Thursday, 29 March 2012

Becoming “Mummy”

(c) Garion88
Julia offers a realistic look at the joys and pitfalls of adopting on her own and the impact of her decision on herself, her family and close friends. She also describes the reactions of others around her in her town: employers, neighbours and teachers.

The first day I met Alan I was sort of in shock, really, and feeling naturally terribly nervous. I knew a lot about Alan and I'd seen some pictures of him. He'd heard of me too. I'd made him a little book about myself, my family and my home, and I knew that his foster mother, whom Alan called Nanny, had been going through the book with him. In the book I'd written 'Hello, my name is Julia,' but Nanny, who knew better, had apparently been saying to him, 'Look, Alan, that's Mummy.' Now, Alan had never really called anyone else Mummy. He'd had regular contact with his birth mother. But she didn't figure much in his life. He knew other children had mummies, because his friends at nursery school had mummies who came to collect them at the end of each session. How was he to know what mummies were and how was he to know they didn't just turn up one day out of the blue and claim their little boys, just as I was about to?

When I arrived at the foster family's home, I trembled as I knocked on the door. Nanny opened it, we said hello and then suddenly there was little Alan, bright as a button and very excited. 'Who’s this?' Nanny asked. 'It's Mummy,' cried Alan.

I was astonished at this bright little chap who knew I was his mummy. When I remember that moment, in my head it's like one of those romantic wedding pictures that you see, where the couple are in the centre of the picture and they're framed by a sort of blurry line that suggests the mists of time or whatever. The truth is that he came running to the door, with a bottle of sugary drink dripping all over him. He had something horrible and sticky all round his mouth and his nappy, a frankly rather stinky one, was hanging off him. Somehow, although it must have registered somewhere in my memory, I didn't notice that at the time. Love at first sight? Yes, I think so.

Julia adopted Alan as a single parent. You can read more about her adoption story in Flying Solo.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Trans-racial Adoption: From Vietnam, to Hong Kong to Britain

For Jessica Emmett, being trans-racially adopted has been a roller-coaster of emotions. Her personal story spreads from Vietnam to Hong Kong and finally the UK. At times it has been an up hill struggle, but she believes bridging the three cultures has brought benefits too.

"I was born in 1982 in Hong Kong to Vietnamese parents who were refugees from the war. I don't know the full circumstances of my adoption except that I was relinquished.

"I was fostered by a British expat family. It was my foster sister who named me Jessica-Jane, which was shortened to JJ. In Chinese JJ loosely translates to sister. They clearly cared a lot about me. I wasn't just a stop over.

"Eventually I was adopted by a white British expat couple. I had a very British upbringing. I went to an international school, and went through the British education system. But the expat community is quite strange - it's easy to feel isolated. Being adopted in to that community was even stranger. I felt I wasn't allowed to say I was Chinese, or Vietnamese, and I struggled a lot with my culture and identity.

"When I was 16 my parents wanted to retire, so moved back to the UK. They felt Hong Kong was the place they worked, but the UK was where their roots were. Although I'd been to the UK many times the expat view of the UK is very different from what it's really like. Also the way people view you is very different from how you view yourself. British people saw me as Chinese, but I didn't see myself as that. It was a very traumatic and difficult time.

"We moved to a small town in Yorkshire and I was sent to an all girls' grammar school. It was so different from Hong Kong and I really struggled. People seemed to have a very narrow view of the world and didn't have the same open mindedness I was used to.

"I did find one person who seemed to understand me. He went to the boys school down the road. He was the only person I felt had a wider sense of the world and he didn't look at me as a minority. In 2005 he became my husband.

"Now I call myself three things: British; Chinese and Vietnamese. I've learnt to own these things better, and I don't care about the boxes others put me in. I'm glad I'm trans-racially adopted as I can have a foot in more than one world. Although there are struggles, there are definitely benefits too.

"It's not just adopted people that experience difficulties with identity. It's anyone who has a story of different races and cultures. The difference is that mixed race people often have access to those cultures through their parents, which trans-racially adopted people don't always have.

"I think it's really important for trans-racially adopted people to have someone who can give them access to their culture. It might seem easier to gain that access through a same race adoptive parent but it definitely is not the only way. Adoptive parents need to educate themselves on the difficulties their child might face, and find a way to integrate their culture into the family in as natural way as possible."

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

BAAF response to the Government's Adoption Action Plan

Last week, Prime Minister David Cameron announced new adoption proposals - including faster family finding and plans for the Adoption Register. Today, the Department for Education have released an Action Plan for Adoption, which builds on last week's announcements. Here, BAAF's Chief Executive David Holmes speaks out about the Adoption Plan.

BAAF welcomes the publication of the Government's Action Plan on Adoption. We share the Government's determination to eliminate unnecessary delay in adoption and to make the adoption system in England the best in the world. We know that adoption works and we see every day how it transforms children's lives.

In recent months BAAF has been an active member of the Government's Expert Working Group which has considered reforms to the current system of recruitment, training and assessment of prospective adopters. We also welcome the publication today of the detailed report of that Expert Working Group.

It is important to say that the current adoption system in England works well for many children needing adoption and for many prospective adopters. There are many dedicated professionals working in adoption and the large majority of adoptions from care in England last for a lifetime. Although comprehensive data is not yet collected we believe that most adoption placements are secure and stable although we recognise for a small number this is not so and some placements do break down. This very good success rate is due in no small part to careful, professional social work as well as to the unfailing love, resilience and commitment shown by so many adoptive families to the children whom they adopt.

In understanding the adoption system in England it is important to note that we have more than 170 adoption agencies across the country. Thousands of new children and prospective adopters come into the adoption system every year and tens of thousands of adoptive families require support at any one time. Our biggest challenge is to ensure that the adoption system works consistently well for children and adopters irrespective of where they live or which agency is involved or what stage they have reached in the adoption process. 

For BAAF, radical adoption reform necessitates attention being given to the different aspects of the system that need to work together.

For children requiring adoption we need a system:

- That ensures that the child's plan for adoption is made at the right time taking into account the child's assessed needs;
- That then works tirelessly to deliver the agreed adoption plan within the child's timescales;
- That minimizes court delay;
- That matches children to adopters that can meet their assessed needs (again within the child's timescales); and
- That gives the child the support they need at all times to make the adoption work.

For adopters we need a system:

- That welcomes prospective adopters in;
- That ensures a consistent experience whichever agency is chosen;
- That gives them accurate information about the needs of children waiting;
- That prepares them properly to care for those children;
- That assesses them carefully and robustly but with appropriate urgency too;
- That matches them to children whose needs they can meet or can be supported to meet; and
- That works across organisational boundaries e.g. in health and education to ensure that adopters are given the support they need when they need it from all relevant services.

Delivering this requires a stable, well-trained and supported workforce, sufficient investment in adoption services and consistently excellent practice.

With this in mind we welcome the proposal to create a National Gateway for Adoption alongside existing information services. Such a service will help to ensure that prospective adopters receive consistent high quality advice and information at the beginning of their adoption journey. We will all need to ensure that when prospective adopters are then referred on to individual agencies that the service they receive is equally consistent. Establishing a Gateway should not minimize the importance of high quality local responses.

The proposal to shorten assessment timescales to a total of 6 months for the majority of prospective adopters is challenging. The pressing task now is to ensure that sufficient thought is given to how such a system will work in practice and in the best interests of prospective adopters and children. BAAF has an important role to play here in thinking through with agencies the detail of how the new assessment process will operate. There is no doubt that some assessments will need to take longer than 6 months depending on the individual circumstances of some prospective adopters and we are pleased that the Government has recognised this.

We support the Government's focus on measuring performance in adoption but we are also pleased to see that the proposed adoption scorecard seeks to balance a range of factors in judging performance. In particular it is vital to separate out delay that is the sole responsibility of the local authority from delay that is due to the functioning of other parts of the system such as court delay. We are pleased to see that the Government recognises that in measuring performance we must not penalise agencies that are seeking to find adoptive placements for children who we know wait longer such as children in large sibling groups. Performance measurement in adoption needs to be sophisticated if it is to be an accurate indicator of true performance.

Finally, if adoption is to be transformed in England we must redouble our efforts to ensure that we are recruiting more people who positively want to adopt the children who we know wait longer. There is a chronic shortage of adopters for children in sibling groups, disabled children and older children and this must be tackled. We must also ensure that we invest in adoption support so that the necessary support is always there when needed.

David Holmes
Chief Executive

For more information, please visit the main BAAF website.

Friday, 9 March 2012

A response to David Cameron's adoption proposals

As the Prime Minister David Cameron announces new adoption proposals, BAAF's Chief Executive David Holmes weighs in with his thoughts on the announcements - including thoughts on faster family finding and plans for the Adoption Register.

Reducing Delay - Maximising Opportunities for Children
BAAF welcomes the Government's new proposals to minimise delay in the placement of children for adoption. This is a shared objective for all professionals working in adoption. Childhood is precious and all too short. We owe it to children needing adoption to make the best decisions about their future that we can within their timescales.

There are a range of important factors that need to be taken into account in identifying a suitable match between the needs of the child and what adopters have to offer. It is to be welcomed that no one factor should be allowed to act as a barrier in identifying a suitable match. It is also essential that in placing a child, their needs in the longer term are properly understood including their connection to and sense of belonging to their adoptive family and community.

Faster family finding
Initiatives that maximise the opportunity for children who have an agreed plan for adoption to be cared for by their potential adoptive parents are to be welcomed and supported. The consequences for young children in moving between carers while the case is resolved in the courts have long been recognised as being serious. Wherever possible, the risks and uncertainties during this period must be carried by the adults and not the child. This has been achieved in specialist projects such as concurrent planning and the principles that apply in these projects should be extended to a larger group of children where adoption is the identified local authority plan.

Referral of Children to the Adoption Register
BAAF welcomes the plan to legislate to require early referrals of children to the Adoption Register. This builds helpfully on existing guidance. It is essential that approved prospective adopters are also referred early in exactly the same way. Every opportunity needs to be taken to maximize the chances of a child being matched with prospective adopters from the national pool. At the same time we must also focus on increasing the supply of prospective adopters and particularly the number of adopters who want to adopt the children who we know wait longer such as those in sibling groups or with complex needs. At present there are over 2000 children on the register and fewer than 400 adopters. This proposal will help adoption agencies to maintain a national overview of the mismatch between children who have a plan for adoption and approved prospective adopters to enable targeted recruitment campaigns.

We look forward to working with the Government on behalf of our membership as it develops and consults on the proposed new legislation in all these areas.

David Holmes
Chief Executive

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