It's National Adoption Week and t'interweb is buzzing with back and forth opinions about its remit, efficacy and relevance to adopters and adoptees. I understand that the celebratory nature of the event and its obvious emphasis on recruitment above all else can raise people's hackles, especially those who are experiencing real daily hardship in their adoptive families, or living with the lifelong effects of having been adopted.
For myself I've made a conscious decision to let it go. I have questions about the amount of money spent on recruitment of prospective adopters generally compared to the amount spent on supporting those adopters after the adoption order. I have questions about the need to keep on and on recruiting when currently the numbers of children with placement orders are tanking and prospective adopters are waiting with apparently no end in sight and fierce competition for matches.
On the other hand, there are children waiting, and many of these are harder to place - older children, sibling groups, children from ethnic minorities, children with additional needs - so the focus this year on older children ("Too Old At Four?") does not seem misplaced. Many raise their eyebrows at the lack of any mention of the challenges involved in adopting an older child, but then there are also adopters and adoptees speaking positively of their own experiences.
So, yeah, I let it go. Certainly much more could be done and said regarding post adoption support, and regarding the actual lived experiences of adoptees, but I'm not sure a special 'week' should or ever could effectively achieve this. I'm happy to see non-governmental organisations taking advantage of the heightened awareness of adoption issues generated by the week to push their less popular and arguably more realistic agendas, but it's definitely a conversation that needs to be ongoing and targeted to those who can actually make a difference.
And then yesterday, an article appeared in the Daily Mirror that was quickly circulated all over the internet. First 4 Adoption, the organisers of this year's National Adoption Week, wanted to introduce us to Grace, a 3-year-old with quite complex health needs who had been waiting all her life for somebody to adopt her. Her foster carers are nearing retirement. Could we find her a new adoptive family before Christmas?
Personally I found it extremely conflicting, and not a little stomach churning. I do not like to see individual children 'advertised' like that. It does not sit well with me. It wasn't so much the lack of detail in the article about Grace's actual needs (although I thought it did make clear that she had significant additional medical needs and would need a full-time parent to accommodate them), or the lack of any hint as to the difficulties that might face any family adopting her. If I thought that they were prepared to send her home with any random family that called in then, yes, that would have been a serious issue, but in reality they will be looking for adopters who are already approved, who have already been through preparation and given some thought to what life with an adopted, special needs child might look like. If their preparation was inadequate to prepare them, then that's a serious but separate issue. This was an advert and, like all adverts, it was hardly likely to focus on the negatives.
The question raised for me is whether such adverts are ever appropriate. I sincerely hope that the motivation was to find a family for that specific child, and not to make her some sort of poster girl for adoption in general, but its timing at the end of National Adoption Week makes me doubt the purity of the motive. On the foster carer side of the adoption fence, I can understand the desire to 'flesh out' what can often be a bleak pile of paperwork on some children. I have fostered children who, if I had seen their paperwork only, I would never have dreamed of adopting. And yet they were living with me and it was going fine. An abstract list of symptoms, disorders and concerns can be very off-putting. I felt that the foster carers of Grace were trying to show that the reality of parenting her was much more rewarding than the paperwork alone might have suggested.
Adoption Activity Days raise similar concerns. Is it right to parade children in front of prospective adopters like some sort of meat market? Part of me cringes at the thought. And yet Baby Girl, whose paperwork was absolutely dire and who was 'hard to place', found her family at such a day. Her personality and adorable countenance just shone through. In a few days I will go to their home to join with their celebrations at getting the Adoption Order, almost exactly a year after she was placed with them. Will they face difficulties? Probably. But they will face them as her parents, with a fierce love and passion. In the abstract, it's hard to imagine how it will be. But in reality, as parents, we would walk over hot coals for our children in a heartbeat, whatever it takes. Baby Girl's parents admitted to me during introductions that there were two health issues on her CPR that they had initially said no to when considering matching. But then they fell in love with her at first sight, went away, thoroughly researched the issues, and decided they would go ahead after all. Were they naive? Maybe. But somebody has to raise that beautiful child. Might as well be these people who love her. No parents are experts when they start out.
And yet, nagging at me is the thought that, one day in the future, an older Grace (I really hope that's not her real name) might find that picture of her younger self on the internet somewhere, along with the description of her as the child that "nobody wants". I can't get past it. I hope they find a family for her. I'm sure there are people out there who have what it takes. But she could not have given informed consent to have that photo and that information about her spread all over the internet. And she will never be able to undo it or take it back. Only she will ever be able to say whether the ends justified the means.