Thursday 25 February 2016

Air band

Mrs C was out, the stereo was turned to 11 and we let rip.

'Iron Man' by Black Sabbath was our show opener, the band was unfamiliar with the Randy Rhodes version but managed to keep up. We hit the audience hard and fast,  Flossy's drum solo in Ozzy Osbourne's 'Steal away the night' was a masterclass in showmanship and technique, her wooden spoons were a blur.

Peanut's emotional breakdown was totally understandable, I mean who wants to play keyboards in a rock band. I'd always thought that dancer/shouter was a much under valued role in any band and she was more than able to fill those shoes.

Lotty gave a sublime rendition of 'Eruption' by Eddie Van Halen, her fretboard gymnastics surpassed her earlier daredevil indoor skipping that had warmed the audience up pre gig.
Peanut managed to locate the keyboard guitar thing as I played the opening chords to Van Halen's 'Jump' on air keyboard, not my instrument of choice I hasten to add.

I nailed it,  the crowd new it and retreated to the garden where it had buried a bone, inside musicians and instruments in perfect synchronisation reached a crescendo. Flossy and Lottie, in a rare joint venture,  finished of with a crowd, but not dad, pleasing duet of Karma Chameleon by Culture Club. I reluctantly joined in on air harmonica. Peanut danced.

We didn't fall out or fight or call each other names. We laughed at each other, danced, shouted, jumped up and down, showed off and made fools of ourselves.

We all went to bed happy.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Adoption Support Group at the DfE

We all came together for the three monthly meeting of the Adoption Support Expert Advisory Group to see where we were up to. We also had to report back the discussions of the sub group on Education and the meeting of the Adopter Voice representatives as previously blogged. There are no naysayers or dissenting voices in the group, they are individuals and representatives of organisations that appreciate the need for support for adoptive families.

Forgive me if I don't give a blow by blow account of the meeting.
The discussions followed the ongoing progress of the Adoption Support Fund. The anticipated amount of money has been used so far and the feedback is generally positive.  The data that is available on the use and benefits of the ASF is growing in size and usefulness. All good. Of course it could be better and access and implementation is varied across LAs and this is an issue that is being addressed with the DfE rolling out additional training in the next few months to support LAs and provide case studies of innovative uses. Also, the tricky issue of' adopter engagement', to use that awful phrase, getting clear and correct information to adopters about the fund is a key issue. If people don't know about it they don't know about it and they can't access it,  to state the obvious.

Education was discussed and the findings of previous meetings were fed back to the larger group. We had a young person from the Coram Adoptables initiative who brought their insight and perspective to the meeting in relation to their experience and thoughts on education. This perspective highlighed the need to develop professional's understanding of the unique, and shared challenges, that adopted children and young people experience within a school context. It was felt by all that the inclusion, empathy and skills needed to ensure school was a safe and nurturing environment for adopted children would bring nothing but benefits for all children regardless of background. So work is afoot to promote that message through a range of channels. The cogs and wheels of government.

The creation of the Regional Adoption Agencies was discussed and the specific issues of adoption support was highlighted as part of the core services that they will have to provide. This was developed as we discussed the need to see adoption support beyond the focus of the Adoption Support Fund. Accessing records and issues of contact and post box contact will have to be maintained and developed amongst other functions that are essential for families and adoptees often into adulthood.

Every adopter has a vested interest in the Government's policy on adoption support. Some less so than others and for us with older children the boat has well and truly sailed. However, for those setting out on this journey then this stuff can be life changing and have the potential for good in the lives of our children and family. So, a good meeting with a sense of evolution rather than revolution but certainly moving in the right direction.

If you're having trouble with your LA regarding the ASF then feel free to contact me through twitter @NadjaSmit 
or Jenny Jones @JenniferJ432 
or Sally Donavan @sallydwrites

We would be more than happy to pass on details (confidentially if you wish) to help.

Thursday 18 February 2016


I was writing an email to somebody or other on my phone and as I did I tried to type the word 'adoptee', as I pressed space at the end it autocorrected the word to 'adopter'.

It made me pause, then think, other than the frustration of having to wrestle with the autocorrect function of my phone that's permanently set to 'pedantic arse' it just seemed to sum up so much more than I could ever say.

Confidentiality and professional standards mean I can't spill out all that I'd like to say this week, not a story from home but from work. Naively but not uncommonly, I'd hoped to make a difference as a Social Worker but sometimes you bear witness to things that just make none of it worth while.

I've had to put some stuff in a box, lock it and throw it into the deepest recesses of my mind. I'm self aware enough to know that I often see my children's faces in the pages of the fostering and adoption magazines. Of course I don't see their faces,  we chose to intervene before they were ever featured, but my thoughts linger on the decisions made for tens of thousands of children in the UK each year. Good decisions and bad decisions and lots and lots in-between.

What's that got to do with my phone.

Perhaps it's about the needs of organisations, professionals and adults being put before children's, with the 'system' autocorrecting the voiceless and powerless.

Of course this blog is a reaction. I've said enough.

Saturday 13 February 2016

Pandora's Box - A guest post by @ivavnuk

I'd like to tell you a funny story.

First, this is something I shared with someone a little while ago:

'Having a bad past is like having a pandoras box inside of you. Pulling it open, as I might imagine a psychiatrist would want to do, can be immensely destructive. Its only worth letting out what you can process - and if you have no mechanism in place to do that you're in trouble. Some people seem to think talking through it resolves it - well, abuses that run deep need to be physically resolved in my experience. Clearing up the conscious mind's relationship to it is literally the tip of the iceberg.

Similarly though simply sitting on the lid of your box puts you in trouble too. Whats inside has pressure - pressure to be resolved. All the things that perhaps should have been expressed but couldn't without making you unsafe, or engulfing you or the like, are seeping out the seams and just as destructive for being suppressed as released. This is where the pressure builds and something will trigger a blow out - or you end up an angry driver, or you're mean to pets or the like.’

Now the story:

Maybe 20 years ago I knew a clinical hypnotherapist - really good and was doing some great work helping people, and he said 'I have a lady who would like treatment - but she's really nervous and I think she'd benefit from seeing a treatment on someone else'. So he asked if he could do something with me.

Now I had been pushing my boundaries pretty ruthlessly and was into some grim material at that time - but I said I would. So I ended up in his office with this slightly middle class lady looking on, he starts his induction on me and I feel this massive massive surge of emotion coming up.

My whole body started convulsing and I starting weeping uncontrollably. Sort of, as my consciousness receded this huge ocean of something was bursting out. 

Hang on - it's funny in a minute...

So I don't know how long it went on for, but as I came back round - I was physically and emotionally exhausted, the therapist was sat on the floor with his legs outstretched, stroking my head. 

My head was on his shirt which was covered in tears and saliva and I suddenly remembered this woman !

So I turned to look for her ... realised she was gone as he said, very dead pan, "yes, I don't think we'll be seeing her again"


Thursday 11 February 2016

New School

In a moment of spare thought I realised that if Peanut stays in education until she's 18 I will have been taking my children to school for 31 consecutive years. I suddenly felt very very tired. In all honesty I find education an alien world where I'm constantly feeling disempowered, that might be my insecurity, that might be an interesting essay on power dynamics, systems and knowledge.

Anyway, that's not what I'm blogging about.

We went a looking for a comprehensive school this week, Year 6 is halfway through and we're dithering about looking for blasted schools to move Flossy to for year 7. I put my best pants on and brought my Social Work manbag with me for comfort. I know the drill, you pick the staff not the school and had my radar set to scan.

Fortunately the staff we met were excellent and gave a good account of the schools pastoral/ support team and systems, they even have a qualified Social Worker on site. All good. However, I came away pretty unravelled.

The reality is that fundamentally Flossy's perception of school is that it is unsafe. It's not the schools fault it is a building and educational system that is built on a different paradigm to to the one we inhabit. All the teacher training, support staff, safe places and parent teacher liaisons in the world cannot change how it is fundamentally perceived by Fossy.

If you put a fire guard around a fire it's still a fire. If you're frightened by fire the guard may not remove the fear it may make it manageable.

I walked around the school with Mrs C and imagined I was Flossy and it was a visceral experience. Other children may see it as an adventure, growing up and opportunity and of course that's in the mix for Flossy but it was just daunting and bewildering. 15 and 16 year olds going about their business, children in corridors being disciplined by teachers. School bells and windows and corridors and teachers and crowds and big kids. The knot in my stomach sat with me for a few days, this feeling of me placing Flossy in a place that she will perceive as frightening and bewildering lingers. I feel like a spectator to an event rather than a player.

Time will tell how we fare over the next 5 years.  

Saturday 6 February 2016

Empathy by Six Now

Empathy by Six Now

Our Little One had her first birthday with our family this last weekend. She reached the exciting age of four. She is excited mostly because being four means presents, being allowed to go to our church Kids' Club, and moving up from her pre-schooler swimming class to a "real" swimming lesson like her sisters.
Her fourth birthday also brought her first real tears that we have been able to attribute to (and name for her as) grief for the loss of her foster carers. No doubt she has grieved for them over the last seven months, but we have mostly seen it through behaviours.

This weekend we had proper big, fat, wet tears accompanied by whole body sobbing, buried in my neck. Clearly this was not just about missing out on opening the pass-the-parcel that had just occurred. The birthday cards from her wonderful foster family were certainly the reason behind the tears.
"Baby Girl, are you sad?"
Slow nod.
"On your birthday?"
Slow nod.
"I wonder if you're missing somebody?"
Slow nod and more tears.
"I wonder if you're missing X and Y?"
Uncontrollable sobbing and a hug so tight it took my breath away.

So we talked for a few minutes. About how it's ok that she misses them. They were her first family. They took care of her for so long. How she loves them.
We talked about her Gran. My Mum. Who never met her youngest two grandchildren. Who I miss. Every. Single. Day. Who would be so proud of Little One. Just like X and Y are proud of her.
And off she went. Happy again.
I can't even begin to imagine what this is like for Little One. And I may never really know what she thinks or feels about this time in her life.
But I do know what it is to suffer loss. A crushing, all-enveloping, devastating loss.
And I pray that this empathy helps me to be a good, loving, empathic Mum to our little girl. And our older three girls. There has to be some good come from the loss.

Thursday 4 February 2016


I might have been the worst foster carer that ever lived.

We were deferred at panel, they said we would probably want to keep any little children that we were given to look after. We argued at our second panel that in no way did we want to adopt more children and the very thought of it was utter tosh.
Well, we were approved and we did adopt the first two children we fostered.

That proved two things, Panels can be pretty astute and I'm deluded.

This week there have been Twitter threads on adopters relationships with foster carers post placement all precipitated by an article in Community Care on children remaining, or not, in contact with foster carers after they leave.

It seems to me that for foster carers the work to reward ratio is probably one of the poorest that is possible in any profession. The highs are high though brief but the lows can be relentless. Added to the pain is the uncertainty of outcomes for children when they leave your care, often these questions remain unanswered.

Though we were only foster carers for two girls, Flossy and Lotty,  for a couple of years the impact stretched beyond just having two children to care for in our home. The tensions of carrying the burden of care but with limited control over most of the influences in their life seemed to be the worst possible combination and calling a Local Authority duty phone in an emergency is probably one of the most isolating and unreassuring experiences of my life.

Perhaps the worst feeling was that we were complicit in some of the trauma they experienced. We buckled them in the car seats that took them to contact that they didn't want to go to. Screaming and kicking they sobbed and hid from the transport worker but we dutifully ensured that they were ready. We pleaded with the Social Workers detailing the daily trauma and distress that they experienced but were given the usual answer:

'It's the court's decision there's nothing I can do'

But the court or Social Worker didn't wipe the tears or cradle the distressed and terrified children, we did. The arms that soothed were the arms that would hand them back the next evening. I assure you those days haunt Mrs C and me.

That journey to adoption was not short so I won't bore with the details.

These days I reflect on my own casual indifference to the big three's Foster Carers. We were young, inexperienced and perhaps to wrapped up in our own moment to realise the difficulties that they faced as they handed three wonderful children into our arms. I confess to being a little insecure too.
We walked away and didn't look back. We were guided by dogmatic advice built on ideas that grew in the 50's and 60's. We were sure that the children were fine and they didn't say other wise. Now I'm ashamed of my attitude.

When Peanut came into our lives we gained two new friends in her foster parents, they'd loved her and kept her safe through difficult months of contact. Within 10 days of her moving in they came to see us and we've seen each other regularly and are in regular contact. Like Godparents to Peanut.

One positive story does not constitute a rationale to make it that way for everyone. Of course there are good reasons to stop contact with foster carers for adopted children but my feeling is that there are also many good reasons to continue it as well.

For a myriad of reasons Foster Carers keep a low profile on twitter, blogs etc. It's a loss to us all they have a unique perspective that we need to hear. Like adopters there are good and bad ones but on the whole they care for ragamuffins and tikes, the lost and the lonely my children and yours.
They are unsung heroes of many adopted children's lives.

Monday 1 February 2016

The Power of Yes?

The Power of Yes?
by Eva

They said,

Yes, we need you...
Yes, we like you...
Yes, tell us all about yourselves...
Yes, we will train you...
Yes, we are happy to assess you...
Yes, we approved you...
Yes, you have a lot to offer...
Yes, you will be great adoptive parents...
Yes, that's a good book to read...
Yes, now we wait...
Yes, we know it's hard to wait...
Yes, we understand...
Yes, it's the climate...
Yes, we found a child...
Yes, you would be a good match...
Yes, you understand the needs of the child...
Yes, you are not the only family they look at...
Yes, we might know more in a month...
Yes, we know it's disappointing...
Yes, we are back to the drawing board...
Yes, we can continue looking again when you are ready...
Yes, you think you are ready...
Yes, we found a new child...
Yes, he looks just like you...
Yes, it's very promising...
Yes, they come to do a home visit...
Yes, there is another child who needs you...
Yes, they really want you...
Yes, it is hard to choose which child to pursue...
Yes, you need to decide now...
Yes, you are playing God...
No, you don't get to do that without consequences!