As adoptive parents we are presented with what is called a “Support Plan” at a reasonably early stage. Our adoption agency does this shortly before Matching Panel so that the plan can be presented to the panel and forms part of the decision as to whether the parents are a good match for the children. Often the type of support detailed in the plan will vary based on the knowledge and skills of the prospective parents.
Our support plan consisted of very little actual substance. Anything written about our Youngest basically boiled down to “he’s too young to need anything”, and for Eldest it contained a couple of agency supported activities to help with attachment.
At the time this seemed great, we agreed that Youngest was too young to need anything at that time and from what we had heard about Eldest the activities were perfect for building our relationship with him.
We were naïve, we thought nothing of it and agreed to the plan, thinking only that if we needed anything more we could contact post-adoption and get it sorted. In hindsight, and with the knowledge that post-adoption support seems to be so difficult to get, we would not have done this, we also would not have allowed our Youngest to be adopted without a single thing put in place to support him.
You see, as with many adopters, we have found that our Youngest, adopted as a 1-year-old, taken into care at only a few months old, has more issues that our Eldest does. He has extremes of emotions, sometimes exhibiting uncontrolled rage for nothing more than asking him to do the simplest of things. I don’t mean minor tantrums, I mean total red-faced, screaming, hitting, headbutting, kicking, and throwing rages. He’s only 3, so for the time being fairly easily contained.
But what support would we have asked for? That’s the big question. What we should have done is more research into potential attachment disorders faced by children whose very early life was disrupted. After all, our Youngest had 4 different primary carers in his first 12 months, with us being his 5th. I’ve banged my drum about this before, but that on it’s own is enough to cause some fairly major and life-changing neurological development issues. We are also 90% sure, and were also told by social services, that his biological mother drank alcohol heavily during pregnancy, almost definitely smoked tobacco and probably other things too.
With 20-20 hindsight we would also have made sure that the possibility of severe attachment issues were allowed for in the support plan, and also the groundwork for an assessment for Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder once he was old enough to be diagnosed or to have it completely ruled out. I seriously doubt that either of those things would have been agreed to in advance, I also genuinely believe if we had raised those things we may have been reconsidered as parents for our sons on the grounds that we would not be able to care for them properly – I may be wrong on that, but it’s a thought I have.
As for the two activities that were promised for Eldest? Well, as he was the only child allowed to do those activities, and the one we were given opportunity to attend was always during the working week, we had no one to look after Youngest. They were being run in a location over an hour away from home, so it was impractical to get to them on time even if we had left Youngest at nursery. The other activity never surfaced. As it turns out we have created a fairly strong attachment with Eldest without those activities so we were lucky that we did not need them, but how many families has this happened to? The attachment focused activities are so difficult to attend, especially when one of your children is excluded, that they are useless.
I am now a member of an Adoption Panel. I have read many support plans and without fail whenever the adoptee is an infant the support plan is extremely sparsely populated, if not empty, even when there is a history of drug or alcohol abuse during pregnancy. A question the prospective adopters are usually asked is “Are you happy with the support plan?” and unwaveringly the answer is “Yes”.
And I wonder to myself, are they being naïve? Are they really happy with it? Or do they feel that if they rocked the boat at this stage they would lose the support of the social workers who made the match?
This sort of thing worries me a great deal for the future of those families. I’m sure that the majority of them will be fine; adopters generally make do and soldier on even through the toughest of times. We support each other and give help and advice where we can, but sometimes professional help is needed. If those support plans were more comprehensive and forward looking then perhaps the adoption agencies would be on board with helping adopters find that professional support early on, so fewer families would end up being in crisis before the offer of that help is even thought about.
Title image credit: Mike Alonzo