I had the great fortune to speak at conference for the Welsh National Adoption Service in Cardiff this week, and the even greater fortune to follow Lynne Cudmore, co-author of ‘The children were fine’: a report on the “complex feelings in the move from foster care to adoption”.
Not only was Lynne the most wonderful speaker, whose gentle but powerful style must have come directly from her Welsh forebears, but her subject matter filled me with the kind of passion only the righteous in a Merthyr Methodist chapel could have felt.
Lynne’s insight was on how the focci of the transition during introductions shifts subtly away from the child to the ‘process’, and how following that, in the ‘quadrat’ of adoption, the primary and defining relationship becomes between the birth family and the new adoptive family, with the foster carers moving from Mum and Dad to dutiful professionals. And how all these movements can deny the child the opportunity to grieve in a healthy way the pain of another severance.
I hated introductions. Everything about it felt wrong. It felt designed by a project manager with the goal to “get it all over with”. I didn’t get a sense that this process had been designed over many years with the extensive support of those who understood severance and grief. Just the well-meaning. I just couldn’t understand how you could read Dan Siegel or Nancy Verrier and then agree to move a child from their own hard-won precarious, sense of permanence to severance and then back to “permanence” within 7-10 days.
I couldn’t understand why the general consensus was that we should “leave it a few months” before seeing the foster parents again. Just to make sure, I guess, that the child genuinely believed they were unwanted – as opposed to simply fearing it.
I couldn’t understand the language of “choice” in deciding whether to have future and on-going contact with the foster family. As if it was our choice to make. As if the feelings that mattered in this were mine and my husband’s – and not our son’s.
I couldn’t understand how we could learn that feelings expressed were always better than feelings oppressed and then have it suggested by others that if contact with foster parents caused our LO distress we may consider stopping it. As though being able to say “Leaving the foster-parents seemed to have little effect on Jonny” was a good thing.
I still don’t understand how we can know that our children take each severance as a rejection of their very self and then accept it when we hear of a foster family who refuse contact with their previous wards because it “upsets them”. It makes me mad. Who cares how they feel.
In medical terms an insult is a physical or mental injury, and in many senses a trauma is also an insult to the brain – causing the formation of pathways that may not be beneficial to the child. Is the way we currently manage that transition simply the final insult?
I’m a nice person. I understand and empathise with the complexities of feelings this transition creates. However I’m not so liberal that I think that the feelings of the adults affected by the movement into adoption matter that much.
I feel astonished that we have learned so much about neuroscience, trauma and attachment and yet design a process and make decisions that we must know deep down are more about adults and systems than children and feelings. I believe that as we learn more we will recognise that our good intentions in balancing the needs of all parties in the transition to ‘permanence’ we may in fact be harming again – but with our gentle hands.
Please don’t be offended if you have navigated this process with sensitivity and empathy and reached a different decision – fully in the interests of your child. Your child may have had multiple foster-carers, or those who fostered but didn’t care. They may have taken a brisk professionals who swept in and swept out. There are many reasons why contact may not be healthy, and I do not know your life. Forgive me if I make wild sweeping judgements on others – no two situations can ever be the same. But I do believe changing the way we look at adoption, and specifically this transition where we have an opportunity to be more intelligent, more informed and more child-centred, means we may need to accept that we have been part of the problem we spend our lives trying to fix – and that there is a better way.