‘Disruption’

A recent article on a BBC radio show about a disruption in an adoptive family has caused a kerfuffle on social media among adoptees especially, according to a podcast I’ve just heard. I’ve heard the article myself (can’t find a link sorry), and was pretty surprised too.

There are many reasons why it caused such a stink, some of them not valid in my opinion, but the obvious problem was that the adopter identified themselves and so therefore the child when talking about their situation. Now any parent identifying their child in the national press when talking about them is bad, but there is special place reserved in social media hell for adopters who do it, because of the sensitivity involved.

Yes, birth parents do it all the time. In fact there is a show on prime time BBC TV about a celeb with a family of kids with autism at the moment. Doubt those kids consented either, and they are probably going to be scarred for life too. Most of my son’s friends’ parents don’t think twice about posting embarrassing/semi-humiliating stuff about their kids online either. It passes without much comment though, because, well, everyone does it, don’t they? But adoption is held to a higher standard and here the adopter (and the BBC actually) should have realised that, but failed.

The mismatch of expectations between what society seem to think adoption is and what it actually entails is a gaping chasm sometimes, and no one seems to want to bridge it. It is just one more battlefront on the new Culture Wars about identity — are you still you if your identification number and parents change? The social media zealots almost seem to be willful in their lack of awareness or empathy with current adopted children and it is ironic that this story came out so close to that of the horrific stories of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, a situation far closer to the experiences of most modern adoptees than probably most people realise. Caused me a bit of secondary (or is it tertiary?) trauma just reading about them. It’s just that thankfully most abusers are caught before they go too far and you don’t hear about it because of (again ironically) wanting to keep everyone, including the birth parents, safe.

Adoption disruption will nearly always be caused by a violence rendered almost inevitable by that pre-adoption trauma and/or a range of neurodiverse conditions that are more prevalent among adoptees. Two-thirds of adopters experience it. And yes, adoption itself also contributes to trauma, but to suggest it is the only cause is completely misleading. We’re talking about violence towards the adopters. Violence towards siblings. Violence towards strangers. Destruction of property. Threatening behaviour. Emotional violence. Those are cold, hard words, difficult to imagine, easy to dismiss as overstated and melodramatic. But the reality for adopters, foster carers and guardians. And indeed many birth parents. Like all parents you might take this for years and years. But everyone has a breaking point. Birth parents, foster carers and guardians are not judged harshly for asking that the children’s services system help them in this kind of situation and find the appropriate care for their children. They are treated with understanding and sympathy. But adopters aren’t. If they need help then they are deemed to have failed. Because of their special place in the hierarchy of angels. Build them up to knock them down.

If this all sounds rather self-pitying then believe me I’m way past that and I am angry. Angry that the article was presented in that way at all. Angry about the deliberate misrepresentation and gaslighting in the overwrought reaction to it. Angry about the danger the reaction could put my son in because of the huge mainstream profile this story now has and how well-meaning people can do stupid things as a result. Angry about the ignorant terminology — adopters do still remain the parents after disruption, they are not ‘giving them back’ or ‘giving them up’. They are helping them. Just like any birth parent would (or at least should) be doing. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve gone to social services for help, for things like schools, advice, therapy, birth family contact etc. And if my son ever needed specialist care outside the home then we’d fight to get it. It isn’t failure, it is just one of those things you have to do as part of being a parent and adopter in order to help your child. Accept that you can’t do everything.

Over the last 20–30 years adoption has become much more like a state-appointed guardianship really, just without the name or legal status. When we first applied to adopt most of the social workers we initially spoke to seemed to consider it to be akin to being a volunteer foster carer, and that is the basis that most of us are recruited on nowadays. Indeed the first 1–3 years of ‘placement’ is exactly that — we are not parents at all but guardians and literally have no time for a job because our life is so taken over by social services meetings, looked-after-child reviews, mandatory health appointments, home schooling (if the child is not ready for school), family contact etc — none of which would occur for birth parents. In ‘foster-to-adopt’ situations that is even more explicit, with the ‘adopters’ sometimes looking after a child for years and years before an Adoption Order is granted, most of that time with a possibility that the child will be moved back to the birth parents. Sure there is still lipservice played to adopters being sole parents, but that is really just to ensure the family commitment beyond 18, which most of these children will need as they no longer have a functioning birth family network, and to shoehorn the complicated situation into our current legal framework. You can’t be a guardian after 18, so you have to be a parent. Currently there aren’t any other options.

All this seems to have happened without anyone noticing, giving a chance for haters to gaslight. It’s about time a more grown-up discussion about child protection took place. If nothing else to help all those children in similar situations to Arthur and Star’s.

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