Tag Archives: society

The ‘Big Society’ will not necessarily lead to better elderly care treatment by @dianegalpin

A fantastic blog by our senior Lecturer Di Galpin for LSE Policy and Politics Blog a recommended read!!!

The ‘Big Society’ will not necessarily lead to better elderly care treatment.

Di Galpin looks at the Big Society from a philosophical standpoint and questions whether it can be achieved without encouragement from an active state.
Advertisements

‘Big Society’ and the future of health and social care

David Cameron suggests the Jubilee party was a ‘perfect example of ‘Big Society’.  Whilst it’s okay for a knees up, is it a suitable foundation for improving the quality of care  older people receive in Britain?

Unfortunately, David Cameron’s comments on Big Society do little to help us understand what “it” actually is, and to be honest, I am not even sure he  knows what it is beyond the usual sound bytes of ‘kitchen sink economic theory’*.  However, could the concept of Big Society actually have something to contribute to the debate on the future care of older people?

What is ‘Big Society’?

Big Society has been vilified as a return to the politics of the New Right,  a Trojan horse for smaller government,  and feted as the anatomy of the new politics  on which to establish the legitimate nature, and limits, of the relationship  between the  state and individual in a 21st century system of health and social care.  Phillip Blond is a central figure in the development of the concept of Big Society.  Blond  argues both the political Left and political Right have presided over a collapse of coherent cultural values and a shared commitment to a ‘common good’,  suggesting a redistribution of power from the ‘top’ (state) to the bottom (individual) is required, aligned with a more compassionate form of capitalism, to re-establish the common good.  For the current government this rests on the empowerment of local communities founded on voluntary networks of trust and mutuality.  From this perspective the purpose of Big Society appears to be to extend responsibility for the care of older people to local communities, rather than extending the responsibility of the state.

Policy programmes already implemented by the current government to develop Big Society include the National Citizen Service, which organise voluntary opportunities for young people, and the creation of the Big Society Bank, which will act as a central source of investment income for third sector organisations.  The Localism Bills’ accompanying guidance states ‘Big Society is what happens whenever people work together for the common good.  It is about achieving our collective goals in ways that are more diverse, more local and more personal (HM Government, 2010: p.2).

However, whilst at one level Big Society can be viewed as a mechanism of transferring more responsibility onto individuals, allowing the state to reduce public sector spending (Alcock, 2012) Big Society is also about believing in, and building on, the inherent ‘good’ within humankind.

Jesse Norman suggests Big Society involves moving beyond the ‘two way opposition of state vs. individual’ in the provision of care to ‘the three way relationship of enabling state, active individual and linking institution’ (2010,p.7).  For Norman the former is flawed because it ignores the diversity of human beings and their ability to act morally without interference from the state.  By justifying the legitimacy of the state, it polarises the individual and ignores the positive power and potential of individuals to create and maintain a ‘good society’, which cares for one another for altruistic reasons, rather than because the state legislate that society provide care and support.  Norman suggests state interference is a negative response to care provision, quoting Alex de Tocqueville (1805-1859)

“The more [the state] stands in the place of associations, the more will individuals, losing the notion of combining together, require its assistance.  These are cause and effect that unceasingly create each other.”

The ‘associations’ that mediate between individuals and the state can be conceptualised as operating within civil society.  Civil society is the space of un-coerced human action, the place where people take action as moral beings,  via all organisations and associations above the level of the family and below the level of the state.  The place where your jubilee street party was planned presumably.

Importantly for advocates of Big Society the role of government in this ‘space’ and ‘place’ is minimal.

How does this support the current approach to caring for older people?

From this perspective caring for older people, and ensuring care is dignified, is viewed as something we all agree is a ‘good thing’ and freely engage in, rather than something government should regulate or legislate for.  In this context government relies on ‘phillic’ associations, taken from the Greek ‘philia’, meaning friendship ties, affection or regard that are the essence of the space between individual and state.  Government would rather rely on these to guide human behaviour in the care sector than introducing legislation or regulation.

Hence, the governments  support for the introduction of a voluntary dignity code  (The Telegraph., 2012).

Big Society, freedom and money

However, whilst government may think treating older people with dignity and respect is viewed as a ‘given’, assuming we are all willing to  care for, and protect,  older people,  this is not necessarily true, as evidenced by a number of reports on the poor levels of care provision  older people experience across the care sector.

At the heart of the current debate are two related themes.  Firstly, an attempt to understand how the relationship between the state, private sector and individual should be formulated to fulfil a mutual responsibility in supporting dignified care for older people, and secondly  the affordability of care provision.   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).

It is impossible to ignore the effects of systematic inequalities in liberal societies that effectively exclude, or compromise the rights of a variety of social groups.  Nor can we ignore the corrosive effect successive governments use of a consumerist approach to health and social care might have had on those ‘phillic‘ associations so vital to a ‘Big Society’.   The ‘Osborne Supremacy’  assumes the existence of a single unified ‘big society’ when it actually consists of many ‘societies’ with competing interests where the interests of powerful elites are advanced in the name of defending common interests, whilst the interests of marginalised groups, such as older people,  leave them without support.

Big Society or Big Con?

The answer will depend on your political and ideological viewpoint on the legitimate role, and limits, of the state in the provision of health and social care.  Whilst it is true Big Society clearly already exists, evidenced by the number of people already providing care freely in society, what is in doubt is whether it can be extended any further without an active state (Sullivan, 2012).

* Kitchen sink economic theory -this is a term used in my household to describe David Cameron and George Osbornes approach to the financial crisis.  It refers to a vision I have of a post war couple discussing there finances whilst stood washing up at the kitchen sink.  Gladys turns to husband Frank and says “money is tight Frank, what will we do?”  Frank turns to Gladys and answers “never fear mother, we’ll just have to tighten our belts, don’t worry we’re in this together”.  Of course Frank and Gladys are very naive and do not realise their actions will make no difference because the problem is a global financial crisis and not related to Gladys splashing out on a new apron!

Share your experiences of being a child carer

Zoe is exploring the experience of adults, who as children cared for a parent with mental health problems. Through interviews they can share their journey of growing up with, and older with, a mentally ill parent. Shebelieves that the individuals will all have a unique tale to tell and as such will allow the participants to tell their story in their own way.

If you grew up with a parent who suffered with a mental illness which included symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions, are aged 30 + and would like to take part in Zoe’s research, please contact Zoe Cowie through any of the following:

Address: B412, Bournemouth House, Bournemouth University, 17 Christchurch Rd Bournemouth BH1 3LH 

Tel: 01202 967345

Email: zcowie@bournemouth.ac.uk.

To find out more information go to Zoe’s blog – http://zoecowie.wordpress.com/ 

All communications will be treated in complete confidence and contact will not mean that you are committing to take part at this stage.  You will be sent more information before making any decision and will be able to withdraw from the study at any stage should you wish.

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“>)

Have we reached the point of ‘compassion fatigue’ when it comes to the abuse of older people?

The BBC will broadcast shocking images of abuse on Panorama whilst the Telegraph suggested last year the treatment of older people in care is now so bad that it meets the legal definition of torture according to the Governments own human rights watchdog (John Bingham, 5th March 2012). How many more news reports do we have to watch and read before society and government decide to react with more than short lived outrage or have we reached the point of ‘compassion fatigue’ when it comes to the abuse of older people?

The BBC’s Panorama (17th June 2013) will make for shocking, and saddening,  viewing on the care of older people in Britain today. Sadly this is not new to many of us who have worked in the care sector. Yet our voices have gone unheard, leading to many, such as myself, leaving the profession.

Unfortunately the abuse of older people is not confined to hospital and residential settings, it is estimated up to 340,000 older people in the UK are abused each year in their own homes. The abuse of older people now parallels that of children with many experiencing emotional, psychological, physical, sexual and financial abuse perpetrated against them by those charged with providing care and support, for example, partners, wider family and professional carers.

This most recent report of abuse appears after many others, highlighting the disgraceful treatment older people experience from those supposed to be proving their care, whether at home, in hospital or residential care. A report by the Health Service Ombudsman on the abuse of older people in hospital settings suggests there is a culture of indifference from both government and staff to the abuse of older people.

The Independent commented:

“For a while we may pause to express outrage. But we then move on to the urgent business of our daily lives. Spot checks and hit squads may arrest the worst practice…..But they will not do much about a society that has hardened its heart against the elderly.”

Doing nothing is not an option. The review of adult social care law undertaken by the Law Commission in 2011 made clear to government the law pertaining to the protection of vulnerable older people requires strengthening as the current framework is clearly not working. However, this alone will not address the issue. The current discourse on the care of older people also needs to change, we have reached the point where ‘cost’ is king, every aspect of care for the elderly is framed in the language of economics. Government and society are so focused on the cost of care they have lost sight of the value of caring to society, from a moral and ethical perspective. Replacing values such as dignity and respect in care with ‘value for money’ has reduced older people to a percentile of spending of tax payers money, rather than being viewed as actual people, people who at some point may require additional help and support, through no fault of their own but as a natural process of ageing. Indeed the focus on cost diverts our attention from the real issue, we as a society are, at best, indifferent to the plight of older people.

Our ability to watch abuse captured on film in care settings and read report after report yet do nothing to change our attitude is disturbing, maybe society is experiencing ‘compassion fatigue’? If this is the case old age is to be more feared than death!

Real change can only occur if built on a foundation of respect for older people. Developing a culture of dignity and respect for older people requires more than codes of practice to guide the carers who look after our older people. We all have to develop a much deeper understanding of what ‘dignity’ and ‘respect’ actually mean and how we demonstrate dignity and respect to one another, starting firstly with ourselves. Arguably if individuals respected themselves they would not allow themselves to act in such a way that is abusive to those they care for. It would also help if we respected carers by paying them a wage that genuinely reflects the complex nature of the work they do.

It is with shame that we should read the treatment of older people in care is now so bad that it meets the legal definition of torture according to the Governments own human rights watchdog. How many more programmes showing carers abusing those most vulnerable must we watch, how many more people have to suffer before society and government decide to react with more than short lived outrage?

The trouble with personalisation is, its not personalisation…….

Personalisation occupies a central position in social work with adults today and was at first welcomed by social workers as a positive step forward,   however, our understanding of ‘personalisation’ is somewhat different than governments.  This is not a surprise when we look at the driving force behind its development.  Personalisation was driven not by social work, but by the think tank DEMOS (favoured first by Tony Blair and more recentlyDavidCameron) and in particular Charles Leadbeater, a journalist and writer who spent ten years working for the Financial Times and who was an adviser to a number of major private companies, including Chanel Four Television and British Telecom.  A key document from DEMOS should have set the alarm bells of social work ringing in 2004.  The ‘Pro-am Revolution’  provided the rationale for delivering personalisation.  The pre title blurb sets the direction of travel

 ‘The 20th century was shaped by the rise of professionals. But a new breed of amateurs has emerged….’

The central tenet of the Pro-Am Revolution is that with the advent of new technologies and educational systems we no longer need to rely on professionals to undertake particular tasks because amateurs are now able to operate at the same level as professionals, but without requiring large organisational structures.  DEMOS looked specifically at areas such as web design and astronomy, suggesting the same premise could be applied to education and social care, going onto say ‘Pro Ams are creating new, distributed organisational models that will be innovative, adaptive and low-cost’ which will also be ‘light on structure and largely self regulating’.  Hmm sounds familiar.

 For DEMOS, a service user was a service user, no distinction was made between the needs of those with disabilities or mental health difficulties or older people (nor for that matter the difference between a web designer and older person with dementia!).  This resulted in a flawed conception of the people who use services and their ability/willingness/desire to manage their care and the markets that would provide care.

 The conception of personalisation in a think tank has never boded well for its implementation.  However, it has been useful at a political level as it has acted as a mirage to conceal a very different agenda linked to the equally nebulous concept of ‘choice’.

Clarke (2005) suggests choice is the engine of public sector reform, with choice seen as desirable in empowering individuals to move from passive consumers to activated and responsibilised citizens. Choice as a concept remains controversial for some as it is also viewed as a route along which the marketisation of public services can travel without challenge. Whilst this is a logical extension of the previous government’s agenda for Cameron and Co, for many in practice a free market approach to service delivery underpins many of the problems experienced in social care today.

Government has exploited the ambiguity in meaning of words such as personalisation and choice to enable the social work profession to retain a semblance of loyalty to its own values, whilst unknowingly carrying out the bidding of politicians with very different ideas about social care.  

Research has explored how organisations encourage workers to engage in an agenda they do not necessarily agree with. Courpasson (2000) introduced the notion of ‘soft coercion’ which induces, simultaneously, commitment and obedience to the organisation and its aims.  Ambiguity in meaning is one such instrument of soft coercion, however, you also need to ensure the workforce accept your perspective.  One strategy used by large organisations has been the ‘company song’, often represented by the company policy which provides an organisational mantra, for example ‘personalisation leads to greater choice’.  

Maybe it’s time to change the company song and for the social work profession to choose its own playlist, if it does not there will be many in government who will be happy to do it for us!

The mis-treatment of older people in hospitals; is a ‘trip advisor’ approach really the best way forward?

At what point does the government stop relying on gimmicks, voluntary codes and recommendations from those without any power to implement change and actually take a lead to improve nursing care for older people? 

The Royal College of  Nursing’s research into the provision of care to older people suggested staffing issues were central to good nursing care, government have responded to this by suggesting we need to take a ‘trip advisor’ approach to raising the quality of services (photos optional presumably!).  However, this is only part of the answer,  problems extend beyond staff to patient ratios and will require more than patient recommends to improve quality.  Working practices imported from the business sector into care provision, along with a poor attitude from wider society and government toward the care of older people in the UK also need to be addressed.

Abraham (DoH, 2011) suggested the mistreatment of older people in the NHS is not just about people being too busy, but also about staff  being indifferent to older people,  i.e. showing no particular interest or concern about older people.  Coming from a professional background, where I have worked with nurses in hospital settings and as an academic teaching student nurses, it is fair to say I have never met a nurse   who has purposely set out on their career to mistreat an older person.  On the contrary, they have entered the profession because they want to care for people.  So what changes once on the hospital ward?

Arguably, such indifference radiates from wider society onto the hospital ward.   Both Government and society are disrespectful of older people, describing older people as a ‘demographic time bomb’, their care portrayed as an expense we can ill afford.  Once such an attitude is prevalent in mainstream society is it any wonder a culture of disrespect flourishes across society, leading to the de-humanisation of the older person, wherever they might be.  As Jo Webber of the NHS Confederation rightly point out; once in a hospital bed the older person no longer matters – achieving the task at hand efficiently is more important than the individuals’ dignity. This then provides the foundations from which poor practice in the care of older people develops across a multitude of care providers from public sector institutions to private sector providers through to the individuals that make up society.

Whilst external factors have an important role in shaping attitudes toward older people, this alone does not fully explain professionals’ indifference to older people when providing care.  Understanding what happens between individuals embarking on nurse training to actually working with older people on a ward is also significant. Menzies Lyth’s research provides an interesting insight from which to understand what happens once on the ward.  Menzies Lyth drew on  Jaques (1955) notion of  ‘social defences’ used by nursing staff to manage the anxieties inherent within their practice to understand behaviour within organisations.

Jaques (1955) initially used social defences to understand how nurses cope with the high levels of stress and anxiety associated with the job. However, it was developed later to take into account structural factors arguing that social defences were the result of poor organisational structure. This provides a useful framework from which to explore how current structural systems interweave to produce an environment where mistreatment flourishes on hospital wards.

Social defence mechanisms include care for patients split into individual tasks undertaken by a number of nurses; one person performs the same task to many patients rather than working with one patient to provide all their care. This facilitates a distancing between the patient and nurse, which protects the nurse emotionally. Organisational factors support a depersonalised approach by moving nurses around wards, which then allows the nurse to distance themselves from patients so as not to become emotionally involved.  Other social defences include a denial of feelings and over emphasis on professional detachment and strategies to reduce anxiety around decision-making, for example working in prescriptive ways, performing repetitive tasks, and delegating decision-making.  The lack of connection between patient and nurse arguably facilitates an environment in which mistreatment might develop, or is ignored.  Therefore, the organisation and delivery of care at a structural level within the NHS is of relevance to improving care for older people.  Higher staff ratios would be a good start because we have to ask is it possible, emotionally, for an individual to deliver high quality care with compassion and dignity consistently in the current system?

Poor levels of care appear endemic within the current system, the speed with which each new revelation now appears is in danger of convincing government and society such an approach is the ‘norm’, however, we must be careful not to just accept this as inevitable, or somehow acceptable in a time of austerity.  Indifference toward the care of older people represents the tangible outworking of a system of care that has lost its way; where commissioning outweighs compassion and meeting the demands of the system outweigh delivering care with dignity.

At what point does the government stop relying on gimmicks, voluntary codes and recommendations from those without any power to implement change and actually take a lead to improve nursing care for older people?

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.

An adult adoptee and ex social worker describes how it feels to be a ‘service user’ as she attempts to access her adoption file

Adult Adoptees and Identity: the adoption process is currently under government scrutiny, getting it right is so important for adoptees futures. However, getting it right is not just about policy and procedures; it is also about social workers being professional and flexible in their approach. An adult adoptee, and ex social worker, describes how it feels to be a ‘service user’ as she attempts to access her adoption file.

(this is the 1st of a series on the ‘adoption file’, read ‘Lost Families’  if you want to see what happened next)

Whether who we are is determined by some invisible invention of science called genetics or the parenting skills of our parents is commonly known as ‘nature vs nurture’ and is the subject of much research. The truth is we may never know the exact ratio of influence, it may well vary from individual to individual, but it is fair to suggest both play a role in making us who we are. Whilst for many this is just an interesting debate for some, like me who have been adopted, it is a significant factor in shaping my understanding of who I am and how I feel about myself.

This blog is not written by me as a social worker or academic but as ‘adoptee me’. I was adopted over fifty years ago and have been trying to find information about my genetic family and my birth mother for thirty four years. Many years ago I accessed my adoption file in the hope it would provide me with information that might lead me to her. Unfortunately, it did not, although it did give me some useful information regarding the circumstances of my adoption.

Fast forward thirty years to August 2011 when I decide to have another look at my file in the hope that being older (possibly wiser?) it could still hold something useful that was missed before and might take me a step closer to finding my birth mother. And so with high hopes I contact the local authority where my adoption took place, hence forth known as ‘Never Never Land’. After being diverted to several departments I eventually reach the right one and speak with someone. The first question asked at this point is “why do you want to see the file?” Although taken aback, and to be honest rather annoyed to be asked this, I answer “because it’s about me and who I am, my family history”. The social worker explains the process to me. No I can not contact ‘Never Never Land’ direct to access my file I have to go through another authority, hence forth known as ‘La La Land’, and they will request access to my file on my behalf. Okay, why a third party needs to be involved is not explained. When I asked if I can have a copy of the file the response is guarded “possibly, but no third party information would be shared unless the third party agreed”. Okay, what if the third parties are dead i.e. my adoptive parents…..no reply, it felt like the worker was following a script and this question did not appear on the script, we end the conversation with one last question ”why do you want to see your file?”, “because etc etc etc……”.

My main concern at this point is who is going to decide what I am allowed to see, and will they leave out that one vital piece of information that might lead me to my birth mother? I feel powerless.

To say my first contact from the other side of the fence, so to speak, was unsatisfactory is an understatement, even after one phone call I felt frustrated and disempowered. It was clear there were hoops to be jumped through, and I was going to have to jump! I felt I had to fit the system regardless of whether it fitted me, or was appropriate.

Next step, phone call by me to ask how long the process might take, “No idea!”, followed by explanation they only worked part time, was going on leave and this was non urgent so would not be prioritised, expect a minimum of 6 months, that’s not including any delays in ‘Never Never Land’ responding. Further contact with social services is equally unsatisfactory, and still they asked “why do you want to see your file?” ………….”because…etc.etc!”

I eventually meet my adoption social worker and am pleased to report they are experienced and professional, they do not appear to stick to any particular agency approach and make me feel I am listened to as an individual, I do not feel like a service user with this social worker, this is an equal partnership.

So, have I seen my file? To cut a long story short the file is still in ‘Never Never Land’, however, it is going to arrive in ‘La La Land’ soon. Reasons for delay range from workers and mangers going sick, people working part time, supervision being cancelled and window repairs (don’t ask!!!). In all honesty, I am not interested in knowing any of this it only serves to heighten my annoyance and sense of powerlessness.

I do understand the pressures in practice, and of course the protection of vulnerable children must always come first, however, whilst not urgent it is actually very important to me. Seeing my file again is a desperate measure on my part because I’ve exhausted all other avenues, my mother is approaching eighty years of age, time is not on our side. An acknowledgement of how important this might be for me on my first contact with services would have been nice.

How does all this make me feel? Angry, powerless, frustrated, sad. My contact with services is minimal and time limited, unlike many others. The professional social worker in me knows the pressure systems, and people, are under and how my request is insignificant in the scheme of social work practice with Children and Families, but, it is important to me. Whilst at an organisational level it is just an old file, for me it is my life and about who I am. This process has made me reflect on my own social work practice, I’d do things differently now!

(This is one of several blogs, if you would like to read the complete story of what happened in my search for my natural mother you can read it in a free ibook here <a href="here“> You will need an ipad to read it)