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.


  1. My sentiments exactly. The number of times/people we have explained our situations too is too many to recall. At this point in time, our adoption support social worker & school too, are fabulous & doing all they can to help. Long may it continue, but, don't hold your breath ....... there will be more budget cuts, merging of agencies, shutting of facilities. Grab it with both hands whilst it is available.

    1. Hi, thanks for commenting. Yes, we can't deny that at times we have fantastic professionals but at the back of our minds we know the it may bee a passing phase!

    2. Your words very much resonated with me. I would add that despite the varying quality of the different social workers, for me, the past 11 years of living with my two lovely, but highly traumatised children has changed my perspective on the world. At times I discover I have unwittingly become the cynical, angry and frustrated adopter that I used to despise when I met them at support groups when my wife and I were 'jumping through the hoops' in the adoption preparation groups. "I won't be like that, I thought when I get my children; no wonder they have problems, its all to do with the negative attitude of that adopter" I used to unfairly and naïvely judge.
      Our journey has jostled and knocked me in every direction. Like most adopters, I am not the same person I was when I welcomed our 3 year olds in to our family at the start.
      I have been reflecting on this over the last few days, before I came across this blog. I have decided that in order to refuel during the short and often unexpected 5-10 min downtime, in preparation for the next onslaught, it is helpful to try and reframe the situation. It may be the same events and the same characters but can I view it from a different perspective? Hopefully that will draw me away from the 'doom and gloom' that uninvitedly engulfs me during the frequent challenges and crisis of our family life.

    3. It is a constant challenge to remains positive as the ebb and flow of our lives continues. Like you I don't want to be a cynic or a only speak of the negatives but some days they can be consuming. I'm not that fresh faced optimised of 18 years ago but I'd not change it for the world. Many thanks for commenting. Al