Saturday 31 October 2015

Adoption Sunday


I wholeheartedly believe that the Church has within it's DNA the mandate to care for children and young people in the looked after system as well as those on the fringes those going into the system and leaving. Not exclusively of course but within the context of all the other 'stuff' we should be up to, we've even got a bible verse for it. However, and it's a big however, I'm also aware that we have totally screwed this up. I choose my words carefully, but I look back and within living memory I see that the church's actions reflect a complicated history, yes meeting a need but also perpetuating that need through moral policing. As late as 1970 the church was complicit in sending British 'orphans' to the far side of the world. Other actions have taken place and having watched Philomena recently I am  shamed at what was done in God's name, children removed from parents in the name of I don't know what. That legacy remains very much alive.

The biblical adoption narrative and stories in the bible feel, to me at least, as almost irrelevant to contemporary adoption. The systems and legal routes that we have built are not relevant to that narrative. Of course we are called to love and accept children but there was no Social Worker for Moses or Jesus adoption stories. When I see the adverts in my twitter feed for Adoption Sunday I get nervous. Nervous as for every child that 'needs' adoption there is a family that probably want their child back. I'm under no illusion that unspeakable acts are committed and some parents cannot and don't want to care for their children. But the context of adoption is shifting before our very eyes and that picture is ever more complex with less support for families, injustice and wrong decisions remain a possibility. The church's mandate is to protect and support the vulnerable  regardless of where they find themselves and with at least 30% of mothers with children in care system living with mental ill health it's time that the church made amends to the families that lost their children.

What am I proposing? Do we need to repent? Is that enough? I don't know, I'm just making this up as I go.

But on this Adoption Sunday my mind is with my children's 'other' family members, grandparents that never saw grandchildren again, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters that lost their children. Morally and ethically complex, murky situations, they challenge my notions of forgiveness, redemption and who is right or wrong. I can't help but consider how they may feel on Adoption Sunday.
For the first time since records began we have more adopters approved than children waiting to adopt (that's another blog). So where do we look this adoption Sunday? Of course we pray for the children, but what else do we pray?

Thursday 29 October 2015

Decisions Decisions.

I'm under no illusion that the decisions we make for our children will be open to a revisionist scrutiny  on the couches of some therapist or other. They will illuminated by the clear light of hindsight and a full knowledge of all the facts. In many ways I'm still not over my mothers decision to cut my hair between the years 1974 to 1993. My therapist says some things can never be undone and I will never get over it. I'm sure that my children will no doubt bear similar burdens, though I hope not.

We've recently vexed over the choices that face us in relation to schools without end.
Do we jump out of the learning stream that we're in its inevitable march towards our local learning factory, a school that several respected professionals turned pale when we mentioned was the destination. Perhaps designed and acceptable for cookie cutter children, I'm confident there's no such a thing, but it's not a place for my little girl. It's not a place she'll feel safe and I'm not sure it's a place she is safe.
So where do we jump to, into a different stream, a three tier system with a middle school as a half way house that would stave off the leap to big school and the challenges that brings. But to do that  I have to pull all of the little ones out of the current stream and set them in the three tier system to tie up the logistical challenges. Lotty's and  Flossy's lifelong friends will be left behind, not an easy sell.

One a transition to safety without the protective factors of friends vs a transition into danger with the protective factor of friends. Oh, and to add to that there are no places at the moment, we know we have priority access as 'previously looked after children' *. So do we cross our fingers and  hope that a couple of appropriate spaces open up between now and September.

The Twitter machine told me that "you choose the staff not the school" and as we chatted to the SENCO in the middle school by the end of the first sentence I knew that she 'got it'. More than that she got it and knew what we were going to ask  before we asked it. A trauma aware school.

So last week we made our choice and filled in the form and now we wait. My children don't need a learning factory they need a safe place. When, and only when, they feel safe then they can begin to think about learning. The middle school it is.

It's our best guess with the information that we have. We might be wrong and the implications may be long term. Of course the decision will be open to scrutiny in the years to come but that's the nature of parenting, adoptive or otherwise.

*not a nice phrase

Friday 23 October 2015

Step back

I'm just done in, the emotions I feel during National Adoption Week are mixed in normal circumstances but this year NAW has felt like really hard work.

I don't need to run through all the stuff; the adverts, campaigns and general media hype that sits in sharp contrast with our family's sharp multifaceted adoption reality. At times during this week I've felt outrage, cynicism, hope, confusion, joy, love, gratitude and a rainbow of other emotions as I've watched usual barrage of media hoopla through various formats.

My mind has raced for a week with issues, the number of approved adopters vs children to home; the lack of adoptee representatives, the dogma, the history, the pain of loss, the desperate need, the politics and my role in all of this.

In the middle of all the hoo ha Mrs C and I planned a school visit considering moving from a two tier system to a three tier hopeful that a middle school will stretch out more pastoral school environment. Before we went I was overwhelmed with isolation as we weighed the pros and cons of the various options. After days of representing tother people's views I was almost paralysed with confusion when faced with this significant decision for us. I just needed some help from someone to walk me through this choice. I've read the blogs and taken advice but the buck stops here, we needed to make a decision and the next thing I know I'm throwing up in the toilet. Ok, time to step back, tune out and stop.

So, no blog this week just this, I'm stepping back, loading up Twuffer and going to potter on.

I say this with the utmost sincerity, look after yourselves.

PS Just for the record I really am not an Adoption Champion, I signed nothing and completed no form ;-)

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Feedback: Adoption Support Mental Health Roundtable Event

First of all I'd like to thank everyone who responded to my request for people's views and experiences of CAHMS in relation to their adopted children.

Forgive me for not giving a blow by blow account of what was a long and very detailed meeting with a wide range of professionals, professors, doctors of this and that, NHS types, civil servants, Social Workers, Sally Donovan and me.  Edward Timpson, the Children's Minister, came at the beginning of the meeting and the fearful look in his eye of a man being stalked was not missed by me. This was the third time I'd been in a room with him in 24 hours and the second time involved a hug and a selfie.

The views and contributions by the attendees was excellent with Professor Jonathan Green's presentation on delivery models and the rationale behind them being a high point. His description and explanation of adoption as being such a high indicator of risk for children's mental ill health was reassuring for me as a parent, he clearly 'gets it'. Discussion around the alternative eco system of adoption interventions was excellently summarised by Professor Peter Fonagy acknowledging their ability to engage and work with adoptive families in ways that engaged and acknowledged the challenges we all know.

Sally and I had been given the opportunity to share the views and perspectives of adoptive parents. We both were overwhelmed by the responses that we had received when we put out the call on social media but we realised that the messages were  in the main critical and raw. We'd both been impacted at the difficult and distressing stories we'd heard. So the challenge was how to maintain that honesty and still make it palatable to those who work in this field. I struggled to add much more to what had been said to me so I gave a brief introduction and read out a representative sample of direct quotes (see below). All thought provoking stuff and quite different in tone from the content prior to that. Sally followed this pulling together key themes and messages that adopters had passed onto her. These resonated with what others were saying and it was received well.

So where do we go from here? It's clear that there is desire to implement accurate assessment of children and families that links to then identifying appropriate and effective interventions. Serious considerations is being given to the formation of regional CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) that specialise in serving adopted and children in the looked after system. As you can see there's an awful lot to go at there and not all without controversy but there appears to be a move across the stakeholders in relation to making positive changes to the current system.

Those are my selected highlights. I'm encouraged and hopeful, not words I use lightly, so take heart and thank you for your help.

‘Our needs just too complex for CAHMS, is my guess. Tried a bit of everything, then time was up, case closed’

‘Emergency CAMHS services must be improved to give parents of young children genuine out of hours support and there must be a recognition of the real level and prominence of child on adult violence and access to funded safe holding training for all adoptive parents.’

‘Social Workers, including those in CAMHS, must stop blaming and disbelieving parents who are traumatised by parenting traumatised children without support! I could go on...’

‘find staff who know how to work with children, the old chestnut saying 'wont engage ' should not be allowed to pass their lips. Try something else then!! Talking therapies with children who suffer with anxiety, seriously do they think they are going to work!!’

‘We need a clear referral pathway to CAMHS; fast initial assessment of needs and support for the whole family in terms of emotional support and helping parents with practical strategies and advice for helping/managing the child’

‘My GP was clueless and not at all interested or helpful. Adoption support did agree to refer although this took 3 months from me contacting them.’

‘My daughter has issues around attachment, guilt and loss about her past experiences and birth mother. This affects her behaviour and learning. However, she is not eligible for work with CAHMS as her behaviour is not severe enough to meet their criteria’

‘Intervention is not happening before crisis point. Educate schools that pretty much every adopted child needs mental health support within the school environment, and that we are not neurotic parents, we just fear, and in many cases know, that the behaviours that happen at home will, in time, happen at school and this will affect friendships and how well they can succeed to the best of their educational ability.’

‘In my doctors surgery they hesitate to refer any child to CAHMS as they know the waiting list is so long. We are failing a whole generation and it's so sad’

‘For me CAHMS have been a fantastic service. Help when needed for both S and me (as support/somewhere to offload). We have had a huge waiting list each referral to get through, and are now 10mths into waiting for art therapy - but I know when we get to the top of the list (very soon now!), that the service will be fantastic. However, support from PAS, both here and where we originally adopted has been horrendous.’

‘We will never, EVER work with CAMHS again. I honestly believe that in its current state my local CAMHS does more harm than good for adoptive families. They insist a square peg must fit into a square hole, what they offer is what you get, regardless of suitability.’ 

‘….it has taken us 6 months to finally see someone who has any clue about being able to help us.  It was 4 months from urgent GP referral to seeing anyone at all. It needs to be less than a fortnight. Now we we have found someone to help, I think what's being offered is excellent.’

Thursday 15 October 2015

National Adoption Week: Thoughts and Questions

I'm pondering the upcoming National Adoption Week. With all the media coverage and hoopla that comes with it. I wonder how representative it is of contemporary adoption. More to the point I wonder how representative I am of contemporary adopters and how representative our family's experience is.

I wonder if we fit the acceptable narrative of the adoption story. Increasingly and for many years I don't accept the standard narrative as being standard at all.

Across the six children and three adults that make up our family we represent a range of experiences, the usual hat trick of Trauma, Loss and Separation; Child to Parent Violence, Social Service involvement, breakdowns and make ups.  We've got shouting and fighting and laughing and loving. We've had unexpected Facebook family resurgence, incredibly positive birth family contact and some not so easy. We're like a walking case study.

Recently a young couple asked me for advice in relation to their plans and hopes to adopt. I can't recall what I said specifically at the time. It was probably encouraging, telling of the positives and trying to open their minds to the potential challenges. It feels like a well worn conversation.
But since then their question has rolled around my mind.

'We're thinking of adopting, what advice could you offer?'

I'm not sure what to say anymore. I don't feel jaded, negative or cynical about adoption, not at all. Sure, I have lots of questions that I struggle to answer about structures, ethics, process and power dynamics within the world of adoption.  But I believe that children need secure, stable, loving and nurturing parents. Of course that can encompass a broad and diverse range of families/parents/children/beliefs/lifestyles. But fundamentally I believe in lives built on those core principles.
The more I know about adoption and the business behind it the more I feel that my knowledge is limited. I've sat on the adopter side of the triangle for so long that I realise that I know so little about the other two sides and the social care business that controls it all. I see that the voices of adoptees and birth families struggle to be heard and sometimes we struggle to listen to them as it provokes difficult questions. This is increasingly where I'm feeling the need to listen and this is where I'm learning the most. It's fantastic to see this being addressed by The Open Nest with their adoption week conference focusing on the voice of adoptees.

So, anyway,  what advice would I offer.

I may not offer advice anymore. But I can tell you what I'm learning about the other voices and about my journey.

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Thursday 8 October 2015

Real Dad

I was pottering in the utility room while Flossy was sitting with her big sister in our kitchen. Big Sister is 8 years older and has never lived with us but with her aunt/ We have a good relationship and she is canny kid, actually she's a young woman, works hard and keeps her nose out of trouble. Big Sister was showing Flossy a family photo album that she'd made.

As I pottered I overheard Flossy ask 'is that my real dad?' as she looked at different photos. It's a loaded word 'real' when attached to dad or mam for many adoptive parents (step parents too).
I paused when I heard Flossy say it. I just waited to see what was going on inside me. Nothing.  Flossy was using it as just a form of words no values or judgement. I'm way past insecurity or the need for affirmation in relation to my status as my children's father. I was interested to see how I reacted.

It contrasted to an event a few days later.Lotty had single handedly managed to dysregulate the whole family drawing all of us into her bonfire of our sanity. 

She screamed as she flailed around the house.

'You're not even my real dad'.

The words spat at me looking for maximum effect as she ran around the walls.

Words aimed to hurt, which is a little unusual for Lotty. I was a little hurt, mainly because I was disappointed that she'd tried to hurt. Without the shadow of a doubt  I know that Lotty loves me but I do like the kids to be kind.

It's a cliche of adoption parenting the image of a child shouting the barbed words to inflict pain on their adoptive parents. In all the years that the big three have been with us it's never been said,  I'm sure it's been thought but never said. As for Flossy she's more that able to use it as a precursor to why she won't do as we ask in almost all circumstances. 

Back to Lotty, I reacted more out of indignation with a subtle hint of smarm. 

'Oh, tell me something I don't know'. Said in the style of Rick from the Young Ones.

It didn't make things better.

Friday 2 October 2015

Tension and cake

This is my record I've started 5 blogs yet to finish any. They're all a bit moany, a bit he said she said.

I nearly recounted the terrible tale of being blocked on twitter over a cheese sandwich.

I started telling the history of the month or the war of birthday attrition that we call September. A subtle blend of excitement, cake, jealousy, cake, fighting, six birthdays, a wedding anniversary and more bleeding cake. A bit too moany.

I half started to write about tone, the subtle and not so subtle shifts in the mood of the house that controls and underlies so much of our family life.

I pondered the number of adopters waiting and the number of children waiting, the ethics of continued recruitment and financial incentives. I was going to call it Cars: Part 2. I liked that one but I'm not so sure.

I had thought about older adoptees and the challenges for parents as they grow into young adults, family reintroduction that sort of stuff. I'm bored of my own voice.

The stuff I wanted to say, get off my chest, I can't say, I wan't to shout it from the rooftops but discretion and protection of the vulnerable takes priority.   I blog to get stuff off my chest to empty my head and clear out the thoughts but the choice to waiver anonymity comes with a responsibility. It's our lived experience but just a bit too out there, a bit too edgy, a bit scary.

Maybe I should start an anonymous blog.