Thursday 28 September 2017


So, adoptive grand parenting. Is that even a thing?

Clearly, in most areas of my life I'm making this up as I go along and this new 'development' is no different. However, I feel it highlights a specific weakness in my parenting, babies. One of the peculiarities of my very contemporary adoption experience is that it creates significant actual gaps in my actual parenting experience. Lotty is the closest we came to a baby, she rocked into our lives at 3  months old and continues to act as a force for disruption and exquisite joy with equal measure since those crazy days in December 2005. Her sass could literally be weaponised.

The night she came as our first foster placement, MrC had a prior arrangement with the big three and left me alone with this baby.  Lotty cried without ceasing and I was the physical manifestation of incompetence and fear. Think Fawlty dad meets Frank Spencer.

Anyway she survived and I survived.

That brings me to grandparenting, I've been pretty freaked out.  Up til now biology didn't matter, adoption was what it was and I guessed that there would be plenty to do as a dad; poo, vomit, soul crushing routine with the odd moment of love and joy. I suspected that the love would grow in the midst of all of the other parenting stuff. I know I do exaggerate. However, I fear grandparenting seems to be focused more on the fun and permissive end of parenting with all the really hard work removed. So, here's my worry, a worry that was hidden and in all the practical stuff first time round.

Will I love this child that has no biological link to me, I'm meant to be there for the fun and the games. What if I feel nothing? What if I'm rubbish at this? I'm struggling to get my head around it.

None of my contemporaries are grandparents yet so I'm currently taking advice on the issue and that's helped.
I remain nervous.
It's made me think of how my mother felt when we introduced the idea of adoption to her.
It's made me think of some of the difficulties that adopters have with their parents.
I've confessed this to my daughter and I'm sure it'll all be ok. She didn't seem worried.

It took time with all my children.

Seems odd in a week like this all, media reports, DfE meetings and la de da flitting around it all comes back to being a dad and worrying, like every other dad, that I'm going to get it right.

Wednesday 27 September 2017

Adoption, Child on Parent Violence, the DfE and a paradigm shift.

Yesterday was a big day, adopter interviews on national and regional media, news items culminating in a radio documentary all focusing primarily on the challenge that adoptive families are facing as they raise their children. The figures and stories were of no surprise to anybody who is remotely connected to this world but I'm sure for many it was a revelation. A change to the narrative.

I listened to the documentary and, of course, I was a little uncomfortable with some elements of it in relation to the Adoption Support Fund. I would argue with the validity of some perspectives but this is not the place for that.

My day had started yesterday speaking to 250 social workers, I asked 'who here works with or knows a child that is aggressive or violent to their parents or carers'.

Every hand went up, Helen Bonnick and I then opened up the issue to a receptive and empathic group group of social workers.

Five days earlier I'd spoken to England's Chief Social Worker. She knew and acknowledged it was an issue faced by many before I even opened my mouth. We considered paths and routes to develop further influence and as and when they open up I'll share that.

When I woke up this morning it all seemed like a dream.  I wondered if I'd witnessed a paradigm shift in people's views of adoption. That children who have experienced loss and trauma, though the most vulnerable in society can be the most challenging to parent and care for. That this was being understood and the 'Annie' narrative was not the only narrative in town.

I for one feel encouraged that the work of many individuals, small and large charities has brought us to this point. It's not a solution and we will never have to stop pushing but I believe that families are now starting to be believed and listened to.

Today I was up to the Department for Education today for the Adoption Support Expert Advisory Group. It seemed like very apt timing. Over an hour of the meeting was given to Child on Parent Violence. There was no doubt that this is now a 'thing', there never was doubt in that room but we acknowledged that the conversation had shifted over the last 12 months peaking with the excellent timing of the AUK/BBC survey yesterday.

So, where now? Training of the workforce, development of our knowledge of why, practice guidance,   appropriate responses and therapeutic interventions are all now on the agenda. Not one of them a small, simple or insignificant thing. Not least we considered the very definition, an ongoing and nuanced conversation.

Of course more was discussed and considered, including the ASF.

The landscape has shifted and continues to do so, new challenges, a developing understanding and at the centre children.

I'm off for a nap.

Wednesday 20 September 2017

The Adoption Contract

It feels like the time is right to ask the difficult questions about adoption. During an average week I speak to many adopters, adoption professionals and a few adoptees, what strikes me is the gap between the lived experience of adopters and much of the media portrayal and popular perception of adoption. I know I’m banging the same drum that I always seem to be banging, however it remains true.

The adoption contract used to be simple, nice childless couples, with a good reference, committed themselves to raising nice babies that the State could not look after and nobody else wanted.

The State committed to not meddle and the couple committed to not ask for anything else.

The children’s duty in all this is to be glad for the opportunity to live a better life and remain silent on the issue if possible. 

Biological parents were expected to understand the consequences of their actions and quietly accept their fate, ideally without fuss.

How gloriously convenient, fantastically simple and resolutely final. Secrecy was encouraged and many lived under its protective but stifling shroud. Adoptees silenced by deception or indoctrination. Adopters following instructions; Parents shamed into silence. It seems a nonsense from this side of history, but it was real and echoes remain.

Though tinkered with and given a new slap of paint contemporary adoption is based on the same foundation. Adults raising other people’s children, a legal change of identity and a severance of the past for children. We’ve broadened out the criteria of who can adopt reflecting the changes in our society and our ideas of what makes an appropriate parent. We’ve introduced modest changes and channels of contact between birth families and their children.  In reality not much has changed.

By the end of the 1960’s 25,000 children were adopted from the care system, that has now reduced to a relative trickle of less than 5,000 children a year. Society and culture has changed beyond all recognition since then and we’ve reduced the number of children adopted to the most vulnerable, the most impacted, the most hurt children. Caring for hurt children can be hard. Adoption is not what it was. It does remains a safe and secure place for children but the reality for many adoptive parents is that they’re struggling. This deal or contract was not what they feel they were sold. Up to a third of adopters describing themselves as having major difficulties and 8% of them talking in terms of adoption disruption; is it time to think again about renegotiating the adoption contract? Many adoptive families are discovering that their involvement with social care and  mental services stretches beyond the first months of placement through childhood and transforms into involvement with adults social care. The idea that we’d take our children and move into the mythical happy ever after has gone, adoption is not what it was if it ever was. Some adoptive families now find that they feel as vulnerable as the families that their children were removed from. 

The landscape has shifted for all persons in this contract, social care is having to evolve, with varying success, to meet the enduring long term needs of families, it’s getting better but it’s not there yet. Adopters have changed, yes the criteria to adopt has shifted and mirrored changes in culture but challenges remain. Expectations have to be managed and that’s hard. Many infertile couples have traversed the painful and extracted medical processes to try for their own biological children; bruised by this process like no other generation adoption may be their third or fourth choice. When it does not reflect the happy ever afters of popular culture then the fall can be hard.   

Adoptees now live in a world that is connected like never before through social media. The time and effort that tracing family members created a buffer and time to think and reflect. Now, connections can be made with the tap of the finger in seconds in an impulse. Many children are looking to join the dots of their lives and be connected to some of the key people in their life stories.

Birth parents and families are no longer shackled by society’s shame and conventions like in earlier times. Families are asking difficult questions about the legality and the ethics of this severance and removal. Language is emotive and tabloids run stories of social care mistakes and judge’s rulings. Difficult and challenging stuff.

So, is now the time to re write the adoption contract? To build a new model of permanence for our most vulnerable children? To offer them the legal stability and security that remains elusive in foster care? To provide additional parents that can keep them safe and help them make sense of their lives? To offer, where possible, real and meaningful contact for parents and families to the children that they cannot and perhaps should not, look after? To provide adoptive parents with the preparation, resources and recognition that they deserve and need? To prepare children and support them in this new landscape and where possible be given tangible and meaningful connections to the people that make up their lives and stories?

I think now is the time.

I'd like to acknowledge Andrew Christie who during a conversation sparked this post. 

Thursday 7 September 2017


I like to think of parenting traumatised children like falling down a very long flight of stairs, its a peculiar mix of bone crunching body slams, followed by moments of giddy weightless joy mixed with the anticipation of the next bone crunching impact.

When I finally reach the bottom of the stairs, the 'end' as you might say, will I land like a cat with perfect poise and balance on my feet, or face plant into the harsh concrete floor.

Only time will tell.

I'm not fatalistic, never the less there's a freedom and space in accepting your fate. Fate does make it sound all very doom ridden and miserable but I guess its an acceptance that what will be will be. There will be good days and there will be bad days and there will be lots of days in-between. So be it, that's the place I try to operate from.

We did ok over the summer, the GoodMrsC put many hours in, I got my ducks in a row to reduce my time away and I took some annual leave. We built a routine and ground it out. As noted in last weeks blog we stumbled in the last few days but we picked ourselves up. I say stumble but looking back it seems odd that what in other circumstances or if it occurred in other families it would be considered exceptional or extreme. It could be described in all kinds of terms but certainly not normal. Anyway, we've accepted our fate, we accepted that a long time ago.

Oh, and I'm going to be a grandfather.

I'm slightly taken aback that as the father of five daughters I was so naive to not prepare myself emotionally or psychologically for this turn of events. Right now I'm wondering if it's like getting to the bottom of one flight of stairs only to discover there's another flight been built at the bottom.

Clearly, I've got a lot thinking to do over this latest development.

Saturday 2 September 2017


It's the morning after the night before and I can hear the inner voice calling.

'wake up Lazarus, wake up'

The night before we'd had acted out all the cliches, at the end of the school holidays at the end of a fun filled birthday we'd had a blow out. A proper hum dinger.

That night I'd started to write a post describing the feeling of holding my breath, all summer I'd held my breath waiting for the raaaaa to come. We'd had the ongoing, un noteworthy, low level stuff but that's all within the realm of normal and expected. Our summers are usually harder than that but up til yesterday we'd traversed through our normal. So, that was where I was, I'd realised that I'd been holding my breath and I'd started to write about the anticipation that so many families who care for hurt children live with. Anticipation of challenge, conflict and violence. It felt like it would have been a good blog.

But then it all kicked off, full on code red. What it was about and what happened are all irrelevant because it's never really the issue, it's about children living as foreigners in the world, struggling to express fears, anxieties and frustrations in a way that doesn't hurt and harm those around them.

This morning I feel like the caring, gives a damn, unconditional love, go the extra mile dad has died. It hurts when I smile. The commandant, security officer dad has stepped in, he's switched off his feelings or at least hidden them to get through and we're functioning.
So, the inner voice whispers.

'wake up lazarus, wake up'

Nice dad will return, he just needs a moment.