by Amanda Boorman
It has been announced by the Department for Education that the Adoption Support Fund (ASF) will be continued and enhanced for a further four years. As an adopter this surely has to be good news, so why does it feel a bit sad?
Being a charity that champions the rights of adopted people we know firsthand how much the right support can help children manage feelings of loss and trauma.
Of course adopters should be helped to care for children with additional need, as all parents should.
The trouble is, a one-off course of therapy, a parenting course or a camping holiday can’t fix the enormity of being born into a family that has failed or been failed, and as a result of this being permanently severed from that family
The right support via the ASF potentially enables adoptive parents to manage well the complexity of the emotions a child is experiencing alongside acknowledging and safely containing anger, anxiety and fear.
It is understood by most adopters that their adopted children may carry a legacy of dual identity, be disorientated or traumatised and may feel very scared and understandably angry. Good intentions of adopters is not the issue.
The issue is ingrained adoption rhetoric that positions prospective adopters, and adoption itself, as representing the ultimate salvation. Good families versus bad families is an over-simplification that still exists and within this lies the risk of pathologising adopted children’s emotional expression.
In financially favouring adoption within a hierarchy of support that includes support to birth families, children in care, kinship carers and foster families, the majority of children are being let down by inequality and adoptive families are at risk of being set up to fail. If you’ve been given the most and yet still experience problems, surely the problem must be you?
Adoption is not a one-off event that can be resolved by a subsequent intervention or two post adoption; it is a complex psychological situation that needs ongoing and individually based support throughout childhood. Neither does the legacy of adoption end at 18 years of age.
Maintaining important relationships
Depending on the circumstances, this can be when support to manage the consequences of dual identity is needed. It seems at times that post-adoption support is shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Although maintaining important relationships seems to be a reasonable stance in the best interests of all children whatever their legal status, the particular systems and cultures of current adoption practice make this approach and its advocates appear marginal.
Fast forward 16 years since placement and our daughter has individual and adult freedom of choice about the relationships we have helped maintain. As any parent I can advise – but not prescribe – how she manages them.
Being in regular contact with her mum means that together we also need to care for her.
Losing her children did not miraculously solve the issues her mum had that led to the removal of her children in the first instance, in fact it intensified them.
Her mum’s life story is one which would elicit huge empathy and care if viewed in isolation, and yet because she failed her children she is afforded none by the systems she has subsequently existed within.
As an adult our daughter has been able to forgive and come to terms with not only her mum’s serious failings but those of the state which looked after her mother as a child. We consider this healthy.
Support and friendship
The Open Nest delivers training on managing relationships after adoption. Based on our experience we suggest it can help children if prospective adopters meet birth families before adoption goes ahead and to do their own assessments.
In our own case we have gained great support and friendship from birth family members who attempted to care as kin with none of the support and acknowledgement afforded to us as adopters.
How bad must the crime be for a punishment to mean that you never see your children or relatives again? That is the key question prospective adopters must surely be given the opportunity to assess firsthand for themselves and on behalf of their future children.
It may be that the crime is bad enough and in these cases that truth must be integrated therapeutically into a child’s sense of identity very early on.
Alongside talk of adoption support in recent children’s services news, there has also been discussion around family group conferencing, early intervention and support to children in care when they are returning home to birth family.
These practices are surely relevant to adoption and another reason why separating out adopted children’s needs from others is not very helpful.
Our family unknowingly, in the early years at least, used the principles of restorative justice, family group conferencing, early intervention and safe reunification. It would have been very much more manageable for all involved to have been professionally and therapeutically supported through the process.
Adoption and its support mechanisms continue to value severance above integration at the same time as being viewed as the premium permanence option for children unable to live in their birth family.
The message in current adoption recruitment is almost always that post order the child is owned by the new family and that positive intention and love from good people, alongside the possibility of buying in corporate support products, is enough to mend any ‘difficult child’.
Without well informed legislation based on research with adopted people, the Adoption Support Fund risks being a short term part of the marketing of the government’s adoption agenda.
So celebrating post-adoption support budgets is hard to do. It’s hard to celebrate such obvious inequality in children’s services. It’s hard to celebrate making severance easier and it’s hard to celebrate a budget that would surely – if it has children’s rights at its heart – be better spent on early intervention before, not after, the adoption order.
Amanda Boorman is the founder of The Open Nest.