The Truth About Adoption, Panorama, BBC 1

I watched Panorama, The Truth About Adoption last week hoping to see something of my own experience reflected there: my experience as an adopter of children from the UK care system.  I wanted to see something of the tremendously hard task faced by many adopters and something of the adoption myths which hamper us.

In fairness to the programme I did see something of the process, its hold ups, complications and frustrations.  I saw what this meant for the children that were featured, the children who were buffeted this way and that, by the bureaucracy, by its inefficiencies and its confusions over what was best for them.

There are many myths about modern adoption.  One such myth is that adoption is the silver bullet which soothes and loves away the hideous effects on the baby brain of neglect and abuse.  Fortunately modern science has proven this particular myth to be just that. There is now bucket loads of evidence to support what many social workers, foster carers and adopters have long known, that parenting hurt children can present a significant challenge.

Kieron, Katie and Chloe had been in an adoptive placement for three years before it broke down and they were returned to the care system.  We heard from everyone bar the adoptive parents themselves, which is understandable given the huge pain that they must feel and their probable need for anonymity.  But their position wasn’t represented.  Instead we were treated to a dose of the old myth by an Independent Reviewing Officer, as though modern brain imaging had all been a dream.

‘I couldn’t quite believe that three years down the line they could say I don’t want them anymore, I could quite understand that after 6 weeks ….. but after 3 years, I was gob smacked by it,’ he said.

I was not gobsmacked by it, neither was my husband and neither were many posters to the Adoption UK message boards.  We know the reality of parenting, the raging, the fighting, the shouting, the breaking, the anxieties and the fears. And many of these difficulties only come out from the light several years into the adoption journey, when the children start to feel a real and to them frightening attachment to their new parents.  What did gobsmack me however was that the reviewing officer did not appear to know anything of this, nor of the lack of support provided by the state to help parents striving under these difficult circumstances.  He appeared to blame the parents and in their absence they were painted as being a bit flaky, indecisive, not really having their hearts in the thing.

The professional approach should have been to undertake a full ‘lessons learnt’ exercise.  Why did the placement break down?  Was adequate support provided?  Did the parents feel the training offered to them had been adequate?  Had all information been shared?  What were the surprises?  Instead of this we saw a void of empathy for those parents and then the truck was put back into first gear and revved up again for the next adoption placement.

There were many other parts of the programme which left me feeling exasperated; the dog, the lifestory work and the confused approach to contact being a few of them.  But the one message that I would shout from the rooftops is ‘LISTEN TO ADOPTERS’, oh and ‘start collecting some meaningful statistics’.

13 thoughts on “The Truth About Adoption, Panorama, BBC 1”

  1. I completely agree with you about collecting statistics. I understand that there are none on the failure of adoptions. The adoptive parents who stopped after 3 years can’t possibly have taken that decision lightly. I am staggered that there seems to be a situation in which it occurs to no one to try and learn from the situations in which it goes wrong. Am I being over cynical in thinking it is because that outcome is not measured by any official statistic that needs explanation?

    Now that you mention the issues that actually forming an attachment can cause, I understand more of why things can go wrong. It’s such a pity this was not mentioned in the programme, as it would have provided a much more complete picture rather than, as you say, adoption as a silver bullet.

    1. Statistics, humility and empathy would go a long way I think. Maybe Panorama will make a follow-up programme.
      I know that stats are not the be and end all, but at least they would answer some of the big questions and encourage some accountability.
      Thanks for your comment Jane.

  2. I seem to remember there being a particularly vile article a while ago in the Daily Mail about a couple who had chosen to give back (for want of a better word) the baby they had adopted. I think they were based in America. It was a terribly sad story, with issues that really need to be discussed far more openly.

    It was however sensationalised with a nasty headline and an outraged undertone which completely deflected from the story itself, turning this poor couple who just really couldn’t cope into some kind of pantomime villain.

    I can’t imagine how hard it must be to adopt a child, any child. They must all have had some kind of difficulty which needs to be worked on. So I’d agree, a little more empathy needed with the parents who find that challenging, and so challenging in some cases that they realise they can’t do any more. I’ll see if I can find the article, but I’m not very optimistic. Great post, thank you.

    1. Yes I think the baby was from Russia and was sent back on a plane. Terrible for the child and not brilliant for American/Russian relations either.
      Thanks for your comment. Loving your rants!

  3. Sally, I am with you with regard to the total lack of understanding comming from the reviewing officer – he seamed to have no understanding of the subject at all.
    What experience if any did he have for his possition I wonder?
    Adoption a sibling group of the ages of these children is extremely difficult and to suggest that the parents just got fed up with them is unbelievable.
    I, like you are the mother of 2 adopted childern who, it now turns out have many sever attachment, sensory, and hyperactivity problems. I feel that when parenting a sibling group of 2 the problems can be 3 fold rather than doubled as the children retraumatize each other. Goodness knows what it is like when you have 3.
    Another area of consern I had was the depiction of the birth mothers, in that the two shown both had learning difficulties and it looked as if babys were being taken away from people just because of their lack of intelegence.
    This was far from the truth about adoption

    1. Yes, the sibling thing is not well understood. We get a lot of competing for love too, like there’s not enough to go around. On balance though our children do support each other and over time I hope they will appreciate being together.
      I too thought about the birth mothers. I don’t think the reality of the conditions that most of our children were born into was portrayed very honestly. ‘Neglect’ is a word which is all too easily hidden behind when we don’t want to look at the real situation. It is a kind of meaningless word really.
      Thanks for your comment Helen.

  4. It is great to read your thoughts on the programme, I am a foster Carer in the process of adopting a baby. This relinquished baby was matched with a couple and when the introduction was starting it was obvious the couple were not informed of the process they did not know the baby would move in, in 8 days the baby was 10mths old but was born 3 mths prem the couple changed their minds after meeting the baby (there are no physical signs of premature birth) and as with all children there is no guarantee that there wont be any learning difficulties from the meetings I attended I believe this could have been avoided had the couple not have had 6 different SW during their assessment and 3 year wait.The couple did not have questions answered and were not supported enough.At this time I know of another baby returned to care after 3 days.We have decided to adopt this baby as she is now 2yrs old and has been with us since birth and from all my training I can see to sever her attachment from us now would cause great problems now and later in life, it helps we love her dearly. From my recent adoption training attachment disorders was not explained enough we were recommended a book (which I read) but not really advised how every day life can be affected by a poor attachment, I think the training/ assessment needs to be more honest and transparent (SW favourite word)
    Well that feels better to have gotten that off my chest.

    1. I have left a longer reply on your other comment. What a great outcome for your child that you can adopt her, therefore keeping her where she feels safe and secure and with people who love her. I wish you all the best with your journey to adopt her.
      Luckily our social worker had adopted a child herself and was and still is a great source of information and support on attachment issues. But generally the training and preparation for adoption needs to become much more honest, thorough and professional.
      Keep in touch if you can. Sally

  5. I can only agree with you on the pain the parents must have been in when their family was split apart, and also the extreme difficulties that will have preceded it. My adopted children are now in their 20s but throughout their childhood there were bleak and exhausting times when my mind flirted with the idea of ‘giving them back’. I find I am unable to imagine greater pain than I experienced, I hope they have been able to find a place of peace.

    It is sad that the adoptive parents story wasn’t part of the review, meaning valuable data was lost and it seems judgements used instead. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that having stereotyped adoptive parents it is difficult for society to value and listen to each of their particular experiences. Instead I wonder whether family breakdown isn’t seen as evidence of moral failing as not only children, but also capable, compassionate parents are further damaged and disregarded.

    1. I think you are right, it is seen as a moral failing. A friend of mine is currently experiencing an adoption breakdown, after 10 years. She has no help, little understanding and feels she is being blamed, that the cause of the behaviours is the bad parenting she has been delivering, not the trauma which the child suffered in his birth home. This judgement is not excusable but understandable in the lay person, but not in social workers.
      I hope that you have managed to find some peace too and thank you so much for making such a valuable comment.

  6. A friend of mine experienced an adoption breakdown, really sad.
    At the meeting of all agencies in the aftermath, my friend was amazed to see that some of the agencies had not communicated with each other EVER about the child. She watched, amazed as they said things like ” I didn’t know that?” “when was that agreed?”. They felt like scape-goats.

    1. Adopters should never be made to feel scape-goated. All deserve constructive and robust support so that these sorts of situations are prevented. I can’t imagine how devastating it must feel to be unable to hold an adoption together, let alone to feel blamed.

  7. isn’t the most important thing when people adopt a child is to LOVE that child no matter what. I am adopted myself and always had issues with rejection,my adopted parents went on to have their own child less than one year after me.They always used to say “go to bed adopted one,leave my only child alone,reject” and other stuff like “no wonder your mother gave you away” e.t.c.When i read comments about adoptions breakdowns i blame adopted parents,children arn’t like dogs that you return when the going gets tough.What about a childs feelings? nobody knows what its like to be adopted unless you actually are adopted.At least we were made the natural way unlike IVF,surrogacy e.t.c people who carn’t have kids naturally should accept nature, they wern’t mean’t to be, because that ain’t natural being created in a test tube.They say blood is thicker than water not always,i found some of my birth family and i wouldn’t piss on them if they were on fire,but i had the BEST grand parents any one could ask for in my adopted family they ALWAYS treated me the same,and i LOVED them to bits!! no wonder some of these kids are a bit of a challenge,its because the people who surpossed to love them failed them many times and they feel rejected all over again.a child is INNOCENT first and foremost.

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