30 December 2016
This Week in Fostering: opinion
What are the two big lessons that fostering has taught me? One: there are no absolutes, no black and white certainties, everything is about shades of grey and what works for one person might not be right for another. The second is that most people outside our niche world of fostering and adoption have little idea about what we do.
We try to populate This Week in Fostering with shades of grey. But this week an article by Carol Sarler in the Daily Mail on the current state of UK adoption has sparked a largely black and white reaction from the on-line community. The process of adoption has changed beyond all recognition, Sarler writes, and well-meaning adoptive parents are being betrayed. Instead of regular children who are the progeny of unfortunate but otherwise healthy teenage pregnancies, adopters are now bringing up “the offspring of our drunks, our derelicts, our damaged and our junkies” and facing years of crisis struggling with behaviours that this sort of origin ignites.
The tone of the piece is pretty foul, the language and descriptions of children and their birth families abhorrent, so unsurprisingly it has had much of Twitter jumping up and down in unadulterated rage. Sir Martin Narey described the article as a “lurid and exploitative” piece, while others spoke of “vilifying” the children concerned.
But this is the Daily Mail so the tone is intended to cause offence and provoke outrage. It also gets people reading. As the blog writer FASD: learning with hope pointed out the article had already been shared 2,600 times by the time she had written her angry response. But does it have a point though? Former Times journalist and foster carer Martin Barrow thinks not. “Odious, spiteful Carol Sarler article on adoption, which does no credit to the adoption charities she mentions,” he said on Twitter. But Family Futures, one of the adoption support organisations quoted said, “The article could have done without the sensationalism, however the points made are valid.”
Barrister Caoilfhionn Gallagher provides a blow by blow response to the piece and some of the ensuing comments, finishing by conceding that the article makes an important if rather obscured point about the debate over lack of funding for post-adoption support. She also adds “But this article is not a good springboard for such a debate.”
Bringing up children is tough – tougher for some than others. Bringing up adopted children is tough – tougher for some than for others. Some people believe they can thrive on challenges and difficulties that may destroy others but it does not make one right and one wrong.
So here are some of my personal shades of grey. The moment when the pre-school girl we were caring for met her adoptive parents remains one of the most moving and rewarding moments of my life. On the flipside, a number of teens whose unpredictable and alarming behaviour has estranged them from their adoptive parents, schools and peers have passed through my doors in recent months. Twitter was also alive with some of those parents, who felt that the Daily Mail article told it pretty much as it was. And if you need more proof then Al Coates, one of, if not the, most respected adopters in the online community recently ran a survey on the impact of child on parent violence, an issue that affects many adopters.
Al also wrote in the same blog that he fears the online adoptive community will become an echo-chamber about the issues it faces. Narey, Barrow and Gallagher may feel that the Daily Mail article has no role in the debate. But that is missing the point entirely – it has already become part of the debate and free speech dictates that it should be, however extreme and hideous that speech may seem to our ears. The important thing now is how we take forward the debate about the challenges of caring for some of our most vulnerable and, yes, damaged children. It is about how we use this inflammatory article to help catapult the discussions that are familiar to us onto the unwitting, wider stage, beyond our niche world, beyond our echo chamber.