Adoption - A Binary Issue

01/06/2017 15:19

When I first stepped into the world of adoption I was almost evangelical in my views on the universal 'rightness' of adoption. It just made perfect sense, a simple equation.

(Adults who want children + children who need parents) + Adoption = Problem solved.

I told as many as I could about this wonderful and beautiful thing.

Of course, with hindsight I see that I knew pretty much nothing, had limited life experience and was suffering pretty severely from tunnel vision. To my shame I dismissed the original parents of my children, with little or no regard to their loss. As I saw it their loss was a natural consequence of their actions and more fool them.

A lot has happened in the intervening years, I've been a member of an Adoption Panel and read life histories of parents whose children were removed for adoption. As a student Social Worker I worked in statutory and non-statutory settings with families whose children were in the care system. What I saw was very rarely clear cut and often was hallmarked by repeated history, often vulnerable parents in very difficult circumstances frequently characterised by substance misuse, mental ill health, learning disability and abuse. I realised that the family court system is at its heart combative and social care seeks to remove any doubt about the capacity of birth parents to parent. In doing so it paints a picture that may not be fair.

All of this learning has made me reframed my view of my children's parents. There are no excuses for some of the things that happened but there are reasons and understanding them has made me a better adoptive parent. My views have changed but I've not made a binary switch to the opposite view where all adoption is wrong and represents a form of genocide of a class of children.

Increasingly I see the term 'Forced Adoption' used and as an adoptive parent - it's a chilling phrase. It is a blunt description of a point of view, that basically all adoption without consent is wrong. To extrapolate the few highlighted examples of injustice across all adoptions is naive and dangerous. The often-highlighted examples of miscarriages of justice are beyond the pale and the thought that the child I've adopted, love and care for is one of those few cases is frightening. However, there are some children who should not be cared for by their parents or have contact with their parents for their own wellbeing. A sentence that deserves it's full stop, no caveats or apologies just a statement of truth. These are not the examples that are used to rail against adoption, these are the stories that slip by unannounced.

I believe that the reality is more complicated than this binary position that adoption is right or adoption is wrong. The truth is that many children need to live in a permanent family, not just permanent in name, think 'permanent fostering', but with replacement mothers and fathers that can offer lifelong relationships and support. I also see that children need to have open doors to their past so that they are supported to manage and maintain safe relationships with appropriate members of their first families, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters cousins and grandparents.

Historically, adoption has slammed shut the door. I'm progressive by nature and I see that adoption needs to evolve with society as it reframes what family looks like and how we manage connections in the age of Facebook and Twitter. More than that, our views of human rights, mental health and the impacts of trauma and abuse through generations must inform how we care for vulnerable children who can never go home. What will adoption look like in 20 or 30 years? I believe the binary positions railing against 'Forced Adoption' or the cheerleading 'Adoption is the most wonderful thing we've ever done' are not helpful. We need to ask difficult questions to ensure that adoption evolves.

Our family's journey has taken us down some challenging paths and opened doors into the families of my children, a possibility that I never conceived of as I embarked on our adoption path. Yes, it has been hard to build and maintain those relationships but they have born fruit uniting the best of all of our children's worlds to help them make sense of the worse elements. We have had to evolve, shift and consider difficult decisions in the best interests of our children but to stand still or shut that door again has never been an option.

Am I still passionate about adoption? Yes, but I don't see it as a convenient solution but more a necessary but imperfect system in need of constant evolution and I certainly don't see it as a binary issue.

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