Abuse and neglect have obvious emotional, physical and psychological costs. The monetary impact is more challenging to analyse and anyone who does so risks vitriolic accusations of being as cold, insentient and azoic as the calculator used to make their estimates.
Consequently, it is difficult to ascertain if the Government's new £19.3 million support fund is enough to help adoptees who were abused or neglected overcome their experiences. Around 62% of the 3,450 children adopted in England last year experienced such circumstances before adoption and the fund will help their adoptive families access therapeutic facilities and intensive family support.
What can be ascertained is that the Government has finally recognised that abuse, neglect and trauma are not resolved simply by being adopted. Government officials should be applauded for identifying it is not 'job done' once a child is placed with a loving family.
Or should they?
The policy's glaring inadequacy is the assumption that only children who experienced abuse or neglect require recuperative support. It forgets that every adoption is an inherently harrowing, fundamentally life-changing experience with serious repercussions for the adoptee. It forgets that adoption is a trauma.
That suggestion may seem deplorably disrespectful to hard-working social workers and altruistic adopters, but why wouldn't adoption be traumatising? Every adoptee experiences one of life's most intensely painful events; the abrupt and unexpected loss of their mother. It happens when they are most vulnerable and when they struggle to express themselves or process the events. Is anything scarier to a child than being abandoned? For adoptees, it is a nightmare that came true. Even if it ultimately benefitted them, the separation left them deeply wounded. It traumatised them.
Yet it often remains unacknowledged that a child could be profoundly affected by this experience. Even when the bond is broken immediately after birth, it is devastatingly traumatic. Babies don't meet their mothers for the first time in the delivery room. They have already bonded physiologically and psychologically 'in-utero'. The bonding simply continues from prenatal to postnatal life. When that process is shattered, the infant cannot experience it as anything other than total abandonment.
This terrifically terrifying trauma disturbs the child and impedes their emotional development. Children need a sense of security and a safe environment to develop emotionally. They need a secure attachment to a parent or a trusted caregiver who can diffuse scary situations and soothe them in times of stress. When placed in hospital nurseries, foster homes or care services, there is nobody bestowing them with constant attention and reassurance. There are no hugs, no comforting arms or no familiar faces. The basic human need to be held and touched is unfulfilled. No sense of security is developed and no lessons are learned on emotional regulation.
Consequently, these children develop under extreme duress, while they are coping with inconceivably upsetting separation. This stunts ego development, causes attachment difficulties and prompts anxiety and depression, distrust, emotional problems and difficulties in relationships.
Those who experienced separation trauma often struggle with issues that rarely afflict emotionally healthy people. They have problems with self-expression, decision-making and an intense need for control. They are aggressively defensive, impatient and impulsive. They exhibit poor frustration control and fear being manipulated, yet can be manipulative themselves. They are wary of betrayal and callously cut off even close friends if they feel they have been wronged. If any situation reminds them of the original trauma, their sense of danger is activated and defence mechanisms kick-in. Then logic and sagacity vanish, leaving only unreasonable, overblown reactions.
The separation irreparably destroyed their ability to trust and this creates the 'by myself' attitude and feelings of individualism evident in many adoptees. It also causes hyperarousal and hypervigilance, which leave them constantly 'on alert' for indeterminate dangers, permanently restless and full of nervous energy. Fear underpins those traumatised as children. While appearing outwardly well-adjusted, and sensible, they can be inwardly controlled by the scared child who is crippled by pernicious and paradoxical fears of failure, success, connection and rejection.
Notably, they are petrified by intimacy as intimate relationships trigger memories of the painful events which initially traumatised them. They may yearn for closeness, but the desperate need to avoid further abandonment forces them to maintain distance, meaning they can be extremely secretive and prevent even close allies from getting 'inside'. This only creates the perception that the partner is unimportant and damages relationships, thus leading to the abandonment they were desperately trying to avoid. Many adoptees even find emotionally unavailable partners, partly to keep distance but also because they are 'rescuers'; they intuitively recognise pain in others despite needing rescued themselves.
Policymakers must realise that adoption is a traumatically troubling event no matter how it transpired or how beneficial it is. It is not the simple transference of one lucky child from a bad family to a good one. It is confusing and paradoxical. It profoundly impacts adoptee, even if it is beyond conscious memory. Failing to remember a terrifying event does not negate its consequences.
While trauma is subjective, every adoptee was subject to an inconceivably harrowing start which changed their lives immeasurably. Although the Government's new support fund will help to destroy the prevailing assumption that adoption is a purely positive occasion where an unfortunate child is 'rescued' by a selfless family, the erroneous perception that adoptees are traumatised only by the events prior to adoption still exists.
This is false. There is no medical diagnosis and no term which can be applied in policy documents, but if the impacts of the separation of mother and child confirm anything, it is that adoption itself is a trauma.
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