Contact is something close to us because we believe that Mini has been affected by the contact he was subjected to with his birth parents in the first ten months of his life. So I've responded to this call for views on this subject, here's my letter to Martin Narey:
Dear Martin Narey
I’m writing in response to your call for views on contact for adopted children. I take my hat off to you for questioning long-held ideas, and for trying to change the system for the better. Many of those of us who have been through the processes and are parenting the children know that changes need to be made to minimise further damage to children for whom adoption is the plan.
My husband and I adopted our son when he was 13months old. He’d remained with the same foster carer from the age of 3 weeks. Older siblings had all been removed from the family and were in long term foster placements. Our son had been placed on the child protection register prior to his birth. There was virtually no chance of him being returned to his birth mother and his birth father was uninterested.
Until we were identified as his prospective adopters when he was 10 months old, our son was effectively abandoned by his foster carer 3 times every week, whilst a strange social worker picked him up, took him to a contact centre and let him spend 2-3 hours with his birth mother <and other family members>. They’d attend to his needs – feeding, nappy changes, even nail cutting. At the end of each session, he was rejected and abandoned by his birth family as the strange social worker returned him to his foster carer. Sometimes contact was arranged for late in the day so as to suit the others involved, however this often meant that our son would fall asleep on the way home, have to be woken for his last feed, then be difficult to settle to sleep.
So to reiterate, that’s continual abandonment and a multitude of caregivers, along with constant disruption to routine.
Because of this continual abandonment, our son now has attachment difficulties. He is 5 and a half and has been with us 4 and a half years, yet we still can’t take him to visit family or friends without him fearing that he will be left there or worrying that he’s being prepared to move on. His anxieties about this result in behaviour that is aggressive and angry, and almost unmanageable and we are currently engaging with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) and post adoption support because we are struggling to cope.
Our son only started school last year, but we’re already having problems. His teacher’s role changed halfway through the year and she needed to spend time out of the classroom, he felt she was rejecting him also and his anxieties about this started to show by way of wetting day and night, including at school. His behaviour was perfect whilst in school, but he lets out all his anxieties with us instead. He has tried to punish us for sending him to school and has attacked both my husband and I, and is increasing violent toward our younger daughter.
Our view is that where there is little chance of the child returning to his/her birth family, contact should be kept to an absolute minimum. Is face to face contact even necessary? I don’t think so, at least not in very young children, it only prolongs a dysfunctional relationship. My son did not benefit in any way from this continued contact with virtual strangers, he is damaged by it. And we don’t yet know to what extent. It’s because of this that I’m pleased to see recognition of the damage that high intensity and high frequency contact can cause with young infants. Our son’s foster carer reported to her case worker how unsettled he was after visits but no changes were made to the contact arrangement. We’re now seeing just how those visits really have affected him.
I am also pleased to note that the issue of strange escorts is one that has been raised, as that is something that no doubt fuelled our son’s issues. He also had contact in several different venues, at least 3 I believe – which would have added to his stress.
As you rightly point out, it all needs to be in the best interests of the child and every child is different. Everything about contact should be geared to the needs of the child, and given what a traumatising time they’ll be going through anyway, every point needs to be considered – same escort, same venue, same time of day, even same days. We all know that children thrive on routine, and where there have already been some failings in their care, routine and simplicity can only help improve the situation from becoming even more damaging.
Thank you for inviting the views of adopters. I very much look forward to your comments.