When our son started to have significant problems at school, it came as a shock to our family that the state had no legal obligation to provide either psychological or educational support for him. If we had fostered and not adopted him, he would have been eligible to receive the support he needed. The impact upon chlldren of neglect and abuse is obviously not washed clean by the granting of an adoption order, but the beaurocracy chooses not to see it that way. Adoptive parents are left fighting a system for help, when their time and energies are already under great strain. Adoptive children are left to fail, which only goes to reinforce their view of themselves, that what has happened to them is their fault. At the same time that these huge demands are put upon adoptive parents, we are told that there is a desperate shortage of adopters. There could well be a connection. It is estimated that for each child adopted the state saves a million pounds. It does not seems unfair that a small part of this saving should go towards supporting some of our most vulnerable children.
An e-petition has been posted on the government website which seeks to rectify this situation. It hits the nail on the head. I urge everyone to take two minutes, follow the link and to sign the petition. It could make a real difference to thousands of children who have the right to a second chance.
Yesterday evening I was laid in bed watching the BBC2 Culture Show programme about Hilary Mantel on iplayer. Her writing is simple and uncluttered but gets to the heart of things. Her Man Booker Prize winner ‘Wolf Hall’ is one of the best books I have ever read. I was enjoying listening to her talk about her life and then she said one thing which cut deep,
‘I miss the children I never had.’
She was sat alone, in an empty room, emotion backed up in her throat.
I have had cause to think about infertility recently, not my own, but that of others and so I have been remembering a place which had lain forgotten for some time. I see the pain and grief and isolation and I want to make it all right, make it better.
As is her talent, Hilary got to the very centre of the fear. It was a fear I could not face which is a great part of the reason why Rob and I decided to adopt children. I would love to say it is easy, but it is not, it is sometimes beyond difficult, but it is often glorious.
Still reeling from a difficult week which culminated in my son throwing his shoes at me and calling me a t**t, I sought some solace with a friend, who was also in need of a laugh and we went to see I Don’t Know How She Does It. The film met it’s objective in that we did indeed laugh, but unfortunately we laughed at it and not with it. We also joined in with the slow handclap at the end which is more then the film deserved.
Kate Reddy is well off, attractive, has a job she loves, a beautiful house in Boston, an adoring husband and two angelic children, who are cared for by a nanny whilst she is jetting off to very important meetings with handsome men. She is definitely one of life’s rollover lottery winners. But there is one big problem in her life: she is rather busy. And we, the austerity viewers, are meant to feel sorry for her.
The script was badly written, corny, out-dated and full of ludicrous and cruel stereotypes (the stay-at-home mums being the worst examples). Kate’s trials were nothing compared to the trials that many of us face on a daily basis and for that reason there was no dramatic tension whatsoever. Her infestation was cured by a single visit to a special salon where rubber-gloved ladies were paid to remove every last egg, nit and lice. There was no embarrassing conversation at the counter in Boots, no application of noxious shampoo, she didn’t spend hours every evening combing out her and her children’s hair and she didn’t spend days looking like she had dipped her head in an oil slick.
The film was an insulting portrait of the lives of parents, particularly mothers. It depresses me that film-makers, writers and journalists seem so out-of-touch with real life and shamelessly serve up this horse shit.
Have you seen the film? Let me know your thoughts.
After several years of dealing with our childrens’ challenging behaviour (as it is somewhat euphemistically referred to) we were lucky enough to get help from a brilliant social worker specialising in fostered and adopted children. If I could boil his message down into one easily digestible mouthful it was this: spend every moment you can with your children, it will help them to feel secure and will lessen their opportunities to fail at things. He did not recommend that we kit up with Apple products, a flat screen television and an x-box kinect.
Ground down and brain turned half to jelly, this didn’t sound too appealing at first. And I thought I was already spending lots of time with them. He persisted. ‘Forget about what the house looks like, forget about making wonderful meals, eat Heinz beans every night if it means you can be with them and do whatever they want to do.’ That part was music to my ears. I bought baked beans, plus eggs and some grated cheese (I still have my standards) and therein began a big transformation in our family. We watched hours of Almost Naked Animals, Barbie Swan Lake and Deadly 60 together. Then after our beans on toast, we watched The Simpsons, or rather the children watched me laughing at The Simpson’s (why’s that funny mum?/well that man there is Richard Nixon… never mind’). It wasn’t all television. We made things, like paper money and toilet roll people, we cooked, we had a sports day in the garden. Hardly the stuff of a mumsnet blog, but it made the most remarkable difference to both of our children. They became calmer, less confrontational, we talked about things, we had fun. They came to understand when I was tired and needed to doze through ‘Tracy Beaker’ and sometimes they happily took themselves off to play in their bedrooms. Whenever things get difficult now I restock the tin cupboard, ignore the mess and get down with the kids.
In 2007, a UNICEF report found that children in the UK are the unhappiest in all of the industrialised world. Yesterday they issued a report which tries to explain why this might be. Their conclusion? We try to compensate for spending inadequate time with our children by showering them with material goods. And guess what? It doesn’t work. And this applies to families of all social classes and all races. Maybe there is a lesson in there for all of us.
As a battle-hardened parent of two adopted children (my husband Rob and I adopted from UK social services in 2002) I watched the documentary on BBC 2 ’Adopting Abroad: Saira’s Story’ with mixed feelings. I identified with Saira and her husband Steve’s yearning to complete their family. Yet I felt uneasy with her insistence on finding a baby amongst those left by poor mothers in the special cot in the entrance to the orphanage in Karachi, which was healthy. But then I remembered my husband Rob and I filling out the tick box part of the Form F (the form completed by a social worker when assessing a prospective adopter), having to decide upon the extent of a child’s difficulties we felt able to cope with. We littered the boxes with crosses, each one discounting hundreds of children needing adoption. Saira explained her insistence: not wanting to disrupt and burden her existing family (she has a two-year old birth son Zac) with hospital visits and medical treatments. It wouldn’t be fair on them. At one point she put her point uncomfortably to a couple who had adopted a baby from Pakistan with complex health problems. ‘Knowing what you know now, would you have adopted a sick child?’ she asked of them as the love for their daughter shone from their eyes. I cringed.
Saira’s near-obsession with the health of the child melted away as soon as she laid eyes upon her baby, which she named Amara in the taxi on the way to the hospital. She soon saw the baby as a vulnerable soul, born with nothing, who had no one else in the world to care for her. Amara’s state of health became immaterial. It was wonderful to watch the bonding process at work.
I have been reminded of how naive I was when we started the adoption process and of how much I have learnt along the way. Had I been followed by television cameras, I would surely have been captured saying some outrageously stupid and crass things, so who am I to judge Saira? Difficult though the approval and matching processes can be, the challenge and the learning only really start once a child or children are placed. Many of us then find ourselves trying to raise traumatised children with little or no help and with the constant whisper in the ear ‘they should be alright by now’ which comes from all around. I hope very much that the cameras will continue to follow Saira and Steve, for their journey has only just begun. And I wish them and their little family all the very best.
In my first year at secondary school, during a maths lesson, I wet myself. The teacher barked an order at me, I didn’t understand her and was too scared to ask for clarification. When inevitably I carried out her order incorrectly, the forces of hell were unleashed upon me. She screeched and screamed and spittle was propelled from her anger on to my face. I had never felt such fear before, nor such humiliation.
Now I am all grown up I can see that she was a milicious child-hater who should not have been working anywhere near children. Back then we used what little power we had by calling her Davros behind her back and whispering ‘resistance is futile’ whenever she came near. Davros for those not familiar with Doctor Who of the 1970s was the emperor dalek. He had a dalek bottom half with a grotesque human head, arms and torso perched on the top. The maths teacher was a close match both in looks and temperament.
It was my son Jamie’s first day at secondary school yesterday. Many aspects of his transition into the next stage of education have been managed well and I wish that my secondary school had been half as good as his appears to be. But Jamie has found school very difficult, so when he came home yesterday smiling and reporting on a good day, I was relieved. At bedtime though, traditionally the confessional time in our house, he said he had felt humiliated by the maths teacher. For a child who has struggled with education I was immediately impressed at the use of such a long word and then saw the tears in his eyes. Children with early trauma can see humiliation and put down where none was intended and Jamie is no exception. But a public mocking can also inflict a painful wound on a child with deep insecurities. So not knowing the whole truth of the matter and aware that secondary schools expect some distance from pesty mothers, I will bide my time and see how things go. I decided instead to recount my Davros story to him and he listened wide-eyed. At breakfast this morning he told his sister that mummy wet herself at school and they both choked with laughter. Jamie went to school looking happy. There’s no maths today.
A beautiful friend once complained to me how difficult life can be for the highly attractive. Apparently it is akin to being rich; one tends to be judged on one’s bountiful gifts and not on one’s inner qualities. It was hard to dredge up any feelings of sympathy. I was reminded of this moment when I listened to Woman’s Hour on Friday and learned of the existence of the National Association for Gifted Children. It appears that being a quick learner comes with its own drawbacks amongst which can be boredom, which leads to messing around in class, which leads to a prescription for Ritalin.
As a governor of a small primary school I have often heard parents complaining that their gifted children are not being well-served. There may be some truth in this of course, but their complaints outnumber the complaints of those representing children at the other end of the spectrum, by quite some margin and by most measures they have far more reason to complain. There is something of the sharp-elbowed about it and that is why educators and budget-setters have to be wary of the loud, educated voices of self-interest and balance them against the interests of children who may not have such effective advocates.
Most children who have spent their early years staring at a ceiling are not likely to be bothering the National Association for Gifted Children any time soon. If they are messing around in class then it will have much more to do with fear and self-loathing than about finding the work too easy. Like gifted children they don’t qualify for any special funding at school (the government ceased funding schemes for Gifted and Talented children earlier this year). It is worth spelling this out – a child whose early neglect and abuse renders that child often unable to function in the classroom at all receives no additional help or funding within school. If that child has special educational needs then they will get funding, but if their difficulties are not so easy to label then unless they happen to be in an unusually understanding school, that child will perform far below their potential. And there is more to play for here than dropping a few GCSE grades.
So maybe those of us who parent these children need to sharpen our elbows and become more vocal. There are many complex reasons why that is difficult. Our children take a lot of parenting which leaves little energy left for campaigning. We can be vilified by other parents who are fed up with our children disrupting the education of theirs, which saps one’s self-confidence. And many of us don’t want to go broadcasting the confidential facts about our children’s background around the playground. But maybe there could be a solution which helps everyone. If these children who started life at the bottom of the heap, were to receive the help they so badly need then their life chances would be radically improved. It is likely that classroom disruption would be reduced and the benefits felt by every child. It would be money intelligently spent and the marker of a mature and caring society – a big society.