Thursday 3 December 2020

Adoption, Soundbites and Mount Stupid

In a world of soundbites and pithy slogans some topics just don't fit, I think that has put me out of steps with recent adoption recruitment drives. The tension between my desire to unpick complicated issues within a changing social context and the sector's need to keep the machine running is at odds. Hey ho, what's to do?

It's not uncommon for some poor unsuspecting soul to sidle up to me on some social media platform and PM me with a 'I know someone who's thinking of adopting, would you chat to them'. Well, there's a tricky question, of course never one miss an opportunity for an audience I say 'yes' but with a caveat that I won't be held responsible for the outcome.  

Dunning-Kruger Effect
Dunning-Kruger Effect - See 'Mount Stupid'

20 years ago, even 15 or 10 years ago my conversation with then would have been a resounding, fist pumping, cheerleading: 

   'Go for it, you've got this!' 

But I've read a lot of books, listened to a lot of voices and been down a few paths since then. Actually, been down a lot of paths and lived with six children who have traversed the care and adoption system in all it's widescreen technicolour glory.  So, in my mind it just isn't that simple anymore and if you want me to tell you how un simple it is it may take some time. Simple one line answers do everyone a disservice at best and are harmful at worst. 

It's clear that the current government are sold on adoption from an ideological perspective and so far have invested in that. That's good, but as always the worry is that it is frequently focused on the adopter's journey to placement with limited focus outside of that journey or other participant's journeys. That doesn't sit well anymore. 

I do talk to the poor soul set before me trying to make sense of my thoughts, experiences and freeform ramblings.  Often they just want the simple answers and I'm not willing to give them. 

Please don't think that me saying its complicated means I'm against adoption as that's not true but the answer isn't simple and in my mind no longer a binary one.

Not a hugely satisfying post I'm afraid but that's that. Perhaps I'll air it out in a podcast. 
Stay well, enjoy Christmas and may all your festive hope come true.

PS Here's some homework, google the Dunning-Kruger effect and mount stupid. 

Wednesday 14 October 2020

Press release from the DfE in relation to Adoption

Here's the press release from Gavin Williamson for #NationalAdoptionWeek .
Being candid, it's not for those in the adoption community, it reads like a call to prospective adopters and is a continuation of what was in the Conservative manifesto.

What can be safely cut out of the adoption process escapes me at this point and focus remains on speeding up adoption to increase adoption. I maintain that we need to focus on the needs of children to increase adoption. The issues in relation to the ethnicity of children echos the words of Michaeal Gove almost a decade ago and doesn't reflect the complexity of race, racism and adoption that good practice and research points us to.

Unfortunately, I don't think this release will inspire confidence from those in the community.  

Education Secretary calls for overhaul of overly bureaucratic adoption system


  • New figures show 2,400 children waiting for a home as Education Secretary pledges support for potential adopters
  • Further £2.8 million in funding for Voluntary Adoption Agencies to boost adoption figures
  • DfE confirms £6.5million provided to help 61,000 adoptive families during coronavirus pandemic


An overly bureaucratic system that places too high a burden on parents who want to adopt is making it harder for people who want to give a child a stable home, the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has today warned.

In a speech to coincide with National Adoption Week, the Education Secretary said “too many lifestyle judgements” are made on potential adopters, with the consequence that there are not enough adoptive parents to go around. The shortfall is resulting in children being “bounced around the system” as they wait for a family, he added.

Figures published today show that there are currently around 2,400 children waiting for adoption but just over 1,800 approved adopters who are ready to give them a home.

The government has previously made it clear that any families considering adoption will be supported and has today confirmed that £6.5 million was provided to local authorities and regional adoption agencies to help adoptive families facing greater stress during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is alongside the government’s Adoption Support Fund which has provided nearly 61,000 adoptive and special guardianship order families across the country with therapeutic support since its launch in 2015, backed by nearly £175 million. 

The Education Secretary also announced a further £2.8 million in funding for Voluntary Adoption Agencies. The money will allow them to continue to deliver their adoption activities during the pandemic, including recruiting adopters to be matched with children waiting. 

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“When it comes to adoption, what we have seen over a number of years is something I can only call narrow mindedness or even snobbery.

“For example, some local authorities make it harder to adopt if you rent your home rather than own it, or if you’re not a perfect ethnic match. These outdated messages are putting off people who would otherwise come forward when the only qualification you need is the ability to love and care for a child.

“I am urging local authorities to help us break down these barriers so that we can unite more children with the families they deserve so much.”

While safeguards must not be relaxed and checks must remain in place, the Education Secretary announced his intention to change the process that leads to lifestyle-judging that is making adoption a daunting experience for many.

Given Black and Minority Ethnic children often wait the longest to be adopted, he also warned that we must end an “obsession with finding the perfect ethnic match for children”, stating that there is no acceptable reason why adopters should be blocked from registering simply because there are no children of the same ethnicity waiting to be adopted.

At the same time a national campaign will launch next month to reach out to churches, mosques and other community groups starting with a pilot service in London and Birmingham, to reinforce these points and encourage more potential Black and other minority ethnic adopters to come forward.

Maggie Jones, Chief Executive of Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies, said:

“Voluntary Adoption Agencies (VAAs) across England are hugely grateful for the additional funding provided by Government in this difficult time. It has enabled us to continue our vital work supporting hundreds of adoptive families at a time of great stress and preparing new adoptive parents to provide forever, loving homes for many children who need them.

“VAAs provide a quarter of all adoptive placements and the choice they offer is particularly important for the  Black and minority ethnic communities with whom we work. We really appreciate the confidence the Government has shown in VAAs and we will continue working with partners across the social care system to create positive futures for our most vulnerable children.”

Dr Krish Kandiah, Founding Director of Home for Good, said:


“We have been delighted to play our part in addressing the persistent racial disparity in adoption and are so encouraged to see a continued commitment to this critically important issue from the Secretary of State today. It has been our privilege at Home for Good to assist with training hundreds of social workers across the country in faith and cultural literacy and to pilot a new project helping to find adopters of Black children waiting for adoption. 


“We are grateful for the funding that the Government has made available for this work. We recognise that lasting change is a marathon and not a sprint, so greatly look forward to working together to find a loving, safe and permanent family for every child who needs one.”


Helping deliver on a manifesto commitment, more Regional Adoption Agencies (RAAs) are going live each month, with the current number now being 25 covering 119 local authorities (79%). Data published today highlights RAAs have shown early promise in speeding up the time it takes to match children waiting for adoptive families.

The speech comes after the Education Secretary asked councils in January to put adoption at the top of their agendas, and to make sure that people are not being turned away because they were too old, or had a low income, or because of their faith or sexual orientation.

Sunday 11 October 2020

A letter to the incoming Chair of the Adoption & Special Guardian Leadership Board

October 2020

Dear Incoming Chair,

As you take up your post as the Chair of the Adoption & Special Guardianship Leadership Board we would like to share our perspective with you. As being adoptive parents, we have worked within the adoption community at a regional, national and governmental level. Additionally, over the last four years we’ve spoken to many adopted adults, birth parents and families, special guardians, kinship carers and adoptive parents in producing the Adoption & Fostering Podcast.

Adoption and special guardianship services are peculiar, the vast majority of people that the Board serves find themselves caught up either as children or birth family in a system that they do not want to be a part of. That is the crux of the challenge set before us all.

Children have no choice, neither do the vast majority of their parents who are fed into the system. Kinship carers find themselves asked to care for the children in their families in difficult circumstances feeling that their option to say ‘no’ is limited at best and not available else their family’s children fall into the hands of the state.

Only adoptive parents come willingly to this world and in reality their start point is predominantly meeting their own desire for children. The board is tasked with ensuring the good governance, running and development of this system and to ensure that the government’s agenda is fulfilled. You know that so forgive us for restating it.

In our view the board needs honest, balanced and fair representation of all these
voices. Those that have passed through the system as children; those that find themselves caught up in the system as adults and those that come willingly to it. The insights of 'experts by experience' are invaluable to an honest, responsive and appropriate service. If those voices are unavailable, unheard or fettered we run the risk of perpetuating a patriarchal system that reflects the needs and perspectives of those at the top and not those that live in the system.

Good representation can be hard, it is not easy to shepherd views and experience into easily digested soundbites and voices. National charities can be a proxy for their members but beyond their palatable voices we need the raw realties to be reflected to those that hold the keys to this system.

The Adoption & Fostering Podcast Available on all Podcast streaming services

Currently the Adoption & Special Guardian Leadership Board is weighed towards those that create and maintain the systems and adoptive parents, but for it to be truly reflective of the system we believe it needs to be a place where all voices can be amplified and heard. Even practitioner voices need to be represented not the 'Heads of Service' but those that sit in living rooms, social work offices and maternity wards making sense of the policies given to them.

As adoptive parents, we know that we do have a seat at the table. We are palatable, we came to adoption willingly and our views are listened to exponentially more than the other parties that you represent and for that we’re grateful.

We politely request that you extend those seats at the table to those that are adopted, have their children removed or are caring for their families children in kinship and SGO arrangements.

We wish you all the very best in your term as Chair and look forward to working with you during this time.

Al Coates MBE                 Scott Casson-Rennie

Saturday 3 October 2020

'Challenging Childhood Violent and Aggressive Behaviour' Professional Social Work Article Sept' 20

Below is the an article I wrote for Professional Social Work magazine to raise awareness of the challenges faced by many families.


I can vividly recall standing in front of a room of several hundred social workers as they all acknowledged that they had or were supporting families where children’s violent and aggressive behaviour was present. That was unsurprising as it was the topic of the lecture, what was suprising was that when asked how many had been given specific training in relation to supporting children and families with that behaviour fewer than five hands went up in the auditorium. That was three years ago, and like Tess, I’m a social worker and had found myself struggling to manage aggressive and violent behaviour in my children from a young age. Ineffectual but mainly unavailable support had set me on a journey to look closer at the issue in a hope to find the support that my family needed. A chance encounter with academic Dr Wendy Thorley lead to us undertaking research and ultimately the work I do raising awareness and training parents, carers and professionals. 


The prevalence of violent and aggressive behaviour in children towards their caregivers and members of their households remains an issue shrouded behind a vale of uncertain professional responses and parental/carer isolation, shame and silence. With reports of prevalence being from up to 65% of children who have been adopted displaying the behaviour at some point in their childhood  to 5% within the general population being a quoted figure.  Within other communities, children with ASD for example, the prevalence is again higher and consequently a true figure is illusive and compounded by the silence and secrecy that frequently covers the issue. Few organisations record incidents or concerns systematically though Northumbria Police’s 2020 Report recorded 515 incidents of violence and aggression over a 10 month period for children as young as 11 years old. Home office advise on Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse is available however research in the 2018 Child to Parent Violence and Aggression Survey indicated that frequently families were struggling long before in silence until they could no longer absorb or manage behaviour coinciding with the children moving into adolescence. We do know that this behaviour is often contained within families until children grow bigger and the risks and impact of behaviour becomes higher. Frequently a ‘angry and frustrated teenager’ narrative hijacks the issue, however looking closer there are more complex narratives outside of usual challenges or developmental norms. 


The limited research points to the interplay of early and ongoing adversity in children’s lives, complex biology with all of this set within family and education systems that frequently struggle to meet children’s needs or even see that the issue is more than a simple behaviour issue.  As a society we place the job of managing children’s behaviour firmly on parents and caregivers. That’s the paradigm that we operate out of as professionals and when we’re faced with aggressive behaviour that tips into violence our reflex is to look at the parents and caregivers and consider what they are or aren’t doing to precipitate or allow this behaviour. To an extent that is a reasonable response and certainly there is strong evidence to suggest that overly authoritarian parenting or permissive parenting can underly challenging, violent and aggressive behaviour in children. We know that early adversity/trauma and biological difference can mean children’s capacity to operate in within the normal parent/child paradigm can be floored. Responses to trauma, loss, sensory issues and altered perception can all be interpreted as challenging behaviour, it can look very personal and feel very personal. Parent’s responses may be appropriate in normal circumstances but these may not be normal. Parental control is undermined and parents can feel impotent and regress to authoritarian or permissive parenting in an attempt to exert further control or to avoid conflict. As professionals we often walk into complex systems and when we see children not coping or behaving our cultural and societal programming is to look to the parent carer as the cause or the adult setting the tone. However, they may be struggling to respond outside of their siege parenting and easily be identified as the ‘cause’ of the behaviour.  


The findings of the 2018 survey raised key areas to take note of, parents and carers were living with children who displayed complex, challenging behaviour not only directed at parents or carers but also other siblings. When asked what services they sought help from it was disheartening to see that many families were initially reluctant to seek help. Unpicking this the stigma of not being able to ‘control’ your children created a dynamic where families felt isolated however this was compounded by fear of what would happen to the children if services were to become involved. Families had frequently sought help from multiple sources, GP, Education, CAMHS, Social care and Police and asking them how they viewed the support they received surprisingly the police were overwhelmingly seen as the most supportive service. It doesn’t take a leap of empathy to understand the levels of desperation that families were in to call the police not knowing if that could lead to criminalisation and separation. Parents and carers continue to love their children despite the behaviour and, as noted, frequently absorb the behaviour to protect their children. 


There is hope, though only a few years since asking that group of social workers if they’d received training awareness of the issue and a developing knowledge of the underlying causes has grown. Services like Family Based Solutions in North London find themselves in huge demand. They work directly as partners with children and parents from a solution focused approach to support changes in behaviour and family systems. Non Violent Resistance relatively unknown of five years ago has been taken up by many adoption services and has been seen to help many families. An alternative to historic parenting classes, it is a systemic therapy focused specifically on violent, controlling and aggressive behaviour. It acknowledges that though the blame for children’s behaviour may not lay at the parent’s door the keys to managing that behaviour frequently do and need to and offers principles and intensive support for parents and carers. Though specialist services are growing demand outstrips capacity but foundations of the above, listening, partnership and compassion remain available to all practitioners. Families described feeling ‘not listened to’ and frequently patronised or being sent on generic parenting courses or run the risk of being seen as not engaging with services. Parent and cares are not na├»ve to the limits on resources or the complexity of the issues but are again and again clear where all practitioners can start ‘Believe us’ and ‘Don’t blame us’.

Friday 12 June 2020

Dog Walk Thoughts

A few thoughts on RAAs and the postcode lottery that still seems to exist.

Wednesday 29 April 2020

Northumbria Police's press release for the CCVAB report.

Here's Northumbria Police's press release for the CCVAB report, worth a read even if it is to look at the comments. They reflect a range of views that so many families come up against again and again. It refreshes the vigour in which we need to raise awareness.

Note to self: Never read the comments.

We want this to influence other forces as well as give the Home Office food for thought, please share wide and far.

Friday 24 April 2020

Policing Childhood Challenging Violent or Aggressive Behaviour: Responding to Vulnerable Families

So, here it is the Policing Childhood Challenging Violent or Aggressive Behaviour: 
Responding to Vulnerable Families report. You can read the Executive Summary here with the full report being available on the 27th April.

It’s taken some time and right from the off I need to thank Dr Wendy Thorley for all the work that she has done, not only in liaising, organising, chivvying along different folks (mainly me) but in also crunching the data and writing the report up. The report draws on Northumbria Police’s 500+ call outs from parents and carers over a 9 month period in crisis due to the violent and aggressive behaviour of the children in their homes. 

The report builds on what is a steadily growing body of research that considers the underlying issues that impact on children who display extreme aggressive and violent behaviour. For us that culminated in the  2018 Child on Parent Violence and Aggression Survey but in this report we worked in partnership with the police to consider the current interventions they undertake and how to improve them.   

During this process  I’ve been given access to records and though I thought I’d become hardened to the challenges that children and families face I confess to being rendered speechless reading some of the incident reports. Stories of incredibly vulnerable children, their mental ill health, SEND, adversity, trauma, substance misuse and more all playing out in homes across the region. 

I'll not pre empt your reading of the findings, however that the report was written offers me hope for the future of this issue. We measure what matters and this is an issue that matters for many families, for every police call out there are multiple incidents that don't reach the extreme of a 999 call hidden in a veil of silence. There are many untold stories of families struggling under fear of social care intervention, fear of violence, isolation, shame and mental ill health. This report is not the end of the issue but it is another light shining into a dark room of many families lives. 

You can read the summary to the report here 

Friday 28 February 2020

Where to start

Friend: 'Hi, I know we've not spoke in a while but we're thinking of adopting and thought we'd speak to you............what do you think?'

Me: 'Oh, well where to start'

It's a question that I don't get asked every day but it comes around not too infrequently. I try to offer balance, I try to find out why, I try to present the big picture and the small picture, I try to wrap it up in language that makes sense. I try to summarise my last 20 years in an honest and meaningful reply.

I think it sounds like a scattergun gallop through a thousand thoughts tumbling our of my mouth at a hundred miles an hour, I'm not sure I'm the right person to answer this question.

#YouCanAdopt, yes you can but.......... My days of being an apologist for adoption are over.

I think my answer is laced with a huge dollop of pragmatism, adoption has worked for me, adoption has kind of worked for some of my children. I say kind of because it's offered them something that the other forms of permanency could not and can not offer. It's a sliding scale and it also comes with a knowledge that their views may change but they don't get to re write history or have a say.

I've the nonsensical twitter argument over if adoption is trauma fizzing around trauma still rattling around my head and that's not helping at all. I try to reflect that.
The answer to my friend is complicated and ends up with me asking them to visit specific websites, read this book, listen to this story, think differently. More like a stress test on how serious they are and how this is a landscape in transition. You don't want to be on the wrong bus when it leaves town so to say.

When I record the podcast's with adopters I often ask 'would you adopt again' and all bar one said yes. Maybe that's the wrong question to the wrong person.

The question seems more complicated now. As well as 'would' there's a 'should' and the best I seem to have now's complicated.

Again more questions than answers.