Thursday 1 June 2017


On my desk at work there's a little book of social work theories and models. I keep it there to bamboozle the student social workers with my bredth and depth of knowledge or at least to show them I can read. I browse it occasionally to inspire thought. 

One of the cornerstones of social work thought and practice is empowerment:

 "the means by which individuals, groups and/or communities become able to take control of their circumstances and achieve their own goals , thereby being able to work towards helping themselves and others to maximize the quality of their lives." Adams

I've been pondering power and adopters for a while to be honest I've lots of thoughts so this is just a bit. 

Adopters are generally doing ok in life at the moment that they pick up the phone to start on the process of adoption, in fact it's a prerequisite that you've got to have your stuff together. Of course we've all lived a little and have our bruises etc but generally we are the captains of our own ships. 

In effect we're people who don't need empowering as we're actually quite empowered. But we then surrender some of the key elements of that empowerment to achieve our goal of adoption. Social Workers make appointments and hijack our diaries, we submit to the will of approval panels, all unpicking the sense of control that we had in our lives. We then wait by the phone for the news of potential matches or we trawl through the online catalogues of children that we're allowed to view. Of course we again submit to the will of Social Workers who deem us as a good or unsuitable match. I could go on, matching, introductions, placement, SW visits, court dates and then finally adoption orders. 

The adoption process removes our control of our own circumstances and we have to rely on others to achieve our goals it is the exact definition of disempowerment. A very tricky feeling and for many of us a very new feeling. 

One part of the joys of the court hearing at the end of the adoption legal journey is the sense that you are again the master of your own destiny. That's the end of that. 

Of course, some or many of us find that we're progressively drawn back into a world were we surrender our control and are effectively disempowered. Education, health and mental health services, post adoption support all necessary services for our children but we again feel the frustration as we give control over to professionals the may or may not 'get it' or care or be capable. Often we cannot do anything, we would if we could, but we're reduced to waiting by the phone.

To feel disempowered is to be isolated without hope and lost, not a nice place and that is often compounded by challenging behaviour of our children. A grim reality for many families. 
It's a unique proposition for Social Workers as well, we're removing a sense of agency and control and replacing it with dependency and barriers. Of course we're working to a goal but to get that we take them along this path. 

Perhaps this in an extreme view and of course others may feel differently, so if that's you then just ignore me.  Of course we could talk about how caring for tricky children is also disempowering in the extreme but that's for another day.

Well this is a  cheery little post isn't it? I guess knowing what's driving my inner challenges helps me navigate them. 

*To be clear I'm not an Adoption Social Worker. 


  1. I'm not sure that going through the adoption process is any different to other experiences which disempower, a regime of medical treatment for a critical illness for example which I have just found entirely disempowering.

    1. I think for many it comes as a shock as the willingly give themselves over to that machine. Of course there are many parallels with your experience though perhaps you had no choice. Adopters can walk away.

  2. This rings so true. My cousin is going through the process at the moment and I know that a lot of what you have written resonates with her experience. Also very proud that the photo is from one of my books so thinking that may be the one on your desk ��

    1. That's so funny! It's the little ring bound practice educators book and when I'm not in the office the students snaffle it and I have to track it down. Many go out and get the red A4 student version to get then through their final year.
      Mind you the quote in the post isn't from your book, you probably knew that though!
      Thanks for the book and the comment.