Wednesday 28 February 2018


I was listening to a couple on Radio 4 discuss their journey through infertility and considering their options for becoming parents. Their honesty was refreshing and their view on adoption was interesting, it was just an option that was available to them to meet their need. As they talked they weighed the pros and cons.  It was their honesty and language that made me pause and re consider adoption again. (In writing my thoughts I don’t want this to be read as a criticism of them more a reflection on motivations to adopt.). The desires of the couple were front and centre, there's nothing wrong with that, after all the piece was focusing on them but it was in stark contrast to what I know of the needs of the children who are available to be adopted.

I couldn’t help think that the reality is many adopters are meeting their own needs in the first instance. We want to be parents and adoption is an open route to us, we may have tried many before we came to adoption. The couple spoke about international adoption and how it appealed to them for a range of reasons with one being the age of the child. As they spoke it felt like children were reduced to goods meeting their desire to parent. However, I’m not naive, that is the reality that lurks within what are complex issues in the hearts and minds of many adopters. Issues that are often hidden under loss and disappointment. Sometimes, a few weeks, months or years those issues resurface. 
Of course this is not universally true but I'd hazard a guess that it's true for the majority. 

Then the next day I caught the end of a discussion on surrogacy on the radio. Again, the language was that of  commerce with children framed as commodities and the desires of adults the primary issue. Language matters and the interviewer spoke of 'supply and demand' it wasn't tongue in cheek and it was expressing the reality that many adults are unable to get what they want and what they want is a baby.

We've all set off to the shops with aspirations to buy something we want only to discover it's out of stock or not available. We are faced with a choice, do we wait and return or do we compromise take the bigger size/ different colour or walk away and go without? That sometimes works out ok, but I've also regretted buying when it wasn't really what I wanted.
Adopters compromise their desire in light of market forces, if you want a baby you're going to struggle to get one. So, do you go for 'second best' and accept a toddler, not what you want but what you've got a good chance of getting. Or, do you take an older sibling to get a younger child. All pragmatic and difficult decisions to get what you want.

I wonder if we can reconcile the two issues of the wants of adopters and the needs of children. Children 'need' adults that can nurture them, raise them, love them. Adults 'want' children perhaps dreams of children that don't exist.  It's this want that is tricky. Do we need to find a different type of adopter adopters that have different desires and wants. To do that do we need to offer a different sort of support?

I don't need to explain the challenges that contemporary adoption faces and to meet those requirements do we need adopters who are willing to give up on their desires, hopes and aspirations for parenting and become the parent that their child needs. That parent may look very different to the parent they wanted to be.

I'm not sure that I've got answers but I've certainly got some questions. So, I apologise for a slightly unsatisfying post.

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Child on Parent Violence - A Commons Debate

Firstly, I didn't arrange this and can take no credit for it happening. An adoptive family contacted Toby Perkins, their local MP and asked him to raise it as it was an issue that they were facing at home. Toby requested a debate to be held in Westminster Hall and Victoria Atkins MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, came to represent the Home Office. He had 15 mins then she had 15 mins. I was fortunately in London so sat in the public section of the hall and spectated. I'm just reporting what I saw and think. 

Child on Parent Violence as a discussion subject is fraught with many pitfall that can cause it to be over or understated. Getting a balance right is a challenge, as well as communicating the nuances of the causes and impacts we dance around not wanting to be oppressive or blame, what are often, vulnerable children. Furthermore, any conversation that includes the role of social workers, their training and the  impacts of austerity on practice is a minefield of easy tropes and cliches. I believe that Toby communicated what is a complex issue in clear, knowledgable and effective manner and raised reasonable and pertinent questions in relation to the limits of research, support and the social work knowledge base around CPV. 

In her defence the response from Victoria Atkins was limited by her specific role and that her response was clearly prepared in relation to the title only and it was prepared prior to hearing Toby's points. It was clear that the response was biased to a law and order perspective and discussed specific domestic violence programmes and upcoming legislation changes. To my ear it was answering different questions to the ones asked. So, being honest the response is not all what I'd hoped that it would have been. 

But, I'm a pragma-optimist. It's positive that it's been debated and though the response was not necessarily a resounding  promise of action I believe that the debate is something to be encouraged by. It validates the experience of many adults, parent, carers, guardians who live in abusive environments unsure or unable to seek help. It further highlights the need for a different response from professionals. It leaves a door open to other Government departments to follow up on the questions that were raised. It keeps the conversation moving and Toby Perkins MP is an ally that that I'm sure will continue to support adopters and others that live under the shadow of CPV.

Like a lot of what we do this is another piece of the jigsaw. 

To see the debate click here for a direct link or expand the image below to see the video of the debate.

Saturday 17 February 2018

Blackpool Rock

Lotty asks 'how excited are you to be a grandad between 0 and 100? 0 is not bothered and 100 is total loss of control with excitement.'

I pause, this could be a potential trick, there may be a right answer.


She comes straight back, 'Ok, I'm 92 at being an aunty'

We are all anticipating the imminent addition to the family, little girls chattering with excitement at being aunties, giddy about what they're going go do and the plans they have. Generally fizzing.  Conversations turn to birth, how long, when will it start and what will happen.

I tell the story of my brother's birth, then of mine and we talk about the friend who gave birth in a police van we go on and on. All the stories are lapped up.

But then the conversation stops. The stories I want to tell aren't there, their stories. I can't tell if they are thinking the same.

I know dates, weights and locations. No more. I can't join those dots to make a story though. I've some photos for some of these little aunties to be, but not much. I feel robbed of the story of their arrival into this world, the drama, the excitement.
I look at the Giddy Aunts and feel a deep sadness for the lost days. I didn't make a panic dash to hospital, or get a call to come now.  That I didn't walk nervously our of hospital with them, hold them close in the first hours of life, nervously worrying about what lay ahead. Those joys and fears belong to strangers, they're all lost to us, they're lost to them. We've no stories to share and their absence is louder than ever today. I'm not sure they see the gap, not today anyway.

A missing story seems sadder than a sad story.

Like words in Blackpool rock there sometimes seems to be sadness running through our lives that cannot be extracted.

Monday 12 February 2018

Contact: a Cornerstone of Adoption?

I believe that 'contact' is the issue that is going to define the future of domestic adoption in the UK.

Even just saying that I'm conscious of the range of responses that people will have depending on their experience and perspective. Passions run high, in all directions, when we talk of contact. This week that has been brought into focus when listening to a fellow adopter talk of the impact of contact going wrong with adopters feeling betrayed and being 'glorified babysitters' for the state as their adopted children turned their back on them and returned to first family. Then reading the article in the Professional Social Work Magazine that considered contact in light of the recent BASW enquiry on the role of the social worker in adoption it feels like contact is a pivotal issue for contemporary adoption.

Contact is understandably tricky, as an adoptive parent it raises a spectre of anxiety that is hard to ignore. What if my child chooses or loves them over me? Our insecurities and vulnerabilities are laid bare. Why would we open the door to the world that caused the primal wound and trauma in the first instance? Why would we give access to the perpetrators of what are sometimes unspeakable crimes to their victims? All valid questions that I'd be lying if I said I hadn't considered for my family.  But first families are more than one or two people, they're aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, cousins and siblings. They can present as a safe connection to early lives and stories.

Knowing and thinking all that it is understandable that it is often reduced to what adopters can tolerate, a letter a year. That said, social care professionals also resist, risks to stability with realism about what can or cannot be facilitated are all at the front of their minds.

Speaking to a friend I described the contact that we'd built with our children's families as one of the hardest experiences of my adult life but it has also been one of the most rewarding. We have open doors to adults that are able to offer insight into the early life and circumstances of my child's journey to adoption that are invaluable.

I'm not alone, many have travelled this path. It's damn hard but it adds colour to a black and white picture and unites worlds that are sometimes poles apart. I look to my youngest daughter, she sees what we've built as normal. There's no competition between this family and that family  without wanting to sound cheesy we are all her family.

Being candid there was resistance from social care when we asked if we could see our children's sibling. The risk seemed too great and the benefits uncertain but having learnt from earlier experience we went with our gut and forged ahead. Tentative meetings with an aunt and sibling four times a year ultimately led to friendship and daily support that was uniquely positioned to hold insight to our child's world. It was hard, for them as much as us, but joined the dots of all our lives that no other way could. Professionals had said it would not work but for the sake of our children we made it work.

The current default of an annual letter feels like an appeasement, it's the most some adopters will agree to and pays lip service to the understanding that severing adopted children from their past may be adding trauma to trauma. I speak to enough adopters to see that letters are really hard to make work and often tail off for a whole host of reasons. I also know that asking first families to write letters isn't working for a whole host of reasons and to expect many to write is perhaps setting them up to fail.

In many regards adoption must change to meet the needs of society as well as the children that traverse the process and the adults looking for children. Contact is one area that must evolve to better suit the needs of children and safely allow them to hold the past with the present. Good contact slays the mythologies that deceive and the fear of the unknown that circles children as they grow. It places children in a story where the beginning and end can be seen and those elements are not in competition.

However, there are no blanket solutions. Creative and specific arrangements are needed and need to be facilitated. If we're committed to adoption then we need to embrace that without a change from the  severance dogma of the 50s and 60s adoption will falter and fail the children who travel this world. Positive and meaningful contact strikes against the old paradigm, it dares to hold the old and new in tension for the best interests of children, the unwilling commodity in all of this.

If contact is to be placed central to the future of adoption then we're asking more of adoptive families and birth families than ever before. Will that prohibit adopters coming forward, will they pay lip service to the notion of contact but slam the door shut beyond the adoption order? I don't know.

As always the future's unclear. If you're an adoptive parent you're probably considering the challenges and risks that contact invites to your child, family and you. That's right but like all risks we weigh them agains the benefits and to see clearly in matters of the heart can be hard.

Tuesday 6 February 2018

Adopter Voice

Actually, before I start I thought I'd better warn you this post is not a set of minutes of the Adopter Voice meeting today at the Department for Education.  Reports and topics presented and considered hold specifics that will come out in the fullness of time when all the 't's have been crossed and the 'i's have been dotted.
If you want a blow by blow account stop now, go and make a cup of tea and read a good book or whatever tickles you.

Coming away and pondering the discussion I'm struck by the change in tone that has developed over the last couple of years in relation to adoption. Of course much had happened in that time with the coming and going of key figures in the adoption landscape as well as the changes in some of the structural elements of that adoption agencies are set into. Change is happening and like any time of transition there's uncertainty and tension. Not necessarily helpful if your local adoption support team is being shipped out to new offices and merging with another team from another county.

That's all well and good but sitting in your home with your children and 'experiencing' that system and trying to navigate those changes is a very different thing to talking about it and how to manage it. Nice conversations around tables don't necessarily translate to help and in fact may feel like a joke if you're at the sharp end of trauma informed parenting.

Talking today we touched on issues such as contact with birth families and the very real pressure on children and adults. With tangible benefits and the very real concerns, adoption cannot remain closed to the reality of contemporary life when small children can 'google' Tummy Mummy's name and have a world opened up to them before a life story book is even pulled from the top shelf.

Adopters are experts in what should have been said in preparation so we riffed on that for a while, the age old debate of how much truth it too much and at what point does that harsh truth become prohibitive to all but the brave few daring to adopt.

We talked about the ongoing relationships that adopters need with services, relationships with support    social workers and even the thought of annual reviews for support and families.
Talk is good and of course adopters.

As I said at the beginning not a lot of specifics in all that and it can appear to be exclusive to not share in the nuts and bolts of some of the discussion. To say nothing and not even note the meeting is perhaps worse.

That adopters are around the table at the big house cannot be underestimated. There was a time in the not too distant past when we were not welcome. The last few years has seen a change and that has to be good. Of course, we'd like more varied voices but for now we take what we've got, keep at it and prove the value of our voices.

Thursday 1 February 2018

Beware ye the Chaos

It seems like good advice to share with myself, I keep saying it over and over again. Out loud, in my head and under my breath.

'Don't get drawn into the chaos'

I keep saying it to MrsC, I like to think it helps her. I won't suggest what she thinks.

The great joy of many adoption blogs appears to be the spectacle of ordinary people wrestle with the extraordinary, be that therapeutic parenting, school shenanigans, olympic level professional diplomacy or some such peculiar situation that us 'normal' folk find ourselves in. The blogs about normal stuff seems so dull. Nobody reads my posts about the nice time we had at the park, where we all played nice then came home, how very dull. We like the grit and the battle, it makes us feel normal. It's all precipitated by these marvellous little people that we willingly fell in love with. They get big you know and the love grows, gets smashed into a thousand shards, stood on and then by some sort of magic reforms then limps along with a grinding determination.

But the chaos, oh the chaos! It is lapping at the shore of my sanity and my toes are getting wet. I keep stepping back, an act of rational common sense from the impending tide, but the tide is coming in and there appears to be naught I can do. I take a deep breath and resolve to not get drawn into the chaos, but some days there appears less places to step back to. Like Canute I've tried to halt the tide by by force of will but that's easy to say, matters of the heart seems to great a fog that befuddles reason and common sense. I've tried ignoring it to no avail.  This chaos pulls on the heart, it pulls you back in. Ankle, knee, waist deep.

Damn, blast and tarnation I'm in it again.

I'd like to go to adoption preparation groups and let it all out. I've seen the look in their eyes, they understand all my words but not when I put them together in that order. The chaos, oh the chaos. Zen and the art of trauma parenting, if I could find my zen I'd write the book Though it may be easier to just get underwear printed with 'don't get drawn into the chaos' on it. Then every day I could pull on my anti chaos pants safe knowing they're close and invisible to the rest of the world.