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CaptainK's older 2013 posts

Adoption assurance - 17 June 2013

Permanency is a key aspect of adoption; in general terms, it's what gives a child hope that their future is secure. However, sometimes things don't always seem to work out as first planned.

The major and I became adoptive parents some ten years ago, not long after some people we know had adopted two half-siblings under three years of age. For our friends, life as an adoptive family started out as one would expect: apart from the unsettling period of placement and introductions, family life was relatively 'normal'. Being relatively young, there were few warning signs that these two children would eventually present with a number of significant difficulties. Nor did anyone predict that this family was heading for a roller-coaster ride that would test their emotions and strength of character to the core, as a result of such difficulties.

Prior to becoming adoptive parents, our friends were experienced foster-carers. They knew from first-hand experience about the circumstances from which many children in the care system today have come from, and the impact such circumstances can have on the lives of such children. With this practical experience and knowledge, they entered the world of adoption with their eyes wide open!

At the time of matching these two children with this family, there was nothing to suggest that these two children had experienced anything more than chronic neglect. However, as time went by, and two toddlers became two increasingly difficult to manage pre-teens, questions about the children's pre-care history started to be asked. Of course, most children experience the terrible-twos, and as for teenagers, well, let's say no more! However, having seen these two children grow and develop over the years, it became increasingly clear that things were not right. Putting the impact of chronic neglect aside, there was clearly something else at play.

When our friends adopted Rosie and Jim, they were completely unaware that birth mum had been consuming alcohol during her pregnancies; neither were they fully aware of the extent of mental health issues within the family. For a while I remained puzzled as to why such important information was not available to our friends at the time of matching. However, what I have recently learnt, from personal experience, is that until recently, information given to perspective adopters was not as robust as it perhaps could, or should, have been. As an adoption panel member, I can say with confidence that the information available to prospective adopters now (certainly within the local authority of which I am a panel member) is more informative and comprehensive than it was some ten years ago, which is roughly when I became an adoptive parent. Firstly, a detailed chronology of the child's life and interventions are (or should be) available to adopters. Secondly, relevant medical reports and self-disclosing questionnaires (where available) concerning the birth parents are (should) also be made available. It may even be possible for prospective adopters to request access to psychology reports on birth parents (if available and relevant). The point is: adoption agencies should be giving prospective adopters the full picture and making available all relevant information to enable prospective adopters to make informed decisions when it comes to the matching process.

In our friends' case, the bottom line is that they were never prepared for what would eventually hit them as adoptive parents. I guess they imagined raising a relatively normal family based on what information they were provided with, but missing pieces of the jigsaw during the matching stage of the adoption process meant they made a decision on partial information. I completely understand that social workers will never have a complete picture of a child's life pre-care order; sadly, far too much is unknown about the pre and post-birth lives of adopted children. But where and when things are known, or suspected, they should be disclosed to adopters at the earliest opportunity.

As a result of obtaining 'new' information (new to the adopters, that is) many years after being adopted, both children have subsequently been diagnosed with FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder). It has been a long and difficult journey to get this diagnosis confirmed, which has been partially hampered by the lack of information that was available to the adopters at the time of matching. In the meantime, the stresses of dealing with two very demanding and challenging young people, with little understanding of the cause, has taken its toll on the family. In school, the situation has been equally difficult and illustrates that mainstream schools often lack the right resources and understanding to deal with such issues effectively.

Around a year ago discussions took place between the family and professionals as to what course of action would be in the best interest of the children, and the family as a whole. After an anxious and extremely difficult period, the decision was made by the parents to place both children in specialist boarding schools in order that their children's needs may be fully met. Boarding at different special schools - illustrating that each child is uniquely different and requires a uniquely different support plan - the future looks positive. However, the nature of FASD (of which I am no expert) appears to suggest that the road ahead is far from certain. We continue to hope and pray, even though this intervention has come later than perhaps it should have done, that Rosie and Jim will get the right help and support to give them the best possible chance of achieving their full potential into adulthood.

This personal experience illustrates quite clearly the 'unknowns' that most, if not all, adoptive parents have to accept when becoming an adoptive parent to a child in care. Prospective adopters must go into adoption with their eyes wide open and be prepared to deal with the potential (and sometime unforeseeable) challenges ahead. To that end, prospective adopters must be confident and unafraid to ask social workers questions about any aspect of a child's CARA - the child's chronology and information pertaining to the birth parent's health (including mental health) is of particular importance. Likewise, adopters should feel confident in selecting the matching criteria which they feel they can realistically cope with long-term.

In spite of best efforts, nothing in life is absolutely certain. However, Rosie and Jim's adoption is assured, as is their permanency within their adoptive family. However, how that adoptive relationship is lived out day-to-day is clearly very different from what may have been originally planned, or foreseen at the time of adoption.

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