Tuesday 22 June 2021

#YouCanAdopt: a Reflection on Slogans

A guest post by Andrew Taylor-Dawson

You can read more of his writings on his blog here

The realities of adoption can’t be boiled down to a simple marketing slogan

Recruiting adopters is essential, but this must be balanced with more and better support for families and a serious focus on life story. 

At a time when there seems to be more stories in the mainstream press about adoption than ever, it’s worth reflecting on where we are and where we seem to be going. For me, the #YouCanAdopt recruitment drive gives a candy-coated partial view of adoption. As I’ve said before, ‘you can’ adopt, but often the question needs to be ‘should you?’ This might sound negative and grumpy, but giving a one-sided view of adoption without its complexities, nuances and challenges is neither fair to prospective adopter or to children. 

Gavin Williamson’s remarks in a Department for Education (DfE) press release about overhauling the adoption system in National Adoption week last year landed badly with adopters and professionals alike. Williamson asserted that social workers were putting unnecessary barriers in the way for prospective adopters and that the only qualification for adopting was “the ability to love a child”. 

The sentiment Williamson expressed is highly worrying and plays into existing misconceptions that surround adoption in the public mind. We need to get to a place where adoption is more universally viewed as the raising of children with early trauma who can’t live with their birth parents. 

What questions should we be asking? 

As I’ve written before, I’m not an adoption evangelist. It is anything but a panacea, but as an adoptive parent, I of course feel that it has a very important role to play. However, this is as one option alongside special guardianship, long term foster care and yes – doing more to keep families together in the first place. 

Answering questions that cut to the heart of adoption such as ‘could I help a child understand their early trauma?’ are essential to getting adopters to a place where they are at all ready. The current emphasis from central Government flies in the face modern understanding and the good practice of many adoption agencies. 

Like all adopters, the experiences that my wife and I have had so far have challenged us and taken us to places that we could not have predicted. We had the benefit of going through a very forward-thinking agency and experiencing the better end of adoption practice. No matter how prepared you are, it doesn’t take away the challenges when they start to bite. 

To me, other questions like ‘how would you cope with a child that is violent towards you or other children?’ and ‘how would you respond if your child is unable to access education due to their trauma?’ are essential. While preparation does only go so far, thinking about the complexities posed by early trauma, should be something everyone going into adoption should have to do as early as possible. 

Life story

The adoption topics that can never be discussed too much are life story and contact. They can also be really hard to get your head around. I say this as someone who has been navigating getting multiple contact arrangements of different kinds in place for a while. As a new adopter, it cuts to the heart of your identity as that child’s parent, and it can feel threatening and disempowering. However, the evidence couldn’t be clearer, understanding life story and having safe birth family contact where appropriate helps deliver much better outcomes. Understanding this should be central for anyone considering adoption. 

A contemporary view of adoption

I understand the need for recruiting adopters and that they have to brought in with something appealing, however #YouCanAdopt is reductive and builds up the possibility of false expectations. 

To make contemporary adoption work as well as possible for children and adopters, we have to challenge the myths and misconceptions that exist in society and be extremely clear with anyone considering this path. I believe in holding them up to high standards, but also ensuring the best support and opportunities to learn and grow as an adoptive family. 

Unfortunately, despite developments in understanding and practice in recent years, the view from central Government feels out of step with what is needed. Adoption can of course bring joy and offer opportunity, but we must reflect to anyone considering it, the challenges and the issues that you will undoubtedly be grappling with on this path. 

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