Thursday 29 September 2016

No easy answers

In one of my day jobs I speak to teachers and help them develop their understanding of the impacts of  loss, trauma and separation on children. I’m usually invited in on the back of adoption but I quickly move past this with my first slide and broaden it to a whole range of children.

I talk about children who experience abuse, of many strains, children cared for by adults other than their parents, children in the Looked After system, children who experience the death of a parent or loved one, children who experience mental ill health or live with someone who does, children who experience the imprisonment of a parent, children whose parents separate or divorce. I could go on, and usually do, indicating that the children who experience these challenges and are adopted are only a small fraction of those impacted.

Eventually the teachers ask is there anyone who hasn’t been impacted by trauma, loss and separation left? It’s an interesting question and the reality is that probably not, but the degree, implications and subsequent support are perhaps the key issue. 

So with that in mind I go about my day. 

This week on Twitter I was included into a very long conversation thread that drifted into this issue, along with many other issues to boot.  

For many of the adults looking after the other children that I listed they had no choice, circumstances and other such meant that they care for children that have lived under the shadow of negative experiences.

Are their needs greater than ours or ours theirs? Of course not. But we have many things that they do not. A voice. The goodwill of many people that can help us. The Adoption Support Fund. A statutory right to see our needs assessed, lobby groups, conferences and research that benefits us and our children. Adopters are uniquely privileged, we are universally seen by wider society, media and politicians as saintly and deserving. If you’re an adopter it’s not uncommon to be told ‘what you’re doing is amazing’, ‘I could never do what you do’ and other gushing statements. For us this is a choice, many of us didn’t ‘really’ know what we were getting into, but we chose this path none the less. You could argue that for some it was no choice but a last resort but that confuses the issue. Doesn’t it? Probably.

I’m not suggested it’s all creamy but I know enough to know that we have more in our favour than many others. Neither am I suggesting that we should sit back and rest on our laurels, of course we should push for better.

I often think what it would be like to care for my children in different circumstances, to be the cause or to have been a bystander to my children's trauma, the system may not look on me as favourably as I struggle with guilt, shame, mental ill health, challenging circumstances, your own trauma etc. 

I do know that some would prefer money spent on adopters and not on families that struggle. I do know that some would prefer the opposite. I'd like to hope that those who hold the purse strings also hold both ends of this spectrum in tension.

How do we rank need? Are some more deserving of public funds than others? Well I guess there are multiple views on that. When thinking of my child’s life path would money have been better spent on early intervention, or resourcing foster care and foster carers or providing support to adopters or on universal services. The reality is that money is spent at each point with varying degrees of success and to fund one is to not underfund another, as far as I know that’s not how public funds are used or how the system works.

The reality is that the need is greater than the available resources, that being so we are then left in a terrible position where most services could do with more money.  Need is graded and some get access to services and some do not. As adopters we're unique but that does not necessarily mean we receive or deserve a prioritised access to service. I'd like to live in a society where children's need are prioritised regardless of who cares for them be a single mother with mental ill health and a chaotic lifestyle or a middle class family in the leafy suburbs.  Is that the case? I'm not sure I'm in a position to answer that.

What upset me, or frustrated me, in the twitter conversation was that it's a debate that can't be boiled down to 140 characters. Confusion reigned as different people's threads blurred and messages mixed.  It wasn't a uplifting exchange.

I've read and seen enough to know that though the needs of many adopted children are profound and life long but that doesn't make them unique and in the grand scheme represent a small portion of the whole need that is present. 

There are no easy answers.

Thursday 22 September 2016

This version of 'normal'

I'm clearly jaded, my version of normal is so bent out of shape that it's neither use nor ornament. Round here it's been an interesting few weeks in a very mainstream normal sort of way.

Ginger is leaving for university.

Of course this is all set against the usual 'niche' version of normal we inhabit. Basically, I'm never going to take Flossy to a football match again, 48 hours on and we're still sorting that all out. I say sorting I mean I'm being called names and stoically not responding if that's what you call sorting out.
Anyway, I digress.

With the boy leaving it feels kind of weird to be caught up in something so normal yet hard. What is rather nice though is that I speak to other parents and I'm understood and empathised with. They wince then tell their stories, sadness and worries. No need for tricky explanations or awkward conversations about the long term impacts of this or that.  They just get it and they totally get why MrsC feels like she's on an emotional precipice as her little boy flies the nest.

Of course it's not that simple but circumstances were kinder to him than some others and he falls into the wider 'normal' not our niche version of that. Ginger is the poster boy for the pros of early intervention.

MrsC has been making food parcels and buying pans while I moan about how realistic it is buying an ironing board for an 18 year old man*.

We're beset by all kinds of emotions, sadness, pride, nervousness and a whirlpool of stuff. It's pressing the big girls buttons as her little brother moves out, hmmm, there's probably something in that.
I can confess that it feels great to join the rest of the mainstream parenting world and participate in a right of passage enjoyed by thousands of young people and endured buy their parents. Like all parents we are reflecting on where the last 16 years have gone and look at the man before us as he steps out into the world filled with pride.

I like this version of 'normal'.

*Actually, he does iron his own shirts.

Friday 16 September 2016

Adoption Breakdown

I was brought over all funny by the Post Adoption Support Fund Survey that came through the post. I knew it was coming and I've answered enough of this type of Strengths and Difficulties forms over the years so I'm a dab hand at it all by now.

I have to take a deep breadth as I usually have an existential crisis over the nuances and philosophical differences between 'agree' and 'strongly agree'. I can get a little Fawlty Dad over the issue but I try to be a grown up.

Anyway, I was rattling through the form and passed the tricky bit and was into the final section.

On a scale of 1 to 10 

Do you find it difficult to care for you child then? 

Followed by........

Do you feel your child responds to you attempts to help them?


Do you feel there's a risk of your adoption breaking down?

That question just stopped me in my tracks, like a slap. All the others I had to think about and then give a considered answer, weighing up the evidence and analysing the facts.
All the others questions I was prepared to give some headspace too, not that one though.

I was really shocked, then I was surprised at being shocked. I know adoptions breakdown happens but it is a taboo and we're not meant to talk about taboos. It seemed odd to see it written down I felt a little offended that I'd even been asked.

'Adoption breaking down'

A simple phrase that encapsulates a cataclysmic and prolonged disaster in a families lives. I can't imagine the events, circumstances that lead to it. The stats say about 3% of adoptions breakdown but up to a third struggle. I'm not sure about what struggle means, we struggle but the leap from struggle to breakdown is a big one. Also, having I've had a daughter move out before 18. That was surrounded by difficult circumstances but in no way was it an adoption breakdown. I have unending empathy for those that have experienced a breakdown.

I'm not happy with the phrase it's a big blunt phrase that encapsulates a whole range of circumstance, systemic and personal failings, heartbreak and broken dreams. I'm really searching this week to make sense of what point I'm trying to make, I'm not even sure that I've got a point. I'm just dancing around this phrase and event that some families experience. The feeling that I got lingers and I'm not sure why.

Anyway, I just put a 'one', I have no idea what the future holds.

Thursday 8 September 2016

Phone Call

I got a call from a number I didn't recognise, not unusual, the man on the other line said he'd been given my number by someone who knew someone who knew me. It wasn't a work call but it kind of couldn't not be. 
Straight to the point he declared 'I want to adopt a Syrian child, preferably about 4 or 5 years old  and definitely without live parents or family as that would be too complicated'.  

I'm moved by the images of refugee children especially those without families or adults to care for them. The idea of the most vulnerable caught up in terrifying and confusing circumstances  then removed from their families and adults to care for them is heart rending and upsetting beyond measure.

I feel that as a nation and as a society and as humans we have a moral duty to act.

But the question I have is what should we do?

I live with children who have experienced loss, separation and trauma and though their experiences are different to child refugees they are not that far removed.  For MrsC and I it is without doubt the most challenging experience and aspect of our lives, it almost broke us.

Knowing this makes me question what the solution is for the young refugees. I work in the context of a foster care system that is struggling to accommodate the children that need homes. I see the headlines that announce 9000 carers needed to fill the gaps, even those children with the most basic of needs struggle to find a bed. Every day I read referrals literally begging for placements for children*.

Then I look at the children that are refugees and I see the 'normal' complex needs, such as the effects of trauma, loss and separation but I see them multiplied by language, culture, food, education and the immigration system. I can't imagine caring for my children whilst negotiating these additional hurdles.

Bringing refugee children here seems like a notion that appeases our need to respond but I wonder if it's the best solution for those children. We want to do something but perhaps we should think differently.

It's a complicated situation and but I'm pretty sure pouring them into a foster care system that is creaking is not the solution. I read a lot about bringing them but not so much about caring for them. Of course pragmatism would argue any port in a storm but I'm not sure that we would accept children being left with families without appropriate training and financial and professional support. Would the large ongoing costs per child be better used identifying families that reflect the children's culture and language then training, equipping and supporting them to care for these children? Would this be politically acceptable, giving money to communities across Europe and North Africa to care for some of these children?

There's more I could say but nobody reads long blogs.

Anyway- The man on the phone and I had a brief chat, we didn't speak again as I don't think he liked my answers.

*I'm not exaggerating

Sunday 4 September 2016

Final Training - GnR

With the Great North Run a week away my training has reached it's final phase.
If you want to give a little something to the Family Rights Group, don't stop yourself.

Thursday 1 September 2016

Adoption on the telly

I went the the pictures to see The BFG on Sunday with Lotty. Clearly I must be the only person in the land who doesn't know the story. Though I enjoyed it I confess to feeling a little wearied by the usual plucky orphan stereotype. A fully resolved adulty/child orphan that finds beautiful adult/saintly type adoptive parents narrative. I'm just so over that,  is so far removed from my knowledge and understanding that it borders on insulting.

Of course it's classic children's fiction so I put all those feelings in my box marked boring old fart and suspend belief. I mean I cry like a baby at Annie, both versions, so I'm pretty good at putting my feelings aside.

So, this week with a sense of duty I watched The Coopers Versus The Rest.

Hmmmm, it's not my cup of tea, I like my comedy dark and scathing, not unlike my life, and this was way too happy ever after for me. I couldn't help but think that the heartwarming scene with the children smiling in the back of the car at the end of the programme if transferred to my life would have more likely been a full blown fist fight.

But, and I've thought about this and it's an important but, there appears to be an authentic voice in its midst of all the niceness. It was all a bit resolved and as far as can be from my version of children who've experienced loss and trauma as you can get but I did get it. After I watched it I read the blurb and it had been written by an adoptee so I felt more a little better about the experience.

I can sniff out an authentic voices in blogs, Twitter feeds, articles and books. I don't have to agree or like what I read* but I do like it to be authentic and I can tolerate or respect as such. Even if the person has no connection to the subject matter they can have an authentic voice. When it's not authentic, like the fast food advert last year, then I steer clear and leave well alone.

This blog is a bit of a ramble but each day I seem to see more and more literature, training, articles, news about adoption. With talking heads, professional opinions, views and perspectives and I realise I'm always looking for authentic voices not exploitation, money making opportunities or just utter tosh.

*I'm reading a hateful book about international adoption it's full of  corruption, delusion and religion and it's authentic but I don't like it.