Friday 8 November 2019

Adoption: A Nettle we Should Grasp?

I’ve been seeing the  Adoption is a permanent solution to a temporary problem’ phrase a lot recently and I.........well I'm not sure it's that simple. I really would love it to be. 

It is succinct and to the point and encapsulates a position fantastically well and I get exactly what is being said but it really doesn’t reflect the complexity of almost all situations. For clarity I'm not talking about historic adoption, or necessarily other models and cultures of adoption, that is a truly complicated picture and way above my pay grade. I'm thinking about contemporary UK adoption. *

Anyway, that phrase reduces a lot of things down to what are murky and complicated issues in a way that does the adoption conversion no favours at all. I see lots of perspectives in the online debate, one position that wants it to be simple and one that wants it to be complicated and never the twain shall meet. Both reluctant to engage in meaningful conversation and I find myself pulled between the two positions and often agreeing and disagreeing with both, again I'm a total cop out. 

Like surgery, adoption is traumatic, painful, messy, dangerous and sometimes planned, sometimes carried out in less than ideal situations, often a judgement call based on best evidence. Never the less, it is a trauma, carries inherent risks and is rarely a guarantee of anything. That all said, we can all agree that sometimes surgery is needed and we weigh the cost, balance the risk and make that decision. Only with hindsight we know if it was the right thing. 

Through my work I read the stories of children in families every day and it is mostly really complex. Act or don't act, intervene or not, remove or support. The answers are judgements made on available information, no crystal balls available, 10 years down the line we may see clearly but right then we can only go with what is shown. Should we support families more? with no caveat, yes. However, for some families that isn't good enough for children for a raft of reasons. We can all play a hypothetical game on twitter but that isn't an option for those with the actual decisions. 

A few years ago I attended one of the consultation days of the adoption enquiry and it was a challenging day to say the least. Talking with parents of children removed then adopted as a ‘user’ of the adoption system is to say the least is a complicated conversation. It was tense at times, it was emotive at times and I questioned myself, my children’s story and the system that managed that process. However, we could all agree that some children should not and could not be cared for by their parents and that their families cannot and should not have physical contact with those children. In that case we need to find permanent homes for those children. We know that long term foster care is often an illusive thing with inherent challenges and SGOs not always possible. So why not adoption? Why not? The key arguments against are hydra but identity, contact and access to information are primary issues. If we resolve those issues then does that change the conversation? does that alter how we view adoption? 

I'm not sure. This year I've thought harder than ever about the ethics and values in relation to adoption, questioned my motives and parenting, listened to adopted adults and stretched myself out. 

I don't want to stretch the surgery metaphor too far, though why not? Medicine changes, practice develops, surgery becomes more precise, sometimes redundant but for now it remains a necessary tool in some situations. I think that is where I stand that in balance for a small number of children** adoption remains necessary trauma that may be the best bet. 

In writing all of this I'm conscious that I'm presuming that it's a service solely for children, it's not and may never be. Perhaps that changes everything. 

*You say it's all the same, I say 'nope' it really isn't but I'm more than willing to publish your guest blog. 

** I'm talking UK and we clearly need to talk about the number and we clearly need to make practice better. The conversation around international and pay for babies is clearly a different one. 

Friday 2 August 2019


Have you ever held your breath?

There's a moment when your mind and body come into conflict. Your body starts to demand action and only your willpower keeps you on your designated course. The tension between the two becomes more acute with every passing second, how long can you go on knowing that you're not yet in danger but every passing second brings you closer and it's will power that keeps you fighting the inevitable.

It's a very odd feeling.  

Perhaps that's all overstatement to then compare it to parenting or caring for children who are at times violent of aggressive. Anyway, I read a twitter thread recently, an adopter spoke in the briefest of terms about an incident that led to a child re entering the care system. The voices that replied ranged from the empathic emoji to the self righteous indignation that they would never do such a thing. I didn't comment as I'm not sure that helps anymore. I wondered what the story was, likely too complex to ever tweet about or condense into a blog.  I wondered about the beginning and middle and end of that journey from hopeful adopter to desperate parent. What happened at that moment when a call is made that starts that process of re entering care.

The heartbreak of all concerned and the complicated murky 'grey' emotions and impacts on the children, families and communities.

It's a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the social care system. Regardless of the quality of the professionals, the smooth running of the bureaucratic machine or the outcome, positive or negative,  it's an awful awful thing. Of this I think everyone can agree, for years we've danced with the system actually at times it's been less of a dance and more of a shin kicking competition. 

Increasingly I meet families that are caught in that place, holding their breath and 'dancing' with the system. They keep going knowing that inevitable harm is coming and occurring but employing steely willpower to keep going regardless. Some go longer than others and endure more harm than they should, other's make pragmatic decisions to keep other children and themselves safe  act earlier and live in the 'what ifs'.

I watch on and think through our story, my story, the bigger story.

This is not an isolated one off or an exception it's becoming increasingly part of the adoption narrative.  Adoption UK's latest survey highlighted 65% of families living with violence and aggression. For some it comes and goes, that's a complicated picture around support and intervention, what helps and what doesn't. For some families it comes and stays until there are no options left, til they can hold their will against the challenges and protect households no more.

Like in the tweet, sometimes children can't live in their homes.

Children returning to care is talked of but the numbers remain unclear, councils are meant to complete returns that would include it but they don't or it's not reported. Is it 1% of adoptions or 5%? we don't know, regardless, bringing it into the light only highlights more challenges that adoption faces as a model of permanence.

If we bring it into the light do we put more people off choosing adoption? If that's the case, so be it.

The Disneyesque adoption narrative needs killing off once and for all.  

Friday 7 June 2019

20 years on, Questions and Answers

It's 20 years to the week that we started introductions for my big three kids.

What I thought then and what I think now is almost non comparable, adoption was not what it is now and I feel that we've tracked the shifts in our family lives. I don't recall difficult questions or debates in relation to the purpose and ethics of adoption or consideration of human right. Of course, they may have been there but I may not have had ears to hear.

I'm trying to listen now.

Sitting with my eldest we chatted about all of that stuff back then when she was a week off 6 years old. Her story and how it was seen then and how we all saw it now, our anxieties and failings. I concluded that we all dropped the ball for her and it all should have gone down differently. With regret I see that I didn't have the agency or oomf to speak up and on reflection I deferred to professional views, gave into my own preconceptions, was caught up in my own, and all of our, new lives together.

That nuanced stuff was put aside.  Identity, connection, justice, family all seemed too abstract or complicated compared to the daily, minute by minute challenge of shifting the life of a 27 year old me into parenting. It seems like a pathetic excuse now, but then it seemed all consuming and I'd bought into the 'adoption is always a good thing' narrative and had no capacity to question it.

Now, 20 years to the week that we met,  all that seems to matter is that nuanced stuff and that's the stuff that seemed invisible or on the periphery then.

If you ask any parent what they'd do differently there's likely to be a long list. In that regard we're no different as adopters. There's lots we did do differently the second and third time round. But you can't go back and undo what was done, hindsight is a swine.

The future of adoption is uncharted, we've been at low ebbs before, in 2000 we went to court and were one of only 2000 adoption orders made that year. Government ploughed money into adoption and the figures rose steadily to over 5000 in 2015 but now they're stagnating again and without the underpinning of cash and policy I'm not sure what the future holds.

How we care for children remains a key question, how we hold the tensions in families where questionable decisions were made remains a significant question for many families that jumped onto this bus rout only to discover it wasn't perhaps the one we thought it was.

Hindsight really is a swine. It's likely I'd do it all differently but for pure selfish reasons glad I didn't.

If I could have got that younger me in a verbal headlock what advise would I offer?

Relax, buy shares in Apple, but for heaven's sake talk less and listen more.

Thursday 18 April 2019

A duty call, adopter sufficiency, contact and support.

Frankly, it all been a little bit terrible. The giddy joys of caring for vulnerable but determinedly spikey children has been all a bit 'in yer face' of late and we've all been frayed round the edges. I find myself asking big and unusual questions, 'what bits of my life can I remove and still keep an income' being the main one. If there ever was a time when we needed two present parents it feels like now.

Set against that is the increasing opportunities to help people living with challenging and aggressive children.

I find myself inhabiting two worlds, helper and helpless. In 2008 it became quite clear that we would need to become the help that we needed and that's ok to a point but, well not really, as there comes a moment when you need a grown up in the room to sort it all out. We're not sure where we're at right now, we've created this PACE/NVR/permissive/authoritarian fusion of parenting that seems to work to a point. It's when we pass that point that seems to be the issue, we can hold all this crap together right up to then when we can't then we need to go look for a grown up.

So, it came to pass. Duty was called and though it was a long story it came down to one phrase uttered with a hint of embarrassment by a duty social worker at 5 to 5 on a Monday evening.

'Sorry, it's up to you, you'll have to sort it out as there's nothing we can do'

Ok, let's unpack that a little.........How far past normal do you think we'd travelled to get to the point of calling you? This is the culmination of 10 years of therapeutic parenting, social work and psychologist training, I commissioned two reports on violent and aggressive behaviour, I co authored four reports on it. I train social workers, LSCBs, teachers and police on it. I even got sent on my own course by a social worker.

When I call duty I bloody I mean it.

So, we did 'sort it out', it was scary seat of our pants stuff with some excellent support from school staff who went above and beyond.

Set against this I've been thinking about 'adopter sufficiency' an seemingly ugly phrase that reveals the business of it all. Anyhow, lots of people are worried that the numbers of prospective adopters are falling again. Heads are being scratched.

When I asked people a few weeks ago 'what would put you off adopting?' except one answer the resounding response was:

'nothing, but it would have been nice to know more about our children and therapeutic parenting'

I genuinely believe that this is one of the the two defining issues for the future of adoption, the other  contact and links to birth families.

Prospective adopters take 10 minutes online and see the dearth of support that many face, and even if it's not universally bad there are enough complaining online to define the narrative. Adoption is a buyers market and if there is no after sale support then you walk away, look for a different seller or seriously consider the transaction in the first place (sorry to use ugly language*).

As for contact, new adopters fear it and old adopters are open to having it.**
To that end the irony of getting the news this week that the adoptive parents of my childrens' youngest sibling don't want contact with us feels like a kick in the guts for all of us including the sibling. No reason given just an email saying we'll get letterbox contact, and that feels like a joke from this side of the news. Frankly, sat in the position of many birth families I can't help but feel as real sense of absolute catastrophe, this stuff will echo in my children's and their child's life long after all the adults dead. I sent the social worker Professor Beth Neil's research on contact in a fit of pique. I know that all the power sits with the new adopters and frankly it stinks.

So, all this also impacts on sufficiency. Support is hidden because it acknowledged the likely truth of you needing it, but adopters arn't stupid they know they'll need it and prefer honesty. Then contact, if we have to open the doors wider to prospective adopters that are, and always have been, reluctant to incorporate safe and meaningful contact with first families then what does the future of adoption look like? We may keep it on life support but it will be built on the injustices that caused it.

Granted, I'm a little tetchy at the moment, I could pull the whole damn adoption house down.

* not really

** generally

Thursday 4 April 2019

Adoption & Special Guardian Leadership Board - Spring 19

So, it was my turn to be the adopter representative at the Adoption & Special Guardian Leadership Board. It's an unusual thing going into a meeting of a group that meets regularly and know each other. I'm conscious that as the adopter rep that there's a myriad of views, opinions and experiences that form the position of adopters. Holding them all in mind is almost impossible and to a point they have to be synthesised into a single position that catches as much of that as possible. Furthermore, the Board's priorities and focus cover areas and matters that don't necessarily wash into the lives of families directly or align with families priorities. What we, adopters,  want to talk about is not necessarily what the Board can influence or has as a priority. 

It's of limited value to give a blow by blow account of who said what, but it's interesting to see the inner workings of a system that is a part of our lives. A well as the housekeeping  and usual business of stats and legal perspectives there was consideration to developing what the future of adoption should look like in relation to developing a service that effectively supports children into adulthood and the families, adoptive or special guardian, that do that.

The week before I'd been part a group of adopters that had raised some concerns or views on specific issues through the Adopter Voice initiative. We'd focused our attention on the process and adopter's experience of the regionalisation agenda and brought views from many adopters.

On a pragmatic and business level I get the move to regionalisation for the 170+ adoption agencies across the UK. The pooling of resources, such as training opportunities, knowledge and skills in the workforce, diversity of approved adopters and reduction in admin costs etc all make sense, however there is an if…..

If it works. I think we’re too early in the process to effectively measure that, but even that language feels inappropriate. This is not a fruit and veg wholesale and distribution business. It’s the stuff of peoples lives. The stakes are, hopefully, clearly much higher. 

Watching from afar the process of regionalisation at times it reminds me of experience of picking playing games in the school playground. All the fit and talented kids, the friends and mates are picked first and clearly set out the winners and losers in the game. As the selection continues the motley crew of unfit, untalented and wheezy kids are left to the end, bless them. Perhaps that’s unfair and too simplistic, perhaps. The good LAs are forming good RAAs it seems.

But that isn’t really my concern. There are clear aims of each of the new Agencies , recruitment being front and centre but that’s not my worry, ongoing support for families remains the challenge. In fact I checked the website of the RAA that I’m now under the umbrella of and had to look hard to even find the word ‘support’. That aside and it’s a bleeding massive aside my real concern is managing this transition. I’m happy to acknowledge that the transition has worked well for some but there are other stories. I asked what experiences adopters had on FB and twitter and received a range of issues including some positive stuff. 

RAAs going live without telling adopters who would normally access support, telephone lines to the new service not working, records not being transferred families unsure as to the continuity of support. Some of this stuff really matters, post adoption support is make or break for some families. 

We all brought stories and accounts of similar experiences as well as good stories and shared them with those there. Job done, we asked for some specific and basic stuff to be in place prior to the remaining RAAs go live. We wanted RAAs to notify adopters of the change from LA to RAA when it happened. We wanted families to be provided with contact details and names of allocated social workers especially if the families had ongoing support or worse still had social care involvement for whatever reason.  We wanted to be reassured that our records would be transferred to the RAAs in a timely and effective manner.  We felt that we were asking for a basic level service. 

With that in mind it was encouraging that the DfE then reported to the ASGLB yesterday that the concerns had been acknowledged and to that end explicit assurance that had been requested in relation to the  RAAs that were due to go live in the next few weeks as well as to ensure that this would be done with any future RAAs that come together. Of course the legal duty remains with the LA's and RAAs to effectively make the transition, however it's encouraging to know that the DfE listened and is asking for those assurances. 

There was a lot more food for thought from the day, adopter sufficiency remains a hot potato as well as the challenges faced by Special Guardians to name but a few. 

We keep going. 

Thursday 28 March 2019

Children's Challenging and Violent Behaviour: Solutions?

Have you ever been kicked in the face by a teenager, had an Xbox controller bounced off the back of your head by a child, been scratched or punched by a toddler, your TV ripped off the wall, your doors slammed so hard they come off the hinges or locked yourself in the bathroom for your safety because of a nine year old girl. Maybe not, maybe.

At the intersection of biology, trauma and circumstance we find parents and carers struggling to care and keep safe children with challenging, violent and aggressive behaviour (CCVAB aka CPV).

Complex neurodevelopment disorders, insecure attachment strategies, impulse control, trauma, dysregulation, domestic violence, all fall into this challenging soup that spills into the houses of many families. Up to a third of families with children with special educational needs (SEN) or children adopted or living in kinship or special guardianship arrangements live at times with challenging and aggressive behaviour.

Undoubtable the issue of CCVAB is creeping onto the radar of many organisations, services and professionals, just the see the number of training days that are being advertised here and there online. Though I feel a little cautious, or even cynical, when I see what is being offered to vulnerable and desperate families as it's a complex problem with often complex solutions*, did I say solutions?  The painful truth that the behaviour of our children lies at this messy intersection, as noted, and is often hugely influenced by the parents and carers' parenting styles, experiences and own challenges precipitated by the behaviour they're trying to manage.

For professionals stepping into what are often crisis situations, often with limited context and almost universally no specific training in CCVAB it is overwhelming. Again, this week I listen to a parent tell of social worker shrugging their shoulders and admitting not knowing what to do. So, what happens, sometimes professionals revert to the societal norm and look at the parents and carers and say, 'it's you'.

This is where it gets complicated, I'm not writing to apportion blame on anyone. That said, does how I parent my child influence their behaviour? of course. That is different to saying that violence and aggression are my fault, because they're not. 'Fault' is a troublesome word in this context but often one that is thrown around. We need to support families, we need to offer them alternative tools for effective to parenting. We also need to support the trauma that many adults and sibling experience as they live with this hidden form of domestic abuse. But what are the tools?

The solutions are nuanced and often only part solutions are available. A reduction is sometimes the best that some families will see, keeping all children and adults in households safe is good, not falling foul of services is helpful.

The ripples of CCVAB flow out of homes, into streets, communities, schools, families, work, mental health and bank accounts. The solutions, or perhaps the support, training and help we give needs to follow the ripples and meet the broader needs of families.

There are some glimmers of hope, three years ago this was a hidden issue. It's now creeping into the light. Serious case reviews have highlighted the failings of services following an parents death. Organisations have run campaigns and we are hearing the issue spoken about openly in new places.

We're now in a better and more open place, that said until families can be offered effective and compassionate solutions by compassionate and effective professionals many families will continue to struggle.

*Well, that's another issue if there was a 'solution' and I knew it I'd be a rich man.

Wednesday 27 March 2019

ASF Transitionary Funding Statement

Please find attached a statement from the DfE in relation to the Adoption Support Fund
Released today (27th March 10am).

Speaking to those in the know this could be read as a good indication of intent in relation to the future of the ASF. The logic being that money wouldn't be committed (found from somewhere) to 2020 + if there wasn't optimismthat the treasury review would be favourable. Also, the year on year increase in funding is indicative of how it's perceived by the minster.  
Food for thought. 

ASF Transitionary Funding

The Adoption Support Fund was launched in May 2015 with a government commitment to fund therapeutic support for families whose children left care through adoption or special guardianship until March 2020. Funding has increased year on year. The 2019-20 budget is more than double that in the first year of operation. The government recognises that children leaving care into adoptive and special guardianship families are likely to have experienced trauma prior to coming into care and will need therapeutic support to help them thrive.
We also recognise that there is a growing concern for adopters/special guardians that there is no certainty around funding beyond March 2020 where therapy is starting in 2019-20. We have, therefore, committed some funding in advance of the spending review settlement for 2020-21. The Chancellor has said that the outcome of the spending review will be known in the autumn - we have assumed this will happen in November 2019 for the purposes of our funding calculations.
This additional funding will enable families to continue to access some support beyond March 2020 for approved therapy packages which start in the 2019-20 financial year.
Funding will be on a reducing number of months from April 2019, with therapy that starts in July-November 2019 receiving a maximum of nine months funding. This is explained in the FAQs below.

Q – If 9 month packages will apply between July and November what does that mean for April, May and June?
A – Applications with a start date of therapy in April 2019 could cover up to 12 months support, to the end of March 2020; applications with therapy starting in May could cover 11 months of support; applications with therapy starting in June could cover 10 months of support. See diagram below, with a number 1 indicating the month that therapy starts:

Q – Why is funding only been guaranteed for 9 months?
A – The decision to guarantee at least nine months of funding allows us to offer packages of support during 2019-20 until the outcome of the spending review is announced. We have assumed this will happen in November for the purpose of our funding calculations.
Normally the Government does not commit any funding for a future financial year before a spending review settlement is known. However, the government is mindful that the ASF has been a great support to children and families and wanted to reassure families that where therapy has started they could continue to access this therapeutic support as we transition from one spending review period to another.
We appreciate that the absence of certainty about future ASF funding is difficult. The future of the ASF will be considered as part of the spending review and decisions will be announced as soon as possible after the spending review process has concluded

Q – What if my child is assessed as needing more therapy than the ASF will fund?
A – During this transitionary period, the ASF will only approve applications for funding according to when the therapy starts during 2019-20, as set out in the table above. We would expect you to work with your local authority/regional adoption agency to determine what support will be needed beyond the funded period and, if the ASF continues in the next spending review period, to make an application to the Fund for another package of support beyond the funded activity.

Q – Will I be able to submit another application in 2019-20 to extend the package of support to 12 months?
A – If the spending review (which we expect to be concluded by November 2019) confirms funding for the ASF beyond March 2020, further applications of up to 12 months support could be submitted depending on the assessed needs of the child/family.

Q – Can we continue to apply for 9 months therapy between December - March 2020?
A – We are currently working on the basis that the outcome of the spending review will be known by November 2019 so will fund packages for 9 months where therapy commences between July and November 2019. Further guidance will be provided once the outcome of the spending review is known about applications after this date.

Q – What is a Spending Review (SR) and why is the future of the ASF dependent on it?
A - HM Treasury carries out spending reviews to determine how to spend public money – usually over a multi-year period - in line with the government’s priorities. The overall amount of spending available is informed by the wider fiscal position. The money the government spends is reviewed to ensure future funding continues to be efficient and cost-effective. The last spending review in 2015 set out funding for the ASF for each year up until 2019-20, as part of the Department for Education’s overall spending budget. We have increased the funding each year since 2015. The spending review in 2019 will consider whether the Adoption Support Fund should continue and, if so, what an appropriate level of funding will be. It will look at the evidence around the impact it has had and whether it is cost effective. Until the review has been concluded we are unable to say whether it will continue.

Q – When will the outcome of the SR be known?
A – On 13th March the Chancellor said ‘that assuming a Brexit deal is agreed and uncertainty lifted, he will launch a "full three-year spending review" before the summer break’. He confirmed that he expected that to conclude by the autumn.

Q – So what happens if a Brexit deal isn’t agreed?
A – We will shortly have greater clarity on the government’s approach to EU Exit, including whether Article 50 is extended and for how long. The department is continuing to make preparations for both a deal and no deal scenario.

Q – What will happen if ASF is not funded in the SR?
A – Applications made to ASF from December 2019 onwards would only be funded for activity taking place between December 2019 and March 2020. See diagram above. Whatever the outcome of the spending review, local authorities and regional adoption agencies will still have a general duty to provide an adoption support service.

Q - Will this affect how children and families will access the Fund?
A – No, the process for accessing the Fund remains the same i.e. local authorities and regional adoption agencies should continue to carry out assessments of need, determine the support needs, make any decisions on match funding and submit applications for eligible therapies to the ASF.

Q – How does this affect match-funding?
A – It doesn’t. Where applications are above the Fair Access Limits (£5k for therapy and £2.5k for specialist assessment) and meet the match-funding criteria local authorities will still be asked to share the cost of the therapeutic support for the child/family.

Q – Does this affect the Fair Access Limits (FALs)?
A – No. The FALs will remain at £2,500 per child for a specialist assessment and £5,000 per child for therapy. The limits will apply to the 2020-21 financial year so anything committed before the outcome of the spending review is known would be deducted from the FAL amount for that year.

Q – Will scope and eligibility criteria change during this transition period?
A – No.
Q - Will applications take longer to process?
A - We currently expect all valid applications to continue to be processed within a maximum of 20 working days. Our aim is to keep processing times as short as possible and we will endeavour to keep them to a minimum. Any changes to these processing times will be communicated to local authorities and regional adoption agencies.

Q – Will exceptions be made for children with complex needs?
A – The same exceptions that are made now, e.g. more expensive packages of support can be provided where local authorities or regional adoption agencies match-fund. The transitionary funding rules will not change the criteria or rules for match-funding.

Friday 22 March 2019


There’s literally too much to say, so forgive me if I don’t.

But reading the Tavistock Institute’s journal on the early benefits of the Adoption Support Fund asking if it was sustainable I was left with the same old questions. Cycling along this morning the same question about adoption support services rattled round my head:

“Do we aim for what is realistic or we realistically aim for what is impossible?” 

I guess on one level it’s all academic, I’ve limited influence and am just one voice and if we’re honest not a particularly radical voice. But as a community what can we do? The plain reality is that adoption support at best is ok, but that’s not the experience of many and all evidence is that at least a third of adopters are struggling, really struggling. If you’re reading this are you struggling are you being helped, who do you call tonight and what could they do? 

Well, that’s all kinds of complicated isn’t it. These are my children, I took them on with open eyes, I expected to do what other parents do and I am. But, that’s where it does get murky, I’m struggling and the struggle is hard and I need help, but that’s what all parents and families do isn’t it? It wasn’t my plan that’s for sure, but that’s every parent of a vulnerable child’s story. See, complicated.

Played into my thinking I’ve been meeting with a group of parents and carers who’s children are violent, aggressive, challenging, complex and much loved. The link is the children and all kinds of family make ups are in the group, mainly biological parents. It’s broken my heart to be honest and one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done for a whole load of reasons, mainly the total void of support for them. The hero narrative that I’ve railed against and the patchy adoption support that I’ve blogged about for years would be snapped up by many of the families. We gripe but we’ve got a very different story to tell. Many adopters do have a hard time but we’ve always got our stories that often open doors that other families can’t open. So, with that in mind I read the Tavistock Institute’s report and I feel conflicted.  

We need more support as families that have adopted but what is realistic and fair in this economic climate? Do we fight hammer and nail for more or pragmatically step back and let others step ahead. 

Is that thought a pragmatic failure? Is that compromise? Yes. 

Every politician wants to be photo’d with an newly minted adoptive family, the gold dust settles on them. Do we dance to their tune, smile and doff our caps and take what is realistic or do we shout louder and louder for what is best at the risk of pushing them too far away? There are so many issues that are important and my inbox is not a stranger to important issues for adoptees and adopters, issues that people want to shout from the rooftops and bring campaigning weigh to bear against. But do we aim for what is realistic, push for the ideal or dance through some middle ground. 

Perhaps I’m tired. Adoption issues are often the very same issues of a silent and hidden majority. Our struggles with social care, schools, health and CAMHs and violent and aggressive behaviour are replicated across many more families that have no voice. 

So, perhaps we do need to shout louder, perhaps we need to be a little cleverer.

“Do we aim for what is realistic or we realistically aim for what is impossible?” 

Thursday 21 February 2019

Automated reply

As per our pattern, tensions rose slowly and inevitably to a moment of unravelling. One child could not contain their inner world any longer and words were used with the intention to harm, and arms and legs.

Not pretty, not nice. We're all left raw and some of us a little bruised.

In line with our agreement, actually my insistence,   I emailed my Adoption Social Worker to keep track of our story*. I gave a fair but concise account of events, what led to it and what happened. I thought that I'd share the grown up words that had been directed at me as it was a key part of the story. With a big sigh I pressed send, unsure of what response this would precipitate.

To my surprise within  a few minutes an automated email response came from the RAA.

"Sophos has detected inappropriate language within this email...........Please review your email and remove any suspect wording."

Sometimes blog posts write themselves. I laughed and laughed, you just can't make this stuff up.

There's a metaphor for modern adoption support in this that I just can't get my finger on.

Answers on a postcard.

Post script: My social worker answered very quickly, as usual, once I'd removed the child's grown up words.

*That our story and files now fall into my mythical RAA's system and that is somewhat removed from my local authority's system is a slight worry that nobody seems able to bottom out. 

Thursday 7 February 2019


It’s perhaps the short days in the long month after Christmas or the days where day and night are barely distinguishable but my thoughts have drawn tight around me. Claustrophobic thoughts precipitated by days of child induced challenge layered on what seems like years of challenge. 

What a grim post to write this is after writing less. Don’t worry I’m sure I can pull this round.  

I’d hoped to write some profound insight or witty anecdote but they seem a little illusive right now.  I’ve had lots of thoughts for sure and I needed to put somewhere but none of them seemed to be complete thoughts, half-finished blog posts littered my mind refusing to be shepherded into neat blogs. 

The impact of early adversity seems to remain persistent in some of my children’s lives though ever evolving in form and shape as it clings on through middle childhood into early adolescence then young adulthood. I’m not a fatalist but there feels like a brooding inevitability about some of paths we’re heading down that I see my peers navigate with their children. I’m not worried just getting ready in my thinking and trying to make sense of my thinking. 

Then I went on a three day NVR practitioners course and it made me question myself and my capacity to parent. Ideas around parental presence made me think if I had any left and whether I could be bothered.  I’m pretty sure that’s the wrong attitude, pretty sure I wasn’t that good a delegate. 
Lots of thoughts and feelings I couldn’t get to the bottom of. 

So much stuff floating around my mind. 

A good friend thought he’d help me last year by describing me as a melancholic in a job reference for a promotion. I didn’t get the job and in fact lost the job I already had but it made me think what he meant so I looked it up. One description of melancholy is a ‘pensive sadness’. That how January has felt for sure there’s so much sadness about all of this but that’s ok and I’ve reconciled myself to being a melancholic.

I’ve taken to drinking non alcoholic beer, it’s all part of my plan to wean myself onto real beer when I’m in my 60’s. MrsC and @gayadoptindad think I’m a lightweight. 

But then in the middle of all the physical darkness of January and friction a peace descended unexpectedly and I cupped my daughter’s face in my hands and she let me. It wasn’t a PACE moment squeezed out like reluctant toothpaste at the end of the tube or planned act of kindness or restoration. It just happened and as I looked in her eyes they held my gaze and I said ‘I love you’ and she smiled as I kissed her cheek. 

To be honest it made me sadder for all the times we don’t have that, but it also sparked a little hope. A little hope goes a long way and there is a long way to go. 

Then today it was light a little later and I thought perhaps the future is a little brighter.  

Spring is coming. 

Thursday 24 January 2019

The conversation moves on? Childhood Challenging Violent and Aggressive Behaviour

It is with interest I read through the 'Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse: Consultation Response and Draft Bill' that was released on Monday, I lie, if felt like work. I'm not a lawyer and laws are so not page turners.

The draft is released almost a year since the MP Toby Perkins had raised a debate on Child on Parent Violence that I wrote up here . This draft bill was referenced then and if you skip to page 44 there is mention of adolescent to parent violence (you can download the Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse: Consultation Response and Draft Bill here).

What does it mean for us? Well, in all that Dr Wendy Thorley and I have looked at on the issue one of the resounding myths that we've repeatedly had to shatter is that only adolescents manifest behaviour so violent and aggressive that it precipitates external action or support.

It's just plain wrong.

The problem is across childhood but more prominent in middle childhood, primary school aged children. This bill is explicit in highlighting adolescents,  my concern is that those responding are being given no tools or guidance on how to help when the child is 7, 8 or 9 and below the age of criminal responsibility which is 10. Why does this matter? because families are desperate and calling the police and asking for help, they're looking to services that are mistaking violent and aggressive behaviour as an indicator of permissive or authoritarian parenting, they are 'believing' children's narratives because they've been given no other narrative.

The published document talks about the approach that services take but if they are stuck in the adolescent narrative, which is a valid one, they will not be equipped or prepared to support the majority of families that experience this phenomenon. It feels like a step forward in the wrong direction. Hmmmm.

That all said, at least it's in the documents, at least people are looking to consider best practice and the  knowledge and understanding will move on.

My limited knowledge of legislative process and the nuances of what happens next and implications must temper what I've said . To that end my thoughts are more of what is known and how we (parents/carers, professionals and services) respond to the issue and how that response should help.

(You can see the facts and figures in the CCVAB report that Dr Wendy and I published here)

Wednesday 9 January 2019

Empathy and some thoughts on the Adopter Reference Group

So, up again I went to the Adopter Reference Group to look at and reflect on the issues that the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board consider and discuss some of the current issues that our community are negotiating at the moment. 

The discussion fell back into schools and again I find myself slightly out of step on that subject. For us to see the culture and practice shift that we want for our children in education we need to present an irresistible argument to education professionals, policy makers and politicians. With 26,000 schools in the UK and 55,000 adoptees under 18 years old in a pool of 11,000,000 children adoptees represent a very small cohort

Even in the group of children with SEN, 1,276,000 we are aren’t even at 5% and of course not every adopted child needs additional support in education.  The needs of adopted children may pull on the heartstrings of educationalists for all the cultural and emotive reasons we know but they don’t scratch the surface of the actual need in schools. The argument to change school culture and practice, to raise awareness in the workforce of trauma, loss and separation and to support the needs of vulnerable children becomes irresistible when adoptees are seen amongst the many more children that are living through and with the impacts of early adversity. 

1 in 5 children will experience domestic violence
1 in 20 children will experience sexual abuse
1 in 10 children will experience neglect
1 in 14 children will experience physical abuse
1 in 29 children will experience the death of a parent 
Foster care, kinship care, special guardians, private fostering etc.

Those are features in many adoptees narrative, however they are not exclusively theirs and in reality many more children experience high levels of challenge but adoption is not their story. 
I could go on………..

The case for empathy, compassion and a culture/policy/paradigm shift is clear when adoptees are seen in that community of children. Of course, within that community specific needs and nuances are represented with our children having some. However, the baseline shift that we’re looking for would change everything for those children and it’s likely for all children positively.

Here’s the rub, we need to form alliances and to do that do we need to shout a little less about adoption? Tricky, is it a word that opens doors and gets the ears of professionals? It is in my experience but do we need to help open the door for many that don’t have that luxury. 

So, that was what I was thinking and I did reflect a little of that as we chatted about education. I may have got a little passionate. Hey ho.

Then we went onto consider the work that is being looked at in relation to modernising permanency. It’s a broad subject matter and with several strands as support and contact are considered in relation to children’s identity as well as workforce development. 

I’ve lots of thoughts on that issue and it’s a fundamental issue for services at this time of RAA induced flux and remains a hot topic when broached with adopters and families. I’m going to keep my powder dry on that one. 

I apologise as this feels like a sketchy reflection of the discussion and more an essay on my thoughts on the topics raised. 

That said, continuity of NHS numbers were discussed, an issue that is significant for children with many children with complex health needs who need continuity of treatment and care. In a world of social media children being tracked down through this seems increasingly unlikely in my view. So that’s back on the table.  

The case for the continuation of the ASF beyond March 2020 is being pulled together, the Treasury will, rightly, want to see evidence of it’s benefit to children and families and that is being pursued. 

The issues of adopted children, quite obviously, remain central to the focus and efforts of adoptive parents and the dedicated staff of the DfE and the Adoption and Special Guardian Leadership Board continue to focus on those children. It remains a privilege to speak as a member of the adoption community and though the wheels of change move slow they do move but we need to keep oiling and pushing.