Bringing Up Britain – Radio 4 discussion about adoption

Last night, after two hours of wrestling with my adopted child over washing, teeth brushing and bedtime, I settled in to listen to Bringing Up Britain on Radio 4, with Mariella Frostrup and a panel of guests including Martin Narey, Nushra Mansuri (BASW), John Simmonds (BAAF) and Professor Julie Selwyn. The discussion mainly rolled on quite nicely and Martin Narey in particular did a good job of bringing the debate around to the realities of modern adoption.

So far so balanced.

And then Mariella started to make smirky statements along the lines of ‘aren’t we all a bit negative about adoption?’ and chirpily announced that she knows loads of people who’ve been adopted and they are all fine, upstanding, well-balanced individuals.  I listened to the shouting and banging coming from my own adopted son’s bedroom and imagined her adopted friends, nice, metropolitan media types maybe, probably having been adopted as babies and thought ‘what the fuck’s that got to do with it?’  I thought she may have been picked up by one of the other panel members for this lazy, self-satisfied journalism but she wasn’t.  If she was, it wasn’t broadcast.  Instead we were treated to a cocktail of ‘yes we are far too negative’, ’only a small proportion of families struggle with their adopted children’ and a chaser of ‘all children are like this’. (These are not direct quotations but you get the gist.  Players of Adoption Misinfo Bingo would have been close to a full house.)

Have we learnt nothing, have we not moved on in our knowledge and experience of child trauma in the past twenty years?  The children who are put in care and subsequently adopted in the main have been neglected and abused, big time.  And they don’t just shed the harm done to them, like a cashmere wrap, it is a deeply woven into them.  Many difficult behaviours they display are deeply socially, dinner party, unacceptable.  Raising a damaged child is at the minimum a significant challenge and for many of us a hard, painful, lonely, nerve-jangling slog.

I was left wondering why the really tough issues around parenting adopted children were glossed over so stupendously in this programme (it is after all a programme about parenting).  There is a natural tendency to look away from child abuse and its long term impact.  It is difficult and makes us feel awkward.  But sometimes we must look and examine, because it is the only way our children will get the support and understanding that they need. The over-riding reason for the gloss-job I suspect, is the need to recruit more adopters and the upcoming National Adoption Week.  We musn’t tell people what it’s really like because then they might not want to adopt.  We must instead gush and come over a bit sentimental and kitch.  There is a danger of mis-selling here and it benefits no one.

I’m aware that I am probably part of a self-selecting group: adopters who struggle.  Adopters who don’t experience problems raising their children are more likely to get on with life and less likely to seek the solace of twitter, message boards and blogs like this. Have a look around though and there are lots and lots and lots of us. Mariella’s friends are self-selecting too.  I think there were nine or ten of them.

I don’t ask for full technicolour, weeping and wailing over the travails of raising traumatised children, there are triumphs and joys along the way for many of us.  But I’ll let you into a little secret: you know how there are things which are no longer socially acceptable to say, politically incorrect things which jar?   ‘All children do that’ is one of those.

7 thoughts on “Bringing Up Britain – Radio 4 discussion about adoption

  1. June

    Pretty much hit the nail on the head there Sally.

    I did not think for 1 minute that 45 minutes could do this justice and how right was I, having said that, with MF leading the debate and at least one of the contributors, if the programme had been on for several hours, they probably would not have gone on to discuss the real life, politically incorrect reality for many adopters (about 50 -60%) ; parenting ,living with, and yet still loving our traumatised children .

    1. admin Post author

      Makes me think about why the reality of adoption is ‘off limits’ in a serious discussion programme. The adopter who spoke was acceptably ‘oh its been a bit tricky’. Thanks for finding the time to read and comment.

  2. Threebecomefour

    Thanks for letting me know about the programme Sally. I’ve listened twice now. I agree that 45 minutes was insufficient time to do this subject justice. I understand from a reply I received from a tweet that the programme was quite edited which is a shame. As you know, I am an adopter who doesn’t have as many difficulties to parent as you do at the current time so I probably picked up on different things than you do (plus I was listening out for a mention LOL). Katie does have difficulties that relate to her adoption and past but, to date, her difficulties haven’t effected her overly in the wider world . Her insecurity is still quite apparent at times though, as is her anger.

    The programme was interesting because it had a positive slant. It’s interesting because usually all you hear about adoption is all the negatives. The media isn’t usually interested in stories where there has been a positive outcome. Our adoption journey has been filled with people telling us about all the anti-social behaviour we would have to deal with as adopters. It was unusual to hear anyone say anything positive about it. I can understand why you felt that Mariella was being smirky and felt that that this was more a lack of awareness about modern adoption. I would imagine that her friends are people who were relinquished as babies and didn’t suffer some of the awful experiences that many of the children who are adopted these days had to experience. It was a different era of adoption back then. I felt that there were some real tensions between some of the panel members with old grievances being raised about views not being listened to. I suspect the full discussion from this programme would have been very interesting to hear.

    I think the programme highlighted that current adoptions are not anything like the adoptions of 20 years ago and the panel discussed (albeit not in great depth) that children these days are usually adopted due to child protection issues. The issue of the rights of the parents and children was also raised and I think this is an issue that would have benefitted from further debate. Who’s rights are the highest priority? This seems to me to be a fundemental question that needs to be asked because children are very often being damaged further by attempts to keep the birth family together. Adopters then have to try and pick up the pieces of the damage to the child. I wish I had an answer to that question.

    I was a bit annoyed that the point I have been trying to make in my letter to David Cameron about funding wasn’t responded to, although I was grateful to Nushra Mansuri for attempting to raise it. It seemed to be a point that fell on stony ground but I feel that until the issue of funding and post adoption support is dealt with then we may get more adoptions but the children will still be in need of support without the resources in place to meet that need (as is the case with all issues related to mental health support). xx

    1. admin Post author

      It is difficult to get the balance right I think. Those of us who really struggle find that all we hear are the gushy, everything is fine stories and on top of that can’t access decent support whilst those for whom the impact has been less dramatic can feel that adoption accounts tend to be negative. It’s a question of balance. It must be better that adopters go into the process with their eyes open to the potential but also we musn’t forget the rewards. However, when a programme like this, with a panel of professionals, fails to reflect on the hard truth of the background of many of our children and the challenges they face, there is something bizarre going on. And for the ‘all children do that’ klaxon went off I was amazed.
      Your letter to DC really gets to the heart of the problem. More adoptions, of more damaged children, with the same or less resources, just doesn’t make sense.
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. Ivavnuk

    Hello – If you haven’t already you should send a copy of that to Radio 4 ? I’ve contacted them in the past and received a response. Who knows you might even shape a further decision on how they present things ?


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