So I’m going to try and blog on National Adoption Week. This might be quite hard as my thoughts are anything but resolved. But I shall try nonetheless. Thank you for bearing with me.
From where I’m sitting it’s been pretty hard to avoid. I’m sure it has passed by many in the big wide world entirely. But for those of who tweet and blog and talk adoption matters most days … there’s been no avoiding it.
It’s a really hard one though.
For clearly there will be people who do notice, who are drawn in, who for the first or crucial time consider whether they too could adopt.
I believe every child should have the best possible opportunity for them, and I truly believe that for some children adoption is that very best option. Security, permanence, safety, dedication, commitment, happiness, family, growth: these are watchwords shared by many adoptive families everywhere … albeit they are very often mixed up with the demanding siren calls of trauma, attachment issues, life story challenges, distress, sadness, pain and the sheer endless tiredness of parenting hurting children.
I can see the attraction in the many pictures currently doing the rounds of two (usually attractive) adults walking with a (beautiful, young) child holding both their hands, kicking autumn leaves, all evidently happy and without a worry in the world. All of us who now treasure our children so dearly were once brought into the world of adoption through some kind of trigger – and it may well be that this is exactly the moment when some future families think “well maybe” for the first time; for others a week of spotting picture upon picture in social media and in the press, and this week perhaps having seen one of the many images being projected onto buildings, will be the spark that moves them from “I know we’ve thought for a long time about …” to “what about now?”.
Adoption in the UK remains a key option for children who will thrive most with the permanence and commitment of a new family. This will always mean there will be a need to draw in new potential adopters.
I understand the need. I applaud the commitment to meeting that need.
But at the same time I find myself wondering. Adoption is often hard, often difficult. Some children could never be represented in any of those photos because they refuse to hold, in the required carefree manner, a parental hand. Others do indeed enjoy the outdoors, low key things like tree-climbing and kicking leaves being ideal – but find it almost impossible to cope with many of the other scenes that make up the idealised theatres of family life (such as meeting Father Christmas or attending family Eid gatherings) of which many of us dream.
Adoption is not always, but is often, a hard road.
Money can be scarce as one or both parents cuts back hours at work, tries to reduce their travelling time, or simply gives up the battle to attend endless medical, school and therapy appointments as well as manage the rest of family life with a child who is often hyper and may struggle with sleep. Children always always change family life. Children who have suffered trauma bring additional demands to their new families; old networks of friends and wider family can fall away; holidays, spontaneity and free time for coffee can feel like wistful memories from earlier histories.
Nursery and school can be hard to manage. Again not always, but often, children struggle at some point or another. Many many require extra support, finding the constant change, separation anxiety, learning, praise, opportunities to succeed and space for failure each in turn stressors that undermine all their attempts to conform and comply – or lead them into a silent anxious compliance that undermines any capacity to actually learn. All parents worry about their child being bullied: older adoptee voices this week have talked of their own experiences of being bullied and how common that is for those who are adopted. For a child who is already struggling, bullying intensifies and adds to existing stress.
It is all very uncomfortable.
How much do the media-friendly images of happy-ever-after families make it even harder for families and children who struggle to get their voices heard? How much does the imagery of successful adoptive stories – including the stories shared by adult celebrity adopters doing their best to support by telling their tales of success following their successful adoptive family experiences – play into the understandable if often inaccurate view of many outside the adoption world that after a few weeks, or definitely a few months, everything will have been sorted and resolved and it’s all onwards and upwards and any issues must simply be because … “well, have you actually tried enforcing stronger boundaries and firmer bedtimes”?
I also struggle with the knowledge that while there are many many children who are awaiting adoption, there are also many many prospective adopters who are waiting. In the last two years much has changed – fewer children are being moved along the road to adoption while more adopters have been approved and so await matching with “their” child or children. Where is the gap, really? One friend on Twitter is hurting personally: approved for children aged 4-6 for some months now she has barely seen a profile, and is updated regularly that there are none at all that her Social Worker is aware of that might be possible. In the light of the theme of National Adoption Week this week (“Too old at 4?”) there is clearly something out of step, something not working.
I am amazed, proud, happy, excited to be an adopter. I have had excellent support from the Social Workers that supported me through approval, and from those who have supported him throughout his move from Foster Care right up to now. I have the most amazing son. I am truly privileged.
Yet on a daily basis I am bemused, bewildered, often entirely flummoxed by the reality of parenting a child who is sad, happy, excited, upset, angry, fragile, hopeful, anxious, fractious, hurting, loving – and unsurprisingly finds this huge mixed up mess sometimes hard to understand, manage or control.
I don’t have answers. I cannot help but acknowledge that much of this week I have felt uncomfortable and unsure, troubled and worried. I think I would be happier if I felt the week was more about raising awareness of adoption more generally, or indeed ideally if it was about focusing on the need every child has to be safe, loved, secure and if possible to grow up in a family that will always represent both a physical and an emotional home. Adoption is so often not the easy, media-friendly answer that it has to be shown as to be the easy sell.
On the other hand, I would in no way want to deter new adopters from coming forward. I am sure there may well be children who will, as a direct result of this week, end up in families who may not otherwise have ever come together. Maybe that in itself lends at least part of the justification for the annual media onslaught. Another friend on Twitter mentioned in a chat that a previous National Adoption Week had prompted her to find out more. That made me suddenly smile. I regained my sense of optimism and hope.
Adoption is absolutely right for me. I would never wish to deny that road to another for whom it may equally be right, whatever the initial spark may be.
Of course, once upon a time last week’s news was this week’s chip paper. Now last week’s twitter craze might as well never have been. Adoption however is for life. If the ephemera of a week-long campaign nevertheless leads to one or two or ten or a hundred children and families whose lives are changed for the better forever I would be a poor person indeed were I not to be truly happy.