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Personal Reflections on Adoption and Adoption Support from an Adoptive Father.

The advert on the back of the bus said  ‘ADOPT—Join the Family’.

This led to me reflecting on the years I have been involved in adoption and the many issues faced by our family.  I know my thoughts may be repetitious and rambling, but I think they raise a few questions worthy of consideration.  If we assume that those in Children’s Services are principled caring committed people, what is it that leaves so many parents feeling let down, frustrated, angry, afraid and p***ed off?

In April 2004, Adoption Today, reporting on a workshop for Social Workers, raised the following points: Services should

  1. A) Prioritise a parent’s knowledge and assessment of their situation,
  2. B) Enable parents to tell it like it is, without censure,
  3. C) Not blame parents for difficulties, and accept that the root cause often stems from the imported pathology the child brings to the family.

In reality no one seems to listen, telling it like it is can lead to safeguarding investigations, and parents are blamed while professionals indulge in self-justification.

Why has so little changed in fifteen years? 

Why are we blamed? If the comprehensive, personally intrusive assessments to become an adopter (with several referees) are done well, surely professionals can see that later extreme difficulties should be met with empathy, understanding and support to parent traumatised children.  Can’t they see that disapproval, denigration and condemnation taints their image, damages the confidence adopters may have had in services and may illustrate either incompetence in assessment and/or incompetence and neglect in support?

How can professionals ignore the opinions of parents, while exalting the child’s wishes when they differ, and uncritically accept the often unverified views of other professionals possibly influenced by ‘group think’ and reluctance to challenge?  It seems in the nature of the bureaucracy to marginalise or perhaps eliminate free creative thinking.

Why have so many of us (adopters) found that seeking professional advice has potential dangers, and is rarely helpful, especially when we are faced with a lack of in depth knowledge, expertise and understanding?  Much advice does not stand up to close, critical scrutiny and may be impractical, even harmful (e.g. further damaging the child’s fragile self esteem or placing adopters at increased risk of child to parent violence) if it is followed.

It is a parent’s duty to nurture, educate and protect their child. Education and other professionals seem unable to give appropriate, adequate support to children who don’t fit the norm (non-neurotypical). Why is it that parents often feel a need to protect a child from the actions and inactions of blinkered professionals who only hear what they want to hear?

Why is statutory guidance  (e.g. on SEN, IROs, LAC reviews) and the UN Charter on the Rights of the Child so frequently ignored?

How can authorities frequently seek Care Orders on the grounds that a child is ‘beyond parental control’ or ‘at risk of suffering significant harm’ when, though sometimes necessary, the corporate parent provides parenting lower than most family standards?

Why is it considered acceptable that a child can be denied the right to remain in a loving, caring family, while the corporate parent can subject a child to physical harm (e.g. by restraint), emotional harm (e.g. deprived of a loving home) and social harm (e.g. placed in close proximity to and exposed to those with criminal behaviour)?

We may consider the law to involve fairness, truth and justice, yet for families the court is often a means for services to exercise their power and control over families. Is it fair that to request discharge of a Care Order a parent, if unable to access legal aid, will have to represent themselves in court as a ‘litigant in person’ disadvantaged when opposed by solicitors and barristers backed by the resources of the LA?

In the event of a Care Order being granted why is there so rarely a commitment to reunification?  Selwyn report 2014.

Why do we have to constantly fight the authorities for help and resources if a child’s welfare is the concern of all involved? Why is there no commitment to working together for the benefit of the child?  How is it justified to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds keeping a child in the care system when a more modest sum spent on supporting the child within the family may hold the prospect of better long term outcomes?

After hundreds of meetings over months or years, attended by an ever changing group of professionals we often find that helpful, positive, decisions and actions are far outweighed by the negative. Why are good experiences so rare?

Is it productive or necessary to have so many professionals intruding and interfering in our lives? With so many involved, and lack of continuity, any responsibility is so widely diffused that no one is held accountable for results? When will authorities allocate accountability for each family to one person giving them the authority to work with the family (co-production), make sound, carefully considered decisions and to act on them? We need someone to link the disparate parts and see the whole picture so everyone can function at their best.

An organisation can see a complaint as a learning opportunity or something leading to a closing of ranks and to self-justification. Errors are inevitable but should be met with correction where possible, retraction of incorrect allegations and apology. However we often find that at the first hint of a complaint professionals immediately concentrate on formulating a defence and act on the premise that the best defence is to attack. The result – those who should be working together become opponents, learning and understanding is thwarted on both sides and everyone suffers. How can things be changed to lead to coproduction becoming the norm?

Most of us will have been asked by retailers, insurance companies, phone network providers etc. about our customer experience.  They ‘care’ as it is in their interests (as much as the individual’s) – it may affect bonus, promotion, an organisation’s profit, jobs, growth and survival.  They need us.  They have what the philosopher Taleb calls ‘skin in the game’.  There is a downside for both individual and organization for inefficiency, poor decisions, unresponsiveness, failure to meet the needs of those they serve.

This does not apply to services where we are stuck with our Local Authority for a service regardless – a service to us, for us, rarely with us.

If I am to assess my experience of Children’s Services on a scale of 0 – 10, I would give a middle rating to a few individuals (they are restricted by the nature and culture of the organization).  However the organization would rate at the bottom of the scale, our experience rarely warranting anything higher.

So much concentration by individuals on their role, rather than group contribution to fulfillment of the task of supporting the child and family is like wearing blinkers, oblivious to the whole picture.  At the same time, even if the organization has the goal of improving performance and decision-making, and implementation, it can be hampered by inadequate leadership and processes and procedures that are a hurdle and an almost insurmountable barrier to success.

Back to the question ‘Why has so little changed?’

If professionals pondered these questions, listened to adopters, and sought answers maybe, just maybe, they themselves could be the catalyst for improvement and offering a more highly rated experience to those they serve.

If they know the answers, why aren’t they making efforts to change for the better?