Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Mixing foster carers and adopters

Friends of ours who foster are going through the assessment to adopt and have shared some of their experiences so far with us. It's interesting to hear about things from the other side, as of course Jack-Jack was adopted from our care, and Belle's placement order has been granted so family finding for her is underway.

Our friends have said that one of the strangest parts of their assessment was going on the adoption training course and being the only foster carers amongst a sea of fresh-faced adopters. It struck us as odd to have adopters and foster carers on the same course (foster carers are not invited to adoption training to speak and share their experiences, so the only time foster carers would attend is if they were themselves adopting.) As foster carers we know the system. We've cared for the traumatised children they're talking about, we've met birth parents, we've heard countless histories of abuse and neglect, we've gone through adoption introductions ourselves.

Foster carers, as a group, can be somewhat cynical and matter-of-fact when we get together at training or coffee mornings. We have so many shared experiences, we understand what each other are going through, we're quite difficult to shock, and foster carer coffee mornings usually involve a lot of moaning. It's a frustrating job - we work extremely hard for the children we care for and come up against so many barriers as social workers are overworked or services are oversubscribed. Sometimes it's a case of laughing otherwise we'd cry, and we need a safe place to unload and vent.

The adoption training usually comes before the full assessment starts, so the adopters may have little to no understanding of trauma, loss, abuse and adoption at this point.

Our friends said that one of the group exercises was "write down as many examples of physical/emotional/sexual abuse or neglect that you can think of." An upsetting exercise, but the point of the session was to make the adopters think about what their future child may have gone through before they were taken into care. In their small group, the adopters wrote down a few examples such as not keeping the children clean, not giving them enough food, hitting them etc. and then the foster carers joined in and rattled off twenty or so examples from the various histories of children they'd cared for, ranging from relatively minor to extreme. They suddenly noticed the adopters faces going ashen and toned it down, stepping back from the conversation.

It must be extremely hard as a social worker or experienced adopter delivering adoption training. You don't want to scare off the group of keen and eager adopters in front of you but it would be doing the children a disservice not to tell the truth and pretend that life was going to be rosy. Adoption is not for everyone and it is so different to parenting a child born to you - the child's past is always going to be their past and adopters need to feel comfortable sharing it with the child at an age appropriate level throughout their childhood. Most adopters these days are expected to write letters to their child's birth parents, grandparents or siblings once a year and there may be face to face contact with the child's foster carers if they were with them a long time, or with siblings who have also been placed for adoption. Relatives and friends may not understand and may even unknowingly undermine the child's placement with their forever family at first, and it can feel extremely isolating needing to parent a child in a different way to meet their needs.

I do think it would be a good idea to involve foster carers in the delivery of adoption training to give another view point, but perhaps separate training sessions should be held for foster carers who are adopting - taking out all the information we are already well informed on and focussing on the future - letterbox contact, talking to your child about adoption, the differences between caring for a foster child and an adopted child, and continuing to foster after adoption. Time for a letter to BAAF perhaps!

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