Until January this year I was a Social Worker in a local authority. I am also an adopter who has struggled to get the appropriate assessments and support for our children since they were placed with us over 3 years ago. This is why I was less than encouraged by Community Care’s article of 17th June: ‘Adopting more children from care will save £310m, says government’.
The Prime Minister is ‘unashamedly pro-adoption’, and, of course, governments trot out financial arguments to justify their moral agenda. Given the austerity agenda, this financial claim feels slightly chilling. It is also misguided. Adoption will never be the only answer, and for a lot of young people it is not the best answer. Whilst fostering and adoption agencies are in a better position to argue the actual figures, and charities such as the Open Nest are far more eloquent than me on the ideology behind the claims, I thought I’d have a little reflection on my own experiences of adoption support so far.
As those of us in the thick of it know, adoption isn’t a lovey dovey ‘aren’t they lucky’, ‘all you need is love’ kind of a thing. At times it resembles more of an endurance sport of the jumping through multiple, varying sized hoops repeatedly in slingbacks whilst blindfolded kind of a thing. To illustrate my point here’s a little snapshot of recent times. 3 weeks ago our youngest child was kicked in the eye; I was kicked badly on my ankle, and my partner had a heavy object deliberately thrown at her forehead. 2 weeks ago we had an e-mail to tell us that the Social Worker we had ‘requested’ (through a complaint) a year ago because of her expertise will no longer be working with us. We asked for a meeting. We had no reply. Last week we also attended a DDP therapy preparation session with a Psychologist. The therapy with our daughter starts next week. This week we have an appointment at a genetics clinic. We are half expecting and half dreading a diagnosis along the lines of FASD. The week after that we are at yet another school meeting in our attempt to ensure our daughter has access to the right therapeutic environment and support for her learning.
The DDP Therapy is being funded by the Adoption Support Fund. We are grateful for it, but also aghast at how long it has taken to come about. We started asking for therapy for our oldest daughter a few months after she was placed with us. 3 years ago. A year in we were told by a social work manager that we were ‘anxious’. Then we were sent on a course, which was brilliant, but it wasn’t the therapy we had asked for. We had to complain in order to get any action. Last year there was a psychological assessment. Another year on, and we’re getting to the therapy. We have been saying for 3 years that there are sensory issues that need assessing by a Sensory Occupational Therapist, but this has still not been addressed.
After adoption leave I returned to my job as a Social Worker on a flexible working basis. I had a battle to secure this, but eventually I got it. Two years on and they announced that I would have to return to full time working. Living with a traumatised and angry child, providing therapeutic parenting, and attending meeting after meeting is not conducive to working full time. I left work.
So, my advice to the ‘unashamedly pro-adoption’ Prime Minister is this: forget the trite and inaccurate impact assessments. Forget the focus on regional mergers and speedier matches. Instead focus on supporting the professionals who are there for our children. Teachers, Social Workers, Health Professionals. Give them the training, the time and the tools. Free them from the paperwork, and let them get out there and do what they came into their roles to do. This government has the power to ensure that every professional any child will meet on their journey into adulthood is attachment and trauma aware. It would not take a major investment input to make this a reality. It may mean that some children will not even have to enter the care system, and those who do will be better understood and supported. And whilst we’re at it, let’s change the rhetoric to ‘unashamedly pro-child’.