This week has seen the launch of a new UK adoption campaign called #YouCanAdopt. Many of the UK adoption agencies have got involved, as well as adoptive families. There’s been a shiny new ‘advert’ produced too.
There has been much chat on social media (mostly Twitter) around this campaign. There has been much debate around if we should be promoting adoption?, and if we are doing so, does this campaign give the right message in the right way?
I’m going to say now that I don’t think there is a clear cut right answer here, and there are lots of voices in this discussion. Some of which we hear strongly, some of which we don’t hear enough of. A lot of people have a lot of valid different things to add. I don’t think there was ever going to be a campaign or ‘advert’ that everyone was going to agree on or be happy with. What I am going to say does not mean that I am definitely for or against adoption. It doesn’t mean that I think what others say is not valid. It’s not to ‘have a go’ at anyone. I see adoption from an adopted person’s view, and also an adoptive parent. I see it from someone, who despite being adopted, was very naive and uneducated to the long term effects of adoption. I see it from someone who has altered my views over time. I see as someone who does work with our adoption agency, so yes I ‘promote’ it.
So, the campaign is all about letting people know that they can adopt. There are many many children currently in care, and they need adopting, The campaign aims to dispel the the myths around who can adopt. basically it tells people that whatever gender, colour, orientation, marital status, they can adopt. The advert encourages people to consider adoption, to find out more.
When I first watched the advert, I was immediately uncomfortable with it, and this feeling has grown each time I’ve seen it. I’m going to try to explain why. It’s not that I’m against adoption itself. I am adopted, and I think that it was right for me. Without adoption I would not be the person I am today. I feel very lucky each day that I was able to grow up with the family that I have now. I have adopted my daughter. She is wonderful, precious and so very loved. She has changed my life for the better. I do think that in some cases, adoption is the best option for children. So, back to the advert, it made me uncomfortable, why?
Firstly, it gives a very one sided view of adoption. In portrays an almost fairytale picture of adoption. The advert describes adoption with bold, positive statements, such as ‘adoption is beautiful’ ‘family is forever’ ‘the most magical thing you’ve ever done’ Apart from the odd nod to more difficult times, such as ‘be prepared for a challenge’, and when talking about the children ‘just like any other, they will sometimes drive you wild’, there is nothing, nothing at all to indicate that adoption comes from trauma. Any child coming into adoption will do so because of trauma, even if they are ‘adopted at birth’. Adoption in itself can be trauma. There is no mention of the fact that in most cases, any links to birth family are severed, that identity if changed forever. These result of these traumas will often stay with those children for their lifetime. Parenting these children takes therapeutic parenting. Yes, it is rewarding, yes it can be magical, but I don’t think trauma, and the consequences of it are beautiful.
Of course I know that this campaign is not for me or for other adoptive parents, it’s for those who don’t already know about adoption. Looking back now, I’m pretty sure that before we adopted, or when we had newly adopted, I would have loved this advert. It probably would have worked on me, and I would have believed it. I think at that stage I probably did believe in the happy ever after narrative. It’s only now I’ve learnt and experienced adoption a lot more, that my perceptions have changed. I see a fair few adoptive parents unhappy with this advert, but, I wonder if they’d say the same thing. After all, we did all adopt, so must have thought there is some good in adoption to have done so. We were the prospective adopters one day. I wonder if we believed it because in our hearts, we just really wanted a family. Hope is a powerful thing, did it blind us? I do think that adoption prep training has moved on quite a bit in recent years, and the voices of adopted people are starting to be heard more. That the realities of adoption are more openly discussed.
I guess if the campaign told it how it was for many struggling families, they would never get anyone wanting to adopt would they? I really do hope that once prospective adopters are in assessment and training, that they are told more about the realities of adoption. I think that agencies, and experienced adoptive parents have a duty to do so. Not to scare them, or put them off, but so that these parents are the most prepared they can be to parent their children. These children deserve to have parents who are trauma aware, who will be able to support them in whatever way they need. This is why I do support our adoption agency, because I do believe that adoption can be, and is a good thing. I want to help them to tell prospective adopters about what to expect, and what they can do to help. This is why we help with the contact with birth family training. because we know that in many cases, it is safe. It is hugely beneficial. feedback from these sessions has been that people’s perceptions have totally changed, and where they never thought about contact before, now the’d be open to consider that.
Another thing that makes me uncomfortable about this campaign and advert is that it does not really include the voices of adopted people. yes, there is an adopted adult featured, and several children. But, as an adoptive person on twitter mentioned, ‘they only included the happy adoptee’ Of course, if they’d included someone with an unhappy view, then it wouldn’t be doing their campaign any favours, so I understand this. But, the whole campaign makes me wonder just how much those in leadership and power actually listen to adopted people. if they truly did, then they would know that many adopted people hate the ‘happily ever after’ narrative. They hate the ‘forever families’ narrative. They would know that ‘kindness, patience, love and a room’ does not fix the challenges that result of adoption and trauma. The voices of adopted people seriously need to be elevated more. Yes, what they have to say is challenging, and makes us uncomfortable. But, as I’ve seen it say, adopted adults are our adopted children grown up. Our small children will grow up, and have views/opinions about adoption. we need to listen to those voices now, so that we can try to get it right for our children. As adopted parents we need to make space for those voices, and advocate for them to be heard equally.
Lastly, some people have said that we shouldn’t be having a recruitment campaign for adoption, because children should not be needing to be adopted. If we put as much money and effort into family preservation as we do adoption, then would we even need adoption? sadly I do think that we will always need adoption. Some children will never be able to safely live in their birth family. Yes, there is the option of kinship or special guardianship care. But, sometimes, these options are not appropriate. In these cases, then every effort should be made to ensure that if able some links to birth family are maintained. Yes, adoption does legally sever ties, but in all honesty, it did to me, and I’m really not that bothered about it. Of course I do understand that many other adopted people are bothered about this, everyone is different, that’s ok. Maybe, other options such as long term foster care or guardianship should be considered more. It’s a complex debate, one I don’t think we’re going to solve any time soon.
Back to the need for adoption, I do agree that more needs to be done to keep first families together, so that they never get to the stage where adoption needs to become an option. These families need long term support. The advert states ‘there are children waiting, they’re further down the stream’. I really feel that if there was more support ‘up the stream’, then the number of children in care would be massively reduced. To me it makes so much sense, but it seems that that is the costly option, so unlikely to happen. I guess to those who feel children shouldn’t be adopted, maybe they should ensure that they are doing something to help ensure that those needing support get it. They need to speak out. They need to practically support organisations that provide support. Only this way will those who need to hear listen and take action.
So, to summarise, I have mixed views of this campaign. I do think it’s great it is so inclusive, and that it has included many types of families. Hopefully it will help to find the right adopters for the children who do need adoption. However, it doesn’t appear to show that those who made it have really sought or listened to the views of adopted people. It paints an unrealistic picture of adoption that I’m not sure is helpful to anyone. Yes, adoptive families can be amazing and very happy. The child might not live with their birth family, but to them they are still their forever too. We should never take that away from them. We need to be talking and doing more about how to support families before and during care proceedings. We need to be raising the voices of adopted people and including them in system changes.