I have to say that my views on contact have shifted slowly from a position of indifference, duty and obedience to my Social Workers instructions to where I am now.
As a new adopter, and a young opinionated man, I was a little callous to the plight of my children’s birth family, after all weren’t they the reason that my children had to journey through the looked after system. They were the root cause of many of my children’s challenges and struggles and they had reaped what they’d sown. Perhaps I was a little insecure.
I dutifully applied the dogmatic method of contact and its rationale given to me by my Social Worker that birth parents were not a positive influence and we should be careful. We did, actually Mrs C did, what we were instructed to do as previously documented in my post on letterbox contact. A couple of bits of information came back through the system, very limited though.
Slowly my views changed.
As a member of an Adoption Panel I read a multitude of Child Protection Reports (CPR). The vast majority documented tragedy and abuse layered on the misfortune, vulnerability, tragedy and the historic abuse of birth parents. One piece of the jigsaw.
As a student I worked with a small charity that supported the families of children in the care system. I read and saw enough to make me ask hard some questions of myself and the system, to look closer and think harder. Another piece of the jigsaw in place.
Again as a student I spent six months in a children’s services office and I saw that what had seemed so black and white was never so. Always the stories were nuanced, impacted by services and finances, complex family dynamics and a range of factors often beyond the control of the protagonists. The jigsaw picture began to take form.
Almost every day on Twitter and Facebook I see the frustrations and questions of adopters to their Social Workers that get them re framed as problem families. I see Social Workers failing adopters; miscommunication by adopters; misinterpretation of behaviour and words leading to difficult questions being asked. I can’t help but think of birth families negotiating the Child Protection system, nowhere near as user friendly as the adoption system. The picture is almost clear in my mind now.
But, as I write this I feel hackles rising, and I agree many adults have committed unspeakable cruelty, neglect and worse acts on their children. That they lose contact and rights over their children is without question. I see many children and young people so traumatised that they cannot even consider contact with the perpetrators of their pain, but that is not the picture I see.
I see that families are complex but I cannot believe in a system that by default considers all fathers, mothers cousins, brothers, sisters, half brothers, half sisters, grandparents, uncles and aunts as harmful to children.
Of course real life is complex, messy and refuses to be boxed by generalisations. I hope that a system of the future could consider a range of models for contact with a range of family members. Not just the dogmatic letterbox once a year to parents. But a dynamic, flexible channel that serves the best interests of the children not just adoptive parents or Social Service teams.
For us we are now trying to help rebuild positive links to my children’s family.
Thinking back now I would have fought for another way of reaching my children’s family, of finding men and women who may not have been able to care for my children and their family but loved them none the less. Men and women of peace and love.
Yesterday we had the last BBQ in our old house we sat with men and women of peace and laughed and cried and delicately and sensitively started to work out how to share the young adults that we both love.