Sunday 30 October 2016

BASW Adoption Enquiry Seminar Day

What an interesting day, not without minor tensions but all things considered there was a great deal of respect and agreement. Participants were drawn from across the adoption landscape, Birth Parents, Solicitors, Adopters, Adoption Social workers, representatives of Foster Carers, Academics and Practitioners. The focus was the role of Social Workers in adoption, specifically how they understand ethical and human right issues and inform their practice. All present came with different experiences and knowledge, but the common denominator was a desire to be honest and consider what happens now and what could be improved.

The discussions ranged from the supporting role of the SW for families and children through the children's journeys into care and onto adoption. The preparation, journey and support of adopters and the post adoption order support of families who have lost children was all discussed from a range of perspectives. There were many interesting points raised and issues that piqued my interest were the feeling that adopters were set in opposition against birth families and vice versa. Broader issues of class and culture, motivations and policy, ethics and values, practice and were all touched on at various points. It was a fascinating discussion with some perspectives and opinions being fiercely defended as well as persuasively communicated. A very strong theme that came from all quarters was the need of openness and honestly for everyone.. 

The agenda was open and it was clear that their was a desire to draw in the views of key players in adoption, both professionals and families alike. A reiteration that there was no presumption of what conclusions were drawn and as the day ended this was reinforced again. 

Over the last few weeks as I've been out and about on my travels I've asked people if they've participated in the British Association of Social Workers' Adoption Enquiry. I've had some interesting responses and conversations. What has struck me is concerns that the outcome and findings are a done deal or that their was an underlying agenda. I didn't see that on the seminar day, the question being asked is in relation to the role of Social Workers not the legitimacy or ethics of adoption itself.

I'd encourage everyone who has a stake in adoption to participate, the focus is to improve,  to develop and to not hold onto what we 'think' is best practice but to question and ask if we can do better by all people impacted by adoption. I've spoken to a few people over the last few months and they questioned if the outcome was a done deal and the enquiry was bias against adoption. That was not my experience, asking difficult questions does not mean you are being difficult. 

I want to know what the key messages and themes are that can inform Social Worker practice are and I want to share my experiences and I felt I was being heard. I'd encourage all who can to participate and the online questionnaire is still available here 
Late submissions will still be accepted and if you don't feel able or can't complete the written format contact them and they'll accept your views in other formats.

It was a good day, a challenging day and I came away with many more questions that have rattled around since. I like questions.

Thursday 27 October 2016

SuperDan, WonderJohn & the Sad Feeling

A cloud of melancholy, that I couldn't quite identify the source of, descended on me by the mid morning coffee break. Admittedly I'd had a 'fawlty dad' start to the day, a puncture then arriving on time at the wrong venue a mad dash cycle across London then barging my way to the front row of the room, cycle helmet, coffee and danish pastry in hand with my head the colour of a beetroot 3 minutes after the start of the conference.

But it was all good, a positive message of hope and restoration. I just couldn't pinpoint the sadness that seemed to be hovering over me. I had been given a free ticket to see Dan Hughes and John Baylin give a lecture to professionals that work with children who have experienced loss and trauma. That was rather smashing, it coincided with my days in London so it was on.

I cannot fault the training and I've read about PACE (Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy) and attempt to use it within our home.  Dan Hughes was good and charismatic and this was backed up by the engaging John Baylin's description and analysis of the brain science behind the approach.
All good.

At half time I bumped into Sally D and I confessed my struggles, it all seemed so far removed from our lives.  I wholeheartedly recommend PACE but it can be a lofty ideal when matched to the challenges of caring for siblings in a family environment. When Child A is attempting to knock the teeth out of Child B then my response is not therapeutic it is that of a riot policeman. All the other stuff, you know the therapeutic stuff, is placed aside and I need to step in. But all that wasn't the reason for the feeling, I just couldn't put my finger on it.

Days later I think I think I got it, the feeling I had lingered, I realised, again, that love was not enough and time is not a great healer. My children's experiences have cast a shadow across them that may leave them a step out of the sunshine for all their lives. I know that, every day I'm faced with that but it's background noise in a busy life. But sitting and stopping and dwelling on the impact is sometimes hard to take.

The training was very good and perhaps I should have attended the following day that was focused on parents rather than professionals. I sometimes get confused in those environments I am a professional but I'm not a professional parent, I'm a keen amateur.

Thursday 20 October 2016

National Adoption Week - Bunkers and Bunting

Well, it came round again National Adoption Week(NAW) - #supportadoption 

Scrolling my timelines and feeds my fingers sometimes speed up when I see NAW hashtags and posts, sometimes my finger slows. It depends on the day, time and circumstance.

I have to say it's a funny old week, I usually get my blood up and have a profound thought, or witty blog to roll out. Not this week. I've been busy so felt in some ways it's just happened. In my early years as an adopter I was the first to put up the bunting*. In the dark years I've retreated to my thought bunker and listened to the distant sound of happiness while gnashing my teeth. 

This year I had planned do something interesting, get three or four guest posts from adult adoptees. I tried but other than one smashing post I had no takers, I didn't want to labour the point so I didn't push too hard. Perhaps I didn't get the message out, perhaps my motives were doubted,  perhaps the Flip the Script movement hasn't got the traction in the UK that it has elsewhere. Perhaps this or perhaps that. 

National Adoption Week is what it is. 

'Marketing, recruitment, reinforcing popular misconceptions!' I hear you cry. Yes, I suppose that is something you could shout at politicians and professionals. 

But I hear others 'Joy, family, love!',  to not listen to those voices feels disingenuous.

I'm feeling pragmatic this year, I can hold both of those in tension. 

So this week I stayed in my bunker and came out when I felt safe to get snacks and have a little look at the bunting. Some people were enjoying themselves and I joined in for a bit, had a little moan,  then went back to my bunker. 

My finger scrolls fast my finger scrolls slow.


 *In 2000 I went to an event where David Bellamy planted a tree.

Wednesday 19 October 2016

DfE - Adoption Service Users Group

So, up to the Department for Eductation  for the quarterly meeting with adoptive parents and the DfE team for adoption support.

The amendments to the Adoption Support Fund were front and centre and have dominated many of the conversations and online interactions since the news was announced a week or so ago. With limited information and uncertainty in adopters and Social Workers minds many families have been worried about the implications for them. Some very worried and understandably so,  to see long awaited support apparently fade before their eyes is to say the least disheartening .

On a really practical level after the initial implementation the fund was due a review. Unfortunately that was forced on the DfE by the demand and the need to ensure that it did not run dry by the end of the financial year. So changes have been made and changes will be made to the fund in the future.
Looking closer through the numbers it's clear that the £5000 fair access limit per child per year will ensure that at least 80% of applications to the Fund will still be under that limit. The likelyhood is that the fair access limit will be increased next year as the Fund increases so that number will increase. Consideration is being given to ways of tightening cost while not affecting the service to families further stretching the fund.

Almost 10, 000 children have been benefitted from the fund in the since it's beginning, that's a lot of children.

Discussions yesterday focused on how to stretch the money as we moved forward, what was reasonable costs for therapy, when some therapy slips into very large sums of money what is the justification and is the Fund the correct route to help for those families. Lots of conversation that continues so thought and ideas are welcome.

We then discussed the progress that we'd seen over the last 12 months. Positive stuff, the support of virtual school heads, changes to the planned limits on the child tax credit and the Fund itself. Two years ago we did not have the Fund and many of us danced and fought through hoops and hurdles to access the most meagre picking of support. The Fund has given many access to support that they would have never had.

More was said but this is the essence.

Forgive my brevity, life's busy, but please if you've questions, concerns, worries or just want to get the dirty water off your chest comment below or tweet me or write me a letter.

Sunday 16 October 2016

Guest blog- Thoughts on National Adoption Week

By Sarah

As we approach National Adoption Week, I have been thinking about this year’s theme of #supportadoption. It’s a campaign for the twenty-first century. Adoption has been brought up to date for the digital age with celebrities, hashtags and a potential, viral social media marketing campaign. 

What are the benefits of the theme other than awareness raising? I have been wondering about the people who will post their #supportadoption placards and the stories which, they hold behind them. What is important, is that we support adoption however as an adult adoptee who is also mixed race, I know that adoption support requires so much more than a hashtag on Facebook or Twitter. I am also thinking about whether National Adoption Week holds any relevance to or meaning for me as an adult; apart from making me think about my own adoption and wondering how my experiences differ from the children who are adopted, today in 2016.

No two adoptions are the same, even within the same family. Most families aren’t always happy all of the time either however adoption has some of its own unique challenges. For a child who needs a family, adoption is not always the immediate solution with a happily ever after story. It is not as simple as sending a child home to their new adoptive family and expecting that to be that. This is especially true for children who have often come from a family that wanted very much to care for them but could not and others where there was little to no prior care at all. It would be wonderful if the solution to heal and start again was a new family but it often requires so much more than love. It requires support.

Many adoptees experience trauma, abuse or chaotic circumstances before their adoptions are finalised. That is in addition to the loss of the birth family and understanding their place and identity within the birth and adoptive family. For some adoptee’s; this comes easily and they adjust well, others might not even know for a number years that they were adopted at all and for others it is a difficult ongoing experience regardless. All of these adoptees and their adoptive parents may require support though and it is essential that we encourage and improve the availability and access.

As an adoptee I’m not sure I will ever fully understand how much it takes to raise an adoptive child unless I became one myself. From my own adoptee journey, I can tell you it was no easy feat though and it required a few years of counselling and support. Accessing the support wasn’t always easy for my parents though and that was over ten years ago. Adoptive families need ongoing help, care and support to help sustain their families and prevent a break down. Their adoptive children need this too.

Despite there being some services available to adopters/ees whilst I was growing up, research and changes have confirmed the need for additional support, primarily therapeutic. Just over a year ago in 2015 the government in England introduced the Adoption Support Fund (ASF). As of October 2016, £30m has been spent assisting families to access therapies however the unprecedented demand for support has resulted in the fund being budgeted until the next financial year. Families are being limited to the amount of funding and help they can access to help keep themselves together. What will the longer term costs to the cuts of this fund be for the families?

Back to this year’s National Adoption Week theme of #supportadoption, it appears from the ASF that it is something desperately required, however I am still not sure how this campaign will help the adopters and their children who are in need of real therapeutic support.

Adoption & Fostering Podcast.


Having  pondered it for at least two years I thought it's time to get my act together and put together a podcast. I'm uniquely privileged to meet all kinds of interesting people from the world of adoption & fostering and it would seem only fair to chat to them and spread that joy around.

So, below is the feed address to post into iTunes or we can be found if you search in Apple's podcasts though iTunes.

If that all sounded like another language then here's a player and which is also going to be permanently in my sidebar.

This episode is a chat to Scott Casson-Rennie and amongst many other things we discuss Adoption Panels and the recent adoption figures. I had to split the podcast, due to excessive chat,  so I'll release the next one an a couple of weeks.

Your feedback would be appreciated and if you rate it in iTunes then my delicate psyche will be bolstered for a few more days and it will be easily found.

If you've something to say and would like to join the podcast I'm looking for contributors or if you'd like me to cover a topic then please just say.


Thursday 13 October 2016

National Adoption Week 2016 - Long lost families 2050

It's National Adoption Week and I'd like to take you on a little strole through my imagination.

Imagine the scene, it's 2050 and I'm 79 years old. I go to the telly box and tune into my favourite bit of TV, Long Lost Families. The music swells and the presenters, a celebrity adoptee and a much loved presenter, start to tell you the stories that they are going to feature that week. Adult adoptees looking for the families that they were adopted from in the first years of the twenty first century, people telling their stories.

Pause a second. 

I look back now at the acceptable practices in relaiton to adoption of the 1950's, 60's & 70's with amazement. Society accepted a totally different set of norms that allowed children to be forcably taken from parents with the acquiescence of courts, Social Workers, families, communities, churches and media. In fact those groups and individuals perpetuated the conditions that made adoption a  reasonable, acceptable and a proportionate response to what was seen as moral weakness, sin, immorality and a corrosive element in society. Pretty grim days.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I think that part of the popularity of the long lost type program is astonishment at the judgement of society and the hope of justice in reunification. It's nice to think that would never happen now.

Back to 2050.

How will future society and adult adoptees view the government's push to recruit adopters, the money poured into advertising campaigns, the adoption fairs and websites with children's faces on? How will the restriction on adoption support and limits on resources be seen? the political influence exerted over judges and the fight back? the stigmatisation of mental health of birth parents and limited support as their children move on, the dogma of severance and the perspectives of all but a few countries as they move away from a policy of adoption.

I'm not sure how adoption will fair and if society will judge our norms as dogmatic, naive or worse. Will they see the Gove/Cameron Adoption project as a roaring success? What will they say?

Perhaps the narrative will change, the needs of children will be prioritised above the needs of adopters and birth families. Maybe judges will be allowed to rule and the decision will be supported by financial and therapeutic support. Where adopters are equipped, empowered and engaged in caring for the children they are responsibility and birth families are not framed as the enemy. Adopters, professionals  and extended families working to meet the needs of children.

Every day my views and perspectives have changed, everyday I've become less binary and increasingly murky. More and more I'm compelled to ask myself, 'am I on the right side of this story and is there a right side to this story, am I one of the good guys?'

I'm not sure how history will judge us, more to the point how my children will judge me.

Adoption is not what it was but it certainly not what I would hope it could be, parenting other people's children is damn hard.

Wednesday 12 October 2016


It's with much intrigue I've watched the debate about the professionalisation/unionisation of Foster carers unfold. Articles, news items and twitter scraps have ensued and such is the nature of the argument I'm having with Queenie it's been moved to the list of topics that we must never speak of again.

I'm intrigued by the binary nature of the conversations, locked into positions that are poles apart. I've listened to adult care leavers passionately describing the impact of issues like respite had on them as  children and young people, then foster carers giving accounts of the systemic challenges they face as they try to care for young people. 

I was rather amused listening to a rather bullish man on the radio who was being assessed as a foster carer denounce any carer who didn’t do it for purely altruistic motivations. He went on to refuse to accept better pay and conditions for FCs. I chastised myself as I thought ‘yeah, come back on the radio a year after you’ve been approved and we’ll see what you say’. I can be quite harsh when I’m in the car alone listening to the radio.

This issue of unionising foster care has been floating around and the one point that has piqued my interest is that of respite.
Basically, listening to the debate their appears to be only two positions, the first being that respite is good for carers and respite is very bad for children.

The other says that foster carers are not parents plus, they often care for the most challenging of children in the most challenging of circumstances. I quote lived and professional experience here.
One that says in the best interests of the child they should have stability and consistency of home and carer, I quote research and best practice here.

Are the two positions ever able to be reconciled? Is it an oversimplification to even state them like this.

I know many foster families and carers that go above and beyond, way beyond and put their own physical and mental health on the line in the care of ‘their’ children. They prioritise the needs of these children again and again and when they ask me for two nights off or a week away to recharge or a special occasion then I will not stand in their way or begrudge them some time away. They go out of their way to ensure the welfare of the children during this break and do everything in their powers to ensure that any potential harm is minimised.

Of course, there are bad examples but from my experience they are the minority.

As a parent I seek respite, of course that’s not what I’d call it. But every year the Good MrsC take at least a night and day away and we do all the stuff to ensure that it’s a positive and enjoyable experience for our children staying at home. In fact we’ve just come home from a holiday for four, MrsC, me and two children. We left four children behind, most of them because they’re young adults and they’re living their lives. But not all of them, some of them just don’t fare well out of routine in different countries with different food etc.

I mean really don’t fare well in an apocalyptic, days of freefall dysregulation, furniture biting kind of way.

So, what do you do? Do we live to the lowest common denominator? Well we don’t.
We reframe, explain, contain and get my big girl and mam to come along and replicate the safe standard routine with a few perks, the child left behind is pampered and enjoys free reign with the remote and being treat like an only child. And we get to play nice like those families we see on the telly, spontaneous stay up late, throw away routine sort of fun.

Is that not selective respite, it’s not what I’d call it but that’s what it is. My children don’t see it as a rejection or slur but as a fact of their lives that sometimes their needs have to be put aside to allow us to have time together. It’s not easy and it’s arranged to the nth degree. We bring in trusted and safe people, we make it a positive.

Fostering isn’t ‘standard’ parenting, the expectations and scrutiny that Foster Carers are put under adds pressure; the unique systems and requirement of fostering add pressure; the impacts of loss, separation and trauma adds pressure. 

The articles I read didn’t seem to acknowledge this and as heartfelt as some of the arguments against respite were they didn’t highlight the high needs that some children have and the high toll that it exacts. Speaking to a good friend this week, a foster carer and Social Worker, he explained the model they use. They build a 'family' around the children they care for, a community of adults and families that welcome their fostered children for babysitting and respite. It sound like family, like community like what almost every parent does because it is a family. There are innovative models of fostering that build these families around children because the cliche is true it takes a village to raise a child and as Helen Oakwater adds 'it takes a city to raise a traumatised child'.