I have agonised all week whether I want to speak up and write this special #WASO collective response letter in response to Edward Timpson’s letter to adopters, that was released during National Adoption Week, but seeing the bravery of several others who have already written letters themselves, I have decided “in for a penny, in for a pound” even if nothing comes of writing it, other than giving me a cathartic outlet to honestly express my own personal opinion.
So here goes!
Dear Mr Timpson,
I would like to start by thanking you for your letter, which you published during National Adoption Week and that our own Post Adoption team saw fit to send out, two weeks later, to parents in our local authority. While we were pleased to see that an attempt, during National Adoption Week, was being made by yourself and the government to inform adopters of future plans for supporting us and our families, our experience in the past of empty promises has left us feeling somewhat sceptical and concerned. Your letter has left me wanting to ask more questions and comment on aspects of your letter that directly relate to the extremely complex dynamics of my family.
Very much like your own parents, my husband and I have adopted two boys (two very traumatised and complex boys), and for a time, while we waited to be matched with a sibling group, in an attempt to gain more experience and understanding of the needs of vulnerable children from the care system, we took the decision to become respite foster carers and accommodated several sibling groups and individual children. In all reality, if had we not done this, we would never have met our sons or fallen in love with them.
Having had the opportunity to get to know our sons before we even knew that there was a possibility that they would one day become part of our family, my husband and I felt that we were more than prepared for the challenges that would come with parenting this traumatised sibling group (aged 8 and 3 at the time). I can now safely say that we were not prepared for the pain and humiliation we have been made to endure at the hands of our local authority’s adoption services, when we dared to admit that I was finding the effects of our eldest’s early traumatic history difficult to cope with, and that we felt we needed some support. Nor were we prepared for the education system to completely fail our youngest son and leave us with no other option than to deregister him from school and begin home-educating him, taking up much of the time and energy that I need to support my vulnerable family, and making it even less possible for me to return to work.
In all honesty this year during National Adoption Week, I tried my upmost to avoid commenting on anything on any form of local/national/social media for fear of saying something negative or unhelpful, because I am more than aware that over the years this week has become more about ‘recruitment’ than about dispelling the myths that surround adoption.
Let me now respond to some of your announcements and explain where my concerns originate from, in an attempt to help you understand why we feel so sceptical.
Reading your recommendations/comments on the recruitment and matching of prospective adopter, and aim to approve them within 6 months, made my blood run cold for a fleeting moment. Obviously I can see where there may be benefits with doing this, but speaking as a couple who, despite our assessment process being long, frustrating and invasive, now feel that we weren’t adequately prepared, I worry that making promises to remove delay and frustration from the process for adopters by setting a time limit will be counterproductive in the long term. Please understand me, I would love nothing more than to think that this is achievable and you may feel that I am being very close-minded and negative, but having been in the ‘adoption trenches’ for several years now, my rose tinted glasses have faded, and I can now see why our social worker was as thorough as she was and how necessary it was that we took that time with her to really explore everything because, trust me, our children will always find that chink in our armour, and if prospective adopters are not sufficiently prepared for the impact this may have on them, the results can be far more devastating for the vulnerable child/children than the initial waiting game.
As for your Adoption Support Fund, this has become a hot topic in our local authority and, for a short while, I was personally encouraged by what I understood about it, but on closer inspection and from discussions with fellow adopters in our area, we are all feeling quite uneasy about how we access this fund and, quite frankly from what I understand, when the fund is rolled out to all agencies it will become a complete ‘bun fight’ to see which Local Authority or Voluntary Agency can snaffle up the biggest chuck of the fund. From a personal perspective, I am struggling to get my head around the fact that, in order to be eligible to receive our ‘quota’, we will need to approach our post adoption team and ask for an assessment of our past adoption needs once again, and put ourselves through yet more scrutiny, and have to justify ourselves all over again in order to obtain money to provide our children with much needed support, that they should by rights be already receiving, but that CAMHS and the education system refuse to supply because they don’t fit the criteria or it is not available on the NHS in our area.
When it comes to your comments around prioritising adopted children in your education reforms, elements of it are admirable and I am grateful for the Pupil Premium being extended to include adopted children as well as looked after children and children of service personnel. However, as a mother of 2 sons in very different positions educationally, I do have a handful of concerns (gripes maybe would be more accurate). Our eldest son, now 13, attends a specialist residential weekly boarding school where I would estimate that about 80% of the intake be eligible for the Pupil Premium, but when parents have questioned how the money is to be spent to support our children, we have been told that it goes into a collective pot and we have no right to know how this will be used in terms of our children. I would like to see parents being allowed to actively be involved with the decision making of how the funding is used for their child/children as, let’s face it, we are the people who know our children best and, contrary to what our eldest’s school believes, we want to have a positive working relationship with them.
Before I go onto comment about education in general, I feel there is another area of the pupil premium fund that from a personal point of view is very disappointing. Earlier I mentioned that we have been forced into a situation where we have had to remove our youngest from his primary school (aged 7 at the time, now about to turn 9), because of the lack of training and understanding of his needs from school staff and the school community – in all honesty they broke my once spirited little boy, and he is but a shell of his old self. It was never our intention to keep him at home forever and for this reason we made the decision to retain his statement of educational needs ready for a time when we felt he was in a position to return to the education system, but, despite this, as home educators we are not eligible to access the pupil premium fund for our son, although I can confidently say that this money would be have been used to provide him with opportunities that would potentially undo some of the damage done to his self-esteem and confidence by his then mainstream primary school. If this money has been made available to benefit our vulnerable children, why is it that this money has to be exclusive to children in mainstream/specialist education settings (under government control) and our child, who was pushed out of the education system, is left completely unsupported? This is also relevant when it comes to services like Educational Psychologists and other service providers who work closely with schools – currently we feel our youngest needs an assessment in order to fully understand his academic, social and emotional needs, but our Educational Psychologist refuses unless he is in an education setting.
That brings me onto training. I would like to see some of your funding being used to train professionals more in-depth and help them understand that adoptive parents are not the enemy. Many of us, including myself, will have had more intensive training/experience in how best to support and get the best out of our children. Yet, in my experience, professionals believe, because they have a degree in education/social care etc., that this gives them the right to completely disregard our advice and as a result fail our already traumatised children.
I think I have already made my feelings about CAMHS in our area very clear, but for arguments sake, at the time our eldest was accessing CAMHS at the beginning, I could not fault the service he was receiving and the expert attachment focused family therapy (DDP) his therapist was providing. Sadly our CAMHS then changed providers and all the wonderful support for our son and our family simply disintegrated, and we were left with a therapist who, not only did not understand the dynamics of our complicated family, rather than helping things feel more manageable as a family, she did the opposite and nearly tore my family apart. A year later we found ourselves once again needing to access CAMHS for our youngest son who was in ‘crisis’ and once again the service we were provided with was woefully inadequate and in fact his sessions were cut short as a result of us removing him from school. Apparently this meant that all his problems would magically disappear as if the scars left from his early years’ trauma were insignificant. His sessions were ended on the same day as we informed the CAMHS therapists that he had, the day before, been given the news that he had lost, not only his grandmother, but his great grandmother too (both of whom he had learnt to love over the years). On a more selfish note, under the old CAMHS provider the parents were supported as well as their children (sometimes this was only a simple ‘checking in’ phone call before an intensive session) Under the new provider, parents are completely left to fend for themselves despite many of us experiencing some form of secondary trauma at some point in our time parenting our children. I am a firm believer that, if you take care of the care giver, they will move mountains for their children and nurture them to the best of their abilities, but sadly most Post Adoption Services are overstretched and understaffed, and do not have sufficient experience or training to support their adopters‘ needs as well as their children.
I know that I am presenting you with a rather bleak overview of my family’s experience of adoption support to date, but rather than BAAF’s idealist, picture perfect presentation of how it would be to bring a sibling group into your family, the reality is that, unless you adequately prepare prospective adopters for the painful impact of supporting children who will come with, not only their own emotional and complex attachment needs, but the destructive ‘trauma bond’ that certainly came with our sons and dominates our lives whenever they are with each other. I can tell you that this never ever came up at any point during our preparation to adopt.
I look forward to hearing your response
Mother of 2 beautiful and boisterous but challenging boys