Hi - just read your guardian article and I agree with lots of the points you've made. We have adopted 3 children and are still in touch with foster carers as we thought if they get used to seeing other important people disappear from their lives how will they know that we're not going to disappear at some point too. It's been tricky but I think worth it. More social work departments are encouraging keeping in touch with foster carers but it is difficult to do for everyone concerned. I think it's great that you're looking into how best to manage moves for children and bringing new research into current practice.
I am a foster carer of 23 years and have facilitated 13 adoptions, I was so happy to receive 'the children were fine' from my Adoption Manager because at last I felt someone was looking out for the best interests of the children, and not for the best interests of the adopters. I do so hope the momentum carries on.
I have experienced some good transitions, but also some very distressing ones.
Our piece in The Guardian's Social Care Network blog on Tuesday 1 December generated some lively debate
On Tuesday we wrote about our research for the Guardian's social care blog: gu.com/p/4ejkp/stw
Reading the lively set of responses we were struck, as always, by how emotive and complex this topic is, and how much passionate feeling it can provoke - strong agreement and equally strong disagreement. It is always humbling to hear from people who have direct personal experience, and to remember again and again that each case carries so many contradictions, complexities and individual personalities that there can never be a one size fits all solution.
The strong reactions to the piece also gave a snapshot of just some of the intense feelings we encountered in our research, as well as in our own experiences of adoptive moves. Intense feelings among and between the adults can become all-consuming when children are being moved into their adoptive homes. There is the inevitable anxiety and tensions between foster carers and adopters; it is very hard for one group not to feel undermined or under threat from the other, given the circumstances. Also the opposing and strongly held schools of thought about whether it is better to keep alive old attachments or to close them off when separation occurs.
Adult adoptees express very different reactions to this, as seen in some of the responses - some are full of grief about painful losses not being recognised; others feeling they should be left to attach to adoptive parents without being forced to remember their past lives. The array of differing responses to this question are crucial to try to understand, they can only deepen our knowledge and understanding of the adoptive process and are invaluable in developing better guidelines in this area.
We are grateful to The Guardian for giving us a platform to share our research and help to keep alive this very important and complex debate.
Please continue to contact us with your own responses. We are keen to hear from people across the field who have some insight or experience to share with others.
I read with interest your article in the Guardian. I am a children's social worker who is also an adoptive mum. We maintained a relationship with our son's foster carer and her family which continues to this day. Birthday and Christmas presents are exchanged and we have been to weddings and christenings.
We have pictures of his foster family in his bedroom - they had looked after him as a small baby up to nearly three years old, when he was placed with us. His foster carer passed away and with the foster family we supported him through that and maintained contact with her adult daughter.
Initially I admit to feeling threatened; she had been the only 'mother' figure he had known. I read a really old book by Vera Fahlberg and slept on it. My husband and I agreed his emotional wellbeing was most important - more than anything else - so we got on with it.
You are both highlighting one area, as I am sure you both know there are other parts of the adoption 'journey' that need thought as well.
Adoption can be a traumatic upheaval and our care systems aren't helping - article written by us for The Guardian Social Care Network blog
Article by Sophie Boswell and Lynne Cudmore, child psychotherapists
Adoption can bring huge long-term gains for children, but leaving a previous carer also involves a major loss. So how do we help children manage this huge upheaval in their lives?
Received wisdom in social work suggests that a quick, clean break is best. It is usual practice for children to move home seven to 10 days after meeting their new parents, and contact with their foster carer after the move is generally no earlier than three months, and often a long time after that. In reality, many children never see their foster carer again.
As two child psychotherapists working in a social work team, we became concerned about the impact these abrupt moves were having on the children. The sudden loss, we felt, was likely to leave them bewildered, distressed and fearful of future losses – not the best position from which to try to build a trusting relationship with their new parents.
We could see that the adults involved were sensitive and thoughtful people whose aim was to make the transition as painless as possible. And yet, when the time came, these rigid procedures appeared to be adhered to blindly, with no one able to say exactly why this clean break approach was best, and nobody confident enough to try another way.
One example is Kyle*, who was placed with his foster carer, Liz, at a few weeks old. For the first three years of his life she provided him with love and stability, comforting him after the intense weekly contact sessions with his birth parents and welcoming him into her family as if he were her own child. A deep bond grew between them, and he clearly felt safe and loved. When adoptive parents were found for him, amid the excitement, both Kyle’s social worker and Liz expressed great anxiety about how he would cope with the separation.
Despite much discussion about what this might mean for Kyle, we were still told that Kyle would have to move home 10 days after meeting his new parents, and would then have no contact with Liz for three months. Any deviation from this was seen as too risky, undermining the adoptive placement and confusing Kyle. This, we were told, was how moves had always been done.
On his last night with Liz, Kyle slept with his arms clasped around her neck. When the time came to say goodbye, he was surprisingly quiet and compliant, and this was interpreted as a sign that he was fine. Once he had moved in with his new parents, they were left to make the decision about whether he would ever see Liz again.
Soon after this, we began work on a research project into why moves were carried out in this way. Through analysing semi-structured interviews with social workers, foster carers and adopters, we identified a blind spot in people’s minds that prevented them from seeing what was going on with the child at an emotional level.
Various reasons for this stood out: anxiety about undermining the adoptive parents, fear of encountering unbearable pain in the children and, more generally, a systemic reliance on procedure as a defence against distress. Like Kyle, the children usually withdrew into a compliant state, which people took as evidence that they were fine.
We think these moves should be brought in line with what we know about attachment and loss in early childhood. Wherever possible, the relationship between child and foster carer should be maintained by all the adults throughout the transition and beyond, at least until the child has begun to settle and feel safe with their new family. In Kyle’s case, with support from professionals, the adopters did arrange contact with Liz and went on to build a positive relationship with her, which continues today. This is still unusual.
However, things are beginning to change. A few adoption agencies are experimenting with slowing down timescales and introducing early and regular contact with former carers. More research is being planned, and we are getting feedback from other professionals, foster carers and adopters who share our concerns and desire for change.
If the care system and the professionals involved can provide a thoughtful and safe environment for the adults and the children at this turbulent time, we believe the transitions can be more gradual, less traumatic for children and provide a better foundation for new relationships.
* Names have been changed
This topic has been gaining momentum in recent months. This news section includes some examples of recent coverage.