August Prep Group Blog
12 September 2013 - Reflections on Session 4 with Scottish Adoption
We were a bit wary of what the morning session today might involve; dubbed the ‘doom and gloom’ bit, we knew it was going to focus on abuse and neglect and had visions of it including short versions of the misery memoirs that seem to have been flying of bookshop shelves recently. However, things got of to a good start with a lovely welcome involving some fabulous home baking from one of the other couples in the group and one of the staff. Having armed ourselves with cookies and lemon drizzle cake (one of us rather more than the other), we got down to discussing what children need, what abuse and neglect might involve and how it can manifest itself in children. This was never going to be an upbeat session but it was actually really useful. Indeed, we learned more practical information than in some of the other sessions, both in terms of getting more insights into the huge variety of ways in which traumatic experiences can manifest themselves behaviourally and in terms of thinking about potential ways of responding. It was particularly useful to hear a bit more about the post-adoption support that Scottish Adoption offer.
The afternoon session was one of the parts of the preparation group course that I think we’d all been waiting for, when a ‘real life’ adoptive couple came in to talk to us about their experiences. They were great – really chatty and didn’t seem to hold back on anything. It was clear they hadn’t had a smooth experience of adoption (there’d been several false starts and then some legal wrangling that all sounded time consuming and emotionally draining). However, they were brimming with pride and affection when they spoke about their adoptive son and daughter and we even got to see some beautiful photos of them all (in which, as several people in the group commented, the family resemblance seemed quite striking). It was lovely to see how well things seem to be turning out for them all.
Overall, then, this was another session which reinforced our sense that adoption is not likely to be a quick, smooth or easy process but that we’ll get there eventually and it’ll be worth it…
5 September 2013 - Reflections on Session 3 with Scottish Adoption
In this session, we spent some more time thinking about gains and losses for various people involved in the adoption process and a lot of time discussing and thinking about contact. We were in a group focusing on the gains and losses for birth parents and it was tough going to come up with gains. Our group tried to be positive and we did, subsequently, see some video footage of a birth mother who seemed to have coped well and experienced some of these positives. In fact, her situation seemed to be an all-round story of hope: the adoptive parents, son and birth mother had managed to develop and maintain a good relationship over the years, which had evolved as the boy grew up. On the other hand, however, we also saw some video footage of a birth mother in much more difficult circumstances. This was really upsetting to watch. She had experienced such traumatic events herself, it was hard to imagine how anyone could have coped any better. It seemed clear she needed support herself and yet, as we heard, the current social support system is very child-focused and, once children have been removed, women like this appear to receive little support. This is obviously a choice that we make as a society and, on the plus side, the birth mother did seem pleased that her children would have experiences and opportunities that she never had. Yet, we struggled with the idea that people in such tough circumstances receive so little support, especially after their children are removed, and wondered how feasible it would be to develop and maintain contact with someone dealing with so much pain and trauma.
Having reflected on what we found most difficult, there was a lot to enjoy in today’s session. We had space to chat to others on the course by ourselves for the first time (in separate gender groups) and learnt about different people’s journeys towards adoption. This was really useful and we hope the group might stay in touch after this preparation group as it seems like it will be useful to swap information and experiences. We were also able to see and hear from some of the adopted children we’d seen at younger ages on a video in the previous session. It was lovely to see how well they were all doing and this left us feeling very positive about adoption.
So it was a tough but useful day. By the end of the session, it was hard to believe we were over half way through the course and a step further along the adoption process.
29 August 2013 - Reflections on Session 2 with Scottish Adoption
We felt like we had more of an idea about what to expect this time so it wasn’t so nerve-wracking turning up.
It's all in the Name
The first exercise we did today involved thinking and talking about our own names. Few of us had been given a family name or a name with particular meaning for their family. This then formed the basis for a discussion in the afternoon about the pros and cons of changing the names of children when they are adopted. Most people in the group assumed that first names would remain the same and that only the surname would change and the group leaders confirmed this. However, there were some interesting examples of cases in which it had been considered appropriate to change a child’s name. There was also some discussion about the possibility of giving an adopted child a new middle name, which it was generally agreed was more appropriate than changing a child’s name. We ourselves, as a couple, had different feelings about this. One of us expressed the view that giving a child an additional middle name and even using this, could be appropriate, especially if the child is small. The other felt it may be unnecessarily upsetting for a child for anything more than their surname to change, even if they are small, as it seems to implicitly suggest an effort to wipe away the past. This is something we will have to discuss further as a couple as we move through the process.
Another exercise we did today involved working in groups to set out the gains and losses involved in adoption for adopters. This seemed to be a pretty positive exercise for most people in the group as everyone seemed pretty comfortable and accepting of any losses involved so there was more focus on the multiple gains involved, such as gaining a family, a chance to parent, the possibility of helping someone else in life, a whole new set of family experiences, plus all the support and advice that is provided to people hoping to parent through adoption (which biological parents usually do without).
The Russian DVD...
Some of the rest of the day was taken up with short documentaries. One, focusing on babies and very young children in a ‘Baby House’ in Russia, looked at the impacts that not having consistent care-givers around in the early years of life can have on children. This was a pretty depressing documentary, though the group leaders assured us that it is possible for adoptive parents to break the negative behavioural patterns that can emerge from difficult early life experiences. The most uplifting documentary, and the one which drew the day to a close, had been made by adopted children in conjunction with Scottish Adoption. This provided a much more positive account of adoption from children across a range of ages. It was particularly interesting to see how all the children talked about their knowledge of being adopted (when and how they found out), whether or not they choose to share this information with friends and how they feel and think about their biological parents. Nearly all of the children seemed settled and comfortable with the knowledge that they were adopted and almost none seemed particularly focused on their biological family, even where contact had been facilitated.
Next week, we are hoping there will be more focus on how adoptive parents can practically and emotionally help children move beyond the difficult early life experiences that have been highlighted in sessions 1 and 2 and develop into the stable and happy children evident in the final documentary we viewed. There has been quite a bit of talk about the importance of setting boundaries for adoptive children and we’re hoping there will be more discussion about the practicalities of this soon...
22 August 2013 - Reflections on Session 1 with Scottish Adoption
First meetings in a group are always a little nerve-wracking; you never know what to say, when to say it and who to. Fortunately the Scottish Adoption case workers leading the session had a good sense of the group dynamics, and a reassuring approach throughout.
Our main hope and expectation for this session was to learn more about the adoption process as whole (e.g. what the assessment criteria are, how long different stages take, and what each stage involves) so that we would have a clearer idea of what to expect and how to prepare. We were really happy that a step-by-step guide to the full adoption process was provided in the afternoon and it already feels like this is helping us navigate through the process and plan ahead. Immediately we began to appreciate that there are more parts to the process than we’d perhaps been conscious of, particularly following the approval panel (which we had mistakenly assumed would be one of the final stages).
Getting to know you!
In the morning, after opening introductions from the session leaders, we each learned a little about other potential adoptees by pairing up and introducing the other person to the group. Immediately, it was clear that the group is varied and brings a lot of different life experience to the session. At least one couple are experienced parents and fosterers and there were a range of different ages, jobs, nationalities and sexualities within the group. Everyone seemed to have some thoughtful ideas about the kinds of support young, adopted children might need and, no less important, everybody seemed really nice. So we’re looking forward to getting know people more over the coming weeks and getting some different perspectives on approaches to adoptive parenting.
In one activity we were asked to reflect on our childhood homes and current homes; it’s the first time for a while that either of us has tried to draw a house with felt-tip pens! It made us think about what makes a home, about stability and continuity and about the early memories that may be missing/confused for some children in the care system. We also noticed that, wherever people grew up, whatever part of the country, and whatever the buildings looked like, everyone spent most time talking about the people and animals in and around their homes. In fact, everybody seemed to use the picture of their childhood home to provide a brief sketch of their childhood through references to family, friends and pets. The exercise highlighted the important (if obvious) point that a home begins with people, rather than a building.
Later, we looked through anonymised case studies of children in the care system, which we discussed first in pairs of couples, and then with the whole group. Throughout the variety of ages, scenarios and issues we read about, a number of common themes seemed to emerge. One was loss; loss for the children of their biological parents (and sometimes siblings), and for the biological parents of their children, but also, often, the loss (or lack) of a certain stability and protection that we often assume all children are afforded by those around them. By thinking about how such difficult circumstances are likely to impact on children we generated quite a bit of discussion about potential approaches to helping children overcome difficult early experiences. This linked to another theme, around perseverance and patience – it is clear that many children who are placed for adoption are likely to need more support than children lucky enough to be born into healthy, stable and supportive environments. The final theme we felt was more one of excitement and hope; something about focusing on the future and moving beyond the past. Nobody was trying to gloss over the importance of past events though – and as we went through one of the forms we will all need to complete if we proceed, many of us found ourselves stuck on page 26, which asks whether we would or would not consider adopting children with a range of specific experiences and/or characteristics.
So the first session was interesting and largely reassuring, although it also felt very much like the beginning of a long journey...
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