Tag Archives: Adoption support

Contact from a Social Worker’s Perspective

We are delighted that Sue Glogg ,Assistant Team Manager  for Adoption in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, has contributed this piece to our Sore Points week on Contact. 

contact lettersContact. The mere mention of the word is enough to strike fear into the hearts of most prospective adopters as they start out on their adoption journey listening to social workers explaining the importance of children remaining in touch with their families of origin. The usual response is one of surprise, as for the first time they realise they are expected to support their adopted child to maintain a connection with their past. Hopefully, along the way their understanding of the significance of contact will develop and with training and support they will shift from that initial fearful, anxious and threatened position to one which is more open, empathic and child-focussed. Most do, some don’t! But what are we looking for in prospective adopters when it comes to contact? It’s people who are “communicatively open” or in other words, people who are open, honest, non-defensive and emotionally attuned when it comes to thinking and talking about all aspects of adoption but especially contact.

Having spent the past 12 years working as a social worker in a busy local authority adoption team, I understand just what a complex, complicated and emotive topic contact is for all involved. I understand that given the choice many adopters wouldn’t do contact and that of those that do it, some feel they were talked (pressured?) into it by their social worker rather than genuinely believing in the benefits for them and their child. I understand that for birth parents the agony of losing your child is further compounded by the wait for an annual letter, which is often late and sometimes doesn’t arrive at all, and that for adopters there is frustration, resentment and disappointment when nothing arrives in return. I understand that adopted children and young people often have ambivalent feelings about their birth parents and mixed views about contact with them, with feelings of wanting and needing to know more to feelings of anger and sadness at having to manage the loss.

Normally, when considering contact, I am, of course, thinking from the viewpoint of the child, the birth relatives or the adopters and so when asked to write about contact from my own perspective I initially struggled because it’s not often I get time to really reflect on my own professional beliefs and views and what has influenced them. So what do I know and how do I really feel about contact?

Well, firstly, as a social worker I know that I have a statutory duty under the Children Act 1989 to recommend and promote contact between children and their birth parents, siblings and other relatives wherever possible. The prevailing culture within my team is pro contact and my own professional views have been influenced by training and research which backs the view that contact supports the development of a coherent sense of self and positive self-esteem for adopted children, and helps them to experience themselves as loved, thought about, cared for and remembered.

Secondly, I know that as a team we want to provide the very best support in relation to contact but don’t have anywhere near enough staff or resources to manage it as well as we would like to. We currently have one full time dedicated social worker who manages our contact service and a part of her job is to support almost 300 letterbox contacts and 45 face to face meetings every year. I know that without her we would sink under the deluge of cards which arrive every Christmas and that the duty social worker would be overwhelmed just dealing with distressed birth parents whose letterbox is long overdue. I know that the same duty worker will also contact the adopters to chase them up only to be told that the child’s behaviour is so difficult at the moment and they are so exhausted that they really don’t want to send a letter this year because they can’t think of anything positive to say!

I know I feel frustrated by those adopters who promised to support contact before the child was placed only to go back on their promises once the child is adopted and I feel resentful that I am expected to break the news to the birth parents that there will be no more letters and will no doubt be on the receiving end of their understandable anger and upset.

I know I feel disappointed and saddened on behalf of all the children whose birth parents let them down by not engaging in contact. 

I know that I feel exasperated when the courts expect me to make recommendations about ongoing contact before adopters have even been identified and at a point when for birth parents the fight for their children is not yet over, but I am still expected to assess their capacity to manage contact constructively in the future.  I know that plans for “too much” contact will inevitably make it harder for me to find a family for a child.

I know that many of the direct contacts I have facilitated between adopted children and their siblings have been some of the highlights of a long and fulfilling social work career spanning almost 30 years and I know how happy it makes me when adopters genuinely “get it” and are not just telling me what they think I want to hear in relation to contact.

The recent Contact After Adoption study by Dr Beth Neil reported that for adopted children their adoptive families were clearly seen as “my family” and there was no evidence of contact disturbing adoptive family relationships or affecting the child’s adjustment.

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Therefore, the final message I want to send to all adopters is to please be less insecure and more open and generous in relation to contact and more accepting of birth families because the birth family is not your enemy and shouldn’t be seen as a threat to your place in your child’s life. Remember, you have a key role in facilitating your child’s identity development, self-esteem, self-worth and happiness and helping them to maintain contact is a huge part of that.

 

The Adoption Support Fund

ASF

Today Sarah from The Puffin Diaries introduces the new Adoption Support Fund,tells you how you go about accessing it and gives you her initial thought.

So have you heard about the Adoption Support Fund (ASF)?

From May this year, 2015, adopters will be able to access government funding for post adoption support services, a pot of money reported to be £19.3 million when the ASF was first launched in September 2013. In the press release on the DfE website this fund is described by the Prime Minister as,

“a lifeline for many adoptive families, helping them to access specialist services when their family needs them most.”

And Edward Timpson, Minister for Children and Families, highlighted the governments understanding of the need for this fund when saying:

“We know that children adopted from care have often lived through terrible experiences which do not just simply disappear once they have settled with their new families.”

So how do YOU go about accessing this funding?

You need to speak to either your local authority, or your placing authority. The authority from which your child/children originated are responsible for providing this services in the first three years of the adoption, after that your local authority takes on the responsibility.

You need to request an assessment of your families’ adoption support needs.

Providing this assessment for you is a legal obligation of all local authorities, so they can NOT refuse to carry out the assessment. However this does NOT mean that you will necessarily be eligible for funding.

Here you can download the BAAF Guidance for the Assessment Framework for Adoption Support. This lengthy document details how your needs will be assessed.

Your social worker is able to start these assessments now, so make your phone call or send that email, NOW.

If, once your assessment is complete, you are recognised to be in need of additional support, your social worker will apply, on your behalf, for funding. Your social worker will also be responsible for discussing with you where the support you require may be accessed.

More information on what type of support is available and NOT available, and also who is able to supply your support, can be found HERE

Also Hugh Thornbery CEO of @AdoptionUK, Chair of the #AdoptionSupportFund is on twitter as @TalkAdoptSupp and invites your questions and shared experiences of the Adoption support Fund. So if you have queries this is a good place to direct them.

So what do I Think About the ASF?

We are, Sarah from The Puffin Diaries and family, about to embark on our own assessment, commencing this week. I will aim to keep everyone up to date on how things progress and share our experience of the process.

Personally, right now, I have mixed feelings about the funding and the assessment. On one side,  I am relieved that we may finally be able to access some much needed support for our family. However another part of my brain is sceptical, as we have been in this position before, needing support, and what we’ve been offered has been completely inadequate. I fear that insufficient funding will be allocated to really make the difference or we will not be deemed eligible for any funding at all.

The bigger picture is that this pot is surely not big enough to help all those families out there in need and there is no firm commitment, at the moment to provide further funding once this amount is spent. I posed this question to @TalkADoptSupp earlier.

 

 

So with that thought in mind, I urge anyone out there who feels they need some additional adoption support, to ask for an assessment NOW. Firstly because this money is here now and might not be here later and secondly, the best way to show the government the enormity of this demand is to make our needs known.

It will be interesting to see how many families request an assessment, then just how much funding is applied for and also just how much is actually allocated.

An Interview with Co-founder of The Cornerstone Partnership

Today we bring you an interview with Helen Costa, co-founder of new adoption initiative, The Cornerstone Partnership.

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Helen became an adoptive mum five years ago and has two children through adoption Clare Brasier, the other founder, is also an adoptive mum, with one child. They met through their local authority, brought together by their social worker.

Prior to becoming a mum, Helen had worked for twelve years in the Public Sector including working for the Mayor of London’s office, she also currently runs a children’s fashion brand, Little Punk London.

Helen told me that the idea for the Cornerstone Partnership was born from a great interest in, and some input she had, into policy change around adoption.

Her involvement with the Department for Education included feeding in ideas ”on what adopters need” and from this work, The Cornerstone initiative grew.

Herself and Clare formalised a plan and applied for funding, which they received a successful confirmation of at the end of December last year. At the beginning of January, this year, they were finally able to set up office and begin work on the initiative.

The pilot for their work is taking place in Berkshire and work has already begun on setting up a buddy system.

This system aims to partner experience adopters with new prospective adopters, the practised adopters will then guide and support their “buddy” through the adoption process and into the early stages of adoption. 

I asked Helen how they had recruited the willing adoption buddies?

The majority of the experienced adopters had already been known to the local agency, working with them on preparation courses and information evenings. Those that volunteered and where unknown to the agency, were interviewed and there suitability assessed on the grounds of their experience, where they were in their own journey and their emotional stability and therefore their ability to maintain support over the required period.

I suggested the reason we had not had much response from our on-line community for questions to ask in the interview, was that the scheme did not seem beneficial to existing adopters. This is despite the press release seeming to  suggest that support would be across the board, quoting,  MP Edward Timpson ‘this innovative programme will support adoptive families – from those who have been adopting for years to those at the beginning of the journey – every step of the way.’

Helen set the record straight immediately stating this observation is correct. The scheme is not for existing adopters, is to help new adopters through the system and during the early days of having a child or children placed. Helen recognised that “it’s a massive shock to your system in your first year”

She went on to explain that the there are three main aims on the Cornerstone Partnership.

Firstly to reduce the waiting time that harder to place children often face before a family is found. The Partnership will actively seek and work with prospective adopters to find a good match for these children.

Secondly, the already mentioned buddy or mentoring scheme.

Thirdly to train prospective adopters, post assessment and pre-placement, to prepare them for becoming a family.   Clinical Psychologist, Kim Golding has devised a three day course, based on the DDP approach called “Beginning Attachment”.

From this three pronged approach, Cornerstone aim to offer adopters approximately two years of support.

The pilot is funded for 15 monthly and during that time the National Children’s Bureau will evaluate its progress. During this time and based on out comes, a plan to expand the initiative will be developed.

I finally posed the thought to Helen that sceptics may see this as another cost cutting exercise for local authorities by recruiting adopters to do the job of social workers.

In response Helen said This isn’t something that LA’s can do and it does exist yet, not formally”(referring to the buddy scheme).

She finished by saying It’s adding not replacing and with huge benefit to the end user”.