Why I’m not an adoption evangelist

22/04/2021

When I discuss adoption and my views on it, I often find there’s a disconnect between where people expect me to be and where I actually am.

In wider society, there can understandably be a simplified, rose-tinted view of adoption that comes to the fore when as an adopter, you discuss it with someone who isn’t actively a part of this world. What I’m referring to is the idea that adoption is essentially an unequivocal good. It’s a view grounded in a massive simplification that goes something like this; child is in a bad place, they need a home, a family comes along, and they all walk off into the sunset.

As an adopter, I of course believe adoption has a place, but it has to be as a last resort. It is in my view for situations where the child can’t live with their birth parents and there are no other options in terms of familial kinship care or other ways for the child to retain a closer relationship with their birth family.

As I’ve said on this blog before, I find the #YouCanAdopt campaign a bit difficult. While I appreciate the need for recruiting new adopters, the shiny, unrelenting positivity can be hard to swallow. For me, adoption must be framed as parenting children who have early trauma and can’t live at home.

Dealing with the daily realities of trauma and often feeling isolated by the experience of adopting can be jolt, even if people are as prepared as they can be.

The best outcome for the child

For me the needs of the adopters are always secondary to those of the child. This might sound obvious but the way adoption is often framed for the purposes of recruitment, the needs of the adopters can feel like they are front and centre.

Don’t get me wrong, there is no such thing as an entirely altruistic adopter. It’s about building a family and people come into it with an idea of how they want their family to be, which is fine but for me it must be about finding families for children, rather than children for families.

Back to the title of this article – of course there is a time to advocate for adoption, but for me all other avenues must be exhausted. Right now, it feels like the emphasis from central government is firmly on speeding up adoption and making sure there are lots of prospective adopters ready and waiting.

Family connection and life story

All the evidence shows that for children who are unable to live with their birth parents, close connection to birth family is of huge significance. The outcomes of children are going to be much better if they understand their place in the world as much as possible and can have a genuine link to at least some of their blood relatives.

Often kinship carers aren’t supported anywhere near as much as they should be. It’s an amazing thing for grandparents, aunts and uncles or whoever to come forward and care for a child. For me, all such avenues should be properly explored and exhausted before adoption is considered.

As I’ve written before on this blog and in Adoption Today magazine, we’re working to establish as much birth family contact as is safe and possible. When adoption is the right option for a child, it has to be accompanied by serious life story work and contact.

As an adopter, it’s really hard getting your head around contact. It can feel scary and even threatening and I’d be lying if I said we didn’t sometimes find it daunting, but it has to come back to what is in the best interests of the child.

Supporting adopters

With a Government that is keen to boost adoption recruitment, it’s clear that adoption is being presented as the main solution for providing long term care for children who are unable to live with their birth parents. Unfortunately, there isn’t the commitment to provide good quality ongoing post-adoption support once children are placed. I believe this is storing up problems for the future.

I have no issue with adopters being recruited, but for me, we should be recruiting based on what prospective adopters can bring to children rather than the other way around. Then once people do adopt, they should be supported properly and given as much help as possible with life story and contact.

I’m a firm believer that adoption is an important part of the picture, but it’s certainly not a panacea. It has to sit at one end of a spectrum of options that are used to meet the complex and varied challenges of providing permanence to children who need it.  That is why I’m not an adoption evangelist.

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