by Amanda Boorman
Many adoptive families we talk to at The Open Nest, a post-adoption peer support independent charity, and those who write of their experiences on social media find the recruitment aims and celebrations of adoption during this week difficult to square with their own.
It’s that time of year again and National Adoption Week will be promoted on television, radio and social media.
Adult adoptees are not very often invited to the party. Children’s voices rarely appear unless under some government funded project where only the celebratory bits are talked about.
Millions has been spent over the last few years on recruiting adopters. A top slice of £150 million from the early intervention fund was initially used as an adoption recruitment fund. Some of this was assigned to local authorities that recognised that there was a real threat to their adoption services being outsourced if numbers didn’t improve.
A further £16 million was assigned to voluntary adoption agencies to improve recruitment of adopters. That’s a massive marketing budget.
We can all agree there is a clear agenda in adoption policy and National Adoption Week is PR and marketing for that agenda.
Adoptees, adopters and professionals who question the culture of UK adoption policy and methods of recruitment and support, as well as those who wish to highlight the many complexities, can appear to be negative thinkers and dangerous radicals.
It’s a shame really because some radical thinkers around adoption, particularly those who were adopted themselves, could hold some of the answers to what might make adoption as positive a permanency option for children as it could ever possibly be, and something to truly celebrate.
Every adoption is a result of loss. Even whipping them out when they are young does not make that fact go away. It should never be about entitlement to children or ownership of children but about long term, lifelong commitment to care in an empathic and fully informed manner that suits each individual child.
If this approach is not chosen from the start, adult adopted people are often left with an uncomfortable legacy that nobody wants to hear about. This is particularly damaging amongst a saviour rhetoric that is so entrenched it allows adoption marketing, including photographs, of potential adoptees on social media and television.
Marketing that uses language to suggest to the general public that anything but being saved by adoption signifies being unwanted or in a state of languishing in care.
To engage in a meaningful debate about adoption in the UK nowadays you have to discuss trauma. It’s a word that has grown in its use as our country’s children are removed from their families at a higher rate than ever.
Abuse and neglect cause trauma and that is a fact. So does domestic violence, substance addiction, homelessness, poor mental health care, illness, poverty – and so does losing a loved one forever.
Adopters like myself deal with the results of it, sometimes on a daily basis. It’s not positive or pretty and it can take many forms including over compliance as well as the more recently talked about violent aggression. Only those who regularly deal with it in other care settings would truly understand the levels of shut down emotions, self-harm or violence that a frightened, angry or anxious child can express.
The Adoption Enquiry
If we don’t address very carefully and methodically both the many root causes of families failing children and the trauma and context of entering the child protection system, some adopted children risk becoming the displaced poor and for others any traumatic experiences during this process of ‘recreation’ will be continually pathologised rather than avoided.
As both a charity worker and an individual I have had great interest in The Adoption Enquiry, a piece of research funded by BASW. It is looking at the role of social workers in adoption and in particular will examine it within an ethical and human rights framework.
It’s an invaluable opportunity to gather a wider and more diverse voice from within adoption.
A chance to examine experiences and make practice better, more ethical, more humane and in the best interests of all children as individuals. It really shouldn’t feel threatening, but I suspect based on my own experience of telling our truth, that it might be seen as such in some quarters. I feel it’s something to celebrate.
It’s hard to imagine many human beings not understanding the emotion of wanting to ‘rescue’ a child in distress. It could be in that gut wrenching, adrenaline-fueled feeling you have when a mother is swearing threats into her toddlers face next to you in the high street.
It may be in the sadness, anger and frustration of a social worker who genuinely fears for a child’s safety if it is living in the same place as its family without any meaningful, constant and funded support.
Getting involved in actually taking any action to save a child is obviously fraught with both emotional and political complexity whether you are a parent, carer or professional.
But you can of course buy empathy and support for families. The government do not want adoptions to breakdown. They do want more adoption and fewer adoptees that struggle. Adopters, through current reforms have, unlike many other parent groups, been afforded a loud public voice that also tells us they don’t want to live lives restricted by trauma, poverty, mental ill health, school exclusion and a long term lack of a ‘normal’ family life. Adopted people and families who lose children have not been afforded the same privileges.
The Adoption Support Fund, as predicted by some, has not quite touched the sides of the demand from adoptive families.
It aims to address the ramifications of the trauma that justified the adoption of some children in the first place and there’s nothing wrong with that. It has been described by some families as a lifeline.
Others on discovering the costs of an assessment for therapy, therapeutic packages for adoptive families, therapeutic parenting courses or therapeutic short breaks feel support in this area has an extraordinarily high price tag. Alongside this adoptive families find there are limits in choice. The fund will not, for example, support contact with a child’s birth family, opportunities for parents to gather together informally or short breaks unless there is a therapeutic element. Parents are not always given the chance to state what is therapeutic to them as an individual family.
Informal studies show that parents feel help with promoting birth family and friends relationships. Getting a bit of a break without leaving the children behind with strangers and being around those who truly ‘get it’ are very therapeutic indeed.
The cost of The Adoption Enquiry is comparable with a long-term, multi approached, therapeutic Adoption Support Fund package for just one adoptive family.
It would be good to see the enquiry promoted during National Adoption Week. It is a potential opportunity to hear different opinions, bridge some divides and hopefully find cost effective and humane solutions to caring for all of those touched by adoption.
Amanda Boorman is an adopter and founder of The Open Nest.