It is National Adoption Week in the UK again. So there’ll no doubt be people thinking about it right now, if the publicity has hit home. If you’ve landed here because you’ve been looking then no doubt you’ve already braved the cesspit of the Internet to find out a bit more about adoption and what it feels like to be adopted (and if not then I recommend that you do). It is hard to come away from that without wondering why adoption exists at all.
Clearly the vast majority of adopted people worldwide who have strong enough opinions to bother writing about it are very unhappy with their situation. Either they have strong philosophical or religious objections to the whole idea of a genetically unrelated adult being given parenting rights, or maybe it is an anti-nanny state political ideology, or they’ve failed to connect with their own birth families and feel that it is the fault of their adoption, or they feel that having had a parental change means that they are now being expected to be someone completely different (the wrong identity). There are probably many others too but those seem to be broadly the main 4 themes.
Which is why I’m wondering if adoption in the UK should be renamed? Not because I’m ashamed of it, but because UK policy and practice, at least so far as understand it, is so far removed from the experiences of these individuals that there is literally no hook anywhere in the ‘debate’ to engage in the conversation. Being named the same thing is convenient I suppose, in that it accurately describes the situation that the child’s legal parent has changed and most potential recruits would understand what it meant, however it risks getting swamped in the mass of other experiences and systems that there are around the world. We are now a Global Village, but most of the other systems around the world appeared to have been designed by the village idiot. So people from all around the world can see something happening elsewhere and assume it also happens here too, because no one seems to be able to add context to their opinions any more.
You can’t talk to someone who doesn’t acknowledge the differences in their own experiences and that of yours. It just feels wearing to read for the nth time that ‘adopted people get new birth certificates’ or ‘adopted people don’t see their birth family’ ad nauseum, knowing that what they are saying just isn’t true for you. They’re expecting you to be either the enemy or the problem solver for whatever they are talking about, but not actually listening to what you say. It’s like they are in a parallel universe that you can see but not interact with. In fact many make that explicit, not wanting the conversation with adopters, just to bellow insults. So many people around the world needing help, but none of them willing to accept it from the people who know how to.
Of course there are 2500–3000 children adopted each year in the UK, so (given that the average age of adoption is 4) possibly 30000–40000 children under the age of 18 currently in adoptive placements. So there will be many different situations here too, probably no single person has a complete view of it. All I can say is that from my own experience, and that of other adopters and adopted people I’ve met, adoption is not the simple black-and-white story that is told on the Net. I’ve written plenty of posts about that already.
So what should we call it instead? ‘Stewardship’ (https://httpadoptionwilliam.wordpress.com/2017/03/26/why-a-stewardship-model-why-adoption-a-stewardship-model-places-childrens-needs-first-unlike-adoption-that-places-adults-needs-first/) has been suggested although in the UK at least that word would have ownership and religious connotations when talking about people, and could be seen as more of an attempt to ‘claim’ a child, ‘manage’ them and change their ‘identity’ rather than bringing them up as their own person. The principles of this stewardship model fairly closely match that of UK adoption though, in particular continuing into adulthood and being a guide and mentor at that point, which is what makes adoption so needed — most adopted children will need more from their ‘stewards’ than just to be ignored after 18.
To be fair that article, although critical of ‘adoption’, is just aimed at trying to bring another system (the Australian one in this case) kicking and screaming into the 21st century. They don’t seem opposed to the idea of having to find another parent-figure to bring children up sometimes.
Another name for this is a wardship. That sounds comically old-fashioned to English ears (think Theon Greyjoy in Games of Thrones — initially modelled on the era of the English War of the Roses. Incidentally, as an aside, although Ned Stark was quite the modern adopter with Theon he was perhaps the worst adopter ever regarding Jon Snow, who ended up shagging his aunt before he found out the truth about his history). However it is pretty much the same concept as adoption, with perhaps the slight quirk that originally a ward was essentially a state-endorsed system of keeping a hostage to ensure the good behaviour of a bad guy. The cynical might say that is still what we are doing. I’m not one of them. Over the years this gradually morphed into the idea of the government looking after children of incarcerated adults, or children for who there is no one else. Kids in foster care are technically ‘wards of the state’.
But having the state as your mummy and daddy is not an ideal situation. Children need continuity and permanency; a trustworthy adult for the entirety of their childhood. The individual needs to be appointed and checked by the state and they need to be ‘contracted’ for at the very least until the child (and eventually adult) can look after themselves, more realistically for life. You can’t pay them to do this, it would be illegal and immoral to do so. You shouldn’t need to be ‘compensated’ for having a child. Very difficult to find people who will do it, but there are some. This is what adoption in the UK is. We effectively just take over the ‘wardship’ from the state. Or at least that is how it should be, and that is the expectation that adopters sign up to. Your obligations don’t disappear once you become a parent of the child, quite the opposite really, as they are now ‘your’ child, so you need to do what is best for them.
‘Legal Guardianship’ is another often used alternative phrase, but in the UK that means something completely different, and is basically kinship care, or legally endorsing the fact another member of the parent’s family is looking after the child on a permanent basis.
But just because the system isn’t perfect doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t exist at all as many would have it. Equally it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t change either. I guess maybe that’s something for another post.
Names are a strange thing culturally. Other phrases used in child protection like ‘family preservation’ , ‘struggling to cope’ and ‘lifelong links’ just smack of middle class sneering and patronising towards the lower orders to my ears. As if we don’t know what’s good for us or how to do parenting. Although maybe again that’s just my working class English roots speaking. We are all victims of our identity I suppose.
Whatever you call it, I don’t think we should call it adoption. Too much confusion out there. Maybe we should just make up a new word completely. However I asked my son about it last week, and at the moment he’s a fan of the word adoption even though he raises his eyebrows at some of the tales that make it over here from abroad. So what do I know?