Post Adoption Support: should we have it?

This week is National Adoption Week, and there has been much talk about adoption. There has been many voices heard, and many views shared. It’s been great to listen, to participate in discussions. To share my experiences, and to learn from others. There has been much chat about if we should even be having a National Adoption Week because it is essentially a recruitment drive to find more adopters. The stats show that there are currently more children ‘waiting to be adopted’ then there are potential adopters. I’m not going to go into the arguments around if we should have adoption in the first place, or f we should have a National Adoption Week at all because that’s for another day. I am going to try to explain why I think that Post Adoption Support is really needed.

A big theme of the current discussions seems to be around ‘preservation” , specifically around family preservation before adoption is even considered to be an option. I get that if first/birth families were helped and supported more, then in some cases it would never get to needing adoption. If families could be helped to manage their lives so that children are safe and able to grow up safely, then families wouldn’t need to be broken up by adoption. If children could be supported to stay in birth families, then they wouldn’t have the life-long consequences of adoption. For example, a loss of identity and relationship with their birth family. If families could be supported more during and after care proceedings, then subsequent children may have more of a chance of staying with their families.

However, in some cases, children can not stay safely with their families, and some will need to be adopted. Adoption isn’t for every child, but for many children, it will give them the chance to be a child again. To grow and to thrive. It will give them stability and secure base that they couldn’t get before.

Today I was challenged by someone who felt that funding should be used for family preservation and not for post adoption support. That funding for family preservation should be the priority. I agreed with them in that family preservation is really important, and that there should be more support available so that it didn’t get to the stage where a child needed to be adopted.

However, I had to disagree with them that there should be no post adoption support. Their argument was that adoptive families should just get on with it, because our choices should not take priority over keeping families together. That adoptive families should find a way to either get the help themselves, or already have the skills needed to care for children with very high levels of need.

I feel that most adopters will do everything they can to support their child. Sometimes this means being supported by skilled professionals who can assess and provide the appropriate intervention. I pointed out that most adoptive parents are just that, parents. We’re not therapists, and that’s why we pay therapists to help us learn to do the right thing. Also, a lot of the time, a child’s needs are not fully known at the time of adoption. We can’t predict what they might need in the future. We commit to l support the child for the rest of their lives, and this includes doing everything we can to make sure they have access to appropriate and helpful external support.

Many parents will be willing, and do pay privately for specialist assessments and interventions, but sometimes they just can’t afford too. In some cases the needs of the child amount to so much that working, and caring for them are not possible. Most parents try and manage the best they can for as long as they can, and sometimes asking for help, admitting they are struggling can actually be really hard. They then need to be treated with compassion, empathy, understanding. Just like those birth parents who needed support right back at the beginning should have been. It’s not a case of some people being more deserving than another really. At the end of the day, it shouldn’t be about the adults, it should be for the benefit of the child.

As a family we have had, and benefitted from post adoption support in various forms. We have had formal support from the Adoption Support Fund in the form of therapy and life story work. It was really helpful, and we have been able to use what we’ve learnt every day at home. We feel very grateful that we were able to access this support. We engaged in a lengthy process with the LA because we felt that it was something our daughter needed, and she had a right to access that service.

But, there are many other forms of post adoption support that are equally vital, and to be honest, without, I’m not sure we’d be where we are right now. Among them is informal support from family, friends and other support services. We have engaged quite a bit with our adoption agency, and local adoption group. We’ve found the peer support invaluable. We’ve had the chance to chat to professionals, and to speak out our thoughts and worries. Together, we’ve been able to talk about strategies and things to help. Just having a named person to contact if needed makes such a difference. Support workers are vital, and sometimes having early low level support can prevent problems escalating to bigger issues and crisis points. It’s needed so much more for both first/birth families and adoptive families. It probably doesn’t cost a lot, but it does so much good. I wish there was more.

This weekend we had our first independent meet up with our daughter’s birth family. It was with someone who we’d met up with before a few times, but previously they’d always been accompanied by a support worker. This support has been withdrawn, partly due to just not having the resources (people , money, time) to send someone out on the contact sessions. We decided earlier in the year that as we weren’t going to have supervised sessions, we’d like to increase the frequency of these meet ups. Our support worker helped to organise this meeting, and communicated between everyone.

The actual meet up went brilliantly, and we could not have hoped for a better day. Our daughter was able to meet another member of her family. Someone who was, and will continue to be part of her story. She and her other relative picked up where they left off from the last time they saw each other. It was such a privilege to observe and be part of. Yesterday we were two families, that came together as one with a much loved little girl at the centre. It was wonderful and bittersweet too as it was a reminder of the loss they’ve all suffered, and of the relationships they can’t fully have. However, it gave hope that these are relationships that can be grown and deepened.

We could not have got to this stage without the brilliant post adoption support from the LA. This day had taken over 3years to work towards, with lots of support for us and birth family. This is why post adoption support is vital. Adoption can tear families apart, but done right, it can also bring them together too.