Contact Responding – Post #2
This is a continuation of the string of posts started over at Contact Responding – Post #1.
This is my critique of the the Family (fucked-up) Futures Top 20 Wishlist for annihilating even more people through adoption, as included in my parental Contact Response form.
1. National campaigns to raise awareness of looked-after children’s needs
State funded and professional media advertising campaigns designed to raise public awareness of the plight of looked-after children and their need for permanent adoptive families.
Even from this outset, there is the emphasis on adoption being necessary, and that more adopters are needed. This is categorically false because adoption is unnecessary to “save” a child from a situation deemed harmful. “Saving” a child from harm involves removing them from the situation – removing that child’s identity through adoption and replacing it with a false identity is not a necessary part of that. Indeed, removing that child’s identity and replacing it with another is not only inherently harmful to the child, but is nothing more than a punishment of the child for the sins (real or imagined) of their parents.
Brodzinsky and Schechter (1990, pp. 95-104)[ ] describe a Swedish study where results of “Adjustment in School at 11 Years” (pg. 99) shows that adopted children fare worse than even fostered children, with 56% of adoptees demonstrating symptoms that in some cases resulted in the child being labelled a “problem child”, while only 45% of fosterees demonstrated similar behaviour.
A far better solution for long-term care is the use of Special Guardianship.
“The 2002 Act introduced Special Guardianship as a new legal permanence option for children who cannot live with their birth families, but for whom adoption is not suitable.”[ ]
Special Guardianship provides the stability needed during childhood, while not annihilating the child’s own identity and superimposing a false one upon the child. Nor does Special Guardianship result in the child being legally severed from their own kin, meaning that they do not need to spend their adult life legally attached to complete strangers that they may not have been in contact with for decades. Thus, Special Guardianship contributes to the healthy development of an adult with minimal identity conflicts, unlike adoption.
Further, adoption is not something done to just the child. Adoption is not something that ends at 18 years old. Adoption is something inflicted upon that person for the rest of their life. Adoption is – currently at least – irrevocable.
“Adoption orders are made by the High Court, county courts and Magistrates’ Courts. … The order is the only document which contains details of a child’s birth identity and his or her identity after adoption.”[ ]
ONS data[ ] reports more than one hundred and eighty thousand adoptees created since 1974. Yet reunion statistics[ ] show that even the vastly under-advertised Adoption Contact Register contained almost twenty thousand adoptees within its first ten years of existence, while by the end of 2011, NORCAP’s contact register held details of more than sixty-eight thousand people[ ]. This demonstrates that despite legal severance from their kin, a massive proportion of adoptees return to their families of origin – with many adoptees having no further contact with their adopters. However, contrary to all sanity, adoptees who have lived with biological relatives for several decades, can still have all their preferences over-turned by genetic strangers simply because they were raised by those people for child protection issues.
Adoption should be revocable!
2. Earlier removal of children
Earlier removal of children from traumatising family environments would enhance their capacity to thrive in adoptive families.
Whilst it cannot be denied that it is better to remove children swiftly from dangerously abusive environments, too many children are being deprived of contact on too nebulous reasons. A relevant example is of removing children deemed “at risk of future emotional harm”. Children removed from their own families simply because they might be “at risk of future emotional harm” are having actual and real harm inflicted upon them by the very services supposedly in place to protect them.
“many children … would be far better off if they remained with their own families even if those families got only the typical help (which tends to be little help, wrong help, or no help) commonly offered by child welfare agencies.”[ ]
Losing your family as a child results in genealogical bewilderment, stress and anxiety, and genuine terror. This is not something child protection specialists should be inflicting upon children in anything other than the most extreme circumstances. Instead of removing children from their own homes at the earliest possible opportunity, the Government needs to look at and learn from the Australian model where there are very very few adoption or removals of children unless absolutely dire circumstances are encountered.
3. Post-placement support/therapy for adopted children and their families
Every child who is adopted having access to post-placement support for their adoptive parents and therapeutic intervention to heal the scars of trauma.
This is very necessary, and – as with the current legislation in place – needs to be extended so that adults who have suffered adoption can also get the right help in dealing with being adopted.
4. Committed funding for therapeutic/educational input for each adoptive child/family
Adoption saves society a huge amount of money in comparison to a lifetime in the care system. Given that adoptive parents have full parental rights, it is appropriate that they are expected to pay for the day to day living expenses of their children. However, there is growing recognition that the majority of children placed for adoption will have or do have the need of additional educational and therapeutic input. I believe that this should be paid for out of a grant or a pot of money that goes with each child into the future which could be a proportion of the expense that that child would have been to the state had they remained in care (say, 25%).
If the state facilitates adoption, this investment would represent a win-win situation for state, the child and their family. Currently we have a lose-lose situation; adoptive parents feel under-resourced in terms of service provision and the state continues to pay the high cost of children remaining in the public care system and beyond, in terms of involvement in the criminal justice and adult mental health systems.
This feeds back into all of the answers already given, and is a part of the paradigm change that MUST occur if adoption is continuing to be used.
5. Adoption leave equivalent to maternity leave for both parents
Adoption leave to be equal to maternity leave for both fathers and mothers as it is vital for children with a poor attachment history to spend time with their new adoptive parents in order to ‘build the bonds of attachment’.
6. Prioritising early intervention in adoption, whilst supporting members of ethnic minorities to adopt
Adoption and fostering need to embrace the fact that Britain is the most multicultural country in the world. We need therefore to be more realistic about matching children ethnically, culturally and with respect to religion, bearing in mind that time is of the essence and early permanent placement should be the priority above all other considerations.
However, so this does not become a justification for some form of subtle institutional racism or social imperialism, financial and other incentives should be offered to members of ethnic minorities in order to facilitate them becoming adoptive parents or permanent carers of children from within their own communities. We need to do both: it is not either/or. Easier access and more generous adoption allowances would enable potential adopters to have income supplements to enable them to take on the financial demands of parenting an adopted child.
The biggest problem with this is it means the adopters are getting the help that the child’s original family should have in order to help keep the family together. It is pointless to pay complete strangers substantial amounts to raise someone else’s child in a system of lies that causes great psychological harm to the child when that child could stay within their own family with such substantive support.
7. Swifter and more inclusive assessment and selection of prospective adopters
Currently there are many more childless individuals and couples who would consider adoption as a route to parenthood than there are children needing adoption. However this imbalance is not reflected in the adoption system in terms of placement outcomes. I believe there are a number of reasons for this.
i Poor public perception and understanding of adoption today
ii Media and internet savvy potential applicants who are aware of the complexities of need that children have and the paucity of resources currently available to support them through the process
iii The constraints of ethnic matching
iv The lack of financial support for the poorer sections of the community who, if assisted, could become part of the resource pool of parents.
The selection process currently and routinely followed suffers from the following drawbacks:
i Group information days and training sessions for prospective adopters delay and depersonalise the process
ii As the complexity of needs of children in the care system appears to increase, so does professionals’ and panels’ anxiety levels when it comes to selection and matching. This leads to procrastination and indecision. BAAF Assessment reports typically contain volumes of information but no tools for analysing the information in order to develop a psychological profile of the potential parent. More SMART tools need to be used as part of a more concise, focussed and shorter selection process (eg Adult Attachment Interview/Attachment Style Interview).
iii The Family Futures’ 20:80 principle. We believe that 20% of an agency’s resources should be front-loaded into the preparation and assessment programme of potential adoptive parents and 80% into post- placement support where parents ‘learn on the job’ how to be parents.
Adoption agencies that do not adequately resource their post-placement support packages become too reliant on assessment leading to a tendency to look for ‘ideal’ candidates and matches which will be able to stand alone in the future. In our experience, this is unrealistic, and we need to move away from a model of adoptive parenthood that is recruiting parents knowing that in the future they will have to go it alone. This model is theoretically flawed and morally wrong.
Swifter and more inclusive assessments could be made possible if there was a guarantee of post-adoption support. Post-adoption support is not just about resolving post-placement difficulties. It is also about providing a safety net for any shortcomings and the inherent difficulties there are in predicting parenting capacity.
There does not need to be swifter assessment, instead, the method of assessment needs to change dramatically in order to ensure that the adults who are acquiring someone else’s child to pretend to raise as their own are fully conversant with the harsh realities of being adopted.
8. Use of special guardian ship to be limited
The use of ‘special guardianship’ should be confined to the role it was originally intended, which was to be more the exception than the rule as a route to permanence
No! No! No! No! No! Special Guardianship should be used far far more widely than it is now as it does not result in the person being severed legally from their own heritage – at least until the laws around adoption change to allow the adoptee to annul or otherwise overturn their own adoption in order to regain their rightful place back within their own family.
9. Short term foster carer role to be professionalised
Adoption is only as good as the short term foster care that the child has received.
The status of foster carers should be raised to that of ‘barefoot therapists’ who are dignified with the role of primary agents of change for children.
In order to achieve this they need to be treated as colleagues, trained to a professional level, and supported through the emotional tsunami that will inevitably follow if they endeavour to truly engage psychologically and emotionally with the children in their care.
Without such engagement, the child’s early traumas can become fossilised in their mind and in their bodies. This makes the prospective adoptive parents’ ‘job’ far harder and longer as they endeavour to form a more secure attachment relationship with the child. Foster carers need the emotional and psychological support to go with the child, at the earliest opportunity, to the dark and dirty places that the child has just left, whilst the child’s fears and memories remain vivid and plastic.
ALL Foster Care roles should be professionalised, not just short-term!
Foster Caring should be considered a full-time job, and Foster Carers should receive adequate training in order to deal with the children they are looking after.
Further, this question demonstrates yet again the incongruity between being an adoptee, and the perceptions held by the industry involved in their creation. Adoption also ‘fossilises’ within the adoptee, leading to a variety of seemingly maladaptive symptoms (which are very normal coping mechanisms), and these need to be understood by the professionals involved in the creation of adoption loss.
10. Extension and enhancement of social work training
Training for social workers in general to be on a par with that of psychologists in terms of duration, to ensure that for career grade social workers, they are equipped with the knowledge base and skills to carry out the highly complex task of assessing children and families.
Absolutely the training of Social Workers needs extending and enhancing, and not only because current wisdom is contributing to the inherently harmful practices already in place within adoption.
11. Attachment theory and understanding of developmental trauma to underpin social work practice in adoption and fostering
Social work training needs to come out of the closet of political correctness, social policy and politics and focus on assessing and meeting the holistic needs of children, adults and the elderly in a way that is based on neurological, psychological, physiological and developmental research and theory. Attachment theory and the science of interpersonal relationships need to be at the heart of all areas of social work practice. For those social workers working in the field of adoption and fostering, there should be a specialist module on the effect of developmental trauma on child development and recovery.
Yes, however attachment theory as it is currently understood is deeply flawed as it does not reflect the true traumas faced by adoptees growing up within the closed adoption system. Again, this is all part of the paradigm change that needs to occur in order to return “child protection” back to protecting children rather than traumatising them further.
12. Neuro-scientific evidence-base to inform decisions on children’s welfare
Because of inadequate training and limited staff resources, children are remaining in neglectful and traumatising birth family environments for too long. The double-bind for social workers is that they are criticised for either being ‘pathologically optimistic’ (about a parent’s capacity to improve their parenting style) or ‘child-stealers’, in the public view.
The resolution of this double-bind is for social workers to be fully conversant with the latest neuro-scientific research and theory and its implications for child development, so that their assessment and decision-making can be more evidence based and robust during the child’s early formative years. We need social workers to get out of the stocks of tabloid prejudice and into a more respected role of safe-guarders of children’s welfare.
Absolutely Social Workers need to be fully conversant with the latest neuro-scientific research available as this would all-but eliminate the current horrific practice of snatching babies from their mother’s breast when there is no immediate threat to the health or safety of the newly born baby.
13. Multi-disciplinary adoption services
Adoption services becoming multi-disciplinary as part of integrated health and children’s service provision, and that the multi-disciplinary team takes case responsibility from the moment that adoption as a care-plan is agreed.
Of course, expanding a business is only possible with integration, and so of course a company dealing in the procurement and distribution of children would want to expand into other areas in order to be able to earn more funding.
14. Birth family contact with looked after children to be re-defined as a responsibility
Contact pre permanent placement and post permanent placement should be seen more as a responsibility of the birth relative towards the child rather than as the exercising of a human right. Too often in the court domain, contacts between birth relatives and looked after children are seen as a negotiation, as a right, as continuity for the child.
We need to see contact in the light of what we know about the impact of trauma on childhood development and attachment behaviour. The questions regarding contact that need to be asked are
i Can the birth parent behave responsibly and conduct contact in a way that is in the ‘best interests of the child’ as defined by the developmental and therapeutic needs of that child?
ii Does the contact help the child to feel good about themselves, to absolve them of responsibility for what has happened in the past, and reassure them that it is OK to feel safe and form attachments to current carers?
iii What is the purpose of the contact? Does the decision-making process about contact take on board the fact that the child will be having contact with someone who has caused them ‘significant harm’ whilst remaining a significant figure to them?
iv What support and facilitation and reassurance will be offered to the child in order for them to feel safe, in order for them to make sense of what is happening, in order for them not to be re-traumatised?
The language used within this ‘wish’ epitomises the disparity between the child procurement industry and the experiences of those children that industry has trafficked.
Contact is a human right – it is continuity essential for healthy personality development. To deny a child contact with their own genealogical kin is yet another method of punishing the child for the sins (real or imagined) of the parents.
The question conspicuous by its absence from this list is “how harmful to the person is removal from all genealogical reflection?” Removing contact will not remove the abuser as a “significant figure”, but removing contact may exacerbate any trauma already caused on a grand scale.
15. Automatic joint or collective placement of siblings to be challenged
Conventional practice and our natural instincts are to endeavour to keep sibling groups together in permanent placement. Indeed this consideration is enshrined in children’s legislation.
This presumption needs to be questioned for two reasons.
i Firstly, is it possible for foster carers or adoptive parents to deliver the intensity and quality of developmental re-parenting that each individual child needs to recover from the ‘significant harm’ they have experienced in their birth family (and sometimes within the care system), when siblings with
similar needs are placed together?
ii Have sibling attachment relationships been so distorted and pathologised by living in an adverse domestic environment that their ‘trauma bond’ will only perpetuate past patterns in their new family, leaving foster carers and adopters managing the matrix rather than parenting the child?
We need to change custom and practice from a presumption that siblings should be kept together at all costs to prioritising the potential for children to form a secure attachment to adoptive parents which may require them to be parented as ‘onlys’ rather than siblings.
There is a vast difference between siblings being raised apart from each other, but still in frequent and regular contact, and the legal and physical severing inflicted upon families by the closed-adoption system. Having to try to build a relationship with a sibling who didn’t even know you existed for over three decades is exceedingly traumatic, difficult, and unnecessary. Siblings may fare better raised in separate households, but that should not negate the relationship they already have with each other. Further, being parented as an ‘only’ when part of a sibling group is additional trauma inflicted upon the child, forcing the child deeper into a world of fantasy and deceit, rather than acceptance for who they are.
16. Longer placement transitions
Commonly, regardless of the age of the child, placement transitions are made over a two to three week period. For older children (4+) this time frame is too short. Children from the care system who have often lost their trust in adults to care for them and protect them approach a change of placement with fear and trepidation.
They have ‘internal working models’ (personal schema) of parents which are based on a template of their biological parent(s)’ parenting of them.
We need therefore to revise our time-scales for introductions and make them age appropriate and developmentally attuned. This may force us to change our expectations of foster carers and adopters during this complex and emotionally charged process. In recognition of this, higher levels of professional involvement both to support participants and to mentor them into the new and uncharted territory of adoptive parenthood will be necessary.
Yes! However, as previously described, the ‘educating’ that occurs necessarily requires a significant revolution to bring the incongruous picture painted by the child traffickers in line with the realities of the people who suffer this for the ENTIRETY of their life.
17. Health screening/Paediatric monitoring of all looked after children
For children who may have been conceived in a foetal environment contaminated by drugs, alcohol, cortisol (as a result of intense maternal stress) and are then born into a neglectful and traumatising environment, the developmental and ill health sequalae are short, medium and long-term. We would advocate more rigorous paediatric monitoring of all looked after children. This should continue for adopted children post-adoption, as some of the implications and manifestations of developmental trauma on the health of the child are sometimes subtle and problems that children grow into and not out of. Family Futures’ paediatrician’s research on the children screened through our service reflects this* (available on request).
Absolutely – and this deeply necessary help should also extend into adulthood, as it is not until adulthood that many adoptees find the language necessary to be able to describe their truths.
Being adopted brings a whole slew of problems to the person that are not encountered by the rest of society. Predominant in these are the archetypes of ‘second-best’ or ‘inferior product’, but it has been widely acknowledged (Lifton, Brodzinsky, Verrier, etc.) that the sociological impact of adoption upon the adoptee is tremendous. Unfortunately, these problems are currently either abstruse to the majority of the industry traffickers, ignored by them, and in many cases scorned by them.
18. Assessment of adopted children’s need for ‘catch up’ educational provision
Every adopted child of school age should be assessed for appropriate supplementary and complementary educational provision. This will enable them to catch up developmentally and achieve their full potential in mainstream school.
19. Attachment theory and the damaging effects of developmental trauma on the capacity to learn to be integral to all teacher training programmes
It would be advantageous for all children at all ages and stages that their teachers had a good working knowledge of attachment theory, child development and the effect of relational trauma on the capacity to learn, delivered through their primary teacher training.
The child’s capacity and potential to learn takes place in a social and emotional context which needs to be understood by teachers in a holistic way if we are genuinely to be ‘inclusive’ in our approach to education. Though this is of specific relevance to children in the care system or those who have been adopted, there are many children living in the community whose lives are on the threshold of state intervention whom such understanding would benefit.
Yes, however as already discussed, the Government is obligated to revise the ‘education’ being delivered to professionals to incorporate knowledge of the traumas faced by adoptees.
20. Dedicated support for birth parents
Birth parents should have dedicated workers as part of the multi-disciplinary adoption team who continue to work with them to help them resolve their deep sense of loss, their own early personal traumas, and facilitate meaningful contact with their children who are adopted or in the care system.
Unfortunately, Narey’s rush to maximise adoptions fails to take into account that adoptees represent “disproportionately large referral rates” to mental health services.
“Although adopted children raised by non-biological relatives account for only 1 to 2% of the population of children in the United States (Zill, 1985), mental health clinics report disproportionately large referral rates for this group of individuals.” (Smith & Brodzinsky, 1994) [ ]
In another instance, Narey gives an example of “where the separation of siblings is probably wise”. Unfortunately for the children involved within the example, Narey appears oblivious to the idea that whilst it may not always be in the siblings’ “best interests” to remain living in the same physical space, that in no way negates the fact that contact should NOT be lost on a permanent basis.
Yes, regulations and guidance should be strengthened so that contact arrangements are purposeful and reflect the needs of the child, but children need the genealogical reflection provided by their biological relatives in order to fully assimilate their own inherent personality and identity.
“For the adoptee every day is a challenge of trying to figure out how to be, although he probably doesn’t understand the difficulty this presents for him. It has been true his whole life and, therefore, feels normal. However, it takes a great deal of energy and concentration. And it never feels quite right. He never quite fits. Therefore he feels as if he is never quite right.” (Verrier, pg. 50) [ ]
Continue reading Part #3.