Friday, May 9, 2014

Adoption v Fostering

Over the last couple of days I've been following a Twitter conversation about whether there is a real difference between long-term fostering and adoption and, if so, whether this difference is actual, merely perceived, or mainly something imposed from outside as a result of society's expectations.

I would love to have contributed more, but Twitter is annoyingly restrictive for a person of my natural verbosity, so here are a few of my thoughts on the subject in gloriously unrestricted blog form!

For me, the first thing to say is that long-term fostering and adoption are not necessarily in competition with each other as potential outcomes for children. There are looked-after children for whom long-term fostering is honestly the best option - I'll say more about this later - and others for whom adoption is the preferable route. Comparing which of the two is better in abstract terms, therefore, is futile. It is only in the context of an individual child's best interests that a comparison becomes worthwhile.

However, in response to the question as to whether there is any real-terms difference between the two, I'd have to say that I believe there is a huge difference. And it is not only an issue of perception.

  • The issue of names - a fostered child should not call their carers Mummy or Daddy, and they do not take their family name. This is something that will probably be remarked on and require explanation throughout childhood and is all the more noticeable if there are birth children in the house. A lot is said to adopters about names and identity - this applies to fostered children as well as adopted.
  • The issue of parental responsibility - always shared with social services meaning that social workers and other professionals remain a constant and potentially unsettling presence, and restrictions around babysitters, holidays, passport applications and other everyday parental decisions still apply, continually emphasising the 'otherness' of the fostered child
  • The issue of record keeping - those daily logs *shudder*
  • The issue of permanence - while opinion is divided as to whether long-term foster placements have higher disruption rates than adoption placements (raw data indicates that disruption rates are higher, but some studies suggest that when other skewing factors, such as age at placement, are taken into account, this difference is much less significant), there seems to be some evidence that feelings of insecurity and anxiety can be generated among children who perceive their position to be uncertain. Foster care placements are more likely to be subject to future legal proceedings and placements can be terminated by carers, the LA, birth parents (via a court order) or even the children. This status is only highlighted by the social work visits, LAC reviews and report writing that all continue throughout.
  • The issue of belonging - children in long term foster care are, in some senses, straddling two families, yet fully 'belonging' to neither. This perception is perhaps heightened when there are other birth (or adopted) children in the foster family.
  • The issue of adulthood - in the past, fostering placements have ended when the period of being 'in care' has ended, at 16. Thankfully, this is now changing and moves are afoot to allow young people to remain in foster care placements until 21. But still, eventually, the placement must end and, while it would be ideal if foster carers were able to offer continued support into adulthood (and many do to a certain extent), in reality, many face the necessity of taking a new placement once the old one has ended. Lifelong support of the kind an adoptive parent might provide for a child is harder for a foster carer to provide, even if the will is there. In very practical terms, the bedroom has a new occupant and the foster carer has another vulnerable child or children to care for. 

Having said all of this, there are circumstances where, despite the frustrations and limitations, long-term fostering might well be the best option for a child. There's no reason why a foster care placement should be less full of love than an adoptive placement, or offer significantly less of a family life. My fostered children are integrated into every aspect of our family life (social services permitting!) including holidays, special events, church, activities and friendships.

These are 'on-balance' decisions. While there can be problems in long-term fostering, it may well be that for a particular individual, the option of adoption may be much more problematic.

  • Some children don't want to be adopted - children must be consulted and their views listened to wherever possible, especially as they play an important part in ensuring the success of an adoptive placement
  • Some children have already been moved around too much - a large number of placements can impact on the success of future placements, so if a child has a good attachment to their current carers and there is the possibility of this becoming a long-term placement, then this can be a better option than yet another move for the child
  • Some children maintain high levels of birth family contact - a foster care placement can be more appropriate in this context
  • Some children need to stay with their siblings - the benefits of keeping siblings together are increasingly being recognised and may outweigh the benefits of securing an adoptive placement at the cost of separating siblings

For myself? Well, the children I care for are all very young and so, usually, adoption is seen as the preferred option for them anyway. I'm glad I adopted OB, and I'm glad that, when given the option, I didn't keep NB under a Special Guardianship arrangement but let him go to be adopted by K as I genuinely believed, and still do, that this was the right option for him.

I wouldn't rule out long-term fostering in the future, but I would have to be certain that it was in the best interests of the child. I would also have to weigh very carefully the implications of raising two children, one of whom calls me Mummy, and one who doesn't. In my heart I know that, unless there are pressing reasons not to, I'd prefer to adopt a child that I intended to raise as part of my family.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Lemon and Orange Cakes

These are the kind of fruit cakes that I really prefer - flavoured with fruit rather than laden with it. The names - Crunchy Top Lemon Cake and Double Orange Cake - pretty much speak for themselves. As did the finished cakes.  Easy to make, moist, tasty and absolutely delicious! Even I managed to follow both of the recipes without mishap. Enough said!

Thank you Mary Berry - I will definitely be eating these cakes again!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Yes, My Baby Is Cute!

Though I say it myself, my son is very cute. He was a very cute baby and even now, at three and a half, strangers still comment on his cuteness. He has large, deep blue eyes, framed by lashes that would make a grown woman envious. Then there's the button nose, the thick hair that jumps about when he runs, the winning smile. It's a perfect package really.

I know for sure that he is a better-looking boy than I ever would have made with my own genes! While our colouring is similar, he lacks my generously-proportioned nose, and his frame, very much unlike mine, is slender, tall and healthy-looking.

Baby Girl is also outrageously beautiful. Even as a newborn, everybody commented on how gorgeous she was, and she just seems to get more lovely with each day. Her blue eyes are enormous, her skin is smooth and clear and her light dusting of hair feels like velvet. Now she has got the hang of smiling, she bestows an extravagant grin on everyone whose face passes her field of vision. While we were out for lunch today, she literally drew a crowd.

Now it's not that I'm all about looks. Anybody who has ever witnessed my total lack of interest in fashion, make-up, jewellery or even the occasional haircut will know that. No. There is much more than cuteness to value in both of the children.

But when you are out and about, it is the cuteness that draws attention and comments. And I've recently realised that my responses to these comments may be coming across a little, well, boastful!

You see, if I had created, say, a painting, and everybody was saying how wonderful it was, then I would probably respond in a modest way. I might look embarrassed, thank them but play it down, try to deflect. If I was biologically responsible for the appearances of either of the children, then I might respond in a similar way when a stranger commented on their awesomeness.

But I don't.

No. What actually happens is that someone will comment that one of them is cute and I will wholeheartedly agree and then go on to list other aspects of their cuteness that the commenter might have missed.

Like this:

Stranger: Oh, isn't she beautiful!
Me: Yes! Look at those eyes! And she has the most gorgeous smile!

This works ok in conversations with friends who know the status of OB and BG. Then, we have a mutual understanding that we are both speaking objectively. But with strangers, I am aware that it just comes across as shameless boasting about my children, and, by proxy, bigging myself up for having apparently produced two such perfect specimens! Sometimes, even worse, I actually initiate the "Isn't he gorgeous?!" conversation spontaneously. It's only because, especially with OB, I'm still existing in a state of wonderment that this is my actual son! But still, it's Very Bad Form!

So, I've been practising a more measured response:

Stranger: Oh, isn't she beautiful!
Me: Yes! I think so, but then I'm biased.

What do you think? Better?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Walnut Cake with American Frosting

I didn't know what American Frosting was before I made this cake, and after baking it and eating a decent amount of it, I still have no idea. What I can say for certain is that, despite following the instructions exactly, the rather grainy paste that I ended up smearing all over the sponge is not it! I hope not anyway, as it was exceedingly disappointing, disturbingly crunchy and too sweet, even for me, which is saying something indeed!

The shame of it is that the cake itself was absolutely delicious. I'm not a massive fan of walnuts so I substituted pecans in what I think was a master stroke. I will definitely be making it again, although I'll have to sort out what happened with the frosting. This is the problem with combining recipe books and novices. Mary Berry clearly thought that anybody would be able to follow her instructions and produce a decent version of the frosting. I can always be relied upon to confound such expectations.

As to what this recipe was doing in the middle of the 'fruit cakes' section . . . well, maybe that's a question for another day!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Baby Girl's Eyes: An Update

Just over a month ago I wrote about our concerns over Baby Girl's visual development. At her 8-week check, the GP had noted that she was not fixing or tracking, and in the days and weeks that followed my Health Visitor and I had become convinced that something was seriously wrong, so a referral to orthoptics was made.

The day that I published that post, I received many messages in person, on Twitter and on Facebook offering support, reassurance and promises of prayer. I was grateful for each and every one of these. Many people were keen to hear all about the eye appointment, and now it has happened and I'm ready to give an update.

This post has been a long time coming. I have known for a while what the outcome of the eye appointment would be, but I wanted to wait until the orthoptist confirmed it before I shared it.

Because, you see, the morning after I posted about our concerns, the morning after so many people responded with prayer, I woke up to find that Baby Girl was already awake in her basket next to my bed. I leaned over to look at her and she looked directly into my eyes and laughed.

She had never, ever done that before.

From that day on, she has been looking at everything, noticing everything, making eye contact, smiling and laughing. She fixes and tracks like a good 'un. She watches the TV, reaches out for the toys on her play gym and seems in every respect like a normal four-month-old.

People who don't see her that often are commenting on the very obvious changes. Some who had held back from mentioning their concerns earlier are now admitting that they thought something wasn't right, and are amazed at the difference.

The orthoptist not only confirmed that her eyesight seems absolutely fine, but in fact commented that her visual development seems more like that of a six-month-old.

For myself, I'm delighted to be able to cross off one of Baby Girl's uncertainties on a long list. Hope to be crossing off a lot more!