Friday 30 March 2018

Adoptive Superpower: Pragmatist

If I had a parenting superpower I think it would be pragmatism, the ability to shrug and say say, 'aaaah, I'm sure it will be ok in the end'. Thinking about it, maybe it's just low standards.

Quite clearly I can recall during my adoption assessment being all bright eyed and aspirational, full of    principles and expectations. I've now taken to telling people:

'I was a great parent until I got children' 

I think I'd like it printed on a tee shirt or hat. All my lofty ideals of rigid limits on computer time and consequences all seems to have slipped into this pragmatic soup. To the naked eye or casual observer I may seem like a permissive parent or a push over. I prefer to think of it as a pragmatic focused intervention, after all I'm playing a long game. I've learnt a lot over the last 20 years.

a person who is guided more by practical considerations than by ideals.

It's come into focus over the last few years in relation to diagnosis'. Before we struggled and the challenges and the trips to CAHMS came I felt uncertain in relation to giving children diagnosis'. Labels on children sit uncomfortably with me, actually labels on people generally sit uncomfortably on me. That seems to have changed. Actually, it's really changed. A letter came in the post this week with a diagnosis, my heart skipped a beat when the words matched my hope, I've come long way.

Trusted friends have guided my through this journey of to a destination, I was quite adamant that we'd not be defining our kids in such ways. But the reality of this world is that works on a letter open doors to support and resources that other things can't. Talking to a friend she shrugged she explained, 'we know our daughter doesn't have ADHD it's developmental trauma but nobodies heard of that.'

I know my children, their stories. I know the lens they see the world they inhabit through and I know the challenges that they face. Words do matter and can be like milestones round neck, but with a shrug I also know that in the world we live in they can be keys to doors that nothing else will open. As they say, walk a mile in my families shoes. 

You can call it low standards or compromise, I'll call it pragmatism. 

Thursday 22 March 2018

Adoption Inertia

Listening to John Simmonds OBE and Prof. Beth Neil the other day the issue that really stuck with me was one of inertia in adoption practice. As far back as 1972 support for families and the need to explore and promote effective contact was identified as key issues for children and families. Legislation has been amended and has the capacity to accommodate those re occurring recommendations but practice change remains stubbornly inert.  There's been some pockets of minor development and bright lights but on the whole we've not moved that far. Actual support, and I don’t mean the Adoption Support Fund, remains patchy and largely unpredictable. I asked John and Beth individually, 'how do we effect change' and they both laughed and said the same thing:

'that is the big question'

The more I pondered this I realised that even during my first adoption application in 1999 knowledge and understanding had already highlighted the need for the very things that we’re all calling for every day in blogs, tweets and conversations now. We’re asking for appropriate support and an individualised and effective approach to contact. I can’t dwell on that thought too much as I genuinely find it upsetting, my children and all their connected people are living with the consequences of this inertia. The challenges my children face today were predictable and, maybe, preventable. In fact I’m quite cross, Beth Neil’s comment that contact is probably happening less today than when she started her research in 1997 reflects a slide backwards. This inertia is strangling adoption. 

So, rather than shake my fist at the sky and fill my secret blog with angry stories and words I’m left wondering where we go from here. I’m fortunate to be close to the ‘action’ and what I’ve seen has given me a little insight to the workings of this adoption system. There’s a lot going on and I’m often left wondering how to affect actual change, change that impacts on the welfare of adopted children and those connected to them. Pondering the developments of the last few years I’ve seen that the good intentions and plans of civil servants and politicians are necessary but in the hearts and minds of adoption services are where those plans thrive or fail. The ASF is a good example, the amount of times families have been given, at best, poor information and sometimes plain wrong information is astounding. Were the ASF to fail it might not be because of intent, form or function, I know it’s not perfect, but it might flounder because of practice on the ground.

However, I’m taking heart because I’m an optimist and believe that we will do better. The Regional Adoption Agency agenda is much debated and to be honest I’ve reservations as well as reasons to be optimistic. Previously we’ve had 152 local authority and 20+ adoption services each with their own Head of Service, the quality and effectiveness has varied and all adopters can testify to the feeling that they’ve either won or lost the postcode lottery. The move to RAAs is going to reduce the number of Heads of Services to 20. So, here’s my thinking, 20 people in a room that have direct responsibility for every adoption preparation course, assessment, panel, match, support plan, contact plan,  financial assessment and adoption social worker. Is this an opportunity to see effective development and accountability? Could it be with 20 inspired, insiring, innovative, research led, practice savvy, bothered Heads of Service we can transform adoption. Previously getting all concerned in a room was not practical and if 25 didn’t turn up because they couldn’t be bothered nobody noticed. If one person is missing from a room of 20 they can be followed up and asked difficult questions of. Could this be the moment where we begin to see services led by research and innovation not dogma and tradition?

Am I being naive? Probably but if history is to believed the dogma of 1950’s adoption has a strangle hold on the practice and risk aversion continues to lurk in the corners of adoptive practice. We don’t want the 20 Heads of these new RAAs to be dusty old professionals, careerists, political appointments or bean counters. Rather we want inspirational, innovators, research led, history informed professionals that are able to break this inertia, take some risks and create a new adoption narrative for our children and the children that wait. We need to overcome this inertia. 

Monday 19 March 2018

Adoption Leadership Board: The Changing Face of Adoption & Special Guardianship

The Adoption Leadership Board have commissioned a project to:

'understand and predict the future needs of children who are adopted or in special guardianship arrangements and their families, in order to plan a future system that effectively meets their support needs.' 

Today I was invited, along with lots of others, to a workshop to consider and discuss the initial findings of the report. I'm not going to try to give you a blow by blow account of the day but perhaps the key points from my perspective. Of course others in the room may have come away with different points to discuss. In fact my main thoughts are still in formation so I'm not going to bother you with them until I can make my own sense of them.

Those present included Special Guardians and kinship carers as well as a range professionals and adopters from different locations. It was humbling to meet with non adopters that face all of the challenges that we adopters do with less support or status. We came together to consider permanency and the future needs.

John Simmonds OBE gave a fantastic, and sobering, whistle stop tour through the history of adoption from The Adoption of Children Act in 1926 . We need to know where we've come from to inform where we're going and he did this fantastically highlighting lessons learned and not learned from the last 100 years especially.  We then had Prof. Beth Neil give a brief history and overview of contact with birth family. This was sobering as she noted that direct contact is occurring less now than when she first studied it 20 years ago in spite of the acknowledged potential benefits for many children.

That lead us to discuss specific areas of support and future policy. The idea that many families want an open door to support built on trust and relationship rather than having to revive closed cases with no corporate knowledge of families and routes to support that run a gauntlet of call to the front desk that may lead you into an unwanted or unnecessary child protection cul de sac. We debated how this would be described. A 'watchful waiting' or 'keeping in mind' by post adoption teams, language matters and I can see flaws in these two descriptions. The conversations then moved to other key issues that had been highlighted in the consultations.

Contact, what support and preparation will be be needed to facilitate contact between significant and meaningful family members for adopters and SGs? It remains a tricky issue and it was acknowledged that the needs and wishes of children and adults shift through the life course. Without doubt there remains lots of questions in relation to this not least the need to convince front line practitioners.

Lastly, the support networks around adults and children was considered, how to facilitate them and support their growth.

It was a good day and an opportunity to hear some different voices. Of course access to influence the report is limited and though some have had access to the different consultation events run by Hugh Thornbery CBE, who's heading the project,  many didn't so if you've thoughts you can email here

What will the outcome of the report be? It's easy to fall into a well worn cynicism in relation to reports and good ideas. In reality anyone who knows anything of this world knows there's a significant need and limited resources. That's where my mind was left at the end but I'm sure that I'll work that up into something. I'm naturally an optimist so generally I'm encouraged.

Saturday 17 March 2018


'Tell me the story of how I came' Peanut asks.

It was the same every night for weeks, as the day drew on she asked if we could talk about it at bedtime. We'd lay on the bed together and she'd ask questions and I'd answer them, sometimes I'd start the story and that prompted questions. I'd talk about the day we heard about her, the day we met, the little things and the big things. She would ask silly questions and serious questions all of them colouring in this picture to the finest of detail. New questions that reveal an inquisitive mind.

I recall writing a post about pealing layers of my children's stories, returning to them with developed knowledge as children grow and understand more. This feels different. We've had a hard few months, you know adult children bother. Not the usual Raaaaa, different sadness and loss. Of course we're discrete and Peanut is aware of some of that, still, there's been a sadness over the house.

Perhaps it's coincidence or a phase that Peanut returns to the story night after night. I'm no psychologist or adoption whisperer and between me and the GoodMrsC it's me who usually reads nothing into behaviour other than kids just doing stuff. I'd be lying if I said we'd never fallen out over that staple of adoptive couple's discussions. But Peanut seems to find safety and comfort in her story, it places her dead centre in the family and we're certainly an unconventional family. We're like a single teapot made out of the glued together pieces of four broken different shaped teapots. Its non conventional but it works.

The story seemed to have the same effect as songs I return to, familiar, well worn, personal and cement me in a time and place. I go to different songs for different reasons, comforting, reassuring, celebratory. They don't get old or worn.

So, we kept going, telling and retelling. We talked each night, sometimes I rationed the question 'just two tonight' or sometimes the cynical me suspected it was a ruse to get a few more minutes. I would cut it short, I'm good at getting it wrong and it's hard to remain all Dan Hughes-├╝ber-parent - bleedin'-tastic when the same questions come again and again. Peanut wanted to know so we continued and dug out specific information and mementos when needed and like they came the questions just stopped, for now.

Thursday 8 March 2018

Black, White or Grey.

Lately, I'm questioning the clarity of my sight in relation to adoption. As a family we've been woven into a system that is in perpetual transition along with society that's view on adoption is shifting.  I wonder if my experience skews my views, opinions and sight to the point where it can't see straight? 

'Some men just want to see the world burn' to quote the film Batman Begins and some days I feel like I want to run into the garden and shake my fist at the sky,  stomp the ground and go full on adult tantrum. Like lots of people I know I've been kicked round the block by the system. Six panels, two deferrals and a refusal, social care Initial Investigations, police, more courts, more police, breakdowns, return to care, formal complaints, two years of high court cases, handing children back then taking them back, reunification and that is just the lowlights. I could say much more but I've proved my point.

My feelings are complex and shift. Beyond my experience I can't help but consider past practice and some current practice I hear of and wonder if all is that well in adoption land. I meet people in the early steps of the adoption journey and I bite my tongue. I'm not going to be a naysayer, adoption is a mixed bag, to paint it wholly wrong or wholly right feels like a significant misstep. I encourage them and tell them lessons learn. 

Also, for all the darkness there is the light, I've wept with joy at school sports day, glowed when a child holds my hand, beamed with pride on prom night and all the firsts, of which there have been many. I've shared my worries and laughed with birth family who were once across a great divide but are now friends. I've had professionals that I've trusted my future on, literally, and I've seen professionals catch us as we fell and stand us back on our feet. Theres' been a lot of good. 

The temptation is to rail against a system, to focus on the failings, hurt and pain. My most engaged with blogs are the ones that raise concerns or are open and honest in relation to my challenges and less than ideal  stuff. They can be a rallying cry to those that struggle and provide comfort to people who are isolated and questioning their own experience. So, that's good but what is the overall effect?

It feels like there is general confusion in the media in relation to adoption. Clarity seems to be in limited supply with battle lines drawn for and against . I feel drawn between them, I want to keep the good but ditch the bad. I question myself, have I focused too much on the negative, have I shown too little of the good? I've thought long and hard about adoption and it is a mixed bag, it's a system trying to redeem difficult and tragic situations. I wonder what I'm trying to communicate, what I'm actually saying in all my tweets and blogs. In communicating the failings am I killing off adoption, I'm not sure. How all this pans out nobody knows.

What I want to communicate is that it hard but worth it.

I want adoption to be better and it needs to be better. Would I do it again, yes. Would I do it differently, hell yes. I'd kick and shout, I'd say 'no' more often and 'yes' more often, I'd ask harder questions and stand my ground. All that said I'd still say yes and every poll that I see reflecting on the challenges reflects that overwhelmingly.

But for me it was worth it.