2 03 2010

I was really sad to read Darrow and Juan’s news regarding their foster son, T, and also filled with a familiar anger and frustration that goes with my growing awareness and knowledge of the systems within which “looked after children” have to survive.  I hope they will forgive me for referring to them here, and that I cause them no pain or offense.

There seem to be some significant differences between the UK and US systems, so for example, foster to adopt doesn’t exist in any formal sense at all in the UK.  Foster-carers do adopt their foster children sometimes of course, but it is often those children that have been labeled ‘not suitable’ for adoption.  These are the children that are too damaged by their past experiences (often within the care system as well as with birth families), or ‘too disabled’ or ill.

In the UK the term ‘foster carer’ is used, not ‘foster parent’, in recognition that a parent is very different to a paid carer.  It seems that this ‘line’ is much more blurred in the US, that foster parents like Juan and Darrow are expected (and expect) to take on the parental role for their children.  In neither the UK nor the US are the foster carers actually given parental responsibility though, and have very little (if any) control over the decisions made by the state, on behalf of the children they care for.  I think this is where the trouble starts for me, but I really don’t know what the answer is.  I have seen and heard about so many children now though, who clearly have not been at the center of the decision making process, and have heard foster carers grumble about the naivety or inexperience or boredom of the professionals involved with their children.  The detachment of some professionals just isn’t helpful, unless they are prepared to take on board the opinions and views of the people that really care about these kids.

How can it possibly be in the best interest of T, to be ‘reunited’ with birth parents who have never cared for him, when he is settled, beloved, cared for and nurtured in a family already?  How can it be justified to take four years to make the decision that this vulnerable child should be returned to parents that have not even managed to comply with the basic standards that the court previously ordered.  I find myself asking over and over how this sort of situation can be in any child’s best interest.  Of course, it isn’t;  It isn’t supposed to be.  In the US, it seems that the emphasis is on keeping families together, and that this often comes into conflict with the ‘best interest’ of the child/ren. In the UK the child is absolutely supposed to be at the center of decision making, but we often see that this is not what happens in practice.  It can be far more expedient, cheaper and easier to keep a child within a family that is not functioning well, than to make an early decision that the child should be freed for adoption.

The more I learn about the lives of ‘looked after children’, the more I become convinced that the drive to keep dysfunctional, failing, inadeqaute families together is just wrong wrong wrong.  I know that amongst many, this is not a popular view, but families come in all shapes and sizes and genetics is not the be-all-and-end-all.  I truly believe that taking that little boy away from his current family, to place him with his biological family, will do him nothing but harm.  It will probably reduce his life chances and options, cause him long term emotional and psychological damage and deny him the supportive therapeutic  parenting he will need after such a major upheaval.  Adoption is not the only answer to the issue of generation after generation of dysfunctional families, but it is probably the best one in the current climate.  There is little appetite amongst politicians to put the resources that would really make a difference into the marginalised, poorly educated families and communities that produce such a high proportion of the children that end up in the care system.  Indeed I was reading a foster/adoptive parent and teacher only yesterday, bemoan the fact that the recession means significant cuts to the already tight  education budget, which will further disadvantage these very communities and children.

I know that some reading this might want to remind me of the brilliant work that foster carers, Social Workers (SW’s), Guardians, Family Court officials etc do every day; remind me that it is not all ‘bad news’; that some families just need a little help and we should do everything we can to keep them together.  But then I look at my lovely 2 year old, crying in a car seat and wonder how on earth her SW ever thought it was a good idea to put her in a taxi with a stranger for a journey of an hour, over and over again, so that her birth dad could see her in a secure family center, having been banned from those less secure ones closer to her home.  I feel such regret for my dear friend, who has not been able to adopt the sister of her son, because the birth mother was in rehab, and ‘making a go of it’ with this (6th) child, and by the time it was decided that birth mum was not coping, the child had been so neglected, hurt and damaged that my friend did not have the capacity to help her.  I feel such sadness for T, that he will loose two parents that love him very much, and will have to get to know the other two parents that may love him, but are unlikely to have the level of understanding, empathy, skill or commitment to provide him with the support he is going to need, and would most likely get, were he to be adopted by his daddies.

I’m feeling all ‘ranted out’ for now, just left with the sadness.



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