15,000 and Counting: Part 1

Last night Channel 4 aired the first in it's new three part series looking at the different aspects of adoption. The first episode followed several people whose children were taken into care following child protection orders being granted.  It was very emotional viewing for me as an adopter knowing the story of my children and, judging by the response I've seen on Facebook and other social media, for many others as well.  The programme has people talking and thinking and asking questions and I am sure effected many people in many different ways.  If you haven't watched the programme, here is a link to the 4OD service to access the programme.

I think it's important for people to think about adoption and the circumstances that lead to the outcome of children being removed from their Birth Parents.  It's not pink and fluffy.  In the UK it rarely involves a Birth Parent thinking that adoption is the best option for their child.  It's brutal and deeply upsetting for all the people involved.  It's important, I think, to consider the issues and stories with empathy and understanding. It's easy to demonise people but once upon a time that Birth Parent was a child as well.  The odds are that child wasn't treated as well as they should have been by their own family and they possibly grew up without the skills they needed to look after themselves properly and make choices that would keep them safe and well or maintain good boundaries of behaviour.  Bringing yet another child into that chaos is a recipe for more damage and a never-ending cycle of repetition.  I think Channel 4 highlighted this well in their programme and I felt sad for most of the Birth Parents whose stories were shared whilst understanding why the children needed to be taken into care.

I felt a dawning realisation whilst watching the programme at the level of evidence that is required to remove a baby from their Birth Parent at birth.  This is a story that is very close to home for us and I suddenly felt the story that is written down in our Permanence Reports come alive and the enormity of the evidence hit me hard.  I also felt the emotions of each of people involved from the Birth Parent to the Social Workers involved.  Social Workers have an incredibly difficult job to do.  It's a wonder that anyone would want to put themselves into the firing line they way they do. I can imagine that there is a passion to help and protect people that keeps them in their jobs.  I felt this came across from the Social Workers in the programme. One of the Social Workers noted that she wasn't perfect and isn't right 100% of the time and that she and the courts can only go on the evidence that she has at the time but she doesn't always know whether the decision is for the best or whether the child will grow up and question the decision to remove them from their Birth Parents.  That must be hard to live with because there will always be times when there is a miscarriage of justice but the need to protect the children has to come over and above anyone else because they have no voice and are unable to make choices for themselves.

I think often of Katie and Pip's Birth Parents and a conversation in the programme with one of the Social Workers and a Birth Parent highlighted how complicated adoption can be for everyone involved.  The Birth Parent said that she was her child's mum and nobody else would ever be his mum and the Social Worker agreed with her and said that even when a child is placed for adoption that doesn't change.  This is tough to hear as an Adoptive Parent because I am Mum to my children and I have legal rights for them and I love them every bit as much as I would have done had I given birth to them myself. Yet this is something that I reflect on especially in my conversations with Katie about her Birth Mum.  As an Adoptive Parent I have to be an ordinary mum for my children yet I also have a foot in a world very different from my friends who are Birth Parents because they aren't Mum to children who also have another Mother.  They don't have to write contact letters twice a year and not have those letters answered; they don't have to explain to their daughter why she needed to have a new Mummy; or have conversations about issues that a 6 year old child shouldn't even know about. They won't have to answer the question "Why couldn't my Birth Mum make the changes she need to do in order for me to stay with her?" Yet she will always be the person who carried them and gave birth to them with feelings for them and that makes her important and it's important to keep that in mind.

This issue has raised questions amongst friends regarding the Birth Mum in the programme who didn't attend her final farewell with her child.  There was also a need to understand why some of the parents didn't fight for their children or leave abusive partners in order to keep their children. Mums trying to understand how another mum didn't do everything she could to keep her child.  I can understand their feelings because I know I would do anything for my children and fight to the ends of the earth for them.  However I have some self-esteem; I have a stable relationship with TCM; I have boundaries about what I will accept from other people and I know I have a voice and choices.  I have overcome the issues from my past with counselling and lots of support.  That's not the situation for everyone. Often people don't feel that they can fight because life has taught them it's pointless.  They may not feel able to leave an abusive relationship because they do not know how love really feels. They may be in so much emotional pain themselves that they are unable to see beyond numbing that pain.  How can someone in that situation take care of another person when they can't take care of themselves?  Some people are able to rise above all of that and make the changes needed to keep their children but many aren't.  We often wonder how many more children will be born to Katie and Pip's Birth Mum before she will be able to make the changes needed for those children to remain with her.  I feel sad for the life she has had and understand why things are the way they are but there is a part of me that wants to shout "Why can't you engage with the help available to you and make those changes for yourself?" It's not that simple though and that makes me feel so very sad for her.  I felt particularly sad in the programme for Emily who showed such empathy about her daughter's attachment and not wanting to contest the adoption because of the impact on her.  I felt so frustrated for Emily because she couldn't see the damaging relationship she was in and that she didn't leave her partner in order to be able to care for her daughter.  I wondered where her outside support was and why she was in this situation.

Several times in the programme the Social Workers were called "scum" by Birth Parents.  It's understandable why there is so much anger fired towards the Social Workers but they do a job that few of us could do.  They are, for the most part, pretty amazing people who want to help.  I know from my work as a Counsellor and Personal Adviser for Connexions how frustrating it can be to put enormous amounts of energy into helping people who just aren't able to participate long-term in that process. Our Social Workers have always done everything they can to help us.  It might not always be enough due to limitations in the service and limitations in their time but I have never doubted their commitment.  I am going to end this blog piece by saying Thank You to all the Social Workers involved in our adoptions and recognise the tough job they perform.


  1. Gem, thank you so much for writing down your thoughts on this... I thought of you when watching it and wondered if you might write about it!

    I was having a discussion with another friend this morning about it, how easy it is to judge and that even someone who behaves in ways you simply cannot understand could be trying their absolute hardest to keep their child, they just are not able to for whatever reason. Adoption is challenging for everyone, I don't think anyone can doubt that, but what the programme highlighted was that at the forefront of every single action taken is "what is best for the child?" We may think, "but what about the birth parents, why can't they always access the support they need?" but when you weigh up risks and benefits, you always have to do what is right for the child who is so vulnerable and for whom these years can be instrumental in who they grow up to be (whether they have confidence and good levels of self-esteem etc).

    Someone in our family has attachment disorder because her early life was so incredibly unstable. As her family we try to do all we can to support her through this and help her find her way through the teenage years, which are tough enough even without this. For me it is easy to see how without support from extended family, children could grow up to be so unsure of themselves they are not able to do what needs to be done to care for themselves... and at the end of the day, the biggest thing that I took from the programme was that most of the birth parents were struggling to do what was best for themselves and look after themselves which makes it even harder to give that stability a young child needs.

    Our own experiences is what drives mine and TJ's desire to one day foster. We are swaying more towards fostering than adoption, but we are not ruling anything out. But we also know we both need to be fit and well and stable in our home life, which we are not as I mentioned in a previous comment as health issues are really making life tough for us right now. And that is why we are working on caring for ourselves first, so that one day we can hopefully care for others who need that.

    Sorry, I feel like I am rambling on a bit, but I wanted to say how much I appreciated you taking the time to express your reaction to the programme. It must be a very challenging watch when you're looking at it as an adoptive parent.

  2. FinallyAFamily20134 April 2014 at 15:07

    I watched it with interest and was saddened that some of the individuals whose children were removed really seemed unable to self-examine and understand the reason why. I felt bad for the couple who needed certain therapy in order to keep their child but were not provided with nor had any way of access via their GP etc to such therapy - I thought that was a situation in which both they and their child had really been let down. In all cases I can see why the children were removed and agreed in every case - based on things like the lack of therapy available, the lack of proper housing access etc that the children had to be removed but felt it was a 10-20% failure on society itself rather than just wholly the "failing" of the individuals which resulted in the removal of the children. WRT the mum who said "no one else will ever be his mum", I beg to differ. Birth mum is always an essential part of my son's life but no one would ever successfully tell me that I am "not his mother" I am his mother in every way that could ever matter except being able to have given birth to him.

  3. What a brilliant post and it perfectly reflects the many thoughts and emotions which I had while watching this programme. Thank you for putting them into words.


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