Monday, 6 August 2012

A call for views - Dear Martin Narey

Recently Martin Narey, the government's advisor on adoption, has invited adopters, adoptees, social workers, carers, and other professionals involved in adoption to send him their views on several issues that need reform - sibling adoption and whether placing siblings together is always the right thing, and also contact arrangements. You can read more about the discussion papers here.

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.

Yours Sincerely



  1. I found this a compelling and vivid account of a case where the interests of the child have been relegated to the interests of others and where the disruption and instability of regular infant contact with a range of different carers has led to attachment difficulties and anxiety for this little boy.
    This needs to be sent to DfE who are conducting the consultation on contact and I hope others with direct knowledge of the consequences of contact will also share their experiences and views.
    Martin Narey

    1. Dear Mr Narey
      It is very traumatising not only for Mini and his mum, dad and sister, but also the wider family to see the impact that this current adoption system has on children and their families. Whilst hopefully the call for views will aide future adopters and their adoptees, the problems that the families (both close and extended) suffer as a consequence of the continual abandonment problems that Mini is suffering the effects from, are without doubt caused by negligence, ignorance and lack of specific training and insight by staff involved in the process of removal and placement and those who write the policies and procedures that they have to use. For my own part, my husband and I are very affected and saddened by what Mini and his family have to suffer because of the stupidity of others who clearly cannot have even questioned the validity of how Mini was treated.
      I am very very proud of my daughter and her husband (Stix and the NC) for what they are doing to help Mini, and unfortunately feel very helpless to do more to help them as we live over 200 miles from them; and of course when we visit we are conscious that Mini might feel we are abandoning him when we come back home, though we do try to keep regular alternative contact with him directly by phone, and postcards (Mini loves to receive these and collects them!). The implications of the excessive and regular method of contact for Mini pre-adoption, are now far reaching. For my own part I feel VERY angry that this has happened to him and his family - clearly the poor lad has suffered enough by the removal from birth parents, without the added insult and injury caused by the process thereafter. And therein also lies a problem, unlike in the process of civil law or even Human Rights, there is no comeback on those who have wronged him and put him through that and certainly now the damage has been done both to him and his family as mentioned previously, the implications are far reaching quite possibly for the rest of his life. The statutory process and the people who are responsible for these situations should be held responsible and answerable - though not that it will change things for Mini or his family now. However, relevant services should be easier for these families to access to help cope and deal with the problems that have arisen. To date this has also been a battle and one that continues to be ongoing.
      I truly hope that your campaign to change things is effective but that there may be some consideration of those wronged by the current system and process.

    2. Thank you Mr Narey for responding to my letter to you via The Boy's Behaviour. As I hope you can see from the number of comments to this blog post, others are in similar situations. I urge everyone reading to complete the form and pass on your views on the discussion paper to help make change for future adoptees and their adopters.
      You can find the discussion papers here, and the relevant forms for your feedback too.

  2. A well written letter,having been involved in core groups and child protection support work, what you describe is all too common. I know lots of professionals who don't agree with these arrangements but time and again their concerns are dismissed by other professionals who say they are following "guidelines and procedures and that their hands are tied" It is time that every child really does matter!

  3. Good letter, Stix. Thanks for bringing this to my attention too, as I had no idea that there was reform planned. Mini's circumstances sound EXACTLY the same as our little boy's and I have questioned the contact from when we were told about him. I can't go into details but what were thought to be skin complaints he was born with are now thought to be a direct result of obsessive cleaning on the part of birth mum whilst he's with her. He still sees her despite being cleared for adoption and we heard that other family members turned up without prior agreement at the last meeting. This is the bit I can't fathom and drives me mad - especially when I know what day he is seeing them, and imagine what/how he is feeling. I think about it all day. It remains to be seen what the long term effects are, but it certainly took him a long time to settle into the world and begin to trust others, and this improved when contact went down from 3-4 times a week for two hours (even though there was no plan for a return to birth family and the adoption order was already in motion) to once a month. I'll certainly be writing a letter too, so thanks for bringing it up xxxx

    1. Thanks DS, do get in touch, all the evidence helps and hopefully our views will make a difference in future xx

  4. This letter, as are your other blog posts, is insightful and thought provoking. It has made me realise how little I actually know about the family contact arrangements my kids had for the year they lived in Foster Care. It's not fully detailed in our paperwork and I don't remember being told much about the logistics of it at the time. Reading about the constant situations of abandonment and rejection your son has lived through and how this has affected his behaviour makes me think that this really could be an issue contributing to my sons own emotional issues. Thank you for once again providing food for thought in another well written post.

    1. Thanks AdoptionBliss. It is worrying how much happens that we don't ever get to hear about. We were very lucky with Mini's foster carer in that she had a) a great memory and told us loads and b) made notes to BM that were given at contact sessions and kept these and the responses from BM. We now have them all so know exactly what happened in contact sessions. However, no formal record seems to have been made by SS.
      Our CAMHS therapist agrees and confirms that this level of contact, and the abandonment that came from it, it the most likely cause of the attachment difficulties Mini now has.

      I hope you manage to find out more about the contact arrangements of your boys, perhaps SS might have a record still in their (most likely archived) case files?

  5. As a foster carer I know this is not a situation unique to Mini. Babies are moved around in taxis and by social workers to have contact with a birth family when there is no hope of them ever being allowed to live with birth family. I see it as a box ticking exercise - give the family a "chance" and then say ,they could not parent the child. Even though this was obvious from the outset. It is shameful. Child and child's future parents suffer because of this.

    1. Thanks for your comment Annie. It both reassures me and saddens me that we are not alone in this scenario...there is definite room for improvement across the entire care system.

  6. Very well written letters by you and your mum, brought more than a few tears to my eyes...You really are wonderful and remarkable, I can't begin to imagine what you must all be going through. I love you heaps, am very proud to be your friend xxxx

  7. Very thoughtful post. I do believe that some contact with birth family can be beneficial for even babies who are not going home. But the foster carers or adoptive parents are the ones that the child knows and they are the ones that need to be a safe person for the child going to, and at, contact meetings, and they need to be listened to on matters of the child's welfare - so many complain about being ignored on crucial matters, and excluded from important meetings.
    Many children meet odd and dysfunctional relatives on an occasional basis and come off no worse because their parents are there, are in control, and they feel safe. There's no reason why this shouldn't happen for children in care.

  8. Well done. What a great post and absolutely spot on!!

    Our little Sunshine had separate contact with both of her birth parents - her entire week was spent in and out of contact (what kind of life is that for a 2 year old?). Despite what her foster carers said, social workers ignored the fact that she didn't have a secure attachment to either parent and she has ended up confused, angry and very aggressive. We couldn't wait to stop face-to-face contact once the adoption order came through. If felt like nobody had thought of Sunshine; social workers had been hedging their bets throughout the Court procedures (just in case she would be returned to birth family), and now they wanted us to continue, mainly for birth mother's benefit.

    7 years on and now she definitely needs face to face contact. Her needs have changed. We're happy to go with her longing for a sense of identity and we need to banish the fantasy of the Fairy Tale Mother which Sunshine uses against us when she's fed up with the normality of every-day life with our family. I only wish that the social workers had been prepared to see the long term impact of 2 years of needless contact, instead of covering their backs.

    Views and policies on contact have changed so much since 70' and 80's when I spent most of my time in foster-care. Between the age of 8 and 18 I had no pre-arranged contact with my birth mum or siblings (despite them living in the same town). I still struggle to make sense of my low self-esteem and a deep sense of loss and being abandoned. So I do respect when social workers try hard to salvage the most precious, fragile attachments - that's all I had and it means absolutely everything, especially when your whole world has been switched, you're a total stranger and nobody knows you any more. But surely social workers can also see that forcing a child to play several times a week with a complete stranger is no way to develop an attachment.

    My Sunshine has a very disorganised attachment - sometimes she loves us, sometimes she has complete comtempt towards us. It's made the last 7 years totally hellish and now we fight for CAMHS and Adoption Support to find some resources to support us while we try to avoid a full on Conduct Disorder diagnosis. At least Sunshine now has parents who she can take all of her anger and anguish out on, unlike when she was younger when so much resources were spent to mess her up emotionally (and I say that as a trainee Child Psychotherapist!), without an adult in the world who she could trust. It's ironic that now there's precious little resources that we can call on. The Adoption Order is granted, the plug has been pulled, along with the financial support, there's no formal training and everyone's still hoping for a happily ever after!

    1. I can't begin to imagine how hard the last 7 years have been, especially having to fight for support for you and Sunshine. We're lucky that getting in with CAMHS was as simple as a GP referral for us, and post adoption support weren't far behind, however, it's a slow, slow process getting anywhere with them, and I can see we'll have a fight ahead of us.

      It was recently mooted that Mini might be showing signs of ODD or Conduct Disorder and having done a little reading into them, I can fully appreciate why you don't want it diagnosed.

      Good luck, and keep in touch x Oh, and do respond to the discussion papers if you feel you can x

    2. Thanks Stix, will do!

      Just thought I'd mentiion...out of sheer desperation I phoned a contact of mine who is a Clinical Specialist at the CAMHS Conduct Disorder/Adoption team based at Kings College Hospital. It drives me up the wall when local CAMHS and PAS smile sweetly, scratch their heads and offer no help. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to observe a Conduct Disorder clinic at Kings College, and I'm hoping to see how they run their Adoption one too. It all looks very different from the other side of the one-way mirror. They work on the basis that it's the parents who should be the main focus of support - not simply doing 1:1 therapy with the child. After a brief chat with my contact I got some useful suggestions, so when we're all back in September I can say to our local CAMHS/PAS to stop looking at me like I'm asking for the impossible when I ask them what on earth I should be doing!

      It really is scary to think about our lovelies with a possible ODD/Conduct Disorder diagnosis. Maybe if Mini is showing signs they'll consider referring him to a specialist CAMHS clinic who truly understand the adoption side of things. My lot are 'suggesting' we consider twice weekly therapy. My contact reckoned my local CAMHS might not be specialist enough for Sunshine, but doubted we'd get the funding for a referral :0(

      Best of luck Stix - we've definitely got our work cut out for us xx