Thursday 28 May 2015

Adoption: Is it happy ever after?

A guest post from prospective adopter Eva.

Let me start by saying we are neither naive nor ignorant about the harsh reality of adoption; the ‘trying to raise somebody else’s child’ bits; the ‘trying to make the most of a less-than-ideal situation’ bits; the ‘trying to correct, re-train and manage damage control constantly’ bits... I do get it!

I appreciate the best intentions of adoption trainings where they only try to prepare you for the worst, while they tell you to ‘feel free to hope for the best’, but their knowing smile and sad face speaks louder and we both know better... or do I, really?

We are still waiting to be approved. In the meantime we take part in regular trainings like all adopters do. Recently the topics turned darker with titles like ‘Managing challenging behaviour and the use of restraint’ or ‘Attachment problems and Trauma management’ and these to reinforce this growing feeling inside me that we have signed up for 20+ stormy years with only occasional sunny minutes that are few and far in between.

We were encouraged to join online and offline support groups, subscribe to adoption related magazines, read books, socialise with adopters, hear their stories, follow blogs of funny/experienced/honest/REAL DEAL adopters who have seen it all and willing to share their stories...etc. We jumped onto the bandwagon eagerly realising that we have soooo much to learn! Now my social media feeds, my inbox, my post box is full of stories, full of how-to-avoid articles, and I do get one message loud and clear:

There are no happy ever afters! Ever! It is well worth it, sure, rewarding even, occasionally fun, sometimes OK, but never happy, or not for long anyway!

At the moment I am feeling overwhelmed with all the negativity that I read on Twitter/Facebook/online forums, all that I hear when I ask adopters direct questions or just listen to their ranting about ‘another terrible weekend’, ‘another epic fail’, ‘another bruise’, ‘another fight’... Suddenly I understand abbreviations like CPV (if you know this, well, I am truly sorry; if you don’t, be happy!) all too well.

Even the stock photos of happy people (the ones that are used in adoption advertisements) were condemned as ‘giving false hope and not showing the real side of adoption.’ Another person told me once I adopt a child they will become invisible and can never be seen on photos ever again!

I do understand where all these comments come from. I understand that it is hard, that it can be painful. What I don’t understand is where the happy endings hide??? I refuse to believe there are none! I, for one, am tired of reading only about complaints, challenges and bad days and long for a more balanced representation of this crazy calling.

I am being encouraged ONLY by friends who are not part of the Adoption Triangle; those who don’t have firsthand experience; those who only know somebody who knows somebody who is involved in adoption and sadly I am beginning to believe that their positivism is rooted in blissful ignorance. But even so, they try to do the right thing by lifting my spirit up, bringing my vision back to the positive direction, help me to focus on the bright side and most importantly: don’t crush my hopes and dreams!

So, on behalf of every person who contemplates adoption:


Please please please post the happy memories too! Encourage prospective adopters with positive messages!

And share happy endings!

Sunday 24 May 2015


Imagine a factory that makes cars, blue ones and red ones. For every 5 blue cars they make they make 5 red cars then they send them to the car shops to be sold.

Now imagine a world where for every 10 people that want cars, 8 want blue and 2 want red.

Pretty quickly the cars shops run short of blue cars and consequently and the shops are full of red cars.
Very frustrating if you want a blue car.

Red cars are considered by many to be troublesome, needing frequent maintenance and attention but they do have character and can be quite funky. That may be why most people aren't sure about red cars.

However, some people always wanted a red car or feel a red car would suit them as they have a blue one and now fancy a second car and a red one would be perfect. They acknowledge red cars' wonky reputation but are willing to go with that anyway.

Many people who want blue cars have always wanted one, some from before they could even drive. Blue cars have a better reputation, more reliable, less wonky. So a red car is second best or not really an option. But, its a big but, can they wait or do they want to wait? So, being desperate for a blue car will they take a red one and hope it will feel blue. Or they re arrange their ambitions and accept a red car because it least it's a car. Maybe take a gamble on a red car?

So, what should we do.
Make less red and more blue would seem obvious but imagine the factory is in a distant land an they have no comprehension of the sales market.
Would we paint over the top of red cars and hope that nobody notices that they are really blue. Would we explain to buyers the situation and give them the choice wait in line or take a red car. Would we spend money on advertising and hope that more buyers would mean quicker sales and more people to buy red. We could but it also means more people who'd want to buy blue.

We could make bigger car shops, mega shops, have co-operation between shops, online shops, we could advertise in papers and magazines. But it doesn't change the colour of the cars or the preferences of the buyers.

We could make red cars a more attractive proposition.
A lifetime service plan?
Regular checks?
Free spares and breakdown cover?
Some people who rent the red cars get ongoing customer service which can be helpful. Maybe more could do that.
Perhaps a try before you buy scheme, it requires a bit of trust but can help to build buyer and seller confidence.

Unfortunately in this world the car shops are full of red cars and disappointed buyers looking for blue cars.

That's what I think about car sales.

I have a suspicion that if you look closely all cars are purple.

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.