My first book No Matter What was written in spare moments between working as a jobbing gardener and parenting the two children my husband Rob and I had adopted from our local authority. I never knew whether it would flower, but felt compelled to write it.
Our children had been profoundly impacted by their early experiences of maltreatment and yet what I heard (ad nauseum) was ‘they’ll get over it’, ‘you’re being paranoid’ or ‘all children do that’ and not only from lay people. I didn’t know what else to do other than to write. No Matter What became a kind of 80,000 word response.
I’ve been encouraged and supported by a number of good friends and particularly by my gardening partner K. She told me to get on with it and aim high. ‘You need to decide on your aim,’ she said (she’s great at all that). As gardeners we always ended up being employed to carry out the worst jobs in any given street or village. During one comically awful gardening job, I decided my aim was to get on to Woman’s Hour. It felt an awfully long way off.
Tomorrow, if plans fall into place, I should be appearing on the red sofa on BBC Breakfast to talk about my experiences of adoption and adoption support and the soon to the launched Adoption Support Fund. As a news and politics junky it is a dream and I’m going to count it as my aim loosely achieved.
Nerves may well prevent me from getting across what I desperately want to. If they do, then here’s it, in a rather large nutshell.
- Children are impacted by early experiences of maltreatment, which inform how they see and experience the world. They are compelled to behave in ways which those supporting them may find baffling and frustrating, but which make perfect sense when seen in the context of fear, danger and pure survival and self-preservation.
- Helping children to heal takes huge skill and fortitude. Adoptive parents cannot parent in the standard way, the way that our parents parented us, or in the way our friends parent their children. We are elite, therapeutic parents, a role which can be punishing, especially punishing without good support. I describe all this in my second book The Unofficial Guide to Adoptive Parenting.
- Post adoption support is about well-trained, empathic frontline social work, it’s about good quality training and coaching, it’s about decent, whole family therapeutic help, it’s ‘how are you doing?’ not ‘you should try the naughty step’. I’ve written along these lines for Community Care magazine. Some of my stuff has won awards.
- The Adoption Support Fund, which launches in a few days time is in my view a good and well-thought out start. I’ve been part of the Department for Education group responsible for shaping the scheme, as the ‘voice of the user’ (insert winking emoticon). The Adoption Support Fund will not be a magic wand but it has been designed to take into account the perverse incentives that litter children’s social care, the fragmentation of services and significant gaps in research and professional understanding. The push towards robust, long-lasting and unquestioning support must continue though and not just for adoptive families. And one year of guaranteed funding is NOT ENOUGH.
- Adoption, done sensitively and well and with appropriate support can be transformative for children and it’s certainly transformative for the adults around them. I would do it all again, but preferably without all the battles.
Right now I’m trying to tell myself that however terrified I feel, however badly or well the interview goes, I’ll have done my best and that’s what all of us; adopted children and those who are priviledged to share our lives with them, can ever hope to do. I’ll be thinking of you all.