Wednesday 23 September 2015

An Adoption Support Charter

I had a thought, I should write an adopters charter. Then I thought, I'm sure that I've read one somewhere. So, after a little Googling I discovered a charter produced by the Department of Education in 2011 here . Surprisingly, or not, there's not one mention of post adoption support I honestly don't know what to say about that.

So I've written my own little charter, an Adoption Support Charter.

Adoption Support Charter
As an Adoption Support Service:
  1. We commit to being available and if not get back to you promptly
  2. We commit to listening.
  3. We commit to being honest and keeping you informed.
  4. We commit to supporting parents to support their children.
  5. We commit to show empathy and compassion.
  6. We commit to offering emotional support and advice.
  7. We commit to being honest about what we can and can't do.
  8. We commit to work in partnership with you.
  9. We commit to advocate for you, two voices are louder than one and signpost us to appropriate professionals, services and training.
  10. We commit to employing Social Workers with appropriate interpersonal skills and appropriate knowledge and giving them the time and resources to support families.
As Adopters we commit to:
  1. We commit to not waiting until we are desperate or in crisis before we contact you.
  2. We commit to listening.
  3. We commit to working collaboratively with you.
  4. We commit to being honest. 
What interests me is that often the stuff that can make the biggest impact has limited cost. The principles of respect, kindness, gentleness, encouragement and availability, these are the things that can make all the difference. We all know that resources are under ever strain but the foundations of all Post Adoption Services should be on these, or similar, principles.

We could debate the specifics of the service and we should, but I'd like to see the kind of things I've listed as a start.

I often hear 'there was no money for services but my Social Worker was great and really helped'. I also hear 'my Social Worker made me feel like I was the problem, I'd rather not have him/her in the house'.

That is a shame on my profession.

Thursday 17 September 2015


Flossy's gone on a trip.

Three days two nights with her year six schoolmates. Since this time last year when the academic year above Flossy undertook their Year Six right of passage we've been painfully aware of it's looming presence.

Flossy has been nervous married to giddy excitement manifest in the usual 'flamboyant' behaviour. Did I say nervous, I meant all consumingly, physically overwhelmingly punch your lights out if you mention it nervous. This feeling has been precipitated by the usual letters and school meetings about the upcoming trip.

I can confess to having had some very tricky moments.

Added to that we've had to prepare the school. Mrs C has had to give Flossy's new teacher a whole raft of appropriate background information  and lay out the raft of procedures that would be beneficial to follow around sleeping, eating, etc. The usual stuff that makes us sound like overbearing and oversensitive parents. I guess we are that's therapeutic parenting for you.

The inevitable game of dysregulation Twister was played this weekend when we all collectively unraveled in turns and had a proper hoo haa ding dong of a time right through to Monday morning. You know name calling and argy bargy. Then in a moment that bubble burst, we restored (I know all the phrases) and we had nothing but excitement and appropriate nerves until she left.

So off she's gone. Smiling like a cheshire cat. Away from the home for only the second time in 10 years.

What a hole it leaves in the house,  a lot of background stuff, mainly tension, that we don't even notice anymore has gone with her.  Of course we live on tenterhooks dreading an out of hours call from the school but I'm sure it won't come.

More encouraging I'm look forward to her excited return, phew, it is better with her than without. I didn't say easier.

On another note we got a school letter informing us that she has to go dressed as her favourite Rohld Dahl character next week. I swear they are trying to kill us...........there is no one thing that has caused more chaos in our house than bleeding dressy up days.

Now, where did I put Twister?

Friday 11 September 2015

Winners and Losers

Slam goes the door.

I said 'this' and she said 'that' and she left and slammed the door.

Everything in me wanted to follow and say 'who the hell do you think you are?' I'd give her both barrels tell her about how in my day if I'd done that to my mother she'd have thrashed me within an inch of my life. How I wouldn't have dared to do that and so on and so forth.

But I didn't.

I thought, 'what will it achieve, will it escalate and will I win any ensuing argument?'. The answer is pretty clear, it will achieve nothing just drag the whole thing out. I still wanted to go after her. It felt like she'd won.

Most of my parenting is based around the very basic premis that I have to win, petty I know, but true. I judge most interactions in that manner, did I win or lose.

For the big three winning was easy. I raise my voice, or give a stern look and the behaviour would, 9 out of 10 times, stop. If it didn't then I would shout and that would be it, job done, dad wins. Seriously, I've a stare that could make a pirate weep.

But oh how times have changed. The nuances of the psychological, and unfortunately otherwise, battles that we get into with the new arrivals may be lost on the more casual observer. The stakes seem to have been raised and the battles more akin to trench warfare than playground spats. But I still judge them by winning or losing. But I've had to move my terms of reference.

These days I can win by giving a treat to an angry child, or letting them play for longer on the Xbox (!), by challenging them to an arm wrestle or, my favourite, putting the dog into their arms.* My methods have changed but I'm still aiming for a win. To get what I want. It's confusing for a casual observer but those with eyes to see know what's going on.

So, slam goes the door.
But I did win, I didn't make it worse, I didn't rise to the challenge intentionally, or otherwise, laid down. I de escalated the situation, so it was a victory, a different kind of victory, a victory of common sense. As long as I win in my head then I've won. It's a nuance and sounds petty, but that's me.

It would be nice to win through shouting but I don't think I could ever shout loud enough, I assure you I have tried and frequently continue to try.

*Seriously try it.

Tuesday 8 September 2015

ASF Update - Adopter's Experiences

I’m sure that I’ve said it before but one of the main focus of my adult life has been twofold. 

A - avoid bringing shame on the good family name and 
B – try not to say out loud the stupid things I’m thinking. 

So sat in the DfE’s Expert Advisory Group meeting brings those two rules into painfully sharp focus.
Following a discussion at the previous meeting Sally Donovan, Jenny Jones and I was given the opportunity to share adoptive parent’s experiences of accessing the Adoption Support Fund. Even though the fund is still in its infancy there are many positive experiences and we did out best to reflect them. The three amateurs, that us, in the room have spent some time seeking the views and experiences of adoptive families in relation to this. A significant number of adopters have come to us and shared their challenges and difficulties. Clear themes have come through:

  • Social Workers having no, limited or incorrect information in relation to the scope and process of the ASF.
  • Families waiting unacceptable lengths of time for assessment or even contact with Social Workers.
  • Where there have been acrimonious or difficult relationships between families and Adoption Services they remain a barrier to accessing the ASF.
  • Families that adopted through Voluntary Adoption Agencies struggling to access services through their Local Authority.
  • Adoptees with very complex needs or large sibling groups that have multiple needs.
  • Adopters being told that they need to have the assessment of need completed by CAMHS, in some cases were there is no provision or where relationships are challenging.

These were the major themes but unfortunately we three adopters have heard enough stories to be able to illustrate out our presentation with some very moving stories.

So what? I have a flare for cynicism that I like to paint as realism but I can confess to only have found the professionals that I have met at and through the DfE to be motivated by the desire to support adopters. There is a genuine drive to see the ASF used in the most productive manner and accessed by as many families as possible. Of course in the midst of all that there are agendas, personalities and disagreements over models, methods and who’s turn it is to make coffee and get biscuits. You know the sort of thing.

So this group of professionals and us amateurs had a very productive discussion around the nature of the challenges faced by adopters which they universally accepted. In some respects we are trying to change cultures and practice within Local Authorities that the DfE has limited control over on a case by case level. Pressure can be, and has been, brought to bear but that’s like us fixing a puncture whilst riding the bike, not easy. The discussion was fruitful and led to discussion around the opportunity that the formation of the regional adoption agencies may afford. This structural change may be an opportunity to change culture within adoption teams to add routes of redress for adopters and adoptees that are not currently there. The emphasis within those agencies can be shifted towards supporting adoption placements and the development of skills in workforces to do this   There was a tangible change in tone from the previous meeting with a real interest and willingness to discuss the challenges and consider how to overcome them.
Lots of issues fed into this discussion; process of assessment and how this can be standardised; the role of Voluntary Adoption Agencies in carrying out the Assessment of Needs amongst other things.  It felt positive and productive.

Of course the burning question of if the Fund will be extended has to be addressed and the crux of the issue is that it’s out of the DfE’s control. The outcome of the spending review will be announced in November and we’ll know the plans for the rest of this parliament. My gut feeling is to be optimistic but that’s what it is a gut feeling so there’s no evidence I’m hiding to back that up.

So that’s that, reporting back on meetings can be a challenge with things that can and can’t be said so more was discussed but you’ll understand my discretion.

As always comment or DM me if you’ve a question, thoughts or just want to tell me I’m wrong.

Thursday 3 September 2015

Call me maybe

Me: Excuse me I was looking for a first phone for my 11 year old.

Sales assistant: Ah, you’ll be after a ‘trainer’ phone.

Me: Yes, ideally I’d like it to be as uncool as possible and with as limited use.

Sales assistant: of course sir, come this way, would you like it in kindergarden blue or vomit green?

So the conversation went on my recent trip to buy a phone.

It’s an oft discussed topic mobile phones and children. There’s a raft of good and helpful advice available and for each potential negative there’s a positive. So, after much thought and a veritable Magna Carta of rules, codes of conduct and terms and conditions set before Flossy we have relented and she got a ‘trainer’ phone for her 11th birthday.

We’ve walked this path before and Sarah got a phone when she was 13 some 10 years ago. Of course it was the source of much strife and the police were very helpful. To be honest I’ve only ever found the police to be very helpful, and dare I say it more empathic than some Social Workers I’ve met.

Though it had been the object of much discussion, debate and dare I say a little tension I agreed and went and bought a phone that texts and calls. No more and no less. It feels like the right time and like any tool has the potential for good and bad so we are going to practice the good and limit the bad with a low tech phone.

Flossy got her phone and initially was a little crestfallen that it wasn’t an iphone 6 plus with unlimited data, hey the kid’s allowed to dream, she was then rather excited.

I felt fine, clear guidelines were issued and sanctions were discussed.
It lives in downstairs, it is not to be abused, Flossy buys calls, any calls to the police (other than genuine) will instigate permanent loss, threatening texts/calls will initiate time limited removal, etc. If all is well then we’ll consider moving up a phone model to something a little less uncool.

I felt fine right up to the moment when I put Flossy’s number into my contacts. What a funny feeling it was like a changing of the guard. A good and bad moment. Exciting as she grows into a young woman terrifying as she grows into a young woman.

I paused as I entered her details, things may never be the same…………………