It was an evening training session entitled "Adoption: What to Tell and When". I don't normally go for evening training unless it's completely mandatory, but when I saw the title and description I thought it would be just the thing for a new adoptive parent!
So, optimistically, despite being a person that doesn't enjoy this sort of training usually, and who hasn't been all that impressed by some of the other events I've been on, I went to great lengths to arrange a babysitter who would be willing to take on the challenge of putting my two toddlers to bed (something that has only been done by someone other than me twice before - and both times it was my Mum!) and booked myself on the course.
To say it was a bit of a let down would be an understatement. Leaving aside the atrocious venue (brand new multi-million pound council offices in town - no parking at all, impossible to find the front door, when you do find the front door a surly security guard tells you that's not the right door, every accessway inside blocked by security gates so you can't actually get to where you're supposed to be, room too small and stiflingly hot but windows can't be opened because it will disturb the complex climate control system and so on and so on), I knew I wasn't on to a winner when the two social workers who were presenting the evening informed us at the very start that there is no right way to disclose information to an adopted child, and there is no right time to do so.
Ok, so, it might have been better to have called the training something else then! Forgive me, but when I see the words "What to Tell and When", I get the impression (crazy I know!) that there will be something included about "What to Tell and When"!
Off to a bad start. The rest of the introduction consisted of being told that as we're the mummies and daddies, we're the only ones who know what is best for our child, and if we just follow our instincts we're bound to get it right. Yeah, well, considering we are all parenting children who have been removed from their birth parents for one reason or another, I think we can probably come to a consensus that not all mummies and daddies have such perfect instincts! I am by no means wholly confident of mine.
Then there was the obligatory group activity where we were given case studies and told to decide at what age we would disclose each detail to the child in question. This was problematic because in our group we had the people who already know everything there could possibly be to know about this subject (fellow foster carers of course - why do so many of us come across like that?!). It rather begs the question as to why they have come on this training since they are already such experts.
Bearing in mind we had already been told that there was no right age for disclosure, I must admit I found the group exercise pretty difficult. Between us, we couldn't agree on a specific age for a single one of the elements of this child's history to be disclosed. This wasn't because we were arguing about it, but because without knowing the child or anything about their developmental or emotional state, it's just impossible to know whether you'd have to wait until they were 17 to tell them that their parents allowed them to be horrifically burned on an electric fire while they were in a drunken stupor in the other room, or whether they could handle that fine at 7.
The other problem with the group exercise is that, with very little introduction or preparation, you're asking the non-experts to come up with the solutions to the problems. Now I appreciate that group activities are all the rage in the lifelong learning sector, but personally, if some expert or group of experts has already spent years researching this, then I'd rather hear their conclusions than make up my own, or be forced to listen endlessly to Mrs I-Know-It-All-Already sitting next to me.
And speaking of the lifelong learning sector, I'd love to know what they are teaching people on PTLLS. I know for sure the speakers must have been on a PTLLS course as in our LA you're not allowed anywhere near the interactive whiteboard or video projector until you have your certificate. Our local safeguarding children board once refused me permission to deliver Basic Safeguarding training to local voluntary organisations because I hadn't been on a PTLLS course, despite the fact that I am a qualified teacher with over a decade's experience and a Master's degree in Education.
Certainly they teach them to write as much as possible on each Powerpoint screen, and then use the screen as their notes so that they are constantly turning away from the audience and reading aloud from the screen that we can all actually see for ourselves anyway. They must be teaching this because just about everybody delivering training in the LLS does it, and it's very annoying. Really, if you're going to write every word you say on the Powerpoint, then why not just send everybody the Powerpoint slides by email? That way we could just read it for ourselves, thus avoiding the painful ice breakers and group activities and saving ourselves the hassle of getting a babysitter!
They must also be teaching them to always have two people delivering training and use a technique where one person tries to deliver the actual information while the other one interrupts them continuously with lengthy anecdotes - this seems to be another common feature!
I must say that the two Social Workers who were delivering the course were absolutely lovely, and did have a good rapport with the attendees. You could actually hear what they were saying (which was a bonus) and they did handle the discussion and feedback quite well. It's just that the content of the course was so non-existent! So, consequently, I am no closer to knowing "What to Tell and When". I'll be playing it by ear.
*In the interests of full disclosure I will say that I had to leave 15 minutes before the end. It is just possible that they packed this last 15 minutes with a complete run-through of the results of the extensive research that must surely have been carried out on this topic, discussed the best ways of using Life Story Books at length (these were barely mentioned while I was there) and provided everyone with a lovely handout showing a list of helpful tips based on said research. Unlikely, but possible!