Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Are adoptive parents that shallow?

At the moment there is all this media hype surrounding that awful woman from The Apprentice and the remarks she has made about class and children's names, and the judgements she makes based on those names.

Yesterday the Guardian published an article, written supposedly by someone who sits on an adoption panel (they're the people who make a recommendation on whether prospective adoptive parents should be approved or not), all about names and adopted children. There's a link on this page.
So this man, this Fraser McAlpine, feels he's well placed to make some judgements of his own...

He writes that for prospective adopters, the process is like looking through a brochure, and that they have to wade through it, not thinking too hard about it until the right face looks out at them.

You what? Yes, as a prospective adoptive parent, I myself compared Children Who Wait (a magazine of children who are waiting to be adopted) to a more emotional and heartbreaking version of the Argos book. However, I did not 'wade through' or 'not think about it'. For heaven's sake, deciding to be an adoptive parent is a big decision, becoming an adoptive parent is a massive thing, if you've not been successfully matched by your social worker and have to look through Children Who Wait or loads of profiles, then I imagine the decision over which children to enquire about requires thought by the bucketload! 

"it's easy for the imaginary, baby-shaped void that has grown within a prospective family – for which the parents will have spent years suggesting names – to become competition for any real children that may be about to arrive"

I'll repeat - you what? Firstly there is an assumption that all adoptive parents have tried (and failed) to have a baby, then there is the assumption that they'll have names in their heads. That may be the case for some families, but talk about sweeping statements! Not everyone comes to adoption via infertility, obviously Mr McAlpine doesn't ever have to consider single adopters, gay and lesbian adopters or those for whom adoption was their first choice on his adoption panel.
I did come to adoption via infertility, but I didn't have any names thought out for my future children - birth or adopted. Tell a lie, I had a girl's name that I liked, but I liked it way before thoughts of having children entered my head.

"This is the point at which making judgments about children from a first name alone becomes troubling. Adoption is often a case of middle-class families taking on children from non-middle-class backgrounds, and when those families worry about taking on a child because their name could lower the tone, well, there's that queasiness again."

Again, you what? Do you seriously think that people who are about embark on a whole new future are thinking about the name? Do you seriously think that adoptive parents, who have been through so much to even be allowed to be a parent make decisions based on names? Are adoptive parents *that shallow?* I have no doubt that there is a minority (as in everything) for whom name is important, and perhaps important enough to not adopt a particular child, and yes, I'm sure once the adoption order has gone through, some adoptive parents change their children's names, but this generalisation astounds me.

Mr McAlpine refers to news reports that claim that prospective adopters are put off by names, and I am very surprised that he chooses to believe these news reports over the prospective adopters he must come across in his role. Is the feedback he's getting from them the same? He also states that these news reports suggest that prospective adopters are so put off by these names, they would rather remain childless. Well, to be honest, if those prospective adopters really think like that, then they are better off not being adoptive parents,.

There are several other statements and sentences that I could easily take issue with, but to be honest, what surprises and bothers me most is that someone who is clearly involved in adoption has this view of both prospective adoptive parents (who are seemingly shallow, judgemental and dismissive of identity) and social workers who, if they're producing prospective adopters who are shallow, judgemental and dismissive of identity, are clearly not doing their job properly.
I cannot tell you just how much we were made aware of identity. We did homework on it, we considered and thought about it. It was vital to our social workers that we understood the importance of names and we would never have gotten to panel if our social worker thought we hadn't considered it enough, or if she'd had an inkling that we'd be the kind of parents who would change a name straight after the adoption order.
I'm also really concerned that if the people that approve adoptive parents think like this, yet still approve them, how much of a post adoption crisis will there be for adoptive families, and my word, what kind of issues will adopted children have, on top of everything else? If their parents are so ill-equipped they can't even cope with a name, how on earth will they cope with trauma, contact, attachment, reunion and all the other things adoptive families have to think about?

Me, well in the end, I did change my son's name.
His birth name is not one I would have chosen for him, not in a million years but our social worker told us about him first, we made our decision based on what they told us about his character, his background, his trauma...not his name, and then even when she gently told us his double-barrelled made-up name, with made up middle names too, we still weren't put off. It wasn't our choice, but we didn't dislike it. This child was going to be part of our family, if he was right for us, and us for him, then his name was not important. We said it over and over, until it fitted with our surname. And to be honest, we were clear that it didn't matter if we liked it or not, it was part of him, his identity, something that his birth mother had given him, and in Mini's case it follows a pattern of naming in his family, and kind of ties the siblings together. Then we were told we should change it. For us, more importantly for him, there was/is a security risk, and because his name was so unique, he would have been easily found. I'm pleased that at least Mr McAlpine recognises that there are times when name changes are important.

I will add that I have quoted sections from the article that have particularly riled me, and there are many more sentences that I could add to this blog post and take issue with, but please do read the article in it's entirety in order to form your own opinions.
If you'd like to respond to this article too, please write your own blog and then link-up on the Collective Response - Weekly Adoption Shout Out Midweek Special...


  1. A brilliant response, I couldn't agree more!!!

  2. Hmmm, I think I have interpreted this article in quite a different way than you have done. When he said 'not thinking too hard about it', I understood that he was meaning the process of picking children's faces out of a catalogue, not adoption as a whole, so prospective adopters, while thinking hard about /what/ they are doing might not want to think too hard about /how/ they are doing it, which can be a pretty grim process.

    It seems to me that he is not in favour of adoptive parents changing children's names, and is unhappy with the idea (reported in several media articles - I blogged about one a while ago - http://suddenlymummy.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/whats-in-name.html) that prospective parents might reject children because of their names. I don't think that he is tarring all prospective adopters with the same brush - I didn't get that impression from what he wrote - just that it sometimes happens and it shouldn't.

    And having said all of that, I personally am cautiously supportive of parents changing the names of their adopted children under certain circumstances. It isn't about erasing their past, but names are important and it isn't snobbish to suggest that a Kadie-Lee (real name of a child at my son's playgroup) or a Rockall (my neighbour's kid) might stand out uncomfortably in certain settings just as a Penelope might get some ripe comments at my son's playgroup! Perhaps it shouldn't be the case, but I'm afraid it probably is. I'm not sure if this is a good enough reason to change a name but I don't think it's necessarily the case that a person who is concerned about a child's very unusual or outlandish name is therefore unfit to adopt. Some names are, imo, tantamount to cruelty to the child, and while the birth identity of the child has to be respected and preserved, there also needs to be a recognition of their adoptive identity - I don't think it's right to preserve the one at all costs, while sacrificing the other. Children are adopted into communities as well as families.

    I must also just say that even single people long for children of their own and name them over and over in their heads - I certainly did! I don't think what he said about people imagining their future baby is non-applicable to single people or gay or lesbian people. I'm grateful that I came to adoption only after I had long ago given up any hope of having a birth child, and so had already put my imaginary child to bed, so to speak, making room for OB (whose name is very sensible actually, although I dare say I wouldn't have changed it anyway!).

    I don't mean to savage your post - sorry if it sounds that way! But I can see that you, and many others whose blogs I read through #WASO are thoughtful, careful people who have put a lot of effort into understanding the adoption process and getting to grips with attachment, identity and all of those necessary things. Not everybody is like that - I have met and spoken to many people who are/have been considering adoption who are seemingly completely ignorant about the whole issue. Many of those will not become adopters. Hopefully those who pursue it will be set straight on the journey. But the people he's talking about in this article really are out there!

    1. Yes, you have rather savaged my post ;-) But I stand by what I say, and my interpretation of the article. Have you read any of the others that have joined in?

      I agree with many of your points, but I believe that the tone of the article was inappropriate and very sweeping statements were made without acknowledging that adoptive parents aren't all middleclass people who only care about names.

      As I mention, I have no doubt there is a minority who are as Mr McAlpine suggests in his article, I'm not naïve enough to think they don't exist at all, but in my experience, adoptive parents aren't like this. And if I'm wrong, and there are prospective adoptive parents like this then adoption in this country is in a worse state that I thought.

  3. Well said! This whole demonizing of adoptive parents is driving me nuts now!!

    1. Thank you. I think adoption is so emotive, and people are so opinionated it's always going to be like this. At the same time as the demonizing, there are those out there who think we are angels, and have *saved* a child. Two completely opposing views, neither of which is right. I'm not sure there'll ever be a balanced view...