My experience with adoption is probably rather different to the majority. For a start, I had always wanted to adopt. Adoption seems to have been my life theme, and I believed that I had been adopted for as long as I could recall. Then in later life I was told that actually I was an unexpected fourth child. This really pushed me in the direction of adoption. I truly believe that my desire to adopt and the fact that it was my first choice to be a parent, does perhaps give me a slightly different perspective; however it certainly hasn’t made the experience any easier or more straight forward. I originally adopted my son (Thomas) at the age of 3, with my husband but by the time Thomas had turned 4, I was continuing the adoption as a singleton. My husband had left me for his ex-wife and they were having a birth child!
Thomas’s issues were manifold coming from a background of extreme neglect and having had numerous changes of primary carer by the age of 3. They were evident from the moment he was placed with us and despite having attended numerous preparation groups, I realised I was ill equipped to deal with him, and having cut myself of from social services when my husband left me for fear that they would take Thomas away, I actually got back in touch with them when he was around six. I do now ask myself, why was he left without any social services follow up or interaction after placement, and strongly feel that this is something that requires redress: adopted children should come with an appropriate care package.
Incidents and exclusions from school were frequent, we managed to get some involvement from CAMHS and I do feel that this certainly helped me to understand how to better handle Thomas and have a greater understanding of his needs. There were TAC (Team Around the Child) meetings and various other interventions, basically enough to get him through primary school and onto secondary, here is where Thomas really began to struggle, he could not cope with the lack of structure and freedom of secondary school and secondary school most certainly could not cope with him. Thomas had several stints in our local PRU (Pupil Referral Unit), which actually turned out to suit him well. There were small classes and very short structured days. In fact he became one of the higher achievers there.
Once we were all on the same page, it was time to find Thomas a residential education placement. It took many months to find the right place, lots of calls and visits, lots of shouting and crying. Throughout this time, thank goodness, I had Thomas’s father as my rock. He did all the shouting and I did all the crying so we made a great team at this point and would not accept second best for our son. I had realised, that I really needed Thomas to attend residential, as his aggression and violence towards me was becoming more and more intense as we headed toward teenage years. Eventually we found the perfect residential placement. Thomas was a weekly boarder – he left on Monday mornings and came back on Friday evenings. Initially he hated every minute. I had to stay strong for both Thomas and myself. But eventually he began to enjoy his time, and the residential school gave him the same stability as the PRU had done, his school also showed him how to be responsible for himself, and he learnt life skills that he is using to this day.
As far as proactive post adoption social work support – we have had none. Six years ago Thomas’s social worker retired and we’ve had no contact with, or from, social services since.
Thomas is now in his second year at college, which he really loves. I have no problem in getting him up in the morning as he is doing something that he really loves. I have been so lucky with Thomas, and he really knows where he is going with his life. His ambition is to help young adults with emotional and behavioural difficulties. He has recently attended a course in restorative practice for our local authority and will soon be entering a mentoring programme to assist children in the care system. Thomas is such a kind caring boy, because of everything that he has gone through.
The next chapter on the adoption journey is just beginning as Thomas is now coming up to the age where his siblings and birth parents will be able to have contact with him directly and I have been informed they wish to do so. Once again I find myself questioning where the professionals to help support us both are? What effects might such contact have on us as individuals, especially Thomas, and how might it impact on our relationship? Recent infrastructure changes meant I had to contact several agencies that provided post adoption support to find the right person to speak to. The willingness to help was there but the knowledge and expertise to do so was lacking. I was asked what help I thought might be needed and it was as if this scenario, which must be relatively common, had never been given any consideration. Fortunately, I have the confidence to know that we will get through this together. We have a strong bond and Thomas has so much going for him at the moment. It feels like he is in such a good place. For other families where young adoptees have not found their way, or are going through a phase of pushing against their parents, as teenagers often need to do, this contact could be risky and unsettling. I feel we are in a good place to cope. I also think that had Thomas not been able to go to residential school, and eventually settle there, we might be looking at a very different outcome, with the violence and aggression that I bore the brunt of, as a mother.
I hope writing about our case here can help others in future.