During 2009 the Webmag has carried a moving five-part account of a mother’s experience of adopting a child. What should have been a happy experience for all concerned became something of a nightmare for the mother, who found some of the professionals involved insensitive and most unhelpful. What could be learnt from this? Since the adoptive grandmother is an experienced child care professional herself, we asked her to add a commentary to evaluate problematic areas.
I am the grandparent in the adoption story. I am also an experienced professional trainer and trouble-shooter. The distance I now have from that most bewildering and traumatic experience allows me to look at what actually happened and to try to make positive suggestions with regard to the training needs of those professionals involved in the field of adoption and fostering and, possibly, to identify pointers for potential parents.
The first aspect of this that is unsettling is the venom that was shown initially towards me and then how it spread towards my daughter, the adoptive mother. At the first meeting when the problems first began, my comments were intended as directions for future meetings with other potential adopters:
1. Please provide CLEAR directions to get to your building.
2. Please ensure that you point out parking areas in close proximity to the venue.
3. Please provide a detailed map.
After my comments, so far as my daughter and I were concerned, the matter was closed and the meeting continued. Unfortunately, everything we did or didn’t do from that moment was inaccurately analysed. According to the adoption manager and the adoption social worker, I was uninterested in what everyone had to say and showed no interest in the details of my future grand child. Neither of these was true.
We had waited over an hour for the social worker to arrive and by the time we finished that meeting FOUR hours later, no new ground had been covered and no new information about the child had emerged. In the days leading up to this meeting, my daughter and myself had pored over all the information on the child, researched the possible physical and intellectual effects of her condition and planned how to help her gain weight and stay healthy. There were no questions we needed to ask, having already asked them of my daughter’s social worker.
We then went to the local hospital for a meeting with the paediatrician who, we were informed, would be difficult and unfriendly. We found her to be the exact opposite. We had questions for her and she answered openly. It was a typical professional meeting.
This brings me to my next suggestion for open, clear, honest and transparent communication:
1. Do not hold too many closed un-recorded meetings. There is a danger that they will descend into gossip, which is what I suspect happened in our situation. Accusations about me and my daughter abounded. Our characters were assassinated and we had no opportunity to defend or explain ourselves.
2. Do not hold secret meetings without the future parent’s social worker. This leads to confusions and irritation.
3. Do not break the rules of confidentiality.
Despite this vindictive assault, the key decision makers, the panels and the local authority found my daughter to be one of the most ideal parents for this child to the point that for the first time in their memory, they had no questions to ask other than “How soon can this adoption begin?”
Once a child is placed with its adoptive family, please visit as a support rather than as a bully and teller of untrue tales. There were many lies told about us by the adoption social worker and some of this was falsely supported by the peripatetic adoption manager. The adoption social worker did not always keep to the agreed regulatory visits and often a month would go by, then we would get a frantic call out of the blue to inform us that she was coming the following day when often we had already planned an outing:
1. Do make sure that your reports are accurate and factual.
2. Do not make up stories that cannot be evidenced.
3. Remember the lies you have told and make sure colleagues do not contradict them. For example, According to the peripatetic adoption manager, our child care practice was so poor that there had been an agreement to increase the social worker visits to once a week. No one else, including the adoption social worker, had heard of this.
4. Do stick to statutory visits. Don’t go for more than two months with no contact and then insist on an urgent meeting the next day.
- There must be a more informed manner of meeting and sharing information about the child with the potential adoptive parents.
- There needs to be the development of trust between all professionals and parents.
- There must be clearer communication using an appropriate and relevant format.
- All doubts must be discussed with everyone to avoid the ‘chinese whispers’ syndrome.
- Don’t lie to the birth parents. Do not sign agreements that they can still call themselves ‘mummy or daddy’ in letters before speaking about it with the adoptive parents. It causes real upset and confusion.
- Ensure that your comments and questions are always directed to the adoptive parent and not the oldest person in the room. Grandparents are supporters, that is all.
In our particular experience, I think that my assertive approach and business-like manner probably scared them and sometimes, when one feels threatened, attack is the only recourse. It was made personal under the guise of concerned professionalism but when they were challenged, both by the panels and by the solicitor, they had nothing to say.
I have been too angry to complain to the relevant authorities because the whole experience has been so destructive to my daughter and, to a degree, myself. I cannot bear to subject her to any further grief. It tainted what should have been a most heart-warming experience. Instead it nearly broke her. She has not yet fully recovered from it and I can still see the sadness that haunts her even now. If I could, I would love to sit in a tribunal but what would be the point?