Saturday, July 25, 2015

Boing!

I have finally achieved the ultimate garden 'look' of my neighbourhood with the addition of a trampoline! Ours is considerably smaller than the neighbours' efforts, but just the right size for my littlies and for the limited space currently available (before a radical garden re-design that sadly remains mostly in my imagination at present!).


I've heard much about the therapeutic benefits of trampolines - letting off steam with vigorous exercise, rhythmic bouncing calming fraught emotions etc. OB loves being pushed on the swing and will happily do that for hours (or as long as he has a willing slave to keep on pushing) and I've always felt that this was a soothing experience for him. The trampoline has been on my to-do list for ages - its arrival was carefully timed to coincide with the beginning of the summer holidays!


It's getting plenty of use right now, and I'm more than happy to encourage that for as long as the novelty factor makes it the activity of choice. If nothing else, I'm hoping it will tire Twinkle and OB out sufficiently to make bedtimes a breeze for a while!


Sunday, July 19, 2015

On Continuing Contact Post Adoption Pt 2 Foster Carers

I wrote previously about my mixed feelings concerning contact in general, and particularly the thorny issue of continuing contact post adoption. Now I want to say something about a subject that comes up a lot when I talk to adopters, but concerning which there seems to be little protocol, research or clear direction: continuing contact post adoption with a child's foster carers.

It isn't really possible for me to offer clear cut advice to adopters as to whether contact should take place, or exactly how or when, as each situation is so different. I know that relationships between adopters and foster carers can vary from warm and supportive to contentious and downright damaging, with every shade in between. Other complicating factors in the decision might include the length of time the child has stayed with the carer, how many placements they have had, whether there were other children in the placement, the age of the child, the physical distance between foster carers and adopters.

As a foster carer, I am not aware of any existing protocol on continuing contact. I have simply been told that contact is entirely at the discretion of the adopters. To be honest, I am mostly comfortable with that as I think adopters are best placed to know whether and when contact might be in the best interest of the child and their family, although it does sadden me to think that I might never hear again about a child I have loved and cared for over many months. However, I do think it places a lot of responsibility on the adoptive family as there is so much to be considered, especially when some adopted children have spent the majority of their early lives with their foster carers rather than their birth parents. Perhaps I can offer these suggestions as things to consider when thinking about continuing contact:
  • Be careful of decisions made during introductions. Intros are a very emotional time for both foster carers and adopters, whether they go well or badly, and it is easy in the heat of the moment to make decisions or promises that may be harder to stick to later on. When adopters have said to me during intros that they will definitely keep in touch, or have talked about meeting up soon, I try to be encouraging without pressuring them, but I don't raise my expectations too much as I know that, once they are away and building their new family life, contact with foster carers might slip down the priority list.
  • The timing of first contact is important. Imagine moving to a new school or job. If you were happy at your old place, you may experience a period when you wish you could just go back. Eventually, as you settle in and begin to 'belong' in your new place, you may find that while you think of your old place fondly and with affection, given the choice, you'd stay where you are. Personally, I'd say that is when it's time to consider direct contact. It will still stir up emotions for a child, but hopefully not rekindle any longing to return. Adoptive parents are best placed to know when the time is right.
  • The place chosen for first contact is also worth some consideration. Perhaps a neutral location, or, if the adopters choose, a place they frequent as a family or even their own home. I personally would have concerns about contact at the foster carer's home too early, but would be interested to hear from anybody who has made it work for them.
  • The frequency of direct contact will depend on many factors. It may be that one or two visits will be enough to reassure the child that the foster carers have not abandoned them or forgotten about them, but in some cases a longer-term relationship could develop with regular meetings. All of this doesn't need to be decided early on. Nobody should feel pressured into long-term commitments, and everyone needs to be aware that arrangements can and will change as the child grows and their needs change.
  • It is likely that your child's foster carers had a significantly different parenting style to your own. In any room filled with parents, there is likely to be a range of very differing opinions on any number of issues. This can make transition more complicated for adopters as they initially try to stick to routines established by foster carers that might not fit with their parenting styles or that they might not even agree with. It's frustrating - believe me, a foster carer knows what it's like to try to parent a child in these circumstances! When thinking about continuing contact, consider whether these difficulties should be a factor in your decision. While an adoptive parent might not agree with the approach a foster carer has previously taken, it might still be in the child's best interests to establish some sort of continuing contact. Obviously if there have been welfare or safeguarding issues, or the relationship has seriously and dangerously broken down, then it is a different matter.
  • If direct contact is not appropriate for your child, or simply not possible, is there any possibility of maintaining some level of indirect contact, however small? While foster carers don't provide the sort of information that only a birth family knows (like medical history, etc.) it is likely that they will be the people with the anecdotes, milestone memories and early history of the child, especially if a child has spent most of their life living in the foster placement. Continuing contact, even by occasional letters or Christmas cards, can keep lines of communication open for both adoptive parents and the adoptee to access that information. I know some situations where skype (or similar) has been used very effectively.
  • If no form of contact is possible or appropriate, or if contact is planned but with a long delay after introductions, a child may find it helpful to look at photographs and talk about their carers with their adoptive parents as part of lifestory work. Their memories of their carers are likely to be much more immediate than those of their birth family, and knowing that foster carers and adopters mutually 'approve' of each other supports transition. Even if the relationship has been difficult, talking can help a child work through their loyalties and give them 'permission' to grieve their loss and settle into their new families.
Foster caring is a lot more than a job. The children we care for mean much more to us than that and, yes, it is hard to let them go, knowing that we might never know their futures. In the hothouse of introductions, adoptive parents rarely get to experience the full extent of the community within which a child has grown and been nurtured. I still get asked by all sorts of people how former charges of mine are getting on years after they have been adopted - friends, family, nursery staff, swimming teachers, local shop keepers, neighbours, playmates - all have included these children into their circles, and all feel their disappearance to a greater or lesser extent.

However, the role of the foster carer is to love and let go. That much should be clear. A foster carer should never make an adoptive family feel under pressure to maintain contact, and I hope this post does not give anyone that impression. But when the guidelines are so vague, sharing our experiences is a good place to start. Please feel free to share yours in the comments!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

On Continuing Contact Post Adoption Pt1

This week, as part of their Sore Points series, The Adoption Social has been asking adoptive parents to talk about their experiences of contact with birth family, direct and indirect. A series of special posts from different perspectives on the subject have been posted on the site, starting here. Well worth a read if you're involved in foster care or adoption in any way.

Contact is a hot-button topic for me right now, both with my foster carer's hat on, and my adopter's one. The new post-placement order contact arrangements for Birdy are unfolding like some sort of multi-part Shakespearian tragedy, complete with intrigue, misinformation and treachery. Twinkle's thrice-weekly contacts continue to result in a lot of totally undesirable behavioural impacts, and her Mum announced to me last week that contact arrangements will change this week (increase and move to new location) - I await official notification from her social worker with bated breath. And in around six weeks I will write my third lot of letterbox letters for OB, a task I have little enthusiasm for to be honest.

It's not that I'm against indirect or direct contact as such. It's more that I don't like the tired and hackneyed phrases of justification trotted out whenever someone so much as questions its necessity. Phrases about helping children with their sense of "self" and their "identity", assuring them that they are "not forgotten" and "still loved", smoothing the way for possible future reunion. I'm sure contact can do these things. I'm just not sure it always does. I'm not sure it's enough justification for the relentless "contact is good for you" mantra. It also irks that it's taken for granted that all adoptees will seek reunion as if all adoptees are basically the same and will have the same reactions to being adopted. The stories of adult adoptees who quietly get on with their lives with little drive for more than the most basic contact with birth family (if at all) are rarely shouted out on social media.

And as someone pointed out during The Adoption Social's Twitter Chat on the subject the other night, how can years of unanswered letterbox letters assure a child that he is "not forgotten"? Doesn't it, in fact, do precisely the opposite?

I will admit that when I read glowing accounts of adoptive families who have wonderful relationships with birth families, I tend to think, well, whoopie doo for you. I don't mean to sound harsh, but the comments below such accounts about how open-hearted and amazing those adoptive families are say it all really. This is the ideal and everyone who isn't doing that falls short in some way and, by implication, isn't so open-hearted and amazing as they could be.

In reality, though, every family, every child and every circumstance is different. Where contact is appropriate and well-managed, then it can bring enormous benefit to everybody involved (although not without some sacrifice I'm sure). I really do take my hat off to those who manage it.

Perhaps we are unusual in the adoption world as I fostered OB from very young, and he was adopted as an infant with no memory of any birth family. Unlike many adoptive parents who feel they know too little, sometimes I think I know too much. I took him to many, many contacts with his birth mum before I adopted him. I spent a lot of time with her. I watched as she abandoned her child not once, but twice, and much more that I won't say here. He lived with her a total of 22 weeks. She has never replied to letterbox. Then there's his dad who only saw him once and only admitted paternity after he was tested. Then there's his paternal grandmother who only appeared on the scene after he was a year old, had a few contacts, and now gets letterbox too. At least she did reply once and I admit I found that reply very useful as it filled in a lot of information about birth dad which was unknown to me. I will write her letterbox letter this year in a better frame of mind than I have the previous two years.

So, yes, like many others, I keep doing my duty with regard to contact because I do as I'm told and because of the many future benefits it will apparently have for my son. And because I daren't stop in case the tired old blanket justifications turn out to have been right all along. Like everything else in child-rearing, we ignore the "experts" at our peril!

But I wish more could be done to provide support for, and raise expectations from birth family when it comes to continuing contact. Even at adoption prep there were a lot of knowing looks and clear indications that often birth family members would not reply to contact letters. And yet we have to keep writing them. It's hard enough to explain to my son why he does not live with his birth family. I don't want to have to keep explaining again every year why they don't even write a letter for him. It makes me feel as though, despite the reassurances that the child is at the heart of the process, the whole issue of continuing contact is at least as much about the birth family as the child - in fact Birdy's social worker admitted as much when trying to justify the, frankly, ridiculous contact arrangements that have been set up for Birdy over the next few months. The expectation is on the adoptive parent to dutifully maintain contact, while there is little or no expectation that birth family will do the same and that, apparently, is absolutely fine.

I suspect my feelings and opinions on the subject will shift with the passing of time and the increase in OB's understanding. Should the day come that he wants to know more, or even meet up with members of his birth family, then, provided I felt he could be properly supported through it and he was emotionally strong enough to manage it, I would do all that I could to make it happen. Do I relish the prospect? No. Sorry if that makes me sound close-hearted and less than amazing, but the state of my heart is not the driving force here. My son's well-being, his needs and his wishes are. At the moment, his bog-standard continuing contact arrangements take none of those things into account.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Breaking News (Again)

It was a little over three years ago that I announced to the world that "At a recent court date, the judge decided to implement the local authority's latest care plan for OB, namely that he be adopted and I should be the one to adopt him." You can read the rest of that announcement here.

But wait! 

Before you do that, first read the rest of this announcement:

At a recent court date, the judge decided to implement the local authority's latest care plan for Birdy, namely that she be adopted and I should be the one to adopt her.

Yes, you read that right!

We're at about the same stage as we were with OB when I broke the news to the world (although Birdy is much younger) so I know we have months ahead of us yet, and nothing is set in stone until I have that precious certificate in my hands.

Already we have had a few bumps in the road. Thankfully I seem to have been spared the rather aggressive initial meeting where some stranger came to my house to decide whether I would even be allowed to begin the process, scaring me half to death in the process and exhorting agreements out of me to all kinds of conditions which thankfully mostly didn't come to pass. Good job too as if I'd had to do everything they initially said, I would have lost my job, my home and my support network all in one fell swoop!

No, this time I have had to contend with an egregious breach of confidentiality which means that somehow Birdy's birth mum was told about my interest in adopting several weeks ago. Contacts are still ongoing twice a week so you'd better believe I've been looking over my shoulder on the drive home. Due to the revolving door of social workers and the near impossibility of actually getting to speak to anybody I haven't yet tracked down the leak, but Birdy's newest social worker has insisted it wasn't her, so that's something anyway.

It seems that birth mum has been telling everyone who will listen (including the latest SW) that we're doing an open adoption and she'll still be able to see Birdy. I don't know where she's got this from, whether she's dreamed it up herself or whether she's going off something that the 'leaker' has said. As a result I have had many, many phone conversations with professionals (CAFCASS, SWs, Guardian Ad Litem, IRO, Contact Supervisors, you name it!) asking me about direct contact and open adoption, suggesting that it might be written into the care plan, asking if I'd still pursue the adoption under those terms etc. etc. At one point six direct contacts per year was mentioned. None of the people I speak to seem to speak to each other - the CAFCASS lady phoned at teatime the night before court and said that birth mum had told her I wanted to adopt Birdy and that was the first she'd heard of it!

I won't go into all the reasons why I don't want an open adoption, or any direct contact written into the agreement (to do so would be to compromise Birdy's story) but I don't, and I have said so all along. I had an anxious 4-day wait before I finally managed to get someone to return my calls and let me know the outcome from court. The placement order was granted with no mention of direct contact.

So, yes, it feels something of an achievement to have got to this stage, and I know there is a long way to go yet!

But we know our goal - that Birdy will join our little family and I will have a daughter and OB will have a sister. He is very excited about the prospect!