Thursday 26 October 2017


There continues to be so much to say about so many things. I'm caught in this murky ground between national debate and lived life. Pondering the impacts of culture on contemporary perceptions of adoption, or some such twaddle while trying to find dinner money while negotiating fraught children out of the door to get to school on time to avoid the walk of shame. Some days I feel I could write and write just to try and make sense of it all. The big thoughts are refusing to be caught this week and I'm caught in the small moments of our lives. After National Adoption Week I need a break from the big thoughts away from the noise. We have a lot of noise around here.

The silence was enveloping. We sat and carried on as normal Flossy listening to some mind rot Capital FW music on headphones, Peanut was felt tipping,  is that even a verb, The GoodMrsC was pottering and I was Tweeting. 

There was a new presence in the kitchen. I confess it took me a while to notice, I looked up and saw that the GoodMrsC was coming to the same revelation of this new thing. Even the dogs seemed unsure. 

'Quiet isn't it' we said together. 

Lotty wasn't here. Lotty, the human wall of sound was away for the weekend at some activity centre or some such, being fired from a cannon no doubt. 

Since she left eery and unfamiliar silence had descended onto Coates Acres.

Lotty came into our lives in January of 2006 and it's never been quiet since. She wailed quite a lot. Her first word was dad and she's used it at full volume ever since. When she was little I was known to wear ear defenders around the house, if I didn't my internal monologue had to shout to be heard. 

Her talking is like shouting. If you're holding a conversation in the same room as her you slip into shouting so that you can be heard. We all start shouting and we're not even angry yet. 

She doesn't have to be talking, she is noise. Like a human amplifier, she's stick thin but bangs an clatters around the house like she's wearing diving boots, she doesn't shut doors she slams them like every one of them has given her a personal insult. If she's nervous she wails, kind of musically, but wailing none the less. She turns the telly up so loud so she can hear it above the sound of her own noise. 

If she's happy she shouts. When she's cross she she's very very loud. She talks in her sleep. She never shuts up.

It's exhausting and debilitating, it sets your nerves on edge and creates anxiety in your heart. A friend and his partner came to visit us, they were thinking of adopting. When the children had finally gone to bed he looked at me like a man who'd been assaulted and all he could say was 'the noise, the noise'. Yeah, welcome to my world. 

I'd like to say that we grew bored of the peace this weekend and how we missed Lotty. Not likely, it was lovely and we talked and savoured the glorious silence between our words. 

She returned and shouted her exploits at us,  I do love her. 

Thursday 19 October 2017

Social Work and Adoption Pt:1

I’ve always felt that social work is like housework, when it’s being done well and someone’s on top of it you don’t really see it, when it’s less than adequate and not kept on top of it quickly becomes apparent.

An over simplistic metaphor perhaps but I’ve had 19 social workers enter into our lives and carry out work during the last 19 years. I feel I can speak with authority on what is good, what is less so and what are the impacts on my family and children. 

On the whole we've had very good experiences of social workers.  It's been suggested that I don't like social workers, it's not true. I've had social workers go to bat for me in some of the most challenging circumstances possible and I owe them my family. We've also had less than ideal and, in an air of honesty, some pretty shocking experiences. The overwhelming majority has been good,  I've wept with social workers who cast aside stuffy professionalism and wept too. They were human, reachable, bothered and caring. I do like social workers.

This post is about adoption and social work but I won't attempt to synthesis the experience and voice of all adopters into one post so I'll just speak for me.

My experience of interacting with social workers has been one of constant transition. As I've moved from interested to prospective to applicant to approved to placed to post order to struggling my relationship with social workers has altered. It went from a very cordial and warm interaction where with hindsight I see that I was a commodity to a being a 'service user', a term that I personally dislike. I dislike for a whole host of reasons, when I hear it I want to shout;

'I'm a man, not a number', at the top of my voice while shaking my fist at the sky.

Anyway, I'm off point,  I think that adopters can present as a unique challenge, without drawing on stereotypes we're predominantly well educated, white, empowered and able, we're in control of our lives. We're willing participants in the adoption process so we give control to social workers, the gate keepers,  as a trade off for the promise of children. We tolerate the process, and if that process goes wrong we speak to our MPs, engage the complaints procedure and the ombudsman, we know what to do and of course we can always walk away. However, I do think that some adopters can be uniquely vulnerable in their focus to adopt. Perhaps thats not wholly true but I'm aware that this drive can blind  to the challenges or realities, did it for me? I think it did in the first instance if I'm being honest.

I'm trying to keep on track, so then there's a shift in that relationship with our social worker again, we get approved and sooner or later we get what we asked for, usually, children.

A whole new challenge befalls us, for a good percentage this fine and manageable but judging by the anticipated 10,0000 applications to the adoption support fund this year challenges manifest. By adopting some of us have placed ourselves in a position that we are not used to and we're no longer willing participants in the world of social care and social workers. We need help, access to services, assessments and support. We may have great relationships with our social workers, or less so, but we have no choice and that is the kicker. Our autonomy and control are taken and we are reliant on a professional perhaps in a way that we've never been before. It's a unique and scary position to be in. The power dynamic shift and in another world at a different time we'd feel able and empowered to complain and stand up for what is right or wrong we now may or may not feel able to. That perhaps in complaining we will jeopardise the support that we'll receive. Now that's a tricky position to be in it's a little scary.

Also,  for a significant number of families there's a dawning reality that our lives will be like open books long after the adoption order. We'll be telling and retelling our stories, struggles and challenges to professionals for the years to come. That is in of itself a challenge. How do organisations hold the knowledge of our stories beyond dry case notes, how is that passed between social workers. Gaps in case notes can be critical. Adopters need to be prepared to accept the reality of this new life, adoption social workers need to consider how to build long term enduring and positive relationships with families. The adoption model is based the model of fixing problems and moving on, perhaps they need to learn something from children's disability teams of ongoing partnership and open doors. Some of my children have now had social care involvement for over a decade, in reality that's my involvement. It's altered our world view, our politics, our engagement with national policy development. I'm not the 26 year old draughtsman who sat and spoke politely to a social worker who came to chat to us about adoption and what that really means and if we'd be interested. I don't buy special biscuits for social workers now, they get offered whatever biscuits I can find after the kids have pillaged the budget family pack I was hiding.

All of that feels like a preamble, undeveloped and bitty so I apologise. Lets call it Part 1.

Thursday 12 October 2017

Too Tight

We're on the cusp of National Adoption Week and, as usual, it is a flashpoint for a whole range of views from gushing joy to seething anger. All justified, all right, all appropriate responses to the complexity, injustice, loss, wonder, beauty,  marvellous and magical thing that adoption is and can be.
Lots of my adopter and social worker friends feel the same, basically it's complicated and #NAW17 brings that into focus.

I want to write it all out but it would be a mind vomit of the worst order, I don't want to be a neigh sayer or a cheerleader but here's some meandering through the middle.

Lately I've been getting a total rush when Peanut puts her hand in mine, it seems like that simple action sums up everything I wanted from parenting. These are the few years where my hand is a safe place, not inhibited by self aware coolness, worries about who will see or a developing self confidence and independence. We hold hands and run pretending that the wind is blowing us to school, she giggles and I laugh. We do it again and again. It's always fun. 
It passes, I've seen it come and go five times before with the older kids, so I'm savouring it this time. 
A little girl and her daddy being silly and adoption is working.

My social work has let me see behind the adoption curtain. I've witnessed enough to understand that it's not about right or wrong, it's often complex interactions between systems, budgets, mental health, circumstance, right and wrong. I don't work in adoption for good reason but sometimes it comes into my peripheral vision. When it does I don't always like what I see, sometimes I do. Sometimes I get angry. Sometimes I feel sick.

I met an adoption social worker recently who described how at the end of some hard days she goes home and holds her son tight and won't let go until he eventually asks 'have you had a hard day mum?'. She laughed as we spoke. It's not really funny her son's twenty five.

So, there's the two positions the unabashed good and the shameful bad. I can't see one without the other and I try to hold them both in balance. I'm conscious that I'm the winner in this adoption game.

Some days I go home and I hug Peanut. 

'Too tight, too tight', she says. 

I am holding Peanut tight,  I let go when she says 'too tight'.

'Do it again' she says. So I do. 

We both like this game.
Sometimes I remember that she was and is someone else daughter sometimes I don't.

As I say it's complicated but I can live with that. 

Wednesday 11 October 2017

Adoption Leadership Board - Up to the Big House

Just a quick post to update on the Adoption Leadership Board(ALB) meeting that I was privileged to attend today. It's the culmination of a little tinkering of the consultation process that the DfE has undertaken following consultation with interested parties.

An Adopter Reference Group (ARG) has been formed out of what was the Adoption Service User Group all facilitated by Adopter Voice. The ARG has been asked to have a more informed input into the ALB and to facilitate that they get pre warning of the upcoming agenda and asked to comment and reflect on it. That is then taken to the next ALB by one of the adopters on the ARG. Today that was me.

Of course the contents of the meeting is tricky to report back, some of it is all ideas and tinkering with the machinery of reporting, accountability and systems. Much of which is complex and a work in progress, it's hard to comment on due to the nature of the discussions and confidentiality.

Adopters views were expressed in relation to the Fair Access limit on the Adoption Support Fund, (there are a lot of views). Thoughts on recruitment and wider issues were shared and the ongoing challenges that many families face with education were raised. That's all well and good and a little bit vague and sycophantic, sorry.

Here's what I can tell you. Adopters have a seat at the top table.

Sitting in that room with a range of professionals, heads of this and leaders of that was the genuine sense of passionate individuals that wanted to see the needs of children best served. How we do that is debatable and there are often varying opinions as to how to achieve that but wasn't it ever so. I was also aware that among those professionals there were adults with intimate connections to adoption and fostering from different sides, this may be their job but it's also their passion. No names.

What do I take away from this meeting? 
Adopters are the primary advocates for our children and we've been given the opportunity to influence and speak into policy and practice at the highest level. Challenges remain but the work of getting adopters into that room has been completed. 

We now face our own challenges as we now consider how we synthesise our spectrum of views to inform those that are listening. Not easy and of course we will never please everyone. 

Thursday 5 October 2017

Questions & Answers #NAW17

In raising our concerns, highlighting our struggles, developing our knowledge of the impacts of trauma, loss and separation to better serve our adopted children are we in fact killing adoption one convert to our message at a time.

October rolls around again and National Adoption Week creeps into my calendar, faces of happy adopters and lovable ragamuffins looking for a mum and dad appear in the media.
I’m pausing as I write, the temptation is to fall words about truth and lies in recruitment but that’s an easy cynicism that has no nuance. I don’t believe that there’s a conspiracy or a covering of the realities but how I feel about the push to recruit adopters is complicated. Adoption is the best thing I’ve ever done, of course I’d do it differently, that’s hindsight for you, but would I recommend it? Erm……….. it’s complicated.

Of course, I understand that National Adoption Week is a recruitment drive. I don’t think that it’s being duplicitous when it shows the pictures and tells the good news stories. I don’t think that it’s a sinister plot marketing plot. #NAW17 is the same as it’s always been it’s about supply and demand. Yes, that is perhaps a crude phrase to use in relation to children. However, it’s the reality and an ever constant concern for many policy makers and those charged with keeping the system running. Too many children that are in need of permanent homes and too few prospective adopters.

With the figures of children waiting for adoption remaining static and the number of prospective adopters falling then questions are being asked how do we arrest this trend. A lot of money has been thrown at the problem but the trend is set in. What are the underlying causes? I’m no sociologist but I’m sure the answers are complicated.

As a community of adoptive parents we’ve had a frenetic year raising the profile of some of the difficulties that many of us face as we seek support for our children. The list of challenges makes for dire reading; school systems, family understanding, health services, mental health services, challenging behaviour, aggression and violence, challenges with access to service and poor understanding. This year I feel we’ve seen a tide change, my perspective may not be right and I know that many, if not all, still face significant challenges. I feel people are starting to listen but I’m under no illusion that there’s a long way to go.   Adoption is not all bad, far from it, AUK’s survey highlighted that most adopters would do it again, as I said it’s the best, and most difficult, thing I’ve ever done. I love them.
However, I’m not sure what prospective adopters are hearing or reading, perhaps prospective is to strong a word. People don’t see an advert and make a U turn in their life, run to the nearest prep group and sign on the dotted line. The idea grows over years, is influenced by experience, knowledge,  culture, media and circumstance and then is perhaps realised in National Adoption Week when all the moments up to then align.

However, the narrative is changing. Is adoption, once held so dear, not seen as the gold standard any longer? Media raises the spectre of misuses, abuses and injustice through the likes of Long Lost Families and revelatory documentaries. If you search the internet the adoption community has filled it to overflowing with blogs, twitter threads and Facebook pages brimming with the ‘reality’ of adopted life. Adoptees tell their stories, adopters tell theirs and birth families theirs. By the very nature of people, we rarely rush to our phones and laptops to tell our good stories or our normal days but we share our worries and struggles. Even our #Glomos are small and sometimes only reflect a lack of challenge and conflict rather than achievement as measured by the wider parenting world.

Can #NAW17 compete with this tide of information, freely available, at the fingertips of the curious and the potential? I don’t know. Are we, adopters, unintentionally casting a fatal shadow over adoption as we know it? Is that a bad thing?

As always National Adoption Week leaves me with more questions than answers.