The truth about modern adoption?

 Following on from the Daily Mail's article about the behavioural atrocities faced by modern adopters which caused an emotional storm in social media, The Guardian has published its own piece on the "realities" of modern adoption. Over the past year the media have moved from presenting adoption very positively and encouragingly (just like the politicians the Guardian piece chastises) to now jumping on a band wagon of inferring that adoption and fostering is a disaster zone that will leave you either dead, or with a nervous breakdown. Both are extremes (and I'd query the figure of 38,000 adoptions being this extreme cited by the Daily Mail) but there is a middle ground for many where life is incredibly challenging.

I know many adopters and I feel confident in saying that very few of our children are straight forward to parent. All of the adopters I know have noted that our children are emotionally younger than their peers at the very least so their behaviour reflects that delay. Many adopters cope with persistent lying and stealing (often food. Katie constantly takes my belongings quite simply because she wants them. Her FASD brain just doesn't seem to grasp that they belong to me.) This is common with FASD. Persistent rule breaking may not sound overly challenging but believe me it is. I've told my children probably more than 1,000 times not to go into the utility room. I've put signs on the door to enforce this rule but they disregard it daily. Many adopted children push the boundaries of regular family rules. It's not surprising that our commitment as parents is so tested after all what guarantee do the children have that we will stick around? That hasn't been their experience before coming to us. Sadly that constant pushing may not ever stop and love might not cure the insecurity within. If I drew a line in the sand and told Katie not to cross it she would immediately jump over it. I asked her recently why she always immediately does what I've asked her not to do and she said "It's so I can see what will happen". That makes sense but it's so frustrating because she is expecting a consequence and I'm just mostly trying to keep her safe and would like to have to stop giving tough consequences.

Child on Parent Violence is coming a term heard frequently in adopter forums. I am regularly slapped by both my children. We're still at an age where we can respond to these issues with parenting strategies but the fear that it might never stop and where it might lead dances around in my brain. Even at aged 9 and 4 years I find this element of daily life challenging and very stressful. Pip is now going through what I hope is just a phase of hurling things when he is angry. Reminding myself that at age 4 he is really around 3 years in his development on emotional issues this fits in with the expected behaviour of a 3 year old so I'm keeping everything crossed that he will calm down but the learned behaviour from watching his older sister (including hearing her swearing and copying her) means he is growing up thinking these behaviours are both normal and acceptable, even though there are consequences to his behaviour. We don't think he has been effected by FASD so are hopeful that learning from consequences will be easier for him than his sister.  I definitely feel important background information was withheld from us or glossed over during our first adoption particularly and we didn't understand enough about all the disorders. We now have a child with FASD as well as her other ADHD label and I worry about how oppositional she is and where that might lead. At the point of being placed with us at 2 years old Katie had met all her developmental markers. I think, with hindsight, the behavioural markers that highlighted the FASD were present at that point also but they were minimised and brushed aside as typical 2 year old behaviour. It wasn't until Katie got older and we challenged the age appropriateness of them that a clearer picture was obvious.  The daily behavioural challenges push me to my emotional limits. We've had input from our local authority but our case has been closed unless we "need life story work". I've chased CAMHS and paediatricians myself. I asked our SW for funding from the Adoption Support Fund for an Occupational Therapist's assessment which was given and provided a lot of information. We are waiting for a parenting course via CAMHS from Bernardo's but I've not heard anything more on that for several months leaving us still unsupported. Several months where my husband and I are goaded constantly. My husband is currently being targeted being called an "f***ing dick" and I'm asked why I married him. Everything Katie is asked to do results in a 'no" or a door slam as she marches off. We are thumped constantly when she feels she has nothing to say about an incident is angry with herself. I have to do battle to get her to eat yet she steals food constantly. I have to lock treats away. The build up to Christmas was unbearable at times.

The stress of a simple school day can push her over the edge some days. She needs time after school on her own with her iPad and the cat to calm her senses down and breathe a bit. Too much iPad time makes her aggressive though so I know use Our Pact to be able to remotely block her iPad and cleverly avoiding the ensuing argument for additional time....most of the time. I have to be able to read the signs of her mood as she comes out of school. Mostly I'm pretty accurate but some days, especially if she comes out of school with a friend, she can seem happy right up until the moment she walks in the front door when suddenly Mr Jekyll will be hiding under her coat.  These are some of the realities of life for us that would lend credence to the two articles above.

Conversely my daughter can be fun and sweet, loving and kind. She can be cute and cheeky and lovely to be with. She adores doing gymnastics and spends a lot of her homelife upside down, doing cartwheels and walkovers. She loves me helping her to improve her skills. She learned to play charades this Christmas which she loved along with endless rounds of the Yes/No game and my Buffy the Vampire Top Trumps. She will snuggle up on the sofa to watch TV and embrace feeling close to us.  Shes like a hedgehog, sometimes the prickles are in and sometimes they are well and truly out.  This could be said of many of us and it's hard to explain that what we experience goes beyond what most parents consider "normal".  Positive and loving behaviour cannot generally be encouraged through rewards or discouraged through penalties however. If acknowledged the lovely behaviour will mostly stop immediately or will quickly be sabotaged. I soak up those wonderful moments like a butterfly in the sunshine and try to work out how to encourage more of the same.  I find ways of expressing my pleasure in different ways i,e, "I've really enjoyed spending time with you today" and "Didn't we have fun doing xyz".

Life definitely isn't as I'd imagined it. I'd like to be able to "find the fun" a bit more. I do feel I get too stressed some days about the negative behaviour. I feel confused a lot of the time about the balance between consequences and just letting stuff go and trusting more in the impact of Katie maturing and shedding some of these behaviours as she is able to understand herself better. Reading articles like these ones in the Guardian and the Daily Mail don't exactly help either as they hype up the fear and anxiety.  My concern is that despite a plethora of adoption parenting experts and theories in recent years adopters mostly feel very deskilled. We are expected to deal with the worst kind of behaviour imaginable with unrelenting calmness and love (which is hard when having objects thrown at you or when being hit or kicked or a room is being trashed). Of course I feel angry when I'm anxious about my own safety. We are anxious about getting it wrong and making things worse and I'm  not sure that helps our children. All children need to know there are limits and to understand that a vast majority of people on this planet are dealing with issues around attachment.  I say that with a big degree of confidence having worked as a Counsellor for both adults and teenagers. Parenting traumatised children with little back up from Children's Services or support for implementing strategies is our reality as adopters but we also buy into a huge amount of fear created by adoption parenting authors. It's hardly any wonder we're stressed and confused and feeling isolated and lonely. What we need is support, proper support.  Easy access to diagnosis and therapies to help our children overcome their start in life and support to implement strategies with backup.  Reading a book doesn't offer enough support when parenting in the trenches I'm afraid.  We need to be able to speak to real people who can offer real strategies and who can hold our hands and reassure us, not the paltry pretend play therapy Katie and I had that didn't really address any of the issues long term.

My advice to potential adopters is to get savvy about all these issues. Know the right questions to ask and read up on FASD, drug withdrawal. and attachment disorders, ASD, ADHD, ODD and every other acronym ending in D! These disorders aren't necessarily insurmountable but you need to know your personal limits and understand what the child you are adopting might bring to your family dynamic. I will say however you can't predict your limits until you're facing them. The patience you think you have in bucketloads has probably never really been truly tested and the theories on parenting you may start the adoption process with will probably fly out the window very swiftly never to be seen again. When you read articles like the ones above do understand all this isn't the norm for all adopters however there is more than an ounce of truth here as well. We are parenting children who have often been to hell and back, even if you're told they've been in foster care since their birth. They don't deserve being born with a crack dependency or being exposed to alcohol in-utero. They are reacting to their life experiences. It can be easy to demonise their behaviour at times but how might we react to those experiences? As adopters we can offer the life experience that helps our children heal and thrive and live a better life which enables them to fulfil their ambitions and potential however I won't lie it can be very hard for us as parents. I'm not the mum I dreamed I would be, a fact that saddens me daily. I try hard to be the mum I have to be to help my children. I get it wrong a lot but I recognise that I often parent in a war zone. I learn daily, I have moments of despair and also happiness. Many parents of children who aren't adopted might say the same and there is a common ground sometimes. Our children generally do things more spectacularly and for longer than other children though. If you can understand that and be prepared for it and leave your expectations at the door then you'll get through. Sadly for some (and definitely a higher percentage than advertised by Social Services) it will go wrong and that is a travesty for the child, the adoptive parents and the system. I would say though that the truth about modern adoption isn't as strraightforward as either extreme presented in the media over the past 5 years. The truth is a very individual story but that rarely sells headlines.  Regular readers of this blog will have seen how our story has changed since we first met Katie and have faced the realities of her past, present and our hopes for the future.

I'd like to end of the side of optimism though.  I am always as honest as I can be in this blog.  I don't regret adopting either of my children.  They teach me so much about myself as I learn about them. They need what I have to offer and I hope and pray I don't screw them up too much when I react as a human and get things wrong. I get up and show up every day though and try again and hope and pray that it will be worth it in the end, for them.  Their future is so important.  They were born into circumstances that were not of their doing or choice. They do not deserve to be demonised or treated by society as less than anyone else.  Like any of us facing a traumatic experience some people are able to flourish and others aren't.

Please don't be put off adopting because of all these horror stories but do be aware of what the future may look like.  My heart breaks for all the children out there who need stability in order to have any chance of realising their potential.  What else goes with that need will be an individual story. I would like to leave with a thought though.  If adopters were better supported by the agencies who place the children with them and if there was more transparency about the needs of the children being placed maybe that would build more trust between adopters and adoption agencies and ultimately work in the best interests of the children involved.

Just a thought.......


  1. Thanks for this very honest piece! We're 10 weeks into placement with our two, who are 5 and 2, and just starting to try and navigate the murky waters of adoption support. I've been following your blog since the beginning of our approval process and it's been really helpful to hear your account of things.

    1. Thanks for commenting and congratulations on your new family. I hope it's going well. I will say to remember it's easier for me to write about the hard stuff than the good stuff. It's the good stuff though that keeps you going. How are you getting along? Xx

  2. Forgive me if it's intruding, but on the slim chance that it might help (as I realised that I very rarely say to my child "don't do X"): would it help to simply say instead "if you do X then Y will happen?" Thinking also at earlier years I can quite remember that there was a very clear balance between giving choices/options and too many. So sometimes I'd divert interest rather than forbid/discuss what was too much. Again, just on the off chance that you'll find something perhaps helpful a bit in this.

    1. Hi and thanks. Yes I do that to an extent however for children with FASD too many words are hard for them to process. Key info has to be at the start of a sentence. I try not to say "don't" too much mostly because it's seen as a challenge lol. However I am now shortening the words I use. I do give toddler choices a lot. Two choices works well here with both children although Katie will often want to go against any of them LOL, Thank you for commenting. It's much appreciated xx


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