PAC-UK, a UK charity that supports everyone affected when a child’s parents are permanently changed legally (i.e. adoption and guardianship mainly) has recently released their ‘Big Consult’, a survey of adopted people and birth parents, to see what things could and should be changed. I include links to both here:
It is important because although they only managed to survey 454 adopted people and 151 birth parents, and like all surveys probably only attracted responses from the most opinionated, it is still probably the biggest independent survey I’ve seen. Only 10% of birth parents were the birth dads, which is my opinions is a quite glaring omission, but that is typical for this kind of survey. Birth dads are ‘harder to reach’ apparently, which seems to just mean that they’d have to do something different from what they usually do and that’s too hard. Anyway, that’s not the point of this article. It reads a bit like an advert for PAC-UK’s own services at times, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt rather than treating it as a conflict of interest. It does sometimes mean that a question only makes much sense if you see what services they offer to people though, so I will point that out in the article.
I find it interesting to see what different groups have pulled out of the report to support their points. I am going to do the same of course, but I hope in a slightly fairer way. While it has been widely seen on social media as highlighting problems with adoption and things that need to change, I see it supporting the vast leaps that have been made over the last 20 years or so, and largely a vindication of the direction of travel. The summary of the report seems to imply that the problems adopted people had several decades ago are still the same now as they all get lumped together in the summary. That simply isn’t true as their own report shows when you actually read it and break it down into 20th century and 21st century adoption. There is a lot of work to be done with birth parents still though.
Let’s look at the things that PAC-UK have chosen to headline with in their press release, and to put in their summary report. I’ll paraphrase what they said in bold. And then let’s actually look at the full report and see what is said by people who have gone through the contemporary system.
· 82% of adopted people state there is not enough information about their birth parents. That’s quite striking. Sounds pretty terrible. But first of all, what is ‘enough’? It is not explained. Maybe there can never be enough. However when you look at the full report you see that it is actually 50% of those adopted this century who say that, not 82%. Still too many, but pretty undeniably it is going in the right way. Doesn’t fit the narrative of ‘terrible adoption’ though. I guess the question here is: what more do they want to know? Why wouldn’t you tell them? Just tell us what you want to know that you don’t already know!
· 77% of adopted people state there is not enough information about why they were adopted. But actually it is now 37%, not 77%. Again too many, but again going the right way. So why not acknowledge that?
· 87% of adopted people state there is not enough information to give them a sense of their own identity. Nope, it is 54%. . It seems like it is quite a vague question. The question to resolve that should be what information they want to achieve a sense of their own identity, and whether they are actually going to get anything useful from it once they have it.
· 64% of adopted people felt their adoptive parents were a good match. Nope, it was 91%.
· 19% were transracially adopted. Nope, it was 3%. Which does make you wonder what all the fuss is about. You get the impression from social media that it is only 3% who are not transracially adopted.
· 67% didn’t feel supported in their move to adulthood/living independently/further education etc. OK, that’s pretty much not moved, it is 64% now. I presume that just means support from professionals though. The question completely ignores the support that adopters themselves have to give as parents and is after all the main point of using adoption. Which is odd unless there is an agenda there to promote PAC-UK’s own services.
· Looks like schools haven’t improved at all. I can well believe that; check out my post from a few months ago. The issues the school fail to deal with have changed though — nowadays it is how to deal with trauma-related behavioural issues whereas before it was more about thoughtless comments about family. Coincidentally PAC-UK offer an education service.
· 88% of adopted people had no contact of any kind with any birth family member while they were under 18. Nope, that is 47% now, but I have to admit I was surprised it was even that high. There shouldn’t be any excuse to not send letters/emails at the very least. Of the adopted people in the contemporary system the vast majority who did have contact they had a mixture of direct and indirect, much like my son. Which is how it should be. To be fair the message around contact is probably a more recent thing (last 10 years or so) so may not be reflected in this survey, which was of adults.
· It was interesting that the headline was that 76% of adopted people thought that direct contact (meeting up) between them and any birth relative should be standard practice. Interesting because it was so low, I was expecting it to be higher. Plus it was only 62% of people adopted under the 21st century system who thought that which is even more surprising to me. Makes you wonder why there is so much of a drive to get adopters to do it really. Plus there is that usual caveat of ‘only if safe’. Sigh. What does that mean exactly? And who gets to decide that? And why are they being adopted if it is safe for their birth parents to be with them? Foster care would clearly be the better option in those cases.
· Perhaps we should be asking the kids individually rather than making it ‘standard practice’, at least once they reach the age of legal responsibility and maturity. Like I did with my son? Just a thought. Especially as that is what 75% of adopted people thought too.
· 91% said they didn’t receive any therapeutic support while under 18. No, it is 46%. And what’s more (as the question implicitly acknowledges when they report that the responders reported a wide range of mental health self-ratings — which the report chose not to publish), that might well have been because they didn’t actually need the support. There was no question about whether they needed it or not, just whether they’d had it.
· And revelation! 76% of adopted people thought that counselling for adopted people should be free, and 93% of those said they would take it up if it was free. Well, duh. Not sure of the point of that question. Did we expect people to say that they wanted to pay for it? Could it be that PAC-UK supplies that kind of thing to local authorities?
· 88% have tried to access their adoption record. Nope it is 52%. Not sure about the point of the question really, and also what is meant by ‘adoption record’. Do they mean the care proceedings? Or the family court info? Adopters get given a lot anyway, and can share that, but there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to access it yourself if for some reason your adopters are not giving it to you. The implication is that you can’t get it, but you can. The majority only had to wait less than 6 months too, which trust me is nothing nowadays. Could it be that PAC-UK supplies access to ‘adoption records’?
· 85% have attempted to contact birth family after 18. No it is 52%. Again, not quite sure about the point here. Obviously it should be up to the adopted person if they want to try and contact their birth family once they are an adult, and clearly almost half decide not to. If they choose not to do so then so be it. Why is that an issue? Could it be that PAC-UK supply ‘searching’ services?
· 66% of adopted people thought adoption was an appropriate form of permanence. There is no break down of era of adoption here. But still, two-thirds thinking it is OK isn’t bad and seems to contradict the general atmosphere of doom on social media. Could be better though.
· 90% think adoption should be more open. Again no breakdown of era of adoption. Quite what ‘more open’ means isn’t clear. More open compared to their own experiences or more open compared to the modern standard? In my own case being more open would simply mean unsupervised meetings with the birth parents. But I’d challenge anyone who actually knew and understood the circumstances to agree with that.
The next report was a survey of birth parents. This was actually a bit different in that it only seemed to be talking to parents whose children had been removed by the state into care, and only in the last 30 years or so. So it was quite a different set of circumstances to the adopted people report, and reflects the 21st century system more, so it is worth just looking straight at the detail as the summary broadly reflects that.
· 50% reported mental health problems and 57% reported domestic violence as being the reason given for their kids adoption. Now this is actually a lot less than you might be led to believe on social media, but it is still high. ‘Mental health problems’ is a bit vague though. It can involve anything from depression to anxiety and it isn’t reported whether they’d actually had a diagnosis or were diagnosing themselves — the latter is a common problem. If they don’t have a diagnosis what are social workers or the police to do? I know we tend to believe first and ask questions later in these kind of situations, but you can’t do that forever, especially if they are not getting any treatment or refusing support. It starts turning into an excuse rather than a reason. Note that mental illness isn’t listed, that would normally be treated separately to mental health issues in surveys like this but I do wonder whether it was just lumped in together, which would have skewed the results. The domestic violence issue comes up time and again. We really should be getting better at creating refuges and safe houses. There are plenty around, it is just we are not very good at getting women to them. However a parent does have a statutory duty to protect their children, even if it is difficult to do so. They should at least be trying to do so rather than shifting the blame. Someone has to be legally responsible for their safety after all. Hard one, I agree.
· 81% didn’t have any support other then a solicitor at the court proceedings. This is poor, and hasn’t really changed over time, although it doesn’t say what that support should be. Someone from an independent charity like PAC-UK perhaps? I being a bit cynical about the motives for that question there.
· 43% said the court process wasn’t accessible, although this drops to 24% more recently, which to me looks like the right direction of travel but according to PAC-UK doesn’t show any movement.
· 47% said they had contributed to their child’s life story book, rising to 57% more recently. I am surprised it was this high to be honest, I had no idea that birth parents were invited to contribute. It would be nice if more would do so (the trend is upwards) but I suspect you’ll have trouble convincing a large minority to do it. Now there’s a service PAC-UK could offer, and they don’t actually seem to at the minute.
· 88% had no choice in the adoptive parents for their child. PAC-UK seem to think this is bad as it has barely changed over the decades. Quite why it is bad isn’t clear, but it is bad. The report doesn’t explain why they think birth parents should have a say in it. Perhaps it is meant to be self-evident but this reader needed that explaining. To be fair I couldn’t find any conflict of interest on their website for this one, just seems a bit of an odd thing to be asking.
· Only 22% were offered independent support after the adoption of their child. Very poor, no excuses not to be doing that. Coincidentally PAC-UK offer that service.
· 41% have met the adoptive parents. This seems a bit low, as all adopters are asked to do it. The trend is actually downwards. Sometimes I think doing that right at the start of the placement is far too difficult for everyone emotionally. Maybe we should look at doing it a couple of years down the line.
· Only 52% (64% more recently) had any kind of contact with their children at all, and that included letters. This is shocking really and tallies with the 47% of adopted people from the same era who said they had never had any kind of contact. Don’t know whose fault this is but there should be a mechanism to enforce it. I think some people (both adopters and birth parents) treat contact orders as optional and an inconvenience. There is the usual stuff about letterbox being inadequate too, but that isn’t a new problem really. I’ve written about that in a previous post too!
· 93% thought that direct contact (i.e. meeting up) with the children when they are under 18 should be best practice (again, ‘if it is safe’, whatever that means in practice). Not exactly surprising. 78% think it should be birth parents who determine whether direct contact is appropriate. I think that shows a remarkable lack of self-awareness and lack of understanding of why they are in the position that they are in, and probably reflects the lack of post-adoption support. It also shows a chasm between them and the adopted children of the modern era too — as we see above only 62% of them thought direct contact was a good idea and that was just when the question was made more broad, i.e. ‘birth relatives’ rather than birth parents. 75% of adopted people wanted it to be adopted people to decide if it was appropriate, and literally none wanted birth parents anywhere near that decision. Someone is going to have to bridge that gap and I don’t think it should have to be the kids or adopters. And maybe PAC-UK should take their own survey into account when thinking about their own service to birth parents to search for their ‘lost’ children.
Overall it seemed that the lack of support for birth parents, both before, during and after adoption was really the main cause of concern on this report, and I can wholeheartedly agree with that. However all the support in the world is not going to eliminate the issue of child abuse completely, sadly.