires of these adopters cannot be allowed to fade into the background while adoption agencies, and public opinion, are coerced into shifting the focus wholly to finding families for children.

There are a myriad of reasons that lead people to adopt which leaves me reluctant to generalise. However, a large majority are unable to conceive,  either alone or with their partner, and this leads them into the adoption process. 

To relegate their hopes, aspirations and needs to second place or a guilty desire is unjust and is potentially storing up trouble for the new families.

I believe that the six month timeframe for the assessment of prospective adopters reinforces this view that we are finding families for children. Swift approvals run the risk of focusing on approval and placing children rather than on a measured assessment of prospective adopters, of their strengths and weaknesses.
I agree that there should be no unnecessary delay but I also believe that there is a role for necessary delay.

Prospective adopters can bring a variety of experiences to the process, the loss of childlessness, pain of miscarriage or the torture of multiple unsuccessful rounds of IVF treatment to name the most common. 

A lot is asked of prospective adopters, the challenges of parenting children in modern society are numerous. Adding to this are the often complex needs of the children and the peripheral pressures that that adopters can face from birth families, their own families, schools and friends. 

To carry open wounds and unrealistic expectations into parenting is not going to help. Sometimes a little time is needed.

We are finding families for children and children for families. To see it in any other terms is a harmful mistake

I am aware that this is just my opinion. If you feel I'm off the mark then I'm more than happy to be persuaded otherwise. 
For the record, I am not a Adoption Social Worker and have no vested interest or axe to grind.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Deep down I'm very happy

Just a little thank you to all who have walked this adoption path with us.
Family, friends and all the rest.

You've cried with us on many occasions and lifted us up when we have stumbled.

However, on Saturday you laughed with us & we celebrated the beginning of a new chapter in our lives. 

We came together, thanked God for Peanut and the day was made whole by the people who joined in body and heart.

So, thank you.

PS. To wake to the news that we'd been added to the Independent on Sunday's Happy List seemed like a rather apt confirmation of what seemed quite true. Though doubt has been placed on my actual manifestation of happiness I can confirm that deep down I'm very happy.

Friday 23 May 2014

Let's have a Party

Tomorrow we're having a party and it has been a long time coming.

A little back story.

In the Summer of 2011 we found out through birth family members that birth mum was pregnant.

Circumstances had not changed and we all knew that in all probability that the baby would come into care and be placed for adoption.

We strongly felt she should come to us to be with her two big sisters.

We spoke to Social Workers, we spoke to the head of service and they all agreed off the record that the likelihood was that she would be placed for adoption and that it made sense for her to join us.

Call it risk averse, call it appropriate caution but we would not be allowed to foster to adopt. We could officially be told nothing as we where not related and it was confidential.

A wise friend said "don't make this a crusade" so we stepped back.

So, we waited and tried to pretended that we didn't know what was happening.

Through family members we saw the photos and the videos and waited silently.

She learnt to crawl and we saw the video.

We waited

She learns to speak words.

Still we waited and watched milestones pass.

A year after she was born the plan was finalised and we were formally asked to express interest.
So we did.

We tell Flossy and Lotty, they can't wait.

We started our fourth PAR assessment and tried not to be complacent. This was a very familiar process with an adoption panel member and a student social worker ex panel member being assessed.  I felt mild pity for our Social Worker.

We waited for the court date to free Peanut for adoption.......and waited.
It comes.

The pictures continued to come through and she's walking.

We would be approved and matched at the same panel............we waited for the day.

The day came and we were passed............we waited for the ADM to decide and he did.

We waited for the introductions.

Then we stopped waiting and we met the little girl that had been ours long before this moment.

Two years after being told that she existed she walked and talked into our lives, a joy and a gift.

Tomorrow we're gathering friends and family and coming together to celebrate and to ask for God's blessing over her life.

We'll thank God for her and we'll thank friends and family for waiting with us.

Saturday 17 May 2014

Thank you

"They're very lucky to have you"

I appreciate the comment but I don't know how to answer that.

I smile, make a slightly awkward noise and give the stock reply of a slightly embarrassed Englishman. "Oh......erm...........I'm not sure about that"

Awkward pause.

Then I change the subject.

"Look, (points upwards) a hot air balloon."

I have no answer for the same reason any parent would have no answer.

They had no choice, they didn't ask to travel through life by this route and luck played no part.

If luck did play a part then they appear to have had very bad luck.

I know no offence is intended and none is taken.

I appreciate the sentiment. 

Perhaps I should just say "Thank you."

Sunday 11 May 2014

Adoption Panel: Part 2.

Having written about my own experience of attending panel and being presented to Panel I was interested to hear other peoples views and experiences. 
This inspired me to write a little more.

After I left work in 2008 to be a full time parent with Mr C the opportunity arose for me to join an Adoption Panel as an independent member. From  2008 to 2010, when I started my Social Work degree, I participated in a Local Authority's Adoption Panel, usually spending at least one day a month helping them with their work. It was very rewarding, usually interesting, occasionally a little dull but mainly thought provoking.
How do we quantify or judge an individuals parenting skills as 'good enough'? Considering lots of people's parenting skills are subject to no or little scrutiny.

How effective is the approval process? 

How can we quantify or predict resilience?

How can we predict adopters reactions to the unexpected?

Should adopters be given specific training after approval and before matching to prepare them for potential challenges, attachment, separation, loss, resilience etc.

These questions and more were often discussed relating to specific adopters and generally.

As time went on I realised that every panel that I'd sat at resulted in either approval of adopters, their match with a child/ren or the approval of a child's plan for adoption. 
Note: CPR's are no longer reviewed by Panels, if I'm honest that was the bit I found most interesting.

I started to wonder if the Panel was a rubber stamping exercise, with all the adopters approved and all matches considered also approved. 

So is it just a rubber stamp? 

Well, yes & no.
But I consider that a necessary function. 

Panels scrutinise the recommendation of the Social Worker, they ask the difficult questions. With multiple members from a variety of professions and with a range of experience they look at the Prospective Adopters Report (PAR) from all angles and look for gaps. We find them.

Yes, team managers have already scrutinised the PAR and if a couple are likely to not be approved then they probably won't get to panel.

However, the Panel is an additional safeguard. 

Social Worker's professional training and opinion are usually right, but not universally so. With the focus of a Panel reading through their PAR Social Workers ensure that they can evidence their recommendation to the Panel.

Social Workers professional judgement is being eroded at all corners, financially, politically and legally. But the recommendation being given is life changing and needs to be scrutinised.

The Panel recommendation adds gravity, this is a big deal the decisions made have lifelong consequences for adults and children. 

For prospective adopters a Panel day gives a moment in time when a recommendation is going to be made, they give a face, a time and a location to that decision. 

I can't imagine anything worse that waiting for a faceless bureaucrat to make a decision in the corridors of Local Authority power with a letter coming in the post.

The tears of relief and joy when the chair says "it is with pleasure that the Panel recommends....................". 
What a fantastic moment,  if you have never experienced it I can't describe it. 
I can confirm it does not diminish however many times you hear it either personally or professionally.
Many a panel member has shed a tear.

I heard a criticism of panel, noting that it was perhaps job creation. Some panels pay their members a nominal fee £50. But the reality is that £50 is a token gesture, with up to 2 hours reading per PAR or match, perhaps four items per panel then a day taken up with panel £50 seems good value for money for two days work.
As for my panel it was unpaid so I'm inclined to believe that Panel members, usually overworked professionals, do it for love not money.

Are their injustices? Are incorrect decisions made? Of course. But that does not diminish my belief in  Adoption Panels.

As for Fostering Panels.................well that's another story.

Thursday 8 May 2014

Adoption Panel

I girded my loins and watched Wanted a Family of My Own on the telly against my better judgement.  Watching reminded me of our own patchy experience of Panels and the trials and tribulations that they inflict on prospective adopters.

First Panel - Approval
We were deferred at our first approval panel, we weren't invited, it was a long time ago before meeting us seemed important. We wanted 2, 3 or more siblings. Clearly no one in their right mind would want to do that. Panel can't approve someone not in their right mind so we were deferred for that reason and suspicions that we were religious zealots.

Second Panel - Approval
However, after a 4 month re assessment by a new Social Worker they took our case back to panel. We stayed at home, our phone was unknowingly broke and we waited and waited and waited with friends. Hours passed then a taxi arrived and told us to fix the phone. The Social worker rang and we were passed.

Third Panel - Match
Two months later we waited by the phone as the matching panel did their thing. Having had mixed results at panel we were naturally sceptical of our Social Workers reassurances. However the call came and we were parents to the Big one, Gracie and Ginger, 6, 3 and 20 months.

Fourth Panel - Fostering
Several years later we decided to foster, so off to panel again, well waiting by the phone again. Surprise surprise deferred again. Concerns that we'd become too attached and not be able to move them on, as if.

Fifth Panel - Fostering
We're through, with a recommendation that we don't have babies placed, which seemed fair enough.

So long story short, Flossy and Lotty, 15 months and 3 months arrived shortly after, we fall in love, court case, mess, court case, mess, blah, what the hell, lets adopt them.

Sixth Panel - Approval and Matching 
So we sit outside this time waiting to go in, times have changed. We are waiting for the judge to rule at the county court that morning so the wee ones can be freed for adoption so the Panel can make approval then match. So, we wait, no word from the court, we miss our slot, we wait, still no word,  panel finishes, we wait, no ruling and we go home crestfallen, heartbroken. We break the news to the big three......................a dark day at Coates Towers

More court dates, judge rules, introductions with others, trauma, loss, disaster, judge rules again and the adoption is back on.

Seventh Panel - Approval and Matching
One year to the day, I kid you not, we sit waiting to go and be approved and matched at panel. We are ready for a fight. We will take all comers and are furious, Flossy and Lotty belong to us and we defy anyone to say otherwise. The Panel thank us for what we have endured and match and approve.
We are relieved and overjoyed but the experiences of the last year have taken a toll that last to this day.

Much water under the bridge, Mrs C and I volunteer on adoption panels, I train as a Social worker and so on and so forth.
Then, along came Peanut and thats another story for another blog.

Eighth Panel- Approval and Matching
Well by now, Mrs C and I have experience of being on Panel and there is no mystery. But the feeling that you get when they say yes was undiminished. We did it. Peanut is ours and we are hers.

I am by nature a pragmatist and I understand the need for Panel and I understand the decisions they make.
Sitting on Panel I've read through Prospective Adopter Reports and had concerns born from hard learned experience. I've worried about lack of knowledge and blind naivety. I've sat in discussions where enthusiasm and optimism have been weighed against reality and challenge.
Panels are a trial for Social Workers and prospective adopters alike but lives, hopes and futures are at stake. I've witnessed adopter deception and seen the havoc it can wreak.

So for all we've had a mixed experience, as have many, I would defend panels.

Friday 2 May 2014


I read with interest the article in the Guardian this week on the questions over Neuroscience and the questions over its use in policy making. The counter letters and the bonfire that was set off on twitter was interesting to follow and I enjoyed throwing the odd coal on that fire.

However, I am not a neuroscientist and I haven’t studied neuroscience. I’ve seen the odd You-tube clip and sat in seminars and training where it has been discussed.
I can confess to being impressed by the comparison slides of the healthy brain and the neglected brain.
I will confess to allowing it to consider my children differently.

I know as much as anyone will about my children's early lives; the usual litany of experiences that precedes a child's journey through the looked after system. I know my children and their little 'querks'.

The limited neuroscience training I have had has allowed me to view them differently, to parent them in different manner. But to suggest that I, or anyone else, view them as 'sub human' as the contributor to the Guardian article suggested, is a nonsense and insulting.

I observe that my child sees, and more significantly feels danger in almost all circumstances and is hardwired to fight, for conflict and aggression.

Once the switch is flicked then they cannot and will not back down. No threat, consequence or star chart will make a dent in that. When they redline then reasoning, sense and choice are dissolved in their rage.

Informed by our understanding we try to parent differently, why give a consequence to a child who will not be able to respond reasonably. I can threaten to remove their most treasured activity, but they cannot control themselves, cannot modify or comply. They will fail and will lose whatever we have threatened to take off them.

We know that we won’t calm the fire by pouring petrol on it by telling them what their punishment is at the moment of rage. We give them space, allow them time and we draw them back. Then we talk and reason and challenge.

Now, all of this could be genetic or coincidental. It could be an expression of their character or a response to our parenting techniques. It could be a purely behavioural or emotional issue.
All of that or a combination of factors.

Perhaps true understanding of the impact of neglect; physical, emotional and sexual abuse, exposure to domestic violence; trauma, separation and loss is years away. But I can categorically confirm that there is an impact and evidence from neuroscience is only one piece of the jigsaw that informs practice and government policy.