I am not like that

There have been many articles about adoption recently. The most recent one in today’s Times has broken my back and forced me to write something. I have recently felt overcome by an avalanche of negativity towards adoptees and care-experienced people. Part of this has occurred for personal reasons and part of this is because of the media. However, it is exhausting when the only coverage is either patronising or demonising. It is not as exhausting as actually being in care or being an adoptee, but it is exhausting nonetheless.

I should start by saying that speaking of recent coverage, I am not saying that there is not a very real problem with families suffering acute distress and not having the support they deserve. I’m not saying that that isn’t true. Rather, I am talking about something different.

I am talking about what it is like when your face is only reflected back at you in articles which say you’re violent. I am talking about what it is like when all those who went before you are presented to you on a platter of damning statistics. I am talking about what it is like when you overhear colleagues making sweeping generalisations about people like you – except that they don’t realise it, because they have no idea of who you are. I am talking about what it is like when you turn on Radio 4 on your way to work only to feel as stigmatised as you did whenever you moved school in care. I am talking about what it is like when, as an adoptee or care-experienced person, most things that you read about yourself either patronise you or demonise you.

I am talking about what it is like when you daren’t “come out”, because you know what all these people think about people like you.

And it is unrelenting. From today’s Times, regarding family placements: “some families have bad news written right the way through them”. Well, maybe that is true and maybe it is not. But how do you know whether a family member has bad news written through them like a piece of rotten rock? How do you know unless you assess them? Unless, of course, this ability to know whether an entire family is rotten through-and-through (and few people are rotten by the way) is because you just “know”? Perhaps because of blood or genetic inheritance? Or care-experience? Or poverty?

I have no doubt where people with such opinions would place me: a care-experienced adoptee from a family with multiple generations of social services involvement. That’s the rotten pile for sure. The badness runs through me like a wretched piece of rotten rock.

I was rotten in care, rotten as an adoptee, and will be rotten should I ever need to be a kinship carer. Rotten, rotten, rotten.

Maybe if I was an adopter I could distance myself a little bit more – different genes and all that – but as the person who actually has the bad blood and the bad experiences, I clearly can’t distance myself from anything. Rotten, rotten, rotten.

I clearly have bad news written through me. I didn’t always. Once – bless my little cotton socks – I was a poor little child in care being advertised in an adoption magazine. As we are told in The Times today, I was waiting, and every month I waited my happiness drained away. Forget for a moment that I never once waited, but lived in a suitable, lovely and loving foster home whilst all the legal and ethical necessities were sorted: I was waiting and longing. I was a wretched little thing. Wretched, wretched, rotten, rotten.

But you know what? Forget that. My message to The Times and the world is: no, it was not like that; and no, I am not like that.

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Launching Adoptee Corner!

A few years ago a mainstream, non-tabloid newspaper ran a series of articles about fostering and adoption. In these articles they interviewed and directly quoted thirty-two people. Some aspects of the coverage astounded me so much that I wrote my first ever letter to a newspaper:

The nine articles on fostering and adoption in X featured welcome discussions of important issues and told the moving stories of a diverse range of adopters and carers. However, whilst it was a pleasure to read everyone’s experiences, it appears that no one thought to speak to any foster children or adoptees. Instead, they were constantly spoken of, not to, and when their stories were told (which was often), they were told by their parents, carers and professionals. The articles contain the words and perspectives of nineteen professionals, nine adopters, two foster carers, an adopter’s mother and the birth child of foster carers. In a series of articles on the joys and challenges of foster care and adoption, were you unable to include the comments of a single child, adolescent or adult with experience of being fostered or adopted?

This was never published and I never received a reply.

My astonishment was rooted in the fact that whilst I had learnt about the lives of many adoptees – including about their lives prior to adoption – I hadn’t read a single interview (amongst thirty-two) with an actual adoptee. I – and many other adoptees – have experienced this phenomenon many times over. It is a lamentable fact that a person is more likely to hear an adoptee’s story as told by their parents, carers, or professionals than as told by the actual adoptee. There are far more adoptees spoken about than there are adoptees speaking.

There have been some initiatives to address this. For example, The Open Nest’s Adopted Voices conference in 2015 featured only adoptee speakers and Coram’s The Adoptables project helps to give voice to adoptees aged between 13-25. However, there is a still a large under-representation of UK adoptees and adoptees are still more likely to be spoken about – and their (real, projected, or perceived) experiences invoked by The Powers That Be – than spoken or listened to. And there is certainly not the adoptee community that one finds in the US.

As an adoptee, I have been writing about foster care and adoption and related topics for a long time. However, this has mainly been for my own personal viewing and I have always come up with reasons not to have a blog. However, the cumulative effect of experiences such as that above mean that a tipping point has now been reached – like the slow erosion of a cliff edge – where the reasons to set up a blog now outnumber the reasons not to. I am extremely excited as I have been thinking of setting up a blog for a long time but only now feel able to. And whilst I will be posting about my own thoughts on adoption, I really hope that other adoptees will join in too with their own thoughts and experiences.

The online presence of UK adoptees is very small relative to that of UK adopters or US adoptees. I think that there are many reasons for this, which I will explore in my next post. But I believe that adoptees have valid – and essential – contributions to make to the conversation.I hope to add to this conversation and invite all adoptees, especially UK adoptees, to join.

But this blog is also because sometimes adoptees just want to know that there are other adoptees out there! They want to meet each other and talk between themselves. They want to talk about adoption or life in general. I know of other adoptees who would welcome a bigger adoptee community and a space to write, talk, and network. Therefore I hope that other adoptees will feel able to post their own guest blogs here (or link to them if they have their own blog) or to comment. Blogs and comments can be anonymous or under a pseudonym (all comments will be moderated). Anyone can comment, adopted or not, although I ask for it to be respected that this is intended as a corner of the internet for adoptees. Far too many conversations happen about adoptees, but not with or between them: hopefully we can start rectifying this!