It's quite the epic - a multi-page album with stickers, pictures, lots and lots of text, and an impressive display of clipart.
And on the second page it says:
It will explain why your birth mother and father were not able to look after you and why you are living with your forever mummy and daddy.
Your forever mummy and daddy.
Except OB doesn't live with his forever mummy and daddy. Just his forever mummy. I have a hard enough time with the "Why don't I have a daddy?" questions already, so the last thing I need is to have it wrong in this book.
And there are several more examples of references to 'forever parents' and 'forever mummy and daddy' throughout. A simple exercise in use of the delete button would have fixed it but, despite this tome being 18 months in the making, that was apparently a step too far.
That's not the only issue I have with the book. There are several problems with it, but I suppose it's only to be expected since all the social workers that actually dealt with our case have left, and the lady who eventually did this book met me for the first time when she gave it to me last week. She has never met OB and everything that's in there is based only on the paperwork, or reproduced from countless other books that have been done for other adopted children over time.
I know that there was a picture of birth dad, given to OB's original social worker by his birth grandma especially for inclusion in the book. It was the only picture I have ever seen of him - an old school photo - and I caught a fleeting glimpse of it before it was whisked away to be glued in. That was before we got our adoption order. I don't know what happened to it. Clearly it never made its way to the creator of the book as she described an exhaustive search for a photo, resulting in a poorly scanned, grainy reproduction of a photo from an old newspaper report. Birth dad looks about ten in it. I can hardly make out his features.
There's also a full page about OB's star sign. Any of the social workers that actually met me would have known not to bother putting that in there, but there it is in full colour.
It's not all bad. There is useful information about his birth and early months - stuff I didn't know like the time he was born, his birth weight - things a mother should know about her son. And the biographical information about birth mum and dad will be useful. And there are lots of good photos of birth mum and birth grandma. All that will be put to good use.
But I'm disappointed. Not so much by the quality of the book, but by the trouble it's taken to actually get hold of it, and the obfuscation surrounding it. Why did it take 18 months? Apparently, the person that was making it was 'really busy' and then 'off sick for ages'. It never ceases to amaze me how, in such a vital service as children's social care, there never seems to be any contingency for a person being off sick. Work just simply sits on their desk or in their cupboard where they left it and there never seems to be anybody who knows the first thing about it. I try to imagine what would happen if a teacher went off sick and all the pupils were just left to sit in an empty classroom until she returned!
As I was given it, I was told that it had been ready 'for ages' but there was a delay getting a manager to sign off on it. So easy to push the blame up the line. It was my manager's fault for not getting round to signing off on it. It was the government's fault for not giving us enough money. But there is information in that book that only came to light in the last couple of weeks when OB's birth grandma came into social services to do her letterbox letter. So it can't have been ready for that long can it?! In fact I'm pretty sure that the rather no-holds-barred email sent by my adoption social worker just before she left was the motivating factor for getting it done in the end. And still the Later Life Letter isn't ready. I have virtually no hope of ever seeing it.
Getting things like the Life Story Book done accurately and in a timely fashion might not seem so important in the grand scheme of things, but it is part of the promise to adopters made during our training and approval process. It is the first rung on the ladder of our post-adoption support. Failure to complete it properly and speedily calls into doubt all the other promises that were made to us. It gives the impression that once the adoption order is signed, the adoptive parents and their newly-made families fall way, way down the list of priorities.
OB's Life Story Book exhibits the sort of lack of care and attention to detail that I find replicated throughout this whole system at every level. I hear about massive case loads and busy, over-worked staff and I don't disbelieve it, but I would be more sympathetic if, for instance, any professional could complete a meeting only in the time strictly necessary to do so. The frantic pace of work theory stops holding water when social workers regularly make what could be a 20 minute meeting take upwards of an hour. At a recent LAC review, the three professionals who attended hung around in my living room for 15 minutes after their folders closed on the review, discussing office re-shuffles and the state of the local CAMHS service.
This was a review for which I received no paperwork in advance, and which was missing two people because nobody thought to invite them. The social worker that represented Baby Girl (hers was off sick!) knew absolutely nothing about her and didn't even have the file with her. The Health Visitor only managed to come because I had told her myself that it was happening - she didn't receive the invitation she should have had.
I don't know what I think about outsourcing elements of children's social care - of course, some of it is outsourced anyway to private adoption and fostering services - but I'm concerned that what we have now is neither efficient nor effective and I seriously doubt that there is anybody currently working within the system that has the vision and courage to make the changes necessary. Individual social workers will obviously rank on a scale from awesome to awful, as in any job, but it's the institutional problems that beset the system that should give most cause for concern. You can throw all the money in the world at an ineffective service and all you'll get is an ineffective service with swankier equipment and lovely new stationery.
In the meantime, we foster carers and adopters must get on the best we can with what we've got. I don't know what I'll do with this Life Story Book. Maybe I'll cannibalise it and make something better out of the constituent parts, or maybe I'll just leave it as it is and let it be an object lesson for OB about what happens when we don't pay attention to detail in our work! That's a home educator talking!