Category Archives: Adoption

Social workers to learn how to earn ‘public trust’ from Politicians … Really!

Politicians to lead task force that will guide social workers in earning back public trust …… Really!

Forgive me, I almost choked on my coffee whilst reading a piece entitled ‘Social work needs to earn back public trust‘ on the Guardians Social Care Network.

The government has set up a task force to guide the social work profession on how to earn public trust. A stellar line up of politicians which include Michael Gove, Theresa May and Iain Duncan Smith, those well-known advocates of social work and those they work with. When did Politicians earn the right to pontificate on how a profession might earn public trust I wonder? I must have missed this whilst reading about the numerous promises this government has reneged on since the general election, and which clearly must have enhanced the publics trust in them …..

I am a tad perturbed the government seems to have ditched the comprehensive Munro Review, which provided a very balanced approach to reform that focused not just on social workers and their education but also the political and organisational contexts which also shape social work practice, and arguably go some way to explaining the current problems that bedevil the profession.

The piece suggests the new task force will focus on robust assessment of qualifying social workers involving employers, academics and those who use services …. ummm sorry to mention this, but I do not know of a qualifying social work programme that does not already do this. Social work programmes across the land expect students to pass a number of academic theory assignments and law based exams alongside practice based assessments which involve numerous observations of practice and a plethora of meetings and reports provided by employers, those who use services and academics commenting on the student’s performance and fitness for practice over a 2 or 3 year period.

The article goes onto suggest the social work profession needs to ask itself ‘why the college failed’ and ‘why the public mood’ supports changes in the law where social workers can be prosecuted for wilful neglect. In response to the first question, from my perspective, the reason I did not join the college is that I felt it represented the voice of the government not social workers. To the second comment I would hazard a guess that 30 years of inaccurate reporting in the media, oft-repeated by politicians, and flawed serious case reviews have played a part in the general publics perception of the profession.

Just read the book by Prof Ray Jones which looks at why politicians and the media were so keen to blame and vilify social workers and Sharon Shoesmith, Haringey’s then children’s services in the case of Baby P, to gain some insight into why the profession is held in such low esteem by the public, aided and abetted by the media and government I would suggest.

I was surprised the piece did not mention the problems with inadequate IT systems, how social work now operates in a call centre environment where workers hot desk and have limited contact with their peers, or how workers work in their cars, making phone calls in lay-bys on their mobiles because they cannot access secure office space. Nor does it mention the failing court system, or the outmoded model of fostering and adoption which is no longer fit for purpose and in many cases just adds to the trauma of already traumatised children’s lives, it fails to mention the knock on effect of welfare reform, the lack of affordable good quality housing or the deterioration in mental health support services to both adults and children, it does not dig deep into the effect on frontline service provision of high levels of stress related sickness and social work vacancies, or the impact of temporary agency workers in providing important continuity when working with children and families.

I have worked with hundreds of hard-working social work students, many of whom are accruing debts of up to £40,000 to become a social worker in children and family services. Despite public and government distrust, and potential imprisonment, they are committed to being the best social workers they can possibly be …. because of this I believe in social work. Time for another coffee I think …..

Advertisements

Free Adoption ibook: the journey to finding a birth mother…………..

About a year ago I started the search for my biological mother and shared my experience in a blog entitled ‘The Adoption Files’. However, writing ‘The Adoption File’ became as much about understanding the effects of childhood on individuals as finding my natural family. Whilst my story is related to my adoption much of what I discovered about the effects of childhood and family is the same for anyone, whether adopted or not. The truth is family is central to many of our life experiences and sometimes those are good and sometimes not so good. When childhood has not been so good it can overshadow the rest of our lives, however, it does not have to, we can turn those negatives around to achieve positive outcomes.

Many people spend their lives trying to be the person their family want them to be rather than just being themselves. This often stems from negative experiences in childhood that shape relationships within families. That childhood and family shape our lives is not exactly a startling revelation, however, this much I know, they do not have to define who we are and who we become. As George Eliot suggests “It is never too late to be who you might have been”. We are not bound by our childhoods, forever imprisoned in a world defined for us by others. Throughout life we meet individuals who are equally as important in shaping who we are and what we might become, and of course we also have our own will, intellect, humour to carry us forward into life to become the people we want to be.

The central message from my adoption story can be summed up in the words of Steve Jobs, who, like I was also adopted, and they apply to anyone who might have had a difficult childhood or who is still affected by negative family relationships

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary”.

The ‘Adoption file’ is a free short ibook and provides a snapshot of my journey to finding my natural family, and my reflections on famly and relationships. It is a story of life and hope.

The Adoption File by Diane Galpin
The Adoption File by Diane Galpin
from the introduction

‘Ayaan Hirsi Ali begins her book “Infidel my life” describing a scene with her grandmother when as a five year old she was able to name her family ancestry back three hundred years. In Somali culture lineage is central to belonging, this was something Ayaan had drummed into her as a child. Knowing our cultural heritage, our ethnic roots and family history is important to understanding who we are, they provide reference points from which we can develop an understanding of the factors that have helped shape who we are today. It is easy to over emphasise the importance of these when you do not know them, or under value their importance when you do. However, equally important is the way we are brought up and our relationships within the family. Whether who we are is predetermined by some invisible invention of science called genetics or the highly visible ‘*uck ups’ (as the poet Philip Larkin would suggest) made by our parents is commonly known as the ‘nature vs nurture’ debate and has been the subject of much discussion for decades. The truth is we are probably shaped by a bit of both[…]’

The book can be downloaded here

(You will need an iPad to read it)

After 32 years the search for my birth mother is over……..

After searching for my birth mother for 32 years I hear the words I thought I would never hear….

The phone rings, it’s the intermediary from Long Lost Families. She begins “there is good news and bad news”, okay………

My mother is alive and has been found.

However, I was wise to be reticent about happy endings, she does not want to meet me.

My reticence does nothing to ease the absolute desolation I feel as I repeat the words over in my mind.  I am silent. The intermediary continues.  “Your mother has recently been diagnosed with cancer and does not feel able to handle revisiting the past, her letter is very definite, she does not wish to have any contact”.  The intermediary is pretty sure my mother will  not change her mind, so am I.

After a lifetime of searching for my mother this is the scenario I feared most.

I am in shock, trying to respond,  fumbling for words, pretending its alright, I’m not bothered, I fully understand.  I ask the intermediary can she tell me the name of the area where my mother lives, yes , they are happy to do this (I know I can probably find her address via certain people tracing websites).  I ask for copies of the letters, hers included, and these are e-mailed to me, it is a great thrill to see my mothers handwriting for the first time, she clearly has a way with the written word.

Next I ask, will they forward a letter from me to my mother?  Yes.

As soon as I put the phone down the laptop is up and running, and hey presto within 5 minutes I have her address, now what?  She is about 6 hours drive away, it’s 4pm. Google Earth. There, her home, her street, her front room window, her bedroom, her garden.

I have lost my mind at this point.  I am frantically zooming into the windows of her home trying to get a glimpse of her. Maybe she is stood at the kitchen sink washing up looking out of the window, or maybe she has a photo of herself on the fireplace, or on the dressing table? I ring my partner and friends, I text a friend in Australia.  All say the same thing “do not get in the car and drive there”.

How did they know I was planning that?

Continuing into the evening on Google Earth, searching, searching, searching for a glimpse of her. My partner is watching me, concerned about me.  Then I burst into tears.  What am I doing stalking my mother on Google Earth!  This is not helping.  I turn the laptop off, I must stop, it is doing me no good at all, I feel helpless and pathetic.  But most of all I feel rejected, just like I did as a child.

In that moment I am 7 years old again living in a family that I am not part of.  It is obvious to me there is something wrong, I am treated differently than my sisters. The only way my 7 year old brain can make sense of this is to blame myself, there is clearly something wrong with me, I’m not sure what, but I know it’s my fault.

But I am no longer a child struggling to understand why I am being rejected, trying to work out what I have done wrong.  The past is not my present, nor my fault, so I begin the process of mourning.

How you can mourn the loss of someone you have not met, and is not yet dead (as far as I know) has been a revelation to me, not so much that you can, but the intensity of feelings; shock, anger, guilt, self-pity.

There was a sentence in my mothers letter to the intermediary that particularly upset me.  She wrote “bringing back such unhappy memories is something I could  not contemplate”.  The crashing realisation of how it must have been for her hits me. The fear and shame must have been overwhelming – there were no family celebrations when my birth was announced, no balloons or cards with ‘its a girl’ written on them in the hostel for fallen women!   And then there would have been the ultimate moment of sadness when ‘they’ came and took her 5 day old baby daughter, me,  away from her.  Was this all I was to her, an unhappy memory?

Rolling in the mire of my own self pity was brief, thankfully.

I felt/feel tremendous guilt for opening this part of her life back up to her.  My actions have opened old wounds for my mother, a past she has done her best to move on from, 3 marriages, the loss of 2 children, a diagnosis of cancer and a letter announcing my re-appearance, it is too much too late.  For the first time I truly see the selfishness of my actions, my need to know, my desire to find her.  Whilst everyone tells me I have a right to know, the question  for me is do I have the right to cause her pain and distress? The speed with which she replied to the intermediary leaves me wondering if her family know about her past, hopefully only she saw the letter.

Does she mourn the loss of our love never expressed as I do?  I believe she does.  Whilst it is doubtful we will ever meet,  we will always be alive to one another in the privacy of our own minds. I do not blame her for one moment for her decision, my biggest sadness is that she is facing cancer and I will not be there to support her. I have written to my mother again but to no avail.  I will not write anymore, here silence hurts.

The intermediary tells me my mothers response is not uncommon, with many women of her age keeping children like me a secret from their new partners/family, but making arrangements with solicitors so that after their death their new family will be told about the child from a previous relationship, and sometimes a letter is forwarded onto the child they gave up for adoption.  “You never know you may be one of them” is at least a positive note to end the call on.

Whilst, for now, this is the end of this part of the journey it is not all sad, there has been the unexpected joy of finding my sibling and family in New Zealand.   Meeting my sibling in particular has been a revelation.  Not only are we physically alike, but emotionally, psychologically, intellectually – it is scary to be honest, I have learnt more about myself by listening to them than any amount of therapy could achieve.  It has, and is, a great joy to me. Finding members of my biological/genetic family has given me a real sense of self,  a self confidence that no longer  asks ‘who am I?’, but boldly states this is who I am.

There is more to come yet, as I investigate the ‘India connection’ and my mothers anglo indian heritage.  We plan to visit my grandfathers grave in Kotagiri and his last known address, in case we still have family living there.

Finally

Thank you for indulging me and reading the adoption file blogs.  All of this has been such a hidden part of my life, starting with my adoptive families decision to keep everything secret.  This was done with the best of intentions but in truth was not only destructive to me but the whole of the family.  It over shadowed everyone’s lives, and to be honest of us all I have been the one to escape least damaged.  For me writing this, and knowing others have read it, has brought my mother to life, she exists, she is not a shameful secret any longer. This matters to me.

IMG_0201
My letter to my mother, I thought for a long time how I should sign it and decided to use the name she gave me.

The ‘Adoption File’ blogs are now available as a  short Apple ibook (it’s free by the way). The ibook is just long enough to enjoy with a coffee and a kitkat! It contains more photos and details, and any latest developments. It can be found in the ibook store, just type The Adoption File in the search bar,happy reading it really is a story of hope!

Mixed race adoptions …..does Mr Gove have a point?

As a Guardian/Observer reading ex social worker it pains me to even type this, let alone say it out aloud….but, could Mr Gove have a point?

This is an area of personal interest to me as someone who was adopted in the 1960’s and who is of mixed race, although not obviously so. My birth mother is Anglo Indian but I am ‘white’ in appearance. The Observer discusses recent research published by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, which examined the experiences of children who had been adopted in the 1960‘s from Hong Kong. The report suggests racial and cultural differences can have a significantly negative impact on children from ethnic minorities when adopted by white families. Many of the feelings the adoptees reported I too have felt, especially feelings of not belonging and difference within their adoptive families and wider communities. I too experienced such feelings even though we were an all ‘white’ family. This suggests, to me, that whilst ethnicity is an important factor, it is not the only factor that needs to be borne in mine when selecting potential adoptive parents and matching them to adoptees, hence the need for a rigorous screening process undertaken professionally.

For me it boils down to an adoptive parents ability to demonstrate unconditional love and acceptance of difference, whatever those ‘differences’ might be.

However, there is a bigger picture here that needs to be addressed because being ‘different’ is not the problem, being accepted is the problem. It is the way others react to such differences that causes problems. The way some in wider society perceive, and treat, individuals from minority ethnic groups is the problem because

“ We are all apt to believe what the world believes about us” (George Eliot)

If the world of the child tells them there is something wrong with them, they are apt to believe there is something wrong with them!

So do the Tories have a point? This report is written about children adopted in the 1960’s when our cultural values and ‘norms’ were very different, and of course much has changed in respect of discrimination and ethnicity, although not thanks to Tory governments in my opinion. However, this is not really about the colour of adoptive parents skin is it. It is about the values of society, about societies inability to accept ‘difference’ , whether that might be due to ethnicity, sexuality or a multitude of other things that might not conform to the ‘norm’, and of course the ‘norm’ is reinforced by policy and legislation handed down by government.

Maybe the Tory government should focus on ridding society of it’s intolerance to difference first, before blaming social workers. Whilst not a perfect profession Mr Gove, maybe it is because social workers are already aware of the reports findings that the adoption process for children from ethnic minority groups is slower.

There is much more to this issue to be considered, maybe Mr Gove needs to listen more closely to those working in the system on a day to day basis, rather than base his reform of adoption services on his personal experience. It is good to have a personal perspective, but please do not let this get in the way of getting reform right.

Phew back on safe Guardian/Observer reading ex social worker ground now, thank goodness. If you would like to read about my experience of adoption and the search for my birth mother please click here for a free short ibook.

Free iBook: #LongLostFamilies (ITV) and the search for my mother…..The Adoption Files

(A free ibook of the complete ‘adoption file’ story can be downloaded here)

Who Do You Think You Are? producers, Wall to Wall, began making a series reuniting long lost relatives in 2010 for ITV called ‘Long Lost Famlies’. At the end of the first series I completed an on-line application form for the second series, and to my amazement I was selected for the 2012 show! But I had to remember, I was told,  the purpose of the programme is to ‘entertain’ the nation, not re-unite me with my natural mother…

“The strongest principle of growth lies in human choices” (George Eliot)

Whilst not keen on conducting the search for my mother in front of millions of viewers I knew this could be my best opportunity yet of finding her. After the excitement of finding my sibling the trail had gone cold.   Over the last 3 years my partner and I have flown to New Zealand to meet cousins who might have more information, they didn’t! We travelled to my mothers last known address (from 1964) knocking on doors and accosting strangers in the street showing random people her photo asking if they recognised her. I sent swabs to America to establish my mtDNA, incase anyone else was on file as a relative.  The closest I got to my mother was confirming we both probably derived from a female who lived in South Asia 60,000 years ago! We spent hours in the British Library tracking down my grandfather in ‘Thackers’ directories, these list Europeans who lived in India up to the 1930’s, as well as searching for my mothers birth/death certificate, which we have never found, (we have a lot of death certificates of women with a similar name and of a similar age!).  Passenger lists have been searched to find out when my mother travelled to the UK from India, and of course we spent several thousands of hours on Ancestry websites, google, 192, People Finder etc, etc…….but we were no closer to finding her.

The 'certificate' confirming my origins....
The ‘certificate’ confirming my origins….

Initially a researcher from Wall to Wall made contact requesting a meeting between us, where she would gather information whilst filming me.  This would then be viewed by the production team and a decision would be made as to whether our story was ‘in’ or not.  One of the first questions I asked was how many applicants were there, 7000!

The initial interview was very tiring, and something of a marathon. All the questions obviously related to my adoption.  However, what took me by surprise was the focus on how I ‘felt’ about everything. For example I went to Somerset House to see my birth certificate for the first time in 1978, “how did it feel to see your birth name for the first time?”, ummm it was 34 years ago I’m not sure I can remember. “What did it feel like when you saw your adoption record for the first time?” Ummm, ditto, it was over 30 years ago! In the end I just had to describe how I thought I might have felt in hindsight. Not sure how accurate this was but, I was as honest as I could be.  It did bring into sharp relief how emotional this journey has been and gave me an indication of just how emotionally draining this process might be.  It was sobering to say the least.

On receiving the phone call confirming our story had been chosen I was absolutely elated.  One thing that stuck in my mind was the researchers warning “this is an entertainment show not a family reuniting service”.  This was said in a positive sense to remind me of what I was letting myself in for (we would only appear on TV if there was a ‘result’ i.e. we were reunited and my mother agreed to appearing or if she were dead and I agreed to appear).  The whole purpose of the programme is to entertain viewers.  We as a nation seem to love watching such programmes if the viewing figures are anything to go by.  But in reality it’s more than entertainment, a ‘soap’. It is actually about real peoples’ lives, people like my mother and I, whose secrets could be laid bare to the whole of Britain!

This can get lost when watching. From my limited experience I can tell you it is an extremely hard and emotionally draining experience, and that for many involved it is through desperation rather than a desire to be on TV (I begged the programme makers on my application to include us). There is a cost to all those involved.  Those at the heart of the ‘story’ have to re-live highly disturbing events, giving up your child for adoption must rank as one of the most difficult things you face in life.  The consequences of  revealing such events and reliving long buried feelings remain long after the production has ended.

Although, I can not fault Wall to Wall in the support mechanisms they have in place. They arrange for a psychological assessment and provide an ‘intermediarry’ to act a kind of go between should a family member be found. Mine proved very supportive, keeping in contact right from the beginning to check all was okay.

People have mixed feelings about these types of programmes, so do I.  Participation should not be taken lightly, the potential to make a life ‘worse’ is definitely ever-present, so realistic expectations and the support of loved ones is vital.

Several months after my last contact with the intermediary, and after several non-committal e-mails from the interviewer at Wall to Wall, I receive a phone call.

There is good news and bad……… to find out what happened next click here to download a free short ibook (you will need an iPad to read it. The free ibook contains all the ‘adoption file’ blogs along with some extra details and a few more photos. Previous blogs are here, here and here)

Using social media to support learning and practice in social work

‘Trying to find the magic’ in practice or ‘trying to write a classic’ social work assignment can be hard….but help is at hand from Christina Perri, The Manic Street Preachers and Lana del Rey (with a little encouragement from Natasha Beddingfield) …… yes, really

Alongside practical experience developing practice in social work also involves a lot of reading.  The problem is, sometimes academic textbooks, research and journals can be quite difficult to understand and seem remote from practice, this can put you off reading in depth.  If you find text books and journal articles really hard to get into, the chances are  something written in a different style would help.  If that sounds like someone you know, or yourself, one way to support learning and professional development can be through the use of social media, for example twitter,  blogs and YouTube, used alongside more traditional academic materials.

Using social media to support professional development and learning is exciting because it enables you to learn in a ‘virtual’  classroom, the size of the world, but from where you are.  Information contained in blogs and on twitter is up to date as they often respond in real time to events as they happen.  The ability to access relevant up to date information has the potential to boost your learning, and your confidence!  Social media resources are often more concise and much more accessible than tradition academic texts,  giving an understanding of key issues quickly, as well as useful links to follow up.  There are many blog and twitter accounts that might be useful, some written by experienced practitioners, or those who use services as well as others, like me, who used to be a social worker but now work in a university.  Reading a range of authors work can help give a different perspective. Try these to start; The Small Places – with a focus on Mental Capacity, and The Not So Big Society – with a focus on anything and everything health and social care related!  Both are really topical and can lead to other useful resources, such as people to follow on Twitter, like Ermintrude2, an experienced social worker and keen blogger, or,  Clare Horton from the Guardian (editor of Society).  Engage with the people you follow on Twitter, where else could you actually communicate with the editor of the Guardian Society section (a must read for health and social care).  Another favourite of mine is Full Fact, which I follow on Facebook, this helps verify the accuracy of statistical information often used by politicians and the media to comment on social issues, for example immigration is always a controversial topic, has an increase in foreign nationals led to a surge in crime in the UK?  Checking out, rather than just accepting headlines, leads to informed debate rather than dogma.

YouTube and iTunes U are also a good resource to supplement your learning.  For example take a subject like social policy, click here, Youtube has short pieces to full length lectures on a range of social care topics, often given by leading names in the profession, and of course you can watch these at a time convenient to you and replay them when you find something difficult to understand.

It is likely technology will be used more in social work education in the future, for example Leeds Metropolitan University has created ‘Learnscape’ a learning platform that attempts to replicate real social work practice in virtual locations. Some will find this helpful, others daunting.  The thing to remember is these are all tools to support you, and you can control how you choose to use them.

Having fun, after all it is called ‘social’ media: an example of blending blogs with YouTube 

Here are three blogs you might find helpful to get started with, they cover adoption, older people’s services and social policy (privatisation of healthcare).  I often link my blogs to song titles or lyrics, so have included a playlist which I hope will help you, or at the very least give you a break from the boredom of studying!  By linking these blogs, and the ideas contained in them, to the songs you hear you will be better able to remember the key issues, however, you really have to actively think about the points made in the blog and explicitly link them to the song, so when you replay the song in your mind you also kind of replay the blog!  (read someone like Tony Buzan to help develop effective learning techniques).  You could also use social media when meeting with your colleagues, student group, practice assessors, supervisors, mentors or tutors to stimulate discussion and/or debate on a particular topical subject.

Finally, write your own blog and engage with Twitter, retweet what you find and become the one providing information to others. Complete the poll at the end of this blog and be part of research, or even better, do your own research using social media!

More will follow next month if you find these helpful.  Good luck.

Blog 1 Social Policy: Lana Del Rey: If ‘money is the anthem of success’ why do I have no confidence in a privatised health and social care system?

The Health and Social Care Act has opened the way for further privatisation of health and social care provision. ‘Care’ is now a commodity, just like iphones’ and cars, if there is enough demand the private sector will provide and consumers can shop around for the best deal. However, is that what happens when ‘consumers’ (service users) buy care?

Blog 2 Older People: Manic Street Preachers – Dignity in the care of older people – “If you tolerate this then your children will be next”

Poor levels of care for older people is a topical subject at the moment.  Sadly there is a problem with the system, however, improving care provision for older people is not just about today’s older population, it is about all our futures, our own and our children’s.

Blog 3 Adoption: Christina Perri – Jar of Hearts, Lost families: “I can’t take one more step toward you because all that’s waiting is regret’

This is quite a personal one from me. You might be thinking about working in adoption services, finding families is all important, however, have you ever wondered what happens to those adopted children when they become adults and want to know more about their natural family? This is my story.

The Adoption File: ‘Baby Evans’…………

‘Baby Evans’…….that’s me!!!!

Finally, the adoption file has been read.  Has it provided that one vital piece of information that will lead me directly to my birth mother?  No, but I am getting closer, more on that later.

The adoption process was very different in those days that’s for sure.  The assessment of my adoptive parents is probably the polar opposite of todays procedures. The whole assessment is no more than two pages long and the worker appeared particularly impressed that even though my adoptive father was on a low wage (£8.15 shillings a week) the family were saving for a car, so were clearly of good character and highly suited to adopting a baby.  A bit slim in terms of evidence of potential parenting skills I know, but, no matter, just to double check all would be well they obtained a ‘satisfactory reference from a neighbour’, oh!  Whilst some parts of the file really made me laugh, was my whole future really based on the potential purchase of a Ford Anglia?,  other parts were just, well sad.  One sentence in particular brought tears to my eyes when it says of my adoptive parents ‘they are anxious to adopt this baby whom she and her husband have grown to love’.  My relationship with my adoptive parents was not great, to be honest it was a real shock to read they loved me.  When did I stop feeling loved I wonder?  In truth my adoption affected everyone of us in the family, it was shrouded in secrecy and shame, never ever spoken about but ever present.  I was never told of my adoption or the circumstances that led to my adoption, and no one in my family will speak about it, indeed my older sister still refuses to acknowledge I’m adopted.

It was pleasing to read in the file that my birth mother seemed to disengage with the process – she did not respond to letters or keep appointments, and even lied about knowing the whereabouts of her husband so he could not confirm he was not my father, thus holding up the adoption process for several months.  What does this all mean, well in the absence of hard evidence I choose to believe she was having second thoughts, maybe the reality of being a woman from a minority ethnic group trying to raise an illegitimate child on her own, with no family support (her family were in India), won out in the end and she did what she thought was best for me, and possibly her only option.

It was strange seeing me referred to as ‘Baby Evans’ and ‘Susan Evans’ and telling of the social context of the time that my mother is not referred to by name but as ‘the child’s mother’,  it is also noted ‘Baby Evans’ is illegitimate throughout.  There is nothing regarding my mothers Asian ethnicity, nor anything about what she might look like or family history.  All things I have subsequently found out over the course of the last 34 years.  These things have been extremely important to me in helping me understand more about who I am and where I come from and have given me a real sense of identity and worth.Thank goodness that has changed now and adopted children are given more information about their birth family.

Whilst the file has not led me to my birth mother it has unexpectedly led me to rethink the relationship with my adoptive mother. To read that she had grown to love ‘Baby Evans’ has changed the way I see her.  Over the years I have often wondered why she adopted me , because I often felt unwanted to be honest, but at this moment in her life, 12th May 1961, the reason she adopted me  is officially recorded as love,  hmm ‘sometimes it’s hard to recognise, love comes as a surprise, and it’s too late…….’ she died in 1994 (Human League, Together).

This is not the end of my search though,  there has been a significant development. At the end of last year I applied to appear on the ITV programme ‘Lost Families’.  Amazingly, out of thousands I was selected as a potential participant. They came and interviewed me, and lo and behold they decided to include my story in the programme!

And so the next step began, the most significant of my life.  An end is in sight, or is it a new beginning, or the beginning of the end, who knows.  All I do know is that whatever the outcome I cannot stop now. So I try to prepare for every eventuality, and hope for the best.

(This is the 3rd  in the ‘Adoption File’ blogs, the full story, with outcome of my search, can be read in a free ibook available here <a href="here“>) You will need an ipad to read it though. I hope you find it interesting.

There is a million reasons why ‘big society’ and ‘choice’ are not enough when providing care to older people

Research suggests as many as 500,000 older people are abused each year (Action on Elder Abuse), in the main by those supposed to be providing their care.  Therefore, since the election in May 2010 up to one million older people may have been abused.  

This information is not new, successive governments have been aware of this issue for many years but all have stopped short of introducing a coherent legislative framework to protect those most vulnerable in the care system.  The coalition appear to believe in the power of ‘big society’ and service user and patient ‘choice’ in a market led health and social care system.  My difficulty with this approach is it offers nothing new,  it looks no further than the rhetoric of the ‘free markets’  beloved of every government since Thatcher.  Nobody appears interested in thinking deeper and developing care from a philosophical perspective.  Surely we need to understand what motivates us to care before we can reform the system ?

Historically societal attitudes toward older people have always been poor.  In ancient Greece old age was portrayed as sad with historians arguing the Greeks love of beauty marginalised the old, especially women, sounds familiar!  Cicero’s work De Senecute, written in 44BC, pointed to a variety of individual experiences of ageing, however acknowledging that for those who were poor and without mental capacity ageing is miserable.  Sadly, all of this is still true today with research suggesting those at greatest risk of abuse and mistreatment are elderly women suffering from some level of dementia.  This,  along with the fact that the abuse and mistreatment of older people is a global issue identified by the World Health Organisation over a decade ago, suggests the issue  extends well beyond political systems and party politics in the UK.

I’m with social contract thinkers Hobbes (1588-1679) and Locke (1632-1704) when they suggest as human beings we are inherently selfish and our individual pursuit of pleasure is destructive to society, suggesting the law can be used as an apparatus to modify such human desires.  In my view the  continued economic approach to health and social care has fed such selfishness, to the detriment of certain groups in society, i.e. older people,  and we now require a strong lead from government.

Successive governments since Margaret Thatcher have relied on a consumerist approach to improving the quality of health and social care provision. The question is has turning vulnerable older people into consumers improved their care?  For some yes, but for many of the most vulnerable older people in society, those older old people with dementia and who are frail, I’m not so sure.  However, what it has done is hide the abuse and mistreatment of older people from collective view for the last 30 years, and led society to engage in debate that does not move beyond the financial.  Research suggests this has had a detrimental effect on the moral health of society and academics are now suggesting the use of market mechanisms can change people’s attitudes and values, having a  ‘corrosive effect’.    Michael Sandel makes a pertinent point suggesting

It calls into question the use of market mechanisms and market reasoning in many aspects of social life, ……to motivate performance in education, health care, the work place, voluntary associations, civic life and other settings in which intrinsic motivations or moral commitments matter‘ (What money can’t buy, 2012, p122).

So what can we do? Helen Sullivan suggests ‘a big society needs an active state’.   A useful first step would be for government to accept the Law Commissions recommendations on reforming the law in respect of Safeguarding Adults without delay.  Secondly, abandon the rhetoric of ‘choice’ and ‘free markets’  and develop a meaningful dialogue based on concepts such a honesty, morality and dignity from a philosophical  rather than financial perspective. A new approach might be to have a dialogue that goes beyond party politics (and winning the next election) and begins by asking big society what it wants to afford, rather than politician telling us what we cannot afford.

I am sure many will say we cannot afford to reform the system on philosophical grounds, I would ask those individuals “can we morally afford not too?”

Lost families: “I can’t take one more step toward you because all that’s waiting is regret….” (Christina Perri)

This is the 2nd of three blogs on my adoption, to read part one please go to https://digalpin.wordpress.com/2012/03/08/adult-adoptees-and-identity/ and part 3 here

As my adoption file arrives I cancel my appointment, after 8 months you would think I’d prepared myself but apparently not!  My emotions get the better of me and I re-arrange the meeting.  In preparation I go over the bits of my adoption journey  that are known to me, those key moments, the most important being the first time I ever saw my natural mother in a photo.  

There are 3 photos, her with a small child (not me), one of her with a handsome man and a photo that looks like a passport photo of an attractive dark eyed woman, of about 30 years  of age, looking directly into camera, hair smart, her skin looks dark, or is that because it’s a black and white photo? (I find out later she is Anglo Indian).  I stare at the photos looking for similarities, are those my eyes, her chin, how tall is she, how thin is she, is that my nose?

It’s like ‘wah hey I look like someone’ , this is the first time I have ever had a resemblance to anyone.  This is very important to me because I share no physical features with my adoptive family and have always felt like a ‘cuckoo in the nest’.

After getting over the initial excitement deeper thoughts emerge, more  unknowns to be known, questions I would desperately like to ask her.

Turning the passport photo over there is a small faded date stamp “Jan 1960”, what does this tell me?   Repeating the date in my mind, “Jan 1960, Jan 1960”  the penny drops, of course this is the year of my birth.  More significantly its January, she is already pregnant with me, not more than a few days/weeks though, does she know?   The eyes look sad, did they before I knew the date on the back of the photo or am I seeing something that is not there?    We are in a peculiar position at this moment she and I.   The dark eyes that look back at me hold her secret, yet the eyes that look at her, mine, know her secret and  what is going to happen within a few months of this photo being taken.  I am looking at  a woman whose life is out of control as all that she loves, and might have loved, will soon to be lost to her forever but she does not know this yet.

The small child turns out to be my half sibling and the man her husband, but not my father. Within a few months of these photos being taken my half siblings life would be turned upside down as my (our!) mother loses a hard fought custody battle.  For her husband his beautiful wife, the mother of his first born, will soon break his heart as she tells him she is pregnant with another mans child. The unborn child within her, me, will spend just a few days with her in a hostel for unmarried mothers, the only time we have met.

Fifty years after the taking of these photos I learn the fate of my half sibling as we are happily reunited via an incredible stroke of luck, when in a moment of boredom I surf the internet and come across a website called ‘Tombs in Ooty’ (I know!),  this site leads to us finding one other,  but of the central figure, the one who has been totally absent in my life, and the one who has had the biggest impact, well …………..

When I reflect on the reasons for my adoption, basically because my mother was ‘unfaithful’ and pregnant by another man,  she probably had very few options as a minority ethnic woman in 1960.  It makes me realise how far society has advanced, and how proud I am of those advances, although others may not see it in the same way as me!

I know reading the file will not make up for these lost years or bring to life someone who only exists in my mind and in 3 little photos, I know all thats waiting is regret, but still the desire to make some kind of sense is strong, and so with some trepidation the file will be read, but just not now.

(The full story, and outcomeof my sear, can be read here <a href="here“>)

Adoption:A ‘good’ adoption is not just about being faster

 As the government seeks to speed up the adoption process with Michael Gove highlighting the value of a stable and nurturing environment, an adult adoptee suggests the actual adoption is just the beginning and more support post adoption is needed.

On this, Michael Gove and I agree, adoption has to be better than a child languishing in the care system, farmed out to a multitude of foster placements that may break down.  Just as Mr. Gove’s personal experience shapes his thoughts on adoption so do mine.

What I think the government and Mr Gove fails to understand is the change in reasons why children are adopted today compared to when we were both adopted.  In my case I was adopted  because I was illegitimate and my mother did not have the means to care for me in terms of a home, cash or family support, I think this is less the case today.  The reasons for adoption today are far more complex and involve problems such as mental health issues, substance mis-use, domestic violence and child abuse, these along with the knowledge gained from neuroscience means that some of the children who need to be adopted now may have far more complex emotional and psychological needs than I did, and thus require adoptive parents  able to cope with whatever this might bring.

Whilst the system does require reform, lets base it on facts and evidence not personal experience.  Yes personal experience is important, it can act as a motivator to improve the system, lets just make sure its the right change, otherwise we are in danger of letting down the next generation of adoptees.