Thursday 27 December 2018


It seems like utter bunkum to review the year, so I won't.

However, my thoughts are drawn to trends and developments. There's a lot going on, with shifts in emphasis, agencies coming and going, the whole RAA thing seems to be unstoppable with all that means. That all seems routine and beyond the control or influence of most of us though.

For me there's an increasing shift to see the needs of adoptees and foster children in the context of all children's experiences. It's clear, the lobby for supporting children who have experienced trauma, loss and separation is stronger when we pull in the vast array of communities that care for those children, primarily biological parents, kinship carers, carers, kinship carers and adopters in order of decreasing numbers. The number is then increased from the ten's of thousands to at least the hundred's of thousands. A much louder voice. In what seems like and increasingly punitive environment we need a louder voice.

That of course is a challenge for organisations that are built on the premises of supporting and training adopters/adoptees. They've historically needed to highlight the difference/uniqueness of adoption or at least the shared benefits of supporting adoptees in whatever context they find themselves in.

What has influenced this shift in me was an occasion this year when I stood in front of a group of 25 adults to talk about childhood challenging violent and aggressive behaviour, one person in the group was an adopter, two were carers and the rest biological parents. Dare I say that the needs of the adoption community are dwarfed by the needs of biological parents of children with special educational needs, complex biographies, loss, separation and trauma. Next year my diary shows me moving beyond my safe country of adoption to new lands.

It's all food for thought, don't believe that I see the needs of adoptees and adopters as any less, just that my knowledge of the wider context and level of need is perhaps better informed than it was a year ago. I also understand that public opinion remains mostly with adopters and we get a bigger slice of the cake than most. So, is everything ok in the world of adoption support? hell no, am I advocating us just gratefully accepting our lot? hell no. On Christmas day I got news though a birth family member of another injustice heaped on my children*, it reminded me that there's so much to do for so many of us. Looking further forward, I'm not sure where adoption will be in ten or twenty years. As an adopter will I become an ugly manifestation of a then unacceptable practice, I guess that's a much bigger question about the future of adoption and if adoption will choose to embrace the inevitable challenges that are coming. It's clear that a lot of the RAAs are re arranging the proverbial deckchairs while the future of adoption seems uncertain. One of the most depressing things I learn this year being that meaningful contact between children and birth parents is less than 20 years ago. How can we arrest this slide into uniformed popularist practice? I've some ideas but I wield limited influence within my own circumstances let alone beyond that.

So, that's all a bit rambly, rest assured I am optimistic for the future and have personal, family and wider aspirations for the coming year.  Will there be challenges, hell yeah, I'm currently suffering chronic whiplash from the levels of sass coming from a thirteen year old Lotty and the weekend seems like an unachievable target right now. I will hold fast, perhaps next year I'll find some new friends to hold fast with.

Anyway, here's my 'tops' of the year.

Book: Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning

Album: Ozzy Osbourne, Tribute

Family Member: MrsC

Moment: There's lots of things I 'should' say but riding through the night on the the Dunwich Dynamo was hauntingly remarkable.

Have a great year, hold fast.

*I'm holding my tongue and considering my next move, but I'm as cross as hell at what seems social work practice that errs on the side of caution and the easy route rather than on best practice and forethought.

Thursday 13 December 2018


MrsC recounted our year to a friend she’d not seen in a while. The ebb and flow of our version of normal, police, social workers, pregnancy, losing children then finding them, births and everything inbetween. 

She spoke of a feeling of slow inevitable corrosion and the friend listened, paused for a moment and said:

‘You’re bloody amazing’

I agree, she is.

Sunday 9 December 2018

Clear Blue Sky

Like tight shoes or awkward pants you only really appreciated how tight or uncomfy they are until you take them off. Then the true extent of the problem becomes apparent and you're aware of how you'd tolerated the discomfort and challenge.

Mrs C and I have had a few days away and the lack of physical work is good but the psychological blue sky we're sitting under is so sweet. We've left a good team holding the fort and lined up all the dominoes to make sure there's no uncertainty as to how the weekend is going to pan out at home. It's time to draw breath before Christmas and the deep mid winter and all challenges that can bring.

Like everybody that looks after children with additional, uncertain and complex needs we're holding our children in our minds even when they're not with us. There are rare time where I switch off, a call from school, an email or a call from Flossy or Lotty's  phone is a trigger, it precipitates a girding reflex as my whole being says what now. I leave our stories in the shadows but the two year anniversary of unwanted social care hangs heavy over Paula and I.  The weather's not helping, the dark brooding skies, short days and leaves underfoot take me back to those long December days of unwelcome social work involvement. We have our very own primary trauma, the skies bring it back, perhaps they always will.

But we've got a 48 hour pass and we've relinquished all responsibility, time with friends just being grown ups for a while it's only now I feel the tension as it's gone. The need for breaks for carers of vulnerable and challenging children remains unquestionable. That fight's for another day.

While I'm here writing the autumn has brought other things, thoughts that about where adoption sits in the world of permanence, I fear we're living in uncertain times with the us, adopters, losing perspective and context and wondering if we've ever really had it. Thoughts that don't want to be marshalled into a blog quite yet but are floating uncomfortably around waiting to be articulated. We'll see.

Saturday 24 November 2018

The A & F podcast - Episode 51 an interview with Isabelle Trowler

In this episode Al put on his best shirt and headed up to the Department for Education to speak to Isabelle Trowler England's Chief Social Worker for Children and Families. There had been a few questions sent in so they were synthesised into some talking points including professional development for social workers, the support available for kinship carers and the trial of a permanence service in Peterborough that looks at the children first. We also touched on her role and what that actual involves.

It's been a while since the last podcast and we've a lot of other stuff to catch up with including the AUK conference, Scott's house move, Al's unfortunate incident with a psychologist and there is a slight unravelling when the subject of the recent Giff Gaff advert* was brought up and Al shared a forthright view on the matter. (he openly acknowledged that other opinions are available and he's also comfortable to be dismissed and disagreed with).

As always a cheeky review on iTunes here would be appreciated.

*The advert depicted a fictional 'Adams family' style family where their child looked to be adopted as she didn't like her home life. It then portrayed her new adoptive family as ultra straight in contrast to her original family and then they tried to coerce her into signing adoption papers. She eventually returned to her biological family accepting their difference. 

The A & F podcast - Episode 51 an interview with Isabelle Trowler

In this episode Al put on his best shirt and headed up to the Department for Education to speak to Isabelle Trowler England's Chief Social Worker for Children and Families. There had been a few questions sent in so they were synthesised into some talking points including professional development for social workers, the support available for kinship carers and the trial of a permanence service in Peterborough that looks at the children first. We also touched on her role and what that actual involves.

It's been a while since the last podcast and we've a lot of other stuff to catch up with including the AUK conference, Scott's house move, Al's unfortunate incident with a psychologist and there is a slight unravelling when the subject of the recent Giff Gaff advert* was brought up and Al shared a forthright view on the matter. (he openly acknowledged that other opinions are available and he's also comfortable to be dismissed and disagreed with).

As always a cheeky review on iTunes here would be appreciated.

*The advert depicted a fictional 'Adams family' style family where their child looked to be adopted as she didn't like her home life. It then portrayed her new adoptive family as ultra straight in contrast to her original family and then they tried to coerce her into signing adoption papers. She eventually returned to her biological family accepting their difference. 

Friday 16 November 2018


Peanut was rather pleased with herself as she showed me the contents of her box of secrets, she read out a letter she'd written.

My name is Peanut, I am 7 years old, I am adopted and I am special. 

Oh, is that a secret? I asked

No she said, I told my teacher that's why I'm special. 

Heartwarming, well kind of.  Of course, she is special and I can wholeheartedly agree.

The perspectives of adoptees on adoption feels illusive to me. The perspective of my children more so, I wonder if they dance around their true feelings to protect me. Like us all they grow up in a world where they have limited choices about the decisions that are made over their lives. What can they say, what perspective can they have, I can recall overhearing my then 7 year old eldest daughter being asked if she was happy if she'd been adopted. A stupid question but she didn't skip a beat and answered 'yes'. Heartwarming, but what else could she have said and what else did she know. It affirmed our relationship but is no measure of all that had happened to this little girl, it really was an inappropriate question.  I wonder what she'd have answered at 12, 18 and 25 years old if she'd been asked. Like all people our views change and perspectives are informed by life experience and time to consider bigger pictures. All of us are allowed to change our opinions.

National Adoption Month comes round from the US and the voices of adoptees are more prominent on the web. It never fails to surprise me that heated discussions rage as some of the voices tussle and for one true perspective on adoption. It spills into other arguments and sometimes turns ugly and people are hurt. I watch but feel it's wholly inappropriate for me to do anything other than listen.

Back to Peanut, right now she's special because of her adoption but as she grows her views may change and one day she may speak out against adoption. One day she might rage at the sky for all of it, and why not. I hope that she feels that she can, it doesn't change how I feel about her and I'm sure it won't change what she feels about me. That's the thing that seems most important, court orders come and sometimes go, decisions are lost in the fog of children's social care filing systems but our relationship will endure.

Thursday 1 November 2018

Adoption Roundtable: Expectations

Firstly, I’ve been up to the DfE quite a bit over the last three years and sat in a range of meetings for a range of reasons and I’ve learnt some things and observed lots. Expectation management is at the heart of what I've learnt. 

There are lots of things on the adoption community’s wish list, and hear me correctly, we do pretty well by comparison to other parents of equally challenged children.  Never the less, there are things that we’d like done and things we think need to be done. As a community we have broad consensus on big issues but we’d perhaps identify specific issues within them that are important to us as individuals. That all sits in a complex dynamic within central government where what is possible and practical is influenced by current legislation, Treasury requirements, realms of influence, responsibilities, legislative windows and timeframes. Not to mention political will and competing demands on time, money and energy. 

So, that all said to my mind managing our expectations as to what can be done is essential and creating consensus and effective, justifiable and solid arguments for what we want is paramount. 

Being invited is a weighty privilege and all adopters present were conscious that we’re representing 1000s of families with the complex struggles and challenges they face. Adoption UK were chairing the event and laid out the issues that were to be addressed. Of course, you could debate what went on the list and perhaps you will* but that was the list: Adoptee’s challenges in education, Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and the need for ongoing support and awareness were the key areas that were focused on. Generally, it was received well by Nadhim Zahawi, who was clearly aware of the issues and engaged in discussion. As a group we highlighted key points then fleshed them out with lived experience. I’m sure that the reality of the challenges carries a weight that a straightforward briefing would not and the minister certainly understood, empathised and engaged with our arguments for continuation and development of support etc. 

It’s easy to see all that as a little vague and no doubt it’s too vague for some but the reality is that there are rarely revolutionary changes in this world, we see evolution and development. That is unfortunately too slow for many of our children but it is what it is and disengagement does not seem like option. What will be the outcome to the meeting? I'm not sure, I’m not going to pretend that the minister slammed the desk declaring something’s got to be done then sending his minions off to implement radical change. Perhaps we'll see an influence on the longevity of the adoption support fund, on raised awareness and CPD among social care professionals of Childhood Challenging, Violent and Aggressive Behaviour and FAS.  We will have to wait and see. 

What did I say, not much really. I used my trump card I told my story in all its gory detail, no clever words or insight I’m afraid just a dad looking for a touch of professional empathy and a little help.

In the past these little updates have been accused of being a little unsatisfactory or vague. I accept that but pragmatically think that is better than nothing which is the alternative. 

Anyhoo, thanks for all the words of support and encouragement and keep up the good work.

*The list could be very long and many important issues remain low on the agenda. Incredibly frustrating and sometimes upsetting but we have to accept adoption is one form of permanence and an issue that impacts on approximately 55, 000 children in a national cohort of 11, 000 000 children. Do we stop pushing? no. However, we have to prioritise our issues.

Monday 29 October 2018

Guest Post - Does labelling support the notion of ‘divide and conquer’?

By Ren
I often wonder where our obsession with labelling started especially in education. Personally, I find the term SEND limiting not only for the child because it tells me absolutely nothing about a child, but limiting also for all those who are involved in the child’s care and support; because in reality it is such an impersonal way of thinking about a child or young person it dehumanises them. I also ponder why we call this SEND anyway- given it stands for ‘Special Educational Needs and Disability’ because in reality the child does not have an educational need they have a LIFE need- after all you can’t realistically leave your ADHD, ASD or Cerebral Palsy at school – so its not and never has been an Educational Need or and Educational Disability, it has always been a LIFE need or disability, Myelomeningocele spina bifida doesn’t disappear when you leave school for example it stays with you for all of your life, so it cannot just be an Educational Need, yet there seems to be a complete disregard for the social and care needs beyond education; in so much as parents and carers are fighting and struggling on a daily basis to get their child’s needs met and without an Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP) even more so. Here again the emphasis is on Education, in that without being identified as SEND then it is highly unlikely families can get an EHCP. The term is for schools and ministers to use to define a specific group of children and young people- but what does it offer the child or young person other than another label? These children are awash with labels, and often buried under them, from chronic medical conditions (generic term), SEND (generic term) to more specific ASD, FASD, Cerebral Palsy or ADHD (more specific but still general terms and often several applied at the same time) in addition they may also have further labels attached such as Conduct Disorder, Mental Health alongside Key Stage levels and indicators or assessments that outline just how much these children don’t measure up to their peers through the use of more labels. This over labelling obsession often buries the very child they are supposed to be used to help. In a country where testing and measuring up to everyone else is the primary focus of education provision, irrespective of whether or not educationalists (such as teachers) agree to this approach, we see outcomes rather than individuals, we look to achievement of only those things assessed rather than achievement overall and we focus on what someone fails to do rather than celebrate what they can do; in a hope to encourage them to do more to meet the desired tick box. Yet I can’t help but wonder if this is why so many children are failed by the ‘system’- in our mad rush to apply all the labels we can we seem to forget EVERY INDIVIDUAL CHILD IS DIFFERENT and every individual child has ‘specific needs’ -  just some children have more specific needs than other children, or more individual needs, or more special needs but every child is special to their family, is individual to other children and will have their own quirks and characteristics specific to them- as we all do. I would argue then that it should be our job as adults and as a society to ensure they get all of the encouragement and support they need to use the skills they have to enable them to achieve, not highlight their failures or add so many labels to them we lose sight of the child altogether because we are too busy trying to address or fix the ‘faulty parts’ labelled by adults for our adult attention.  
This leads me to my 2nd ponder, what if we simply stopped calling children by their legal status too, first and foremost they are not adopted, or child carers, or kinship care children- they are children. They may be children in need, but every child is a child in need are they not? What is overlooked frequently is that it is not the fact they are adopted or Asylum/ Refugee children or in Guardianship or Kinship care but that many of these children have experienced circumstances the majority of society have never had to and for some children circumstances the majority of society could never imagine either. Very many of these children will also be identified as SEND for the purpose of education or for the purpose of ‘grouping’ them into predetermined categories. Yet, they tend to be divided from those birth family children identified as SEND, for statistical purposes. So much so that these children become the ‘adopted’ children or ‘looked after children’ or the refugee children’ rather than being included into those children with SEND per se. Yet the statistical outcomes for these marginalised groups such as educational achievements, risk of exclusion or ‘behaviour difficulty’ should be seen as part of the SEND outcomes, which are failing all children who require additional support irrespective of where these children reside. This makes it difficult to determine if the indictors for the children who are ‘looked after’ or have been ‘previously looked after’ are as a consequence of their unmet SEND or as a consequence of their legal status. Published indicators tend not to separate how many of the group – such as Adopted (Previously Looked After Children) – who have experienced school exclusion or with regard to their GCSE outcomes, have a diagnosed SEND and how many do not have any SEND. By nature of their legal position, in that their history suggests there was need for them to be ‘taken into care’, it would be anticipated a significant proportion would have a number of SEND labels diagnosed or under assessment. So what would happen if we left the legal status label to one side and actually saw the child underneath, this won’t remove their additional need or any diagnosis they may have such as FASD or ASD or ADHD or Global Developmental Delay, but it might enable the actual need to be more readily seen rather than being hidden by the legal position label. What’s more if all of these families spoke as one rather than as an ‘Adoption Community’ or a ‘Kinship Community’ or a SEND parents forum for example they would make a lot more noise than as individual groups. 

I get that for many families they need the labels to be attached so they can get the help and support they need for their child, and totally understand how the current system fails so many children daily. I just don’t quite grasp why this has to be so, why we need to fight and push and argue to have children labelled simply to gain support. As a developed country we should be able to support all of our children in society and recognise not all children are the same. We should acknowledge all children have different strengths that enable them to excel beyond their peers as well as areas where they are not as able as their peers- this is their uniqueness, something we need to not only recognise but encourage, so that all children are able to achieve to the best of their own individual ability rather than be demoralised by not being ‘equal’ to someone else. So the next time you are working with any child or young person with individual needs, try to ‘see’ the child instead of the ‘label’, recognise the child is unique and individual, accept the label is for everybody else’s use but should not define the    child into predetermined boxes and whatever their legal position remember they are a child 1st and foremost, they may have very complex needs and if they do, we as a society, should be looking to support this not label it, predetermine it, or make this the main focus of how we respond- because if you do not see the child you will never know what they may just be capable of. 

Saturday 27 October 2018

Adoption & Fostering Podcast - National Adoption Week

This is episode we recorded a few thoughts on National Adoption Week as we sat on a wall outside the National Adoption Awards at the Foundling Museam in Central London. We also managed to grab the winner of the Adoption Blogger of the Year, Adoption BlogFox, for a short interview.

It's a shorter episode as we're all caught up with half term and the business of family and stuff. We will be back to normal in the next episode.
As always thank you for listening, give us a share and if you're inclined a review on iTunes here.

Friday 26 October 2018

Empathic reflex

Lot's is happening, I mean a lot. Writing, work, podcasts, doors opening, door shutting, meetings, training, screenings, blogs, dogs and house alterations.

In the midst of all that we've had the formulation back from one of the massive's assessment that was funded by the Adoption Support Fund. 

What a peculiar feeling. To see what we've been banging on about for over a decade formalised, witnessed, understood and most importantly validated. It was odd, I kept thinking in my head, they get it, they really get it. We were open to being wrong but we've attended the training and then delivered it, we've read the books, watched the youtube clips and, by gum, we've lived through it. To finally not have to lay it out in the simplest terms for whatever professional is in front of us is an amazing experience. 

So, we've these words that make sense of our child's view of themselves, the world they inhabit, the people in it and the peculiar world we've built around them to keep us all safe. 

I then felt sad again, an empathic reflex I wasn't expected as I've had a little bit of a kicking recently so had turned off the feelings a little.  Anyhow, lets not open that can of worms as we'll never get the lid back on them. 

Someone had listened and agreed. It was like a cold drink on a hot day. I know that it doesn't fix anything, I'm no fool. I'm not sure of the route forward from here but I feel a strangely better with a document that tells me how we got here.

There's a lot more to ponder and reflect on, but for now this will do.
Beware the worms. 

Thursday 18 October 2018

That Giffgaff advert - a few quick thoughts

I'm reluctant to weigh into the giffgaff debate. Mainly because I don't want to appear precious and over sensitive to how adoption is portrayed in the media and film. That's a slippery slope ending with me boycotting literally every Disney film due to the harmful mis portrayal of contemporary adoption/kinship care and step families. 

If we object to one then do we have to object to them all? Can we select what we're offended at? I'm not sure, of course Giffgaff don't get to choose how we receive their advert and I don't agree with many portrayals or references in media of adoption but I'll be honest I still enjoy Annie and most of the other stuff. So, what to think about Giffgaff? well being cynical I'd suggest that their marketing team are giddy that they're stirring up a mini storm that they can capitalise on, as they say there's no such thing as bad publicity. There was no chance that I'd be looking at their Twitter profile if it weren't for this.

So, what's the issue? 

Firstly, I think that there's a lot of adopters/adoptees/birth families feeling a little delicate due to it being #NationalAdoptionWeek so this message comes at a tricky moment when many of us are a little tetchy.

Secondly and more importantly, the advert unpicks some of our most basic fears as adopters that our children are not ours and we will be rejected by them, perhaps our children will leave us and return to their origins. The message of monsters as birth parents plays as an overt metaphor for our children's parents and dances around our fears and even the language that is sometimes used. So, that's all a bit close to the knuckle.

Finally, for adopters the advert plays into our fears for our children that they will find their identity caught up in the character, behaviour and circumstances of their biological families. To listen to a teenager's fears that she'll become like her birth mother mother is hard and we know this advert has the potential to stoke those fears. 

Of course I empathise with those upset but I watched it and as requested and if I overthinking it I can see other's worries and concerns but I'm not worried by it at all. This advert is a fantasy, a story and not a social commentary on contemporary adoption. I'm robust and from the outset I've taught my children that almost every book, film or programme that we read or see that features adoption is usually wrong and to take them as entertainment only. On that basis I've no offence.

Wednesday 17 October 2018

National Adoption Week - Complicated

Firstly, I did promise myself that I'd not write a blog on the subject and I'd keep my head down this #NationalAdoption Week. But then as a favour to a friend I did a radio interview for #National Adoption week and again like Canute I could not withstand the tide of goodwill and limited knowledge of the reality of contemporary adoption. So, sorry, I'm rubbish at principles here's a blog.

#NationalAdoptionWeek is a peculiar feature in the calendar in comparison to the other awareness days, weeks or months. It stands out to me in that it is wholly focused on a system and recruiting more people into the process of adoption while systematically alienating at least two thirds that have been through the process regardless of the direction of travel or point of origin.

If it was #NationalAdoptionAwarenessWeek or #NationalAdopteeWeek or  #FindChildrenHomesWeek or even, heaven forbid, #NationalAdopterWeek then it would be a very different creature as it would then be about people* rather than a process. What is increasingly a contentious process. In reality, it feels and I'm pretty sure it is #NationalGetMorePeopleToAdoptWeek. So be it.

That seems to be the crux of it for me. With a system in transition and large communities on different sides of the so called adoption triangle** asking big questions then #NationalAdoptionWeek feels at times like a misstep. Parts of it seem to work, celebrating the dedication of many individuals, families and professionals to improvement and the welfare of children seems like a laudable element of the week at the #NationalAdoptionAwards. However, the questions of those bruised buy the 'system' remain fairly well hidden. of course the debate around funds used for the #NAW and the if's and buts of how that money could be used elsewhere in early support ring true but I'm not sure that they reflect the reality of funding or add up.

So, as I tweeted this week I find myself in a pragmatic stew caught between the good, the bad and the very large bit between.

Almost every adopter I ask about #NationalAdoptionWeek pauses, twists their face and says, 'well it's complicated isn't it?' Yes, on this we can agree.

*I think its a stretch to imagine we'd ever get to a point where we'd have #NationalBirthParentWeek

** It's not an Adoption Triangle its something entirely different as described here. 

Monday 1 October 2018

DfE Adopter Reference Group

Today I was at the DfE today sharing the views and experiences of adopters at the Adopters Reference Group that feeds into the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board. I'll be honest I raised a few points at the meeting and the views here are mine, they may be shared by others but that's for them to declare.

Firstly. I was wanting to call this post '365 days to save the Adoption Support Fund', better sense prevailed.

Behind that kind of sensationalism is a serious question. In the autumn of next year the Treasury will do the sums and make a decision/recommendation in relation to it's value and sustainability in the financial context. They will then decide if it's going to continue beyond 2020.

Firstly, do we want the ASF to continue?

It's not a trick question,  the online narrative is often focused on the barriers or challenges that families face in relation to accessing the fund.  If you read only that then you may think that the ASF is a disaster. 90% of the issues I hear about are process problems and usually the responsibility of the Local Authorities, though it suits them to deflect that onto the ASF managers. Of course it's not perfect, what is, we need to be free to highlight areas for improvement. It's complicated

So, do we want the fund continue? The case has to be made that it presents value for money, that it's not paying for what is expected to be provided by the LAs as part of their core PAS service. The ASF has become part of our adoption landscape and has brought a lot of good to many, my view is that it's made us look up and seek out support, it's got social workers listening to our needs and seeking to support them, it's helped many. However, that 'many' are perhaps not the vocal ones, what can we do to present our case for continuation and justify its continuation, again if that's what we want. I realise writing this that for some they've been unable to access the Fund and that's not acceptable but their reality.
Lots to unpick there and I'm sure some will care less but I've a hunch that it is more welcome than not. Anyway, I'm just putting that out there.

We chatted about a few other issues including education and health and the challenges that parents and children face. If I'm being brutally honest, it felt a little like old ground, we see incremental improvements but culture and children's workforce knowledge are like the proverbial supertanker, they take a long time to re direct.

We briefly chatted about PAS workforce development, to me this is a tangible area that we can influence and though it's contentious I believe as users of the service we have a bona fide stake in the skill level of social care professionals (as we do any professional who wields power over us, ie I demand my doctor knows what they're doing and have continued there learning). The Governments documents on adoption reform mention it in passing but are  mainly focused on matching and quick approval. Anecdotally, it hasn't gone un noticed that the emerging RAA agendas are focused on systems, process and recruitment. Where is the support? Really, are they so focused on recruitment at the expense of support that that they'll throw more adoptive families into this challenge unequipped? Overstatement? Hmmmmmmm............

We need our social workers to be experts in support not generalists in social care, to understand therapeutic parenting, therapy pros and cons, trauma, loss, brains and living with traumatised children. More to the point, the reforms to policy and practice that we want to see will be implemented by those staff so we need to invest in them rather than systems that will not function without competent staff. Oh, I could go on. Social work seems to be in a flux about this but there are moves to add a little pressure to that pot.

Adoption policy appears to be in a time of transition and as we know transitions are hard with forces and pressures from many directions and this is overlaid by ongoing austerity with LAs struggling like never before. How will this pan out? I don't know, coming away I'm conscious that politicians come and go, focusses move this way and that, opinions and perspectives shift. This uncertainty will pass and maybe so will the ASF but an adopter I will remain.

Saturday 29 September 2018

The Adoption & Fostering Podcast: Episode 49 An interview with Dr Lucy Peake from Grandparents Plus

This week we speak to Dr Lucy Peake the Chief Executive of Grandparents Plus.

It was a really interesting and thought provoking discussion in relation to the unique and shared challenges that kinship carers and special guardians face. We cover a wide range of issues including some earlier campaignes Lucy worked on in fostering such as Staying Put as well as the significant issue of support of kinship carers and special guardians. The unique challenges that kinship carers face is discussed and the children that that they care for including issues of age, poverty, stigma and the Lack of Lack campaign.

There's a little banter as usuall and the terrible story of the dead cat is shared.
As always thanks for listening and share your comments if you wish.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Thursday 27 September 2018

Flag Waving

With the looming shadow of national adoption week I'm tempted to lock myself into my thought bunker, turn the music up and sit it out. The time for me being invited to flag waving events has passed. I must have mentioned the time I attended a David Bellamy plant a tree for adoption event. Now that was a strange afternoon.  I've lived a marvellous life.

So, this week I've been out and about banging the CPV drum, all good stuff very encouraging and in the midst of it I managed to catch the end of the smallest, quietest, invitation only conference ever.
Birth mothers telling their stories of adoption.

I'm constantly caused to extrapolate the experiences of social carer that adopters tell on social media to the parents of the children that they adopted. The battle between the binary, 'adoption is good' narrative and the analog soup of 'there's more to this than you'd first think'  rages on. I could throw my had in with either position depending on a thousand factors.

I'm off point.

So, I listened to a visibly shaking young woman recount the story of walking out of court having lost her child and was chilled at the abandonment of what was and remains a vulnerable young woman. Her recounting of feeling shame, fear, loss, isolation and abandonment and withdrawal of support were profound, her weakness was her strength.
Of course, the rational and reasoning me has lots of questions and I could give as many ifs and buts as the next person. I can't deny the truth of what I heard and it shook and worried me.

It's been a few days and I remain shaken and as we glide towards adoption week the tension of a weathered old adopter like me is to hold all of that together and position myself just the right side of worried but not too close to the flag wavers.

I've not even mentioned post adoption support.

It's too easy to be cynical.

Thursday 20 September 2018

Workforce Development

Having faffed around all summer pondering the findings of the #CPVA2018 Survey and I'm convinced that the key issue right now in relation to violent and aggressive behaviour is workforce development.  More than that, I'd go as far as to say the key issue for all aspects of adoption support is workforce development. Systems and structures will take us so far but the knowledge and skill of the social workers that come into our homes is fundamental to support.

To that end I re read the Government's 2016 document Adoption: A Vision For Change as it lays out their vision for the adoption system in 2020 and how they'll achieve it. 

Workforce development is mentioned as a key element of that plan but a couple of things jumped off the page. The first being the commitment to:

'develop a robust programme to support social workers to develop or sharpen skills they need in order to make and support robust permanence decisions.'

It's important but it's also clear that the focus of the section and plan remains clearly on adoption pre order. 

The document goes on to list 7 specific areas for workforce development of which six refer to pre order skills with only one considering post placement adoption support. That is the stumbling block for me, we can stack adopters high and have a workforce that can rattle them efficiently and skilfully through the process of adoption but if support remains weak then it's often a house built on sand. Where are the ethics of pouring more adopters into a system that isn't looking to the well term welfare of the families that are created?

There has been a development of adoption support but that is often specialist external services accessed through para social work organisations and the ASF. For all the issues that adopters (special guardians and foster carers) face the fundamental skills and knowledge of the workforce in relation to educating, advocating and supporting children and parents seems to the the bugbear of many families.  If you want to start a heated debate ask about the knowledge of social care staff.

Of course there are many good social workers and most of ours have been at least good. However, to qualify as a social worker you go through a generic training with no specialism. In the three years of my degree there was one slide in one lecture that mentioned adoption. Yes, I did write that correctly. Social work is a cradle to grave service, there is a clear argument for specialising the workforce in my mind.
Adoption has it's unique issues, adopters are unusual service users and the challenges that brings is for another blog, but the power dynamics and the high level of need of the children are just a few of the challenges.

I'm rambling but my point is that I believe workforce development is a cornerstone of adoption services. I started the blog with the complexity of challenging and violent behaviour that too many children manifest. Children who are simultaneously vulnerable and frightening. We need a workforce who understand the underlying causes, the challenges that children and families face and offer effective support in the first instance of listening, believing, acknowledging and caring. Effective interventions remain illusive but the basic go a long way.

There's more to say, much more and this post feels a little rushed and incomplete but the busyness of life is against me. With this I'm hoping to start a conversation and dare I say ask the Gov what about the plan.

Saturday 15 September 2018

Adoption & Fostering Podcast - Ep 48 An Interview with Martin Barrow

After a much welcome summer break we start with a bang as we interview foster carer Martin Barrow. He is a vocal advocate for fostering and can often be found on Twitter (@MartinBarrow) debating the role, status and future of foster carers and foster care.

In this episode we get right to it and Martin's passion for the subject shines through, we discss with vigour, employment rights, transfering skills, market forces and many issues that face foster carers. We also discuss his experiences of helping children move on to other homes.
We end with a little catch up and some news from both of us, all rather exciting and ponder some upcoming topics that we'd like to discuss
As always thank you for listening.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Friday 7 September 2018

Five years down the tubes and that video clip

The descent into vanilla, I think that's what I should re name my blog, ha ha ha. Actually, I've been thinking about blogging and sharing what seems important to me and the Massive. It's all been kicked off by anniversary of me starting to blog five years ago this month.

I thought I'd write a reflective blog post to mark five years and I'd pick out my favourite post from each year and give it some clickbait title to drive people to my blog. That got dull really quick, there are lots of posts and only a few mean much to me, of course some are a little painful to read and some less so.

However, it all got derailed when I saw a video online of a child being told that they were going to be adopted on their birthday.

Oh, well that just about sums the whole damn think up doesn't it. Those few seconds of video (no, I'm not going to add a link because if you're that bothered you'd find it) scupper just about everything I've ever said ever. Honestly, it made my skin crawl even as I wept with joy. Yes, really.

There's me crafting away under the heavy burden of my self righteous, and self inflicted, cause for five bleedin' years. Trying to change the narrative and share my home spun, down to earth thoughts on contemporary adoption and it's all undone in a 30 second clip. Now,  I could unpick soooooo much about that clip, reinforcement of the 'Annie Narrative', the power dynamics, the voyeurism, the consent, the culture, the this and the that.......... come on, I'm a social worker and could do this all day.

But why even bother, by the time I've finished and put the whole damn thing into words someone else will put up another 'child is told they are going to be adopted' clip and we're right back to the start again.

I just wished I'd caught the beautiful and delicate exchange between me an Lotty on video that went like this:

Lotty at maximum volume: 

'Why should I do as you say? You're not even my REAL dad!'

With me responding with equal vigour I retorted:

'Tell me something I don't know! I signed the papers'

Not my best moment and unlikely to go viral, though it may feature heavily in parenting classes in the 'Let's think what we can do better' section of the course. It does feel a bit closer to many of our days. In the interests of truth, we still love each other and laughed heartily at each other later on.

Anyway, if you can be bothered I think there was a good post in late 2014, I prefer my early stuff before I became successful :-p

Railway Child

Saturday 1 September 2018

Adopters Stories by The Adoption & Fostering Podcast - #1 & #2

Welcome to Adopters Stories hosted by the Adoption & Fostering Podcast

All adoption stories are unique and all adoption stories represent the coming together of different experiences, motives, hopes and aspirations. They often don’t go to plan and many adoptive parents discover that their lives are taken in directions that they never anticipated.

In this, the first Episode, Clare tells her story, with her husband Steve they adopted their son Jake in 2011 when he was 7 and a half years old.

In this episode Paul shares his story of adoption of two boys in 2015 of two boys with his husband. 

Of course, there are other voices in adoption and we’re not presuming to speak for them and as we’re based in the UK all the adopters that we speak to have adopted through the UK's statutory adoption system.  If any of the stories in future episodes are different we’ll say.

If you’d like to share your story or would like to get in touch you can message through the adoption and fostering podcast facebook page or through our Twitter feed.

Tuesday 28 August 2018

Babies and Birthdays

I've a long list of topics, stories, issues and thoughts that I purposefully and very carefully don't blog on, if I get close to them then I slip into vague and bland terms. It's mainly so I when I write my book I'll have something worth saying rather than re hashing my blog posts. It's worth noting at this point that it's an imaginary book right and in all honesty very likely to stay that way, there are no plans, secret drafts or hint of spare time or likely to be in at least the next 15 years.

Again I digress, infertility is a topic that I've never mentioned. Mainly because I'm not entirely sure that it applies to me. When I say that I mean that I wasn't even slightly bothered by the need to reproduce my genes so when things worked out the way they did (see, I'm being vague) adoption suited me just fine. 

Circumstances have conspired this year to mean that I've become a grandfather twice, once in February and once on Monday. It's kind of been an 'interesting journey' (again, vague) to put it in the most most anodyne terms possible. The last few weeks have taken us through the experience of packing hospital suitcases and stockpiling baby wipes and nappies. We waved my daughter off to hospital and became familiar with what is a routine passage that the overwhelming majority of families travel. At my ripe age and as a father of six it feels odd to be a stranger in the maternity ward and the tramlines of pregnancy and birth, all the systems and processes that feel alien yet are standard for so many. 

So, today I visited the ward and MrsC shared her experience as the birthing partner, a moving and personal experience.  I got all teary and I felt this little twinge. It could have been more. All this swirling unresolved mess inside that I really didn't have back at the beginning of our family's journey seems to have slowly grown into something. I'm not overwhelmed or bereft,  I've no regrets just the odd thought. 

What if things had been different? 

That's not a helpful thought so I tend to push it back down. I think a lot of my friends have that thought. 

After today's business I tucked Peanut into bed, it's her birthday eve and she asked to go early. I looked her in the eye and told her,

'Thank you for being the most, clever, creative, kind, beautiful, funny, silly, wonderful six year old in the world, its been a pleasure and a privilege to be your daddy this year and I am so exited for you to be seven'

As I got the end of my little speech her bottom lip quivered and she broke into a full on sob. 'What's wrong?' I asked. 
'I'm so happy.' She sobbed 

We cuddled tight. My thoughts went to a little girl's birth that started seven years ago tonight. 

Adoption sucks and adoption is wonderful but that's no news.

So, that's a story out of the secret jar. 

Thursday 23 August 2018

Stress Test: Adopter Assessments

After 48 hours of having a child repeat every word I said I felt I had a unique perspective on my own capacity to parent like never before.  Quite clearly I was unravelling and my standard approaches of saying smart things to outwit the child had been brushed off many many hours earlier. This brings me to the delicate issue of adopter assessment. Sitting in a comfortable room discussing hypothetical parenting challenges is one thing, 48 hours of psychological acrobatics with a dysregulated child is another.

Would I make the assessment of adopters more vigorous, yes.

If your embarking on the process of approval to be an adopter or half way through it may feel like I'm pulling up the drawbridge after I've safely got myself into the castle. Yup, what you gonna do? I've been though the assessment at least four times and have completed a fair few fostering and the odd adoption assessment as a social worker so I feel like I have a fairly good perspective on the issue.

When prospectives are reaching out for the much desired prize, children, then what are they going to say other than what they believe the assessor want to hear. Diversity? of course. Contact, no bother. Good under pressure? like a concrete Supernanny. Do applicants dance around issues and skip over doubts because that desire for the prize is so strong. Did I, honestly yes I did. Did I lie or did I portray the best me on a good day? Parenting vulnerable children finds the truth pretty quickly.

The model of assessing adopters has remained relatively static and for, what used to be, the bulk of adoption scenarios fit for purpose. But scroll through the bios of adopters on twitter, read some adoption blogs, attend a few support groups and listen to the voices of the struggling third and it's clear that adoption has not gone to plan. Read about adopter's mental ill health, prescription medication, relationship breakdown, career stagnation or disruption and a whole host of challenges and the assessment perhaps was not fit for purpose. The needs of many of the children are so profound and consuming that many adopters are stripped to the core of who they through they were and having to call on resources that may or may not be there. Family disruption and relationship breakdowns are more common than I'd like to believe. Of course the underlying causes are complex but the assessment process is designed to be two fold, gather information and import information.

There are bright spots of innovation with adopters assessed for specific children. Assessment needs to reflect the nature of the uncertain  but largely predictable challenges that many adopters face. In an ideal world we'd stress test adopters, foster to adopt and foster carers who adopt follow that route by design or accident. I wonder if there are any breakdown stats for them?

Vigorous is perhaps the wrong word to describe what I'd like to see. I would say we need to unpick adopter's experiences and expectations, hopes and dreams, attachment strategies and vulnerabilities, strengths and weakness. Of course you could argue that's what we do but do we? Perhaps I am just pulling up the drawbridge.

We need to grease the stairs of the application process, hard to get in and easy to get out.


Thursday 16 August 2018

Hearts and Minds

We’ve reached the middle of the summer holidays and we're surviving.

It sounds dramatic to say that we’re surviving but being honest it doesn’t feel dramatic, it feels like a fair reflection of the stakes. 

We’ve had friends over, adopters who like us, have walked a less travelled road and care for children who can be sometimes challenging. I mean that's an understatement, re calibrate your idea of challenging by multiplying by a factor of 10.

Anyway, I normally find it reassuring to speak to other adopters but this time its had a peculiar effect. It’s reinforced the sense that adoption is increasingly a precarious way of creating a family for many adults and children. I bang on about societal change and the concentration of the most impacted children in the prospective adoptee cohort and I have to wonder if adoption is working. The vast majority of people I speak to don’t miss a beat in telling me that they’d do it again, neither do they shy away from telling me about the challenges that they’ve faced and the impact on their lives. I'd do it again, what other answer could I possibly give?

Last year I wrote a post ‘renegotiating the adoption contract’ about the challenge versus the support, or lack of support, and it's easily the most read post that I’ve ever written. Looking back I wonder what that even means now, increasingly I wonder about the capacity of government, local and national, to affect the changes that I’d want to see in adoption. Their powers only extend to structures, systems and policy & I believe that we need to change the ethos, values and knowledge of applicants, work force and the bean counters. This seems a much harder task, the old paradigms remain entrenched.

Having my friends over was a blast, We’d met last summer and then we acknowledge the challenges ahead. When they arrived they walked up my garden path and laughed ‘we survived’. Later when we talked we came back to 'surviving', it’s not funny we’ve all danced around children’s safeguarding, police, courts and more. We literally are surviving.
We spoke in frank and clear language about our challenges and worries. Peer support works for some but this time it was a stark reminder of the level of challenge that those sat around that table and many other families face. 

A social worker once asked me what my aspiration was for my child, I replied that we were all still together by the time they're 16 years old. They paused and with a serious face wrote something in their note book, ah well. Perhaps I'm suffering from mid holiday blogging silly season, nothing to reflect on other than the 7 of us sat looking at each other across the kitchen table. It's a big table.

I promise my next blog will be a right laugh. 

Tuesday 7 August 2018

A guest post - Attempts at ‘Semi-therapeutic parenting’ vs ‘Traditional parenting’- or ‘When Nanna steps in too much!’

Attempts at ‘Semi-therapeutic parenting’ vs ‘Traditional parenting’- or ‘When Nanna steps in too much!’
By the modern adoptive mummy

A family holiday… a lovely idea- or so I thought. 

The rationale goes like this: We have booked a big enough cottage in beautiful mid Wales, my mum hasn’t had a family holiday since dad died (lots on her own though), we have never had more than a day out with their nanna, it’ll be lovely to all go together, three adults, two kids and three dogs. Looking back at this last statement alone I can see the issues in neon lights! 
My adopted boys, now 5 and 4 years old (how did they get this old so quick?), get on well with their nanna- they react the same around her as they do us which led us to believe they were comfortable with her and settled with her (as in they will have meltdowns in front of her and fight with each other).  We talk to her a lot about them, their issues and behaviour and what we do about it- or at least try to do about it. She was very aware that we parent a little differently and she knows, for instance, that we have to get littun to sleep by sleeping with him until he falls asleep as he can’t stand to be parted from us (which she doesn’t agree with).
It was on this disaster of a holiday I really appreciated the difference between trauma informed parenting (or at least attempts to parent this way) and ‘traditional’ parenting. There is no way we are the perfect parents- we get exasperated, frustrated, feel helpless and slip easily into ‘traditional’ parenting before checking ourselves but more and more we are learning to see things from a trauma informed view- like any parenting, this takes practise and as adopted parents we are always questioning the reasons behind behaviours.
Nana’s approach:

Largely shouting and threats. Shouting at them to stop behaviours, to stop demanding us for various things, to stop doing things we would also want them to stop (like hitting and stealing off each other). The more she shouted, the more they also shouted, the louder their cries and the bigger their grumps. The threats fell on deaf ears and when nanna took things off them they took it as a huge betrayal of trust. Many times, they looked totally shocked at her, bewildered at how she was speaking to them and it fair to say that both boys were a bit scared of her during the holiday.
On several occasions she contradicted things we had allowed the boys to do which also left them confused and upset.
I admit, that at times, I backed up my mother- as my husband and I always back each other up (even if we don’t agree we talk about it later). I was pulled into the traditional parenting role- it is what I grew up with- and afterwards I felt terrible about it and as the week went on I was less and less inclined to agree with her as I could see the harm it was doing to my children. It is very hard to stand up to your mother, especially as she has no one on her side being on her own without a partner and not something I wanted to do in front of the children- although this did start to change!
Traditional parenting, to me equals punishment, shouting, withdrawal of treats/ items, putting them down with comments like, ‘You should be old enough to go to sleep on your own now, you don’t need mummy and daddy with you’ and ‘You need to appreciate all that mummy and daddy so and stop being so selfish’, ‘You won’t be having pizza if you don’t stop complaining’. All of these things usually met with silence from us- in shock at how hash she was being with them and also uncomfortable to say anything there and then- I didn’t want her feeling uncomfortable (being the add on to the holiday if that makes sense) and my husband not wanting to correct my mother. We talked about it a few times and how badly having her with us was affecting the boys.
Every time we were on our own with them (she stayed behind one day and one evening we walked to the beach without her and one afternoon a walk to a castle) things seemed easier, happier, there was laughter and grumps and disagreements were less and they were more responsive to us. The air was just lighter- even when there was a major-needing-restraint-meltdown from biggun. We think the tiny thing that triggered it may well have been him letting out his frustration with his nanna.
Our approach:

(If only we looked this calm!)
So what were we doing differently? When fights and arguments start, usually my husband takes biggun away to talk to him and calm him (he is better than me with biggun and I am better with littlun). We try distraction, we talk about behaviour and consequence, we always make them apologise for nastiness and get them to understand what they are apologising for (a sorry on its own is worth nothing). Most of all, we often just let stuff go. Littun has a habit of saying ‘me hate you’. We usually respond with ‘I love you’. Nanna would tell them how nasty they were and tell them off for talking to us like that.  The gulf between the two styles of parenting is huge and has had a detrimental affect on our children. They were on edge all the time, they didn’t respond to her well and didn’t want to be with her. Their already heightened awareness was super heightened and they were like wound up jack-in-the-boxes waiting to go off. There are always cuddles after meltdowns or times we have to reprimand and we give items back or agree a safe place with them if we have to remove them during disagreements.
Regrets and advice on what to do should you find yourself in this situation:
1)    Don’t contemplate going on holiday with nanna!
2)    Talk to your parent beforehand about how you want situations handled.
3)    Step in as soon as possible with a chat about parenting methods
4)    Remind nanna that she is there to give treats and little things that mummy and daddy can’t see.
5)    Ask nanna to play with the boys not just reprimand them.
6)    DON’T be tempted to fall into traditional parenting as it is easy to back nanna up!
7)    Don’t contemplate going on holiday with nanna!


I certainly have resolved to check myself more for hints of ‘traditional’ parenting and to use more trauma informed methods- the days since we have been back have been so much calmer. To reverse any displays of ‘traditional’ parenting with a calmer and more emotion focussed response and to make sure that we inform nanna of how we wish to have them parented the next time we leave them with her for a few hours. I have felt so sad for my boys and how their view of nanna has been tainted and how they are left reeling from this. I will be monitoring them with her for a while before leaving them- reparations are needed. I feel guilty for not stopping it sooner and adamant it won’t happen like that again. More and more I feel only adopted parents ‘get it’ and a few gems of friends who are awesome and understand trauma informed parenting (they are rare!).