Tag Archives: Social workers

Family Time

imageIt is not often that we do something together as a family, but this evening we actually sat on the drawing room carpet and spent a couple of hours playing World of Warcraft Monopoly. The children were bored, and could find nothing better to do than annoy each other. I suggested we play the new Monopoly and they jumped at the idea. It’s good to know that we can still just about manage to do something as a family. It needed two parents present, and the language and what passed as conversation between Jo and Billy resembled a toxic ping-pong. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable evening. No one cheated too outrageously or sabotaged the game. Losers retreated in good grace. Once it was finished and packed away the children returned to annoying one another and had to be separated. Billy wanted me to watch him play Grand Theft Auto in his room. Watching Billy on the X-Box isn’t exactly my idea of entertainment but it is a while since he asked me and I’m glad that he still wants the company. I could at least admire the graphics and imagine myself in sunny California instead of chilly, dank England.

I remembered one of the last occasions we sat and played together on the same floor. The children were about four and six, and I had had a series of phone calls asking whether we would be prepared to record something for National Adoption Week to go out on regional TV news that evening. Their production schedules were obviously very tight, and I was unhappy about doing anything without the children’s consent. They were at school and the TV crew wanted to be there when they got home and take a few minutes of film with a voice-over commentary in order to promote adoption. Not only was there the issue of consent, but the children would generally arrive home tired and grumpy and be quite hard to handle. However, I finally agreed and had a word with the children as I collected them from school. I tried to explain what would happen and what it could mean if people they knew saw the broadcast. They were delighted with the idea, and for the first and last time we sat down to play a board game as soon as they arrived home. I think they just managed to hold it together for the two or three minutes of filming before the scene disintegrated into the usual chaos. The next morning several staff, parents and children who had seen the piece on TV greeted them both as celebrities, and Bily and Jo revelled in the attention. Most of those who saw it wouldn’t have known that they were adopted, so it was quite a nice way of introducing and normalising the fact.

I have over the years responded to requests to speak to adoption preparation groups but the offer has never been taken up. I rather assume that when discrete enquiries are made the organisers of these groups decide that our family experience is too complicated or not sufficiently positive to pass muster. It’s a tricky balance. One doesn’t want to put off prospective parents, and I remember myself being frustrated at what seemed to be a generally negative view of adopted children. On the other hand, I’m not sure that new adopters are well served if their expectations are unrealistic, or the stresses and strains of what usually turns out to be therapeutic parenting underplayed. The support available for adopters is still pitiful in most areas, so there is a natural tendency on the part of social workers to talk about attachment issues, or the need to set boundaries, in the abstract or hypothetically, but not reveal the full extent of particular children’s trauma and needs and what this can mean in terms of parenting for many many years to come. Perhaps writing this blog is my response to this conundrum.

Birth Mother

imageWe made it to the station with less than a minute to spare. The train was waiting on the platform. I gave Billy and his friend Edgar a quick hug and told them to run. I texted to ask whether they were on the train but got no response. I waited 10 minutes to make sure they weren’t still on the platform, then texted Billy’s birth mum to let her know that they are on their way.

It’s a momentous ending to 2014. It will be the first time Billy’s mum has ever had all six of the children she carried for 9 months and gave birth to under one roof. There was a seventh child, the first-born, who died as a baby. All seven were born by cesarean section, so the toll on Billy’s still young, very pretty and lovely mother must have been pretty heavy. I have tried imagining her feelings and thoughts at having all her children together, but don’t really know where to begin. The family represent a mini United Nations. The six children have four different fathers, two from the UK and two born overseas. Some of the family are brought up as strict cultural Muslims and others are  loosely Roman Catholic. Some have moved between the two. Some are small, with dark skin, brown eyes and black hair. Billy and his baby brother are stocky, fair and blue-eyed. The children don’t all know each other, although Billy has met them all before separately.  He only saw his ‘follower’, exactly a year younger than him, once, briefly. They were shy and didn’t say much to each other but shared mannerisms and had the same way of exhibiting nervousness. On a second visit only Billy’s elder sister turned up as his brother was still in bed. That too could have been Billy, so their teenage closeness in age as well as genetics is a common factor. This lad was brought up by his father’s sisters in London, so his mother has seen little of him either. Billy has photos of them all in his bedroom at home, and used to pin them around his bed in boarding school. I have heard social workers say that if children are not brought up together they can’t be said to have a relationship. True in some respects, but it has always been clear to us that Billy’s birth family are very, very important to him. The same can be said of Jo, also from a large family. To only hear of the birth of new siblings via foster parents or by other routes can be hurtful. There is a long way to go in terms of social work practice in the UK catching up with what birth family contact could and does mean for adopted or fostered children.

So my thoughts today are with Billy and his other family. I have done all I can in terms of setting up the visit, buying train tickets, booking rooms for the night, finding taxi cab numbers, making sandwiches, wrapping gifts and providing enough cash for a meal tonight for a large family, and for any contingencies.  The rest is up to them.