Saturday, 5 November 2011

Placing a child for adoption: A social worker's story

As National Adoption Week draws to a close, we hear from a social worker about the realities of placing a child for adoption.

I am a Team Manager for a South East based Adoption Team and have worked in adoption for 20 years. My teams co-work adoption cases with the child's social worker to steer them through the legal process, preparing children for new families, and recruiting, assessing and training adopters. It is challenging, frustrating, fascinating and rewarding! The rewards can be amazing, but the disappointments are big.

Placing a child whose very damage and trauma has been caused by an adult that they trusted, and then choosing and training an unrelated adult to re-parent them and encourage them to love again is complex. Oddly I find people understand this in the context of a rescue pet, which they expect to be withdrawn, fearful, aggressive and unpredictable, but they assume that children will respond positively as soon as their environment changes. You need to know how to give love to a child who may not want it and will take time to respond. You need to accept that other parents and even close family members may not understand your struggles. It takes a confident, resilient, grounded and secure person to do this and it is a very different role to birth parenting.

99% of children adopted in the UK today are from the care system. They are children who the courts have deemed cannot return to their birth families. The local authority must find a 'permanent substitute family' for them. Research has shown that the best outcomes for such children lie in adoption.

A misunderstanding is that all children in care need adoption when for most of these children, being in care is a temporary experience while their parents are unwell or need support. Another assumption is that we exist to assess anyone who wants to adopt, which adds to the pain for those we do not accept. They feel that we are deeming them 'inadequate or undeserving'. However, adoption agencies must find suitable families for their specific and finite group of children, so the number and kind of adopters accepted is determined by this, not by personal worth of the applicants. We get far more enquiries for very young children with no health or behavioural issues than we need, so we cannot accept all such applications. I understand the huge disappointment if we turn someone down as often adoption is the last resort for childless couples who want a family. We try to explain the reasoning but people can become angry and misunderstandings about our decisions spread. I cannot fix everything and I am employed to fix the child's situation not the adults', but I do have compassion.

The hardest thing for people to understand is why we turn people away when they read about a 'shortage of adopters'. It is not a numerical shortfall, rather a shortage of adopters for certain children - the over 4s, sibling groups and children with complex needs. That is why we focus on this group of children in National Adoption Week. It is not about accumulating numbers but finding special families for these children.

The reality for older and more complex children is that we rarely do the turning down; it is the adults who decline the child when they learn the extent of their problems.

So, if you can consider parenting a possibly sad, cross, mistrustful child where the potential rewards are enormous please contact your local adoption team. Help us to spread the word about what adoption is really about.

For more info and advice about adoption, head to the National Adoption Week website.

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