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.


  1. I said I would blog in response, but honestly I can't face it - as you said, it was not particularly edifying. So just a couple of things here:
    1. If we really believe that children are at the centre of this, then their legal status, or their parents' reasons for becoming parents are irrelevant. If a child has needs, then that is all that matters. I object to any suggestion (which you are not making!) that adoptive parents got the family they wanted and so should basically suck it up. This argument could be used against any birth parent too, with a child in any type of need. It doesn't stack up.
    2. There's no need to compare severity of need, arguing over who is worse off. There might be a need to compare type of need. Different types of need might need different types of support. Some support is available through stat services, some is not, so additional resourcing, e.g. via ASF, is helpful there.
    3. Saying "I don't see why you get XYZ when others get nothing" (which you haven't done!) is rather accusatory and not child-centred. Better to say "It's great that some children are being helped. Now let's lobby for the rest."
    4. There's a difference between providing support for a child and providing support for a family. As I see it, the ASF mainly provides therapies etc. for the child (although there is some stuff for parents too). What I see happening with birth families in need is that the support focuses mainly on the parents - I am talking about families with young children here as that's my experience. I don't know what happens with, say, teens. In my LA, which is not exactly stellar, I have personally seen shedloads of support for parents, in an attempt to keep families together. It is not ASF-style therapy, but parenting classes, family support workers, social workers, respite care provision, supported accommodation, education support etc etc. It might not be enough and it might not be effective, but it's not realistic to say it doesn't exist.

    I am grateful for the ASF because it recognises that adopted children, like looked-after children, have gone through experiences early in their lives that met a threshold for removal, and that they will live with the effects of that for the rest of their lives. In that respect, these children are in a different position from those who were not removed and did not meet these thresholds. Also, the ASF gives the prospect of making good on promises of PAS that have hitherto been rather empty. However, more, much more could be done, both for struggling birth families, and for kinship families, for instance. That needs to be shouted about more.

    So there you go. A comment nearly as long as a blog post. And now all the disagreeing comments will happen on your blog and not on mine! See what I did there?! :D

  2. Hi, that's an interesting observation in relation to the support that families get in the hope that hey can meet the needs of the children. As a student I worked with a children and families team and it was at least 80% adults which was a bit of an eye opener.
    You are very wise to divert the negative comments, though I must have a halo or something as they appear to have not come.